April 22, 2007
2nd Sunday after Easter
"The Smell Of Smoke Still Lingers"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
An old Reader's Digest story tells about a family who moved to Seattle from Texas. The whole family was missing Texas, especially when Christmas was just around the corner and the whole place was covered in snow. We like it snow on Christmas morning or Christmas Eve, just as long as it's all gone by the time we get on the road to go to visit our families, right
Well anyway, this woman said she went to pick up our first-grade son from school, his teacher told me about a conversation she overheard as the kids were talking about Christmas break. One boy said, "We're Catholic, and we are going to Christmas Mass."
Another little boy said, "We're Jewish, and we're going to have a Hanukkah celebration."
Her little boy chimed in and said, "We're Texans, and we're going to have a barbecue." (1)
How many of you like to barbecue? Barbecue grills come in all shapes and sizes. All the fancy designs are for better heat control and air flow. Some are simply designed to attract us to buy them Each one is designed to do the same thing, barbecue meat.
And there's all kinds of ways to barbecue. You can prepare your ribs or sausage or chicken or brisket or steaks or chops or whatever in a Cajun Cooker. You can use a smoker with mesquite or hickory or pecan or any combination woods. You can put some of it on a rotisserie. You can cook it on a gas grill. Or you can do it the old fashioned way and cook it on a charcoal grill.
All of it tastes delicious. The worst Barbecue I've ever had was still pretty good eating. Of course, it all depends on how it's cooked. You know you're in for some bad barbecue when everything on the grill has a long thin tail.
There's an old saying about barbecue that goes like this: "Give a man some barbecue and you'll feed him for a day. Teach a man to barbecue and you won't see him for the rest of the summer except when he comes in for more meat but you'll eat well."
Personally, I love to grill. I think pretty much everything tastes better grilled. Steaks, chicken, sausage, you name it. But there's one thing that can be cooked on a gas grill but I think is really best and tastes better when cooked over charcoal. And that's a plain old hamburger. That charcoal flavor just gets in there and permeates every bite and gives it a such unique flavor that it will make your tongue slap your brains clear out of your head from smacking your lips so much.
Charcoal has both a unique flavor and a unique smell. A smell that lingers. Charcoal also plays a unique role in the New Testament. There are only two charcoal fires mentioned in the whole New Testament but they are very significant fires.
A. The first one was THE FIRE OF FAILURE.
This fire was built the night Jesus was arrested. In John 18 we read.
 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.
 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.
 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in.
 The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not."
 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.
 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not."
 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?"
 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
B. This confrontation took place over a charcoal fire. Peter's clothing and his accent gave him away. Peter stood out like a West Texas cattle rancher asking for directions in the Bronx.
Peter was the disciple with the heart of gold and feet of clay. When confronted about his association with Jesus, Peter denied being a disciple, not once but three times. The Gospel of Matthew says he not only denied Jesus, but he cursed and swore an oath saying, "I don't know the man,"
I think during that last denial, Peter looked across the charcoal fire and into the loving eyes of Christ. And that very moment was when the cock crowed and Peter remembered the words of Jesus concerning his denial. The smell and the smoke of the charcoal fire hung heavy in the air.
As the cock crowed, Peter saw the love and compassion in Jesus' eyes, realized his failure and he ran. He saved himself but the smell of the smoke still lingered. From that day on, every time he smelled a charcoal fire he remembered.
Have you ever smelled the charcoal smoke and looked across the fire into the loving eyes of Jesus? Have you ever denied you knew him and heard the rooster crow?
Have you ever stood at THE FIRE OF FAILURE and smelled the charcoal smoke? If you have then you know the smell of the smoke still lingers.
A. The second charcoal fire in the New Testament was THE FIRE OF FORGIVENESS. It was built after the resurrection. John 21:1-17 puts it this way.
 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.
 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.
 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
 Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No."
 He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.
 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.
 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught."
 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord.
 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."
 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep."
 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
Three times Jesus questioned Peter's love. Three times Jesus looked deep into Peter's eyes and heart and soul and asked, "Peter, do you love me?" And three times Peter answered, "Lord, you know that I love you."
But it wasn't until the third time that Peter, filled with the smell of the charcoal fire, realized what was going on. At that moment, Peter looked into eyes of Jesus and saw the same love and compassion he'd seen at the first charcoal fire, THE FIRE OF FAILURE. But this time he saw something more. This time Peter saw mercy, grace and forgiveness. And the last time Peter said, "Lord, you know I love you." I think there was a smile wide enough to split his face wide open, and bright enough to light a room in the middle of the day. For this fire was FIRE OF FORGIVENESS.
B. Had there not been failure, there never would have been the indescribable joy of forgiveness. Had there not been failure, Peter never would have felt the burdens of his soul lifted that morning and he wouldn't have known the real depth of Jesus' love for Him and the price Jesus paid on the cross. Had it not been for the FIRE OF FAILURE there would have been no FIRE OF FORGIVENESS.
The smell of a charcoal fire would have haunted Peter for the rest of his life. But because of the FIRE OF FORGIVENESS, the smell of charcoal burning was transformed just like Peter. The smell of charcoal became sweet, bittersweet, but sweet to Peter's nose. He'd remember and feel a pang of remorse but he'd also smile a knowing smile. A smile that said, "I'm forgiven."
We have all had those Peter moments in our lives. We've all had those moments when we have denied Christ or denied being a Disciple of Christ. We've all had those same selfish moments. If you've ever smelled THE FIRE OF FAILURE then I invite you to take a deep breath and smell the FIRE OF FORGIVENESS. You see that's the Good News. Like Peter, we can experience the FIRE OF FORGIVENESS. That's why he came. That's why this breakfast on the beach is here, as reminder that in the Name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.
So, the next time you go into Risky's or Railhead or Sonny Bryant's or Colter's or Red Hot and Blues, or just barbecuing in your own back yard, take a deep whiff of the smell of the smoke.
Like Peter, look across the FIRE OF FORGIVENESS into the loving eyes of Jesus and know you have been forgiven. You may have failed and faltered like Peter, but, just like Peter, now you are forgiven. Breathe deep and both remember and rejoice, because the smell of the smoke lingers with the lingering odor of your forgiveness.
1. READER'S DIGEST, Dec. 1999, p. 141.
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