“Repairing and Strengthening Relationships”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
May 12, 2019
I do not know what shame normally smells like, but that morning on the shore of the Sea of Galilee it smelled like burning charcoal. The scent was unmistakable and unforgettable and so were Peter’s memories.
Allow me to explain.
Today’s text describes the third encounter the disciples had with Jesus after his death and resurrection. It occurred on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the place where several of the disciples were invited to follow Jesus when he began his public ministry.
Seven of Jesus’ disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing. At day break, a stranger on the shore called to them asking if they had any fish. The disciples had no idea who he was but informed him their nets were empty.
When the stranger told them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat, they obeyed. It was common for a spotter on the shore to let fishermen in a boat know the whereabouts of a nearby school of fish. They could see from a distance what those in a boat missed.
As soon as the disciples did what they were told, their nets filled with fish, 153 in all. I’m not surprised they knew the precise number of fish they caught. I’ve never met an avid fisherman who did not keep track of how many fish he or she caught, including the ones thrown back. These disciples were no exception.
While the disciples struggled to get this many fish close to the boat and ultimately the shore, the beloved disciple, John, realized the identity of their spotter. It was Jesus.
When John shouted out this good news, Peter jumped into the water and headed to the shore. He was too eager to have another encounter with the risen Jesus to help with landing the fish.
I am certain the first thing Peter noticed when he stepped on the shore was that charcoal fire. It had not been that long since Peter smelled charcoal burning. The night Jesus was arrested and Peter denied knowing him on three different occasions, he was standing around a charcoal fire warming his hands.
No wonder Peter and the disciples remained silent while Jesus took some of the fish they caught and prepared breakfast for them. They had much to think about as they watched those coals burn and smelled the stench of shame.
When they finished eating, Jesus turned to Peter and asked a series of similar questions. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Each time Peter said he did, Jesus told him to feed his sheep, which was another way of calling Peter and all the disciples back to the work they began when he first called them to follow him along that same shore.
Why do you think this encounter with the risen Lord found its way into the fourth gospel? After all, it appears this gospel originally ended at 20:31, and this chapter was added at a later time by the Evangelist himself or a redactor. Why was it important to include it?
I am confident the early redactors added this story to resurrect Peter’s image. He did not need to be remembered as a coward who denied having any association with Jesus out of fear for his own safety. This story was the first step in Peter’s rehabilitation.
Maybe this breakfast encounter was written to show there was no difference in Jesus’ loving and gracious nature after his crucifixion. The worst thing that happened to him did not bring the worst out in him. To the contrary, it brought out his best. The risen Jesus was not bitter, hateful or vindictive but mature, merciful and compassionate.
I believe there was another reason this story was attached to this particular gospel. It was included to teach all of us what people who follow Jesus do.
They find a way to restore broken relationships, which is never easy because it always involves making sacrifices. People who follow Jesus know, however, the deepest level of love requires sacrifices. They also know they have a responsibility to help people who have made mistakes to recover and to move in new and better directions.
We could all rewrite portions of our lives, couldn’t we? This is the reason people who follow Jesus make it possible for everyone who has made unwise decisions to add more chapters to the story of their life just as Jesus did for Peter.
Relationships are messy, aren’t they? Even the best of relationships can slide off the tracks. This is because people are a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly and so are their relationships.
We make promises we don’t always keep. We brag about things we cannot do. We let others down when they need us most. We abandon people depending upon us in their darkest hours. We embarrass and humiliate those closest to us in front of other family members or friends.
We lose our temper and say or do hurtful things. We spike an attitude that creates confusion and deflates the spirits of those around us. We transfer our anger to innocent victims. We lie to people to cover up our transgressions.
As much as we would like to think the time will come when our family resembles our friends on Facebook who post a picture of the one minute during the week when they quit fussing or fighting, it never will. Our selfishness gets in the way.
This is why all relationships are filled with great hopes, big dreams and huge disappointments. Our greatest joys and most painful sorrows are connected to the people around us. Our experiences with them bring out the best and worst in us.
But as Peter discovered around that charcoal fire, there is something more powerful than broken dreams, disappointments and bad memories, and this is love, the kind Jesus referred to in his dialogue with Peter, ‘agapao’. With God’s help, we can invite those who have hurt us to chart a new course in our relationship. We can build a future based upon the mutual respect and trust needed to repair and to restore a damaged relationship.
I believe this story was added to John’s gospel to remind us the gospel is profoundly hopeful. It always points a way forward, even among the messiest of relationships.
Three weeks ago I told you Easter is about starting over when you thought all hope was gone. If God could reach into a guarded and sealed tomb to bring life back to his crucified son, God can help us with every problem we have. This includes a restart of any relationship that has turned sour.
Will we always have the same result Jesus and Peter did? No.
Restarts only happen when everyone sits around the charcoal fire and takes responsibility for their part in the ruptured relationship. When this doesn’t occur, reconciliation is difficult to achieve. When it does, though, the Holy Spirit can be depended on to be present and to work in the hearts and minds of everyone there.
Do you need to follow Peter’s lead? Is it time for you to put down your defenses and have a heart to heart talk with someone you have hurt? Is it time for you to own up to mistakes you have made and to ask for forgiveness and for help as you chart a new course?
Do you need to follow Jesus’ example and reach out to someone who has acted like Peter? Can you find it in your heart to do for others what Jesus did for Peter and the other disciples who disappointed him? Can you take the initiative to restore a relationship that was once dear to you?
Do you think you can sacrifice what is rightfully yours for the sake of others? Do you believe you can offer someone the gift of hope and healing and another chance?
Broken relationships heal only when people talk candidly to one another and listen carefully to what is being said. Both the past and the future have to be addressed for healing to occur and a new path forward to be discovered.
Is it time for you to begin this process? I know someone who will help you. So does Simon Peter.