"Breakfast On The Beach"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
During a visit to the mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director how do you determine whether or not a patient should be institutionalized.
'Well,' said the Director, 'we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient and ask him or her to empty the bathtub.'
'Oh, I understand,' said the visitor. 'A normal person would use the bucket because it's bigger than the spoon or the teacup.'
'No' said the Director, 'A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near the window?'
The Apostle Peter was not a normal person. He hadn't been normal from the day Jesus entered his life. That didn't mean he was going to get a bed by the window in a mental institution. No, what it meant for Peter is that God had big plans for him. But in order to fulfill those plans, Peter had to let go of some things. One of which was the heart rending heavy burden of his denial of Christ.
Let's look at how all that took place through John 21:1-17 (NRSV)
 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.
We know all about this miraculous catch and who was with Peter in the boat. One thing I hadn't noticed before in this passage was the description of Peter's strength. When Peter realized it was Jesus on the shore, he dove in and swam as fast as he could. That left six disciples back in the boat. The catch of fish was so big they couldn't haul it into the boat, so they just drug it, along with the boat as they took the boat to shore and tied up at the dock
But notice when Jesus says bring me some fish, Peter heads to the boat, grabs the whole net full of fish and drags it ashore himself. Peter wasn't a man to be trifled with. Here he is strong of body but he's weak in his soul, probably because of the charcoal fire.
There had been another encounter across a charcoal fire in Caiaphas' courtyard when Peter denied Jesus, not once but three times before the cock crowed. And now, with the smell of the charcoal all around him, he stands in his guilt and shame across a charcoal fire on the beach with Jesus.
A. There on the beach Jesus had breakfast ready. It would be the last meal they would ever share together, here on earth. They didn't know that yet but it would be the Last Breakfast. And the significance of this breakfast for Peter was probably the most poignant moment in Peter's life and ministry. Because that breakfast of grilled fish and beard was laid out across that charcoal fire.
Now, if you like seafood like I do, then you knowthe smell of fresh grilled fish is heavenly. Peter I don't think Peter had much of an appetite that day.
B. I love the sacramental nature of this whole scene. Jesus was accustomed to the appetite one would have after a long night's work. So, he offered them bread and fish.
But in the offer, Jesus also knew of the deeper hunger that each of the disciples possessed. Hunger for truth; hunger for the love of God; hunger to know this truly was Jesus, risen and standing before them. So, just as he had offered himself to them everyday of his earthly ministry, just as he had offered himself to them from the cross and just as he had offered himself to them in the broken bread of that final Passover meal, Jesus once again offers them himself,the bread of life.
He also offered them fish. Is it anywonder that the fish symbol came to be a symbol of Christianity? Apart from all theGreek Acrostics of ICHTUS, there was the fish from the loaves and fishes which fed 5,000 and 4,000. There were these two miraculous catches; the fish Jesus ate after the resurrection to prove he wasn't an apparition or ghost, not once but twice. There was also the fact that so many of Jesus disciples were fishermen. Fish seems an appropriate accompaniment for warm bread that morning.
A. Across the charcoal fire of breakfast,Jesus begins a poignant journey with Peter filled with questions and answers. Recalling their very first meeting Jesus says, "Simon Son of John, (Simon bar Jonas) do you love me more than these?" So, just what was Jesus talking about?
Do you love me more than these other men love me? Do you love me more than you love these men? Or do you love me more than these things (fishing, fishing boat, nets, the gear and all the stuff of fishing.) Which one was it?
It was probably a little of all of them. When Jesus said that all of the disciples would desert him after his betrayal Peter had vehemently said, "I don't care what these guys do. I won't desert you, no matter what happens." In a sense Peter had been claiming that his love for Jesus was greater than theirs. That he was better than them. But he did desert Jesus. Not only did he desert Jesus, he denied even knowing him, not once but three times. And then the cock crowed.
"Simon son of John, do you love me more than these men love me?" Humbled, all Peter could say was, "Lord you know I love you." As if to say, "Lord, I can't say that any more. Not after what I did, but I DO love you."
With love, compassion, mercy, grace and forgiveness Jesus looked at Peter across that charcoal fire, with the smell of that denial still in the air and said, "Feed my lambs."
Jesus is being very clear about Peter's role of caring for the young flock of new Christians, the lambs. Peter was to feed and nurture them through his leadership and faith. Peter was no longer simply the apprentice shepherd, now the flock was his. Jesus was passing the mantle just as Elijah had done with Elisha. "Feed my lambs. Be the good shepherd that I was. Be willing to lay down your life for the flock as I did."
B. As if once weren't enough, a second time Jesus asks, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter must have been confused. He'd just answered that question. And yet Jesus was asking again. So, Peter didn't hesitate, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."
Jesus replied, "Tend my sheep." Just in case Peter didn't get it, he was a little hard headed at times. His strength wasn't the only reason Jesus called him 'the rock'.
Tend my sheep. Be the shepherd to this brand new flock that is struggling right now. Be the shepherd I called you to be and I know you can be. Tend my sheep.
C. Then a third time, Jesus asked, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" I wonder if the smoke of the charcoal fire shifted just about then. Or maybe it was the coals that shifted and sparked up as Peter heard the question and was stung to the very core. But whatever happened, I think Peter was drawn back to that scene in Caiaphas' courtyard. Maybe another cock crowed. But I think at that moment it all became clear for Peter.
He replied, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Lord, I can't hide anything from you. I can't hold anything back from you. You know I would take it all back and do something different if I could.
And then, when Peter looked across this charcoal fire and locked eyes with Jesus for the third time, what he saw was different. It wasn't loving disappointment. What he saw was an invitation to come home from the far country. It was an invitation into forgiveness. And it was an invitation back into the position of leadership for which Jesus had trained Peter.
Three acts of denial, three acts of redemption across a charcoal fire. With love and compassion, filled with redemption and forgiveness, Jesus said to Peter, "Feed my sheep." Jesus offered reconciliation, forgiveness and redemption. And in so doing, empowered Peter to be the leader he needed to be.
What an awesome Savior we have.
This morning as we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion put yourself in Peter's place. We've each smelled the charcoal smoke or our own denial. We each have those moments in our lives which only Jesus can redeem and forgive. Bring them to him today. Receive the bread Jesus has to offer, and experience that forgiveness for yourself.
No one has prepared a bed by the window for you. But Jesus has prepared bread for you. Come. Breakfast is ready.
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