We catch a glimpse this morning of two failed men. Peter who just a couple of weeks ago, we remember, denying Jesus three times. And Paul who persecuted the early Christians with every ounce of energy he had. One a villain – one a coward. That’s how the world saw them – but God saw something else. God saw the men they would become. Strange how often it is that God sees differently than us. Take the Gospel reading this morning as a case in point. The disciples have gone back to their regular lives – back to their boats, returning to fish and I suppose to wonder about how it all went so wrong. It’s as if Jesus had never been. How quick we all are to turn the page and give up; quick to start again and deny the past.
And then the stranger shows up once again on the beach. Again he points them to where they might find abundance and sustenance after they’ve failed once again at fishing. And in an instant the recognition comes; it’s the Lord. The memory of Jesus returns, it is no longer as if he’d never been among them. What he always did amongst the disciples he does again, he gives life in abundance beyond our wildest imagination.
As he broke bread with them before, he does again. He has food already on the fire, he doesn’t need the fish the apostles caught, yet he invites them to bring what they have, as he gives what he has to share with them. In this sharing they perceive who the stranger is, though he is still you’ll notice a stranger as they’ve not the courage to ask him who he is. On the beach once more they find themselves called, and in the calling they recognize both Jesus and themselves.
Yet there is some business to attend to between Jesus and these men; Peter in particular. You see in the recognition of Jesus as Lord and themselves as disciples there is a past of desertion and failure to consider. The charcoal fire on the beach is perhaps a reminder of another fire by which Peter denied Jesus. The meal is shared and then the interrogation of Peter begins, three times the question – three times the response – the pattern of denial repeated this time by affirmations. Once again it is ‘Simon, son of John’ whom Jesus addresses just as he did years before on the beach. He is still Peter the apostle; the failed apostle.
That is now part of his past, part of who he now is. If he is to be called again, if he is to be a true apostle, the ‘Peter’ that is part of the purposes of Jesus and the Kingdom rather than the Simon who runs back into the cosy obscurity of being a fisherman, his failure must be assimilated, lived through again and brought forward to create goodness in him and not destroy him and his potential.
Galilee is the place where it all began. Galilee is where it will begin again; the past will be recovered to create a foundation for a new redeemed future. If the apostles are to be sent into the world now to build a faith, it will be as men who have encountered afresh the Lord who sends them; Jesus comes now to a group whose past was one of initial hope and promise, which was sadly followed by betrayal and emptiness. They are called now and sent now as forgiven men; their betrayal and abandonment does not change God’s purposes. Their failures do not take away the identity they found in Jesus nor does it take away the purpose they discovered for their lives in following him.
Simon, the son of John is still, in the eyes of God, Peter. The lesson he learns on the beach with Jesus this day is that his betrayal does not make God betray, so that his calling to be Peter, the rock on which the faith is to be built, is still there, waiting to be lived out. Peter’s fellowship with the Lord is not over, not ruined by his denial, it still exists and is alive because Jesus wants it to be so. It’s no small thing to know that Jesus still invites us to know that he accepts, forgives, bears and absorbs the hurts done in this world. We can stand in no better place than with Peter.
God looks at us no differently than Jesus looked at Peter that day on the beach. We are so very adept and seeing and numbering our failures and the failures of those around us – Jesus, thank God, is equally, no that’s not right, Jesus is more adept at seeing and celebrating our potential that we are our failures. Jesus didn’t need the threefold ritual on the beach to restore Peter – Peter and the disciples needed it. We needed it.
They had accepted failure – so Jesus called them a second time – not because other more qualified and faithful people couldn’t have been found – but perhaps they were called because it was God’s will that the Kingdom would be built by those who knew themselves to be reconciled sinners – people who knew themselves painfully to be failures – – – – – – but also people who knew and could tell of God’s constant decision, eternal commitment and everlasting invitation to them and to you and to I to live up to our potential, and all the goodness that is in us. That is why forgiveness will always lie at the heart of the Christian message.
And then there is Paul. What do we do with a God who will call the likes of Paul into his church? Paul who persecuted the early Christians, Paul who stood by while St. Stephen was stoned to death. We would have never forgiven Paul for that – but God not only forgave him – God called him to be an apostle. And if you’re looking for a proof of the resurrection this morning– the early church forgave Paul – the same people whom he persecuted not only forgave him –they gave him a place of honour and leadership in their new church.
Peter denied Jesus, the rest of the disciples abandoned Jesus, and Paul persecuted Jesus and the early Christians. It’s hard to think that we would forgive a one of them; but God did, God could see the apostles, the kind of people they could and would become.
Through Jesus they were each called, forgiven, and restored – all of them knew intimately the grace of God at work in their lives. And I would submit to you this morning that is the recognition and admission of God’s grace in our lives that gives us a calling and a ministry that is different and unique in the world.
God it has been said loves to look at us, and loves it when we will look back at him. Even when we try to run away from our troubles, as Peter and the disciples surely did, God will find us, and bless us, even when we feel the most unworthy.
Our response to that blessing, the grace we have known in Jesus is to worship. We come to this place Sunday by Sunday not so much to celebrate our own faith, but to give thanks for the faith God has shown in us. To let ourselves look and God, and to let God look back at us. To laugh and to sing, and be delighted with life and one another because God, we now know, sees past our pain, past our limitations and failures, and calls us her own.
God’s grace was enough for Peter for Paul, for all the apostles, for Mary and Martha and all of the early Christians whose forgiveness of these failed men is an extraordinary witness to God’s grace at work in them and in the early church.
If God’s grace could be found on a beach by Peter and on a dusty old road by Paul – surely God’s grace is there for you and for me as well. Surely we can celebrate the grace we’ve known in our lives and most importantly how can we not extend that grace to others so that we might grow into the dreams and promise God has for us and for St. Margaret’s. Amen.