Memory... it's a funny thing. Memories are often triggered by places, by smells, facial expressions, various stimuli that can trigger a painful or traumatic memory. Just driving by a building within which a painful even occurred pokes at pain, failure, loss, a whole number of emotions might come to the surface or one's muscle memory might react in panic or fear as subconscious memories are expressed in very physical responses.
I don’t know what Peter felt like after he denied Jesus. But scripture says he went out and wept bitterly. We can speculate that he felt enormous shame, loss of what was, and what he believed the Jesus band was about.
More…,Peter was always a bit on the arrogant side… boldly courageous, the first to try things... to step out of the boat and walk on water. He was the first to understand that Jesus was the Messiah. He was marked out as a leader in the group—overtly fearless and passionate about his love for Jesus.
I believe that after his denial, Peter lost faith in himself as a leader and follower of Jesus...
Peter needed healing and restoration.
I wonder what it would have been like if Peter had not denied Christ? What kind of leader would he have become. Maybe a legalistic, arrogant leader? We don’t know. But we do know, that brokenness and self-awareness is fertile ground for tremendous growth. Brokenness brings a certain amount of humility and creates new awareness around issues in our lives. Peter hit bottom. There was a death… a death of the old Peter… now a new Peter was being resurrected.
Robert Quinn who wrote for the Harvard Business Review… called this the entering the fundamental state leadership. He tells of something that happens in the life of a leader—a traumatic event, significant loss, illness, a near death experience or a significant failure that fundamentally changes a person at the core level. Such leaders begin to live from their center with greater integrity.
I believe that in Peter’s life… the experience of denial fundamentally changed Peter. He became fully aware of his attachments, his fears, his little idolatry's. He came face to face with his own need of healing and restoration.
And out of that came a fresh vision and a renewal of his call for follow Jesus. In our text, I note three significant calls to Peter and to us in John 21:15-25.
The first is a call to restoration.
7 Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. 8 The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. 9 When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.
10 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.
12 “Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. 4 This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.
I wonder what memories were triggered by the scent of the charcoal fire? The writer of John deliberately connected this charcoal fire to the charcoal fire in the scene of Peter's denial. Remember he was warming himself beside a charcoal fire when he was asked if he was one of the disciples who was with Christ. It was the scene of his denial. it was the scent of his denial.
Just before Jesus engages with Peter in a healing conversation... we have the scent rising from another charcoal fire.
What was Peter remembering? Did his mind flash with the words uttered at the last supper? “Lord I will go to prison with you, I will even die for you?” What was Peter feeling? Was he again feeling the fear he had when questioned by the servant girl? Did he feel the fear for his life rise up? Did he feel the shame wash over him once again?
Three times Peter denied Christ beside a charcoal fire and three times Jesus invited Peter to declare his love.
16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
I am reading a book on neuroscience and spirituality in which the author shows that spiritual practice; and he is writing about Christian practice specifically brings healing to our minds. He asserts that by revisiting an event with Jesus in prayer, one can reprocess that event in a healing way. The author Curt Thompson asserts that in relationship with Jesus Christ our minds can be renewed so that we have the mind of Christ and are able to live out the way of Jesus in wholeness.
Peter is face to face with his own weaknesses, devastated seemingly beyond repair. Yet we see Jesus gently surfacing his memory and lovingly restoring him. Three times he had voiced his denial of being Christ's disciple, now three times he is given the chance to voice his love for Christ.
Back to neuroscience...
In this type of healing, new connections are made in the brain, new pathways forged by the impact of the Holy Spirit on the mind. Our brains are literally changed and healed, through a life-giving relationship with Christ.
If you are catholic, this might take place during confession, if you are Episcopal you might experience this in healing prayer, if you are Charismatic this could take place during a sozo experience with a prayer counselor. Or it can happen alone in a time of quiet prayer or meditation or by inserting yourself into a Bible story that Jesus has given you. Sometimes this happens in the office of a therapist as you tell your story and your pain is really heard for the first time. It happens also when our stories are empathetically heard and acknowledge by another.
Restoration is possible in a new relation with the resurrected Christ and his community of followers.
The second call is a call to mission.
Specifically, Peter is given a renewal of his call to fish for people and tend the sheep. In John, the sheep are both inside the fold and outside the fold. Peter was originally called to be a fisher of people. It's still part of his call but now he is being called to shepherd them--to care for the lambs and to feed the sheep. Shepherding is a metaphor for leading in the way of a servant just as David had led and then Jesus. It is leadership in an other-centered way—that lifts and empowers others through serving and caring.
How many know that we are called to salvation and healing, but then to mission and service so that the kingdom of God might become real and tangible to others in this world. A call so that others too would experience the same salvation and healing and join in the mission to once again bring that life to others. That's what keeps the mission going forward.
How many know that this world is still a very broken place and people all around us are experiencing the effects of sin and brokenness in their lives and in the lives of people they love.
I think it's interesting to note that it was Peter who preached the first sermon after Pentecost. Think about it... Many of the ones he was preaching to were part of the crowd who may yelled out to Pilate, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” How much more empathy did Peter have because he too denied the son of God while he died the cruelest of deaths on a cross.
Peter had the passion and fire because he had experienced the forgiveness and grace and healing offered by the risen Lord. There was power in that sermon because Peter knew it for himself. He had first hand experience from which to testify. And scripture tells us in the book of Acts that they were cut to the heart. Peter, full of the Spirit after Pentecost and full of God's healing power was effective in mission.
And out of his own brokenness and healing came healing and life for others.
Third, Jesus calls us to follow him.
John 13:31- 38
36 Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”
And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”
37 “But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.”
38 Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.
In the infamous scene within which Peter declares that he will go to prison or even die for Christ, Peter asks the Lord this question, “where are you going?” And Jesus replies that he cannot go with him now (because he would deny him) but that later Peter would follow him even to die a martyr's death).
In John 21, Jesus turns to Peter now to call him to follow and he says this to Peter in verse 16
18 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”
Now Peter would be called to follow Jesus, even if that meant death for him.
The call to follow had not been revoked, it was issued at Peter's first call when he was fishing, when Jesus said, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.
Then, at passover, Peter declared that he would follow Jesus even in the face of death, a declaration he could not at that moment keep. Even though Peter could not at that time carry out his desire to follow Jesus to the death, I believe he meant it in his heart. Now, after the resurrection, once again Jesus calls Peter to follow him.
I take a bit of comfort in this because I always mean it when I declare my intent, my desire to keep following Jesus. We make commitments at the altar. Consecrations in our prayers. We really long to follow with our whole hearts. But the Spirit has much work to do in our lives so that we are fully able to follow.
There are new awarenesses, new places of healing because salvation is more than an event in our lives, it is a process. We are saved, we are being saved, we will be saved. The work of God is on going as our minds are renewed and our lives transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus.
And we follow one step at a time as we are changed from glory to glory as the Bible says.
We could let ourselves off the hook because few are really brought before tribunals and asked to deny their Lord or thrown to face the Lions. But there are thousands of ways we fail to follow Jesus in the course of our lives. We don't always live in the Jesus way or love in the Jesus way or follow in the Jesus way.
Our failure is often rooted in our brokenness as was Peters. You see Peter did not deliberately set out to deny Jesus, on the contrary he truly intended to follow Jesus to prison or even death. But out of fear, fear of death, fear of what others would think, he buckled. It is the same with us. We have places of brokenness--unhealed traumas--places of immaturity that become barriers to a life truly sold out to God.
Each one of you are perhaps in different places on the journey toward becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus. What do you need today?
How are you being invited? To which call are you most connected with today? The call to restoration? The call to mission? The call to follow Jesus wholeheartedly?
Here is Jesus... the good shepherd...He is preparing food and inviting you to come to his table for a wonderful healing relationship... one that might just change the world.