My sermon from last Sunday…
Easter 3 Year C — We are not islands — John 21
I have yet to meet a person who hasn’t at least once or twice in their lives really messed things up. We try to hide these things, of course, in order to save face, to keep up the appearances and with the Jonses. Words bolt out that we want to lasso back into our mouths. We make decisions that bring pain to others, while looking out entirely for ourselves. I’m not sure always why we do this, except to say that we have a penchant for putting ourselves first.
So often in life when things go bad, when we screw up and do the wrong thing, we withdraw and put up barriers. We block out those around us and create obstacles, and, in turn, we push others away. The situation lingers in our minds, of course. If you are anything like me, you’ll replay that scene over and over in your head. You’ll try to calculate where you went wrong, you’ll try out different responses as if you could somehow go back and erase what happened. Of course, you can’t by yourself. And until you approach the obstruction that has been created, you won’t truly heal.
“No man is an Island, entire of itself;” John Donne, English Poet and Priest, wrote so many years ago. “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”
I wonder what was going through Peter’s mind that afternoon in Galilee when he said this his friends, “Let’s go fishing.” These are the first words of his recorded in John’s Gospel since the dark night of Maundy Thursday. We remember those words, those utterances of denial.
He had promised, of course, to be there for Jesus. “I will lay down my life for you,” Peter says to Jesus after he has had his feet washed. Jesus foretells Peter’s denial, and we soon see Peter by that charcoal fire outside the palace of the high priest. “I don’t know the man!” he shouts, not once, but three times.
I bet he gathers his nets on that afternoon because he longs for the comfort afforded by the familiar. How many starlit nights has he spent out on the lake, casting about for a good catch? Being in the boat was second nature. Pulling up the nets would soothe his hurts. It would give him time to think.
We do this too, don’t’ we? When our lives get disrupted, we long for the familiar. We put on a pot of tea, go for a run, call a friend. The diet often gets displaced for a time; we long for comfort food. We try to make sense of things through daily routines.
Peter has unfinished business, to be sure. He’s disconnected from Jesus and wants to fix this, but doesn’t know how. Jesus, even though he is risen, isn’t really there. And so Peter goes fishing.
“No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were.”
The comfort Peter sought was not found. They didn’t catch a thing. And then at dawn’s first light, a figure from the shore appears and calls out to them. They listen to his words, even though they know that the best time for fishing has passed. They cast in the net, and then are unable to pull it in because of the great number of fish.
That other disciple, probably John, makes the connection immediately. “It’s the Lord!” he exclaims. Peter hears this and strains his eyes toward the shore. His heart is racing, and he grabs his clothes and dives into the water. He swims that hundred yards as quickly as he can, racing to get to Jesus.
And when he gets there, he sees it. A charcoal fire. It shoots up a few embers, and crackles. He stares at that fire as his mind replays the last time he stood before one.
The others draw near to the shore, and Jesus tells them to bring some fish. Peter is brought out of the trance the fire has over him. He runs over to the boat and hauls the net to the beach. The fish are flopping like mad, and the take is unbelievable. They talk excitedly about the great catch of fish, and begin to get some together for their breakfast.
But Jesus has already taken care of that. “Come and eat,” he tells them. So the seven of them make their way over to this morning picnic. They gather in community, as disciples of their Lord and teacher. He takes bread and fish, and gives it to them. They certainly remember the other times he has done this, the feeding of the 5000, the Passover meal. They gather around this food, and share it with one another. This is the familiarity that Peter has been longing for. This simple act of gathering for a meal with friends. This simple act of being in community.
“No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
After the meal is over, Jesus takes Peter aside. “Peter,” he asks, “Do you love me?”
Peter is shot through his core. There is remorse and guilt and this hope for forgiveness and grace. He jumps at the chance. “Yes, Lord! You know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs,” he says to him.
Again, Jesus asks this question. And again Peter declares his affinity for Christ. “Tend my sheep,” he commands Peter.
One more time he asks. Peter is hurt. “Lord, you know all things,” he says to Jesus, “You know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep,” he says.
These three affirmations counteract those three denials Peter made. And with each declaration of faithfulness, he is given work to do. It isn’t enough for him to just say that he loves Jesus; there is work to be done. Work in the midst of community. Work for one another. “Feed and tend,” Jesus tells Peter. “Take care of one another. Reach out. Break down barriers. Live with one another as members of a community. Forgive one another.”
That is Jesus’ charge to us as well. When he asks each of us if we love him and we affirm our devotion, he gives us work to do. We are called to be reconcilers in this broken and hurting world. We are called to be people of the resurrection, to live as those who have been given new life. We are called to be his hands and feet in a world that so desperately needs his love.
We are not islands. We are not disconnected from one another. No; instead, we are baptized into this community of his followers, we are marked as Christ’s own forever. We are disciples. And he looks not just on Peter but on all of us—hard-headed, broken and grace-filled people—and says, “Follow me.”