My scripture today is from John 21:9-19. One of my favorite comedians is Garrison Keillor who is the host of the Prairie Home Companion on Public Radio. In one of his skits he tells of a man in Lake Wobegon who was saved 12 times at the altar of a Lutheran church that never gave altar calls. He would come to the altar time after time and weep buckets and buckets of tears and come back the next Sunday and do the very same thing. Larry Sorensen kept repenting and repenting but somehow he couldn’t get beyond the repenting stage. Pretty soon even the “fundamentalists got tired of him.” Larry couldn’t believe that Jesus could totally forgive him; and the guilt of all he had done caused him to be unable to forgive himself. Instead of being free to move on, he came to church week after week constantly feeling guilty and trying to get back on track over and over again. Today’s scripture points to a person who Jesus had called to be a fisherman of people. He got off track lots of times--he was always blurting out things without thinking, He was always taking some hasty action he regretted later, but the worst thing was when he denied Christ. He said he never would. But he did. He blew it big time. He thought he was disqualified from ever doing the Lord’s work again. At the beginning of this chapter Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” He was really saying, “What is there left for me but to go back to my old job. I’ve got to do something. I have totally failed the Lord. I feel guilty about it, but I can’t forgive myself.” He goes off with the weight of guilt hanging heavy on his shoulders, back to his old job. He struggles with where do I go from here? What do I do now? I blame myself over and over for what I did. I can’t do anything about it. He probably replayed the tape over and over from the time he denied Christ, but it didn’t do any good. He could not forgive himself and maybe he wasn’t sure if the Lord could even forgive him. It seemed just too difficult.
There’s a man trying to cross the street. As he steps off the curb a car comes screaming around the corner and heads straight for him. The man walks faster, trying to hurry across the street, but the car changes lanes and is still coming at him. So the guy turns around to go back, but the car changes lanes again and is still coming at him. By now, the car is so close and the man so scared that he just freezes and stops in the middle of the road. The car gets real close, then swerves at the last possible moment and screeches to a halt right next him. The driver rolls down the window. The driver is a squirrel. The squirrel says to the man, "See, it’s not as easy as it looks, is it?" Does this sound familiar to you when trying to forgive yourself for something? At times there are certain things you look back on in your life that you punish yourself over and over for just like Peter did. It seems impossible to overcome. What can this scripture say to us today that will help us to get past the things that are keeping us chained to the past?
1. Jesus Walked Into Peter’s Life: Jesus wasn’t far from Peter although he thought he was. In fact that day on the beach Jesus invited Peter and the other disciples to a carry in breakfast. He said, “come and have breakfast and bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Jesus took the initiative to invite Peter to breakfast. Most of the time we do not pick up on the invitation. We don’t hear Jesus say to us, “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT) because we are so busy struggling and beating ourselves up over the past. We are still stuck in our guilt. Jesus is saying, “Come to breakfast.” Bring some of the fish you’ve caught. You are included.” We all want to be included but we have a hard time breaking through our own barriers. Jesus says, “Come on. Don’t just sit there. Let’s enjoy the morning.” We say, “but Lord, I’m not deserving. I can’t forget what I have done in the past. I can’t get over it.” Jesus is saying, “You’re invited. Come on.” Should Peter risk it? What if Jesus didn’t REALLY mean it. What if I BLOW IT again? What if I MESS UP and say the wrong things? Peter might have been a little apprehensive about accepting the invitation. He thinks he has been disqualified. When we are faced with the invitation to come to Jesus we often are afraid to accept it. The biggest obstacle to self-forgiveness may be the tendency to wallow in our own guilt. It’s not that we feel bad because we know we’ve done wrong but we draw those feelings up around us like a blanket and cover our heads. We refuse to push the stop button on our wailing just like Larry did at Lake Wobegone. According to one psychologist when we refuse to forgive ourselves it’s a “crazy form of penance.” Many people decide to punish themselves for the rest of their lives by feeling miserable day after day. The decision to feel miserable for the rest of your life can have tragic consequences because it affects everyone around you. Peter could have refused the invitation to breakfast. He could have said, “I’m going to stay right here. I’m not going to risk it.” But he didn’t. I think we need to be more like Peter--a risk taker. See what happens. After all Jesus said, “Come on over for breakfast. It was His idea.” The disciples took the bread and the fish that Jesus gave to them. It was what they all needed that day--not just Peter alone. Jesus offers to us exactly what we need in our current situation just as he did to them that morning, but he had a greater purpose in it for Peter. He had a special job for Peter to do and Peter wasn’t doing it. Peter had to move on. To get unstuck from all of the barriers that were hindering him. We need to deal with our past and experience not only the forgiveness that Jesus brought to us on the cross but to understand that his grace is enough to cover forgiving ourselves as well. It is a part of the package.
2. More Than Breakfast: After breakfast Jesus singled Peter out and asked him a question. “Simon, do you truly love me more than these?” He could have been referring to Peter’s fishing boats, his job as a fisherman, or he could have been referring to the others in the group. Jesus is trying to find out what the depth of His love for was for Him. Was it just a shallow, superficial love or was it rock solid like his name--Cephas the Rock as Jesus had called him in John 1:42. A man took his son fishing one day. After a few hours in the boat with not much to do, the son started asking his father some questions. "How does the boat float?" he asked. The man thought about the question, then said, "I don’t really know, son."
"Well, how do fish breath underwater?" The man scratched his head. "I guess I don’t know the answer to that one either.""Why is the sky blue?" the boy persisted. The father replied, "I really don’t know, son." The boy started to worry that his father was getting upset at all the questions. "Do you mind me asking questions, Dad?" His father immediately reassured him. "No, of course not, son! If you don’t ask questions, you’ll never learn anything!"
Jesus got better answers than this little boy did. Peter answers, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you” Jesus presses Peter more in the next question and the next.. After each of Peter’s responses, Jesus gave him an assignment. After the first he said. vs. 15 Feed my lambs --the young Christian believers. vs. 16 Take care of my sheep--be a shepherd to my sheep. Look after them. Keep them safe from harm. vs. 17 Feed my sheep. Take the sheep to pasture where they are fed. Jesus is looking for a total renewal of his loyalty and a reaffirmation of his responsibilities. Follow me and keep on following me. Jesus knew that if he could get Peter to move away from his guilt over the past and to get him to not only follow him but to keep following him that Peter would become a productive person again. He would find his own healing as he reached out to others. Jesus is telling him “I’ve got work for you to do. If you really love me you are going to feed my lambs. You’re going to help these new Christians. You are going to get the focus off of yourself. You are going to be involved in helping other people….and Peter says, “OK, I’ll do that.” Jesus asks the second time, “Peter do you truly love me?” Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Then if you do,” ‘Take care of my sheep,’ replied Jesus. The third time Jesus asks him, “Simon do you love me?” Peter was getting agitated by this same question. He says, “Lord you know all things. You know that I love you.” Then Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” What good did these questions serve? Jesus wanted Peter to really look at his feelings. He wanted him to get over the past and now it was time to experience total forgiveness, to be able to get on with his life and the responsibilities Jesus had called him to. He couldn’t be an effective shepherd to the young Christians or to the established Christians as long as he remained in a state of not forgiving himself for denying Jesus. Jesus parallels Peter’s denial with three questions of restoration. Do you love me--then do this assignment. Do you love me--then feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep. The breakfast had fulfilled its intended purpose for Peter. A restoration and a re-commission.
3. It’s time to push the Stop Button: For Peter this breakfast was the turning point. It was time to push the stop button on the guilt. Self forgiveness is a tool with which we face what we’ve done in the past, acknowledge our mistakes and move on. This is exactly what Peter had to do when Jesus was questioning him. If he truly loved Jesus he had to realize that the guilt and self punishment had to go. The grace of God covers a multitude of sins. True forgiveness is found in allowing Jesus to do his work in our lives.Hit the stop button. Replaying over and over again in your head is not going to help you any. Listen to yourself. Every time you catch yourself rehashing your sins, stop and refocus on what Jesus did on the cross for you. His forgiveness covers it all. Let go of it and decide to move on to more productive things. If you need to go back and apologize to someone you’ve hurt, do it.
Begin to repair the damage you may have done in the past by giving out good to others around you. Some things you can’t change. You can’t always make it up to someone in the past, but you can do some helpful things to people now. Peter could not go back and undo a lot of those foot-in-the mouth statements he made or those impulsive actions. But he was facing a new day with new opportunities to help people in the future--the lambs (the new believers--the sheep (the more established believers). There were abundant opportunities before him. Jesus was saying, “Peter, you have been re-commissioned. Don’t spend your time repenting and repenting over and over again. Get with the program. You’ve got lots of work to do. Guys….Don’t beat yourself up over the past. Jesus says to us, “I have forgiven you totally. His forgiveness is all inclusive. That forgiveness includes forgiving yourself.”