Sermon Archives

Face to Face ~ John 21:1-19

Last week it was Thomas. This week Peter has his one-on-one with Jesus. And it’s time to deal with the 24,000 pound elephant in the room – Peter’s denial.

It’s time for the relationship to be healed….if there is still room for healing.

I’s time to come clean on both sides and to move forward…if there is space to move.

Guilt and shame remain, reconciliation is not a given: there is still much work to do in this relationship.

Peter and Jesus were close. So close that Jesus named him the “Rock.” It was Peter who first called Jesus “Messiah.” It was Peter who proclaimed that he would die for Jesus. Peter wanted to know “how often do you forgive?” Well, now they are going to see if these were just words.

Now they are face to face in that uncomfortable moment. I dare say both for Peter and for Jesus.

Yes, Easter changes everything – all that has gone before is now re-interpreted in light of the new reality. All things are new.

And yet, even in this new reality there is work to be done: emotional work, personal work, and interpersonal work. Easter just doesn’t make it all better. And as we all know, even after Easter pain remains, guilt clings, remorse hovers still.

One might think that Peter and Jesus wouldn’t need to go through this. And yet Easter is a call to work, not a cover up. It is a call to new life, not a smooth over of the old one.

So Peter and Jesus are going to go through the uncomfortable dance of reconciliation. More uncomfortable than watching President Obama try to tango when he was in Cuba!

Peter was not at the crucifixion.

Peter was not at the tomb early on Easter morning. Mary sees first. Peter gets second hand news. He doesn’t see Jesus.

Peter was not on the road to Emmaus.

On the night Thomas placed his fingers in Jesus’ wounds, Peter may have been there – but he is not named.

Peter was feeling it – shame, embarrassment, horror at his denials. How do you ever make it up?

It is now over two weeks since Peter declared: “I don’t know the man!” And then the cock crowed and Peter went out and wept bitterly.

The Psalm for today declares: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” The morning time hasn’t come yet on the lake for Peter or in his life.

Jesus may be alive, but Peter has not had HIS Easter yet.

So Peter goes home. Back to the only place he has ever found peace – on the lake, fishing with his friends. I dare say trying to regain his routine, his identity – get back to normal and forget. Keep busy in order not to think too much. I wonder if in some way Peter wishes that Jesus would have remained dead; then he could just get back to life.

They fish all night, and no fish are caught. And then the voice is heard: “Try the other side!” A memory of better times as the first light dawns.

Then John says, “It is the Lord.” And for Peter, at last, it is, literally, his “Come to Jesus” moment.

Peter throws on his clothes and jumps in the water – because he doesn’t want to appear completely naked in front of Jesus – he has to keep some dignity, even if he is dripping wet. Or perhaps, when Peter puts ON his clothes before jumping into the lake, it is the sackcloth of mourning that he put on, as the psalmist writes.

Peter and Jesus stand there. Nothing is said, right now – but the dance has started.

First, an embarrassed, dis-jointed opening:

Jesus: “Give me some fish from the new catch.” But Jesus already has fish on the fire.

And Peter – running to show off his strength – with so much nervous energy that he hauls the whole net off the boat by himself.

Jesus: “Let’s eat.” Nothing but small talk.

Nobody says anything – it is that awkward. I doubt the fish have gone down very well.

Only after breakfast is over do Jesus and Peter walk away by themselves. Only then does Jesus begin. “Peter, do you love me more than these?”

“These”? What “these” – the fish, the other disciples, more than the disciples love Jesus, this life on the lake?

Do you love me more than these?

Peter responds, “You know that I love you.”

But the Greek word that is used for “know” is “oida” – simple recognition. Like you know that 2+2=4. Did you know that the Cavs lost last night? “Oida.” “Yes I know that.”

So we have Peter and Jesus still circling, with nothing too deep yet.

Jesus tries, “Feed my lambs.”

And then he asks again, “Peter, do you love me?”

And again, Peter responds, “Oida. You know it.”

But the third time he asks, “Peter, do you love me?”  there’s finally a change, a crack in the veneer. Peter is breaking. It is getting too painful. The threefold question “Do you love me?” recalls Peter’s three-fold denial “I don’t know him.”

And Peter’s emotions finally show. He is hurt. “You know that I love you.” But this time the word used is not oida but ginosko – to know deeply, to know intimately. This is the “know” that you use for intimate acts, the deep knowledge, the bared heart reality, the wisdom of those who have been through suffering.

In the light of Easter – you and I must do the work, the deep work of reconciliation. It isn’t easy to come clean. Sometimes it takes more than one Easter!

It is never easy. We have all been there: face-to-face before a spouse who you have deeply disappointed or hurt; a child, a co-worker, a friend – it is now or never, the pregnant moment, the kairos; reckoning time.

You look for any excuse to not face the guilt: go fishing, take a drink, go to bed, deflect. But as Erma Bombeck once said: “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving!”

Frederick Buechner wrote: “Guilt festers…the sense of our own inner brokenness estranges us from the very ones who could help patch us together again…. More often than not, guilt is not merely the consequence of wrongdoing but the extension of it.”

It is impossible to remove your own guilt. “It is like sitting on your own lap.” (Buechner) Only the other can free you.

And Christ in his resurrection glory invites us all to go deep – yes, even to the most uncomfortable places and do what needs to be done – so that new life can begin.

So you can move beyond knowledge to knowing.

And it is not just personal. Our whole national fabric is torn by the guilt and shame of our past; slavery, and manifest destiny; white America still hasn’t come to grips: it is still uncomfortable: we say the wrong things, we dance around, we try to move on … but the reckoning is still ahead.

But do we love each other? Are we willing to feed each other’s sheep and tend to each other’s lambs? To pay the cost of discipleship, the cost of reconciliation, perhaps even the cost of reparations?

We celebrate Easter. We know (oida) Easter, the story. But the Risen Christ calls you deeper; through your own pain and guilt and remorse – through whatever shame and embarrassment hinders you.

This is truly what the cross is all about – Jesus goes to the depths and calls you forward out of the depths into glory. He stands, sometimes in the guise of folks we know very well – are you ready to go through Easter?

The food never really tastes good when you know there is a reckoning. It always remains a lump in the stomach until the face to face occurs and what has to be said and dealt with is said and done.

No, it isn’t easy, or painless – in the resurrection.

But the grilled fish, and the artisan bread, and the wine of the kingdom have never tasted so good now that you have gone deep and stood face to face and said what needed to be said and done the work – NOW a whole new life is waiting.

And you know – really know – on the gut level knowing of ginosko – that Christ has risen, he has risen indeed!

It is always in the face to face.


And Amen.