Breakfast On The Beach
Acts 3:1- 10
Chilmark Community Church
April 23, 2017 2nd Sunday in Easter
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
Two weeks ago, we were with Peter, sitting next to the fire in a darkened courtyard in the run up to Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus. We witnessed his denial of Jesus and also his anguish when he realized what he had done. Three times – when questioned and accused about his relationship with Jesus, he backed off – – I do not know this man – – I am not one of his disciples. Crucifixion happened and there was no chance to make things right. Peter wept, of course. I can imagine him in body wrenching sobbing as he heard that cock crow and realized the enormity of what he had done – or had actually failed to do. I imagine his shame and his sorrow – – and his overwhelming sense of guilt – – having turned his back on Jesus.
I know Peter all too well. Too many times in my own life I have not been able to say or do the courageous thing – have remained silent when I should have spoken – and ended up essentially doing the same thing Peter did – – denying that I do indeed have a relationship with Jesus that demands more of me. I suspect we all have joined Peter at one time or another – hiding in some dark corner of our own souls because we did not have the courage or commitment or integrity to act or speak out when we should have.
It is not always easy to know clearly, in the midst of growing militaristic rhetoric, triumphal posturing and ever present fear propaganda, how we are to, indeed, demonstrate that we know and love a Jesus who taught nonviolence and truth and compassion as a way of life. Sometimes it is easier and safer to be quiet, to pull back into the shadows, let things run their course and hope for the best.
But there is this nagging question whispering across the ages…”Do you love me?” It is hard to stand in the darkened courtyard being accused of being one of Jesus’ people – – – easier to back off and blend into the shadows – – simpler to keep our calling to ourselves. But then – – crucifixion happens. All 4 gospels clearly spell it out. Jesus dies alone while those who love and know him best run for safety.
Only John records this epilogue that we read this morning. A frustrating fishing expedition – – all night long, time after time casting their nets, moving on – hoping for a better spot – nets coming up empty every time. I wonder if those of you who are or have ever been fishermen would really appreciate a suggestion from someone on the shore that you should try throwing your nets off the other side of the boat! Frankly, I think that took a bit of courage on Jesus’ part!
Be that as it may, the fishermen toss the net over the right side of the boat and the net fills with fish. One of the men recognizes Jesus as the Lord, standing on the shoreline. In a flash, Peter is over the side and swimming toward the shore.
There is a bit of comic relief here. During the night of fishing, Peter had stripped down to a loincloth to be able to work more easily, but before he jumped in the water, he put on all his clothes and slogged his way to shore fully dressed!
Breakfast is on the grill. Bread and fish. An awkward moment. No one asks who invites them. They already know. Even so, the living Presence of Jesus defies credulity. He died. They heard the accounts. John, the Beloved Disciple, was at the foot of the cross. But Jesus is a Living Presence – and they witness this as well.
The crux of the encounter unfolds after breakfast. Try to imagine being confronted by the Living Christ. “Do you love me?” Maybe the answer would erupt out of us as it does with Peter – “Yes, Lord, You know I love you!”
In a forceful formula, Jesus asks Peter three times and each time Peter affirms his love for Jesus and we watch an incredible drama of forgiveness and restoration happen – – Peter , if you love me, feed my sheep. A triple formula that wipes away the terrible shame and guilt and sadness that Peter suffered in refusing to be identified with Jesus. Three times of denial – three days in the tomb – three chances to say “yes – Jesus – you know I love you” – and three challenges to Peter to live out his love for the Risen Christ.
No condemnation – no confession of guilt – no recriminations. Only Jesus’ offer of restoration to right relationship. It all happens in Jesus’ spacious willingness to entrust to Peter the work that Jesus started.
It is no secret that we stand in Peter’s shoes a lot of the time. We live in a time when ugliness toward immigrants, toward people of color, toward Jews and Muslims, toward human beings with a variety of gender orientations, toward strangers, toward women, is given license. We stand in Peter’s shoes when we fail to acknowledge our connection to those on the outside as beloved children of God – when we are unable to confess and affirm and embrace our relatedness to suffering human beings created in the image of God.
That courtyard where Peter denied knowing Jesus is everywhere. If we allow ourselves to think about it, our ability to deny the Christ Presence in other human beings is just as well developed as Peter’s ability to deny Jesus. We often stand in dark courtyard.
What we don’t often realize, however, is that when we find ourselves standing in Peter’s shoes, we are also standing in the presence of Jesus. This is inescapable. We might be kind of naked in our brokenness – in our inability to live up to even our own high expectations – – or maybe we are bogged down with the burden of soggy, wet clothing – – things like broken relationships that need healing; inability to speak with the courage of our convictions; failure to take a stand when it is required of us. Sometimes it is hard for us to forgive other people. For some of us it might be even harder to receive forgiveness. The scenarios play themselves out over and over again: individuals can’t forgive; nations can’t forgive. Conditions must be met – offenders must be identified – punishment and sanctions must be meted out – – and then, perhaps, the work of restoration can begin in a process that may take generations to unfold. Even faith communities struggle with forgiveness – pride is wounded – – barriers go up – – and – -well – -the sheep just have to wait to be fed. Almost universally, the critical work of attending to well being of the souls and bodies who wait suffers while we expend our energy in being uncertain, prideful and afraid. Consequently, our metaphorical nets may come up feeling quite empty. Our constantly shifting human condition might be compared to a long night of fishing and a sunrise with empty nets. Not much to show for all our efforts.
But – – the irresistible aroma of grilled fish and bread reaches our nostrils and we are invited to breakfast. When we respond to the invitation to be in the Presence of the Christ, we are responding to be fully in the present. This is the mystery of life in the resurrection – – life in the present moment – life in the presence of Christ.
The physical form of Jesus died – as all human beings eventually die – one way or another. His death was a physical event, a cruel and finite event that happened at a point in history. But the Christ – the eternal manifestation of God in all things at all times appears at every moment to issue the invitation to any who will listen….if you love me, then be about the business of being Christ in the world.
In his encounter with Jesus, Peter becomes a metaphor for a fully awakened consciousness – – he awakens to his own true nature – – his own Christ nature – -as his story unfolds in the book of Acts. We read descriptions of him that make us think of Jesus. Peter speaks the truth with courage. Peter heals the sick. Peter suffers for his actions – – but he can do nothing else. He lives the truth that the Christ awakens in him. He becomes another unique manifestation of the same holy consciousness that enlivened Jesus.
We stand in Peter’s shoes. Maybe we stand cold and shivering. Jesus asks the same question of us: “Do you love me?” It is a code question. In those simple words, the Christ asks us “Are you willing to wake up to your own true nature?” “Are you willing to live as offspring of God?” “Are you willing to live in my Presence with every breath?” “Are you willing to be a Christ for others?”
There are no blueprints in the story for what it means to “feed my sheep.” We have most often interpreted Jesus’ words to mean that we need to feed the hungry. clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, heal the sick. Feeding the sheep means all this and more. Most fundamentally, the command to feed my sheep follows on the answer to the question “Do you love me?” The answer we give to that question shapes our identity. A “Yes” answer rattles us out of the limitations of our belief systems about the world and about ourselves. When we answer unequivocally “Yes, Lord, you know that I Iove you,” we take the first step toward allowing our selves to be shaped and molded by the power of the Risen One. This is an act of surrender, of submission – – not to some external demand upon our energies, but to an inner and powerful force that will guide us into all that we are to become.
The specific feeding, the work with the sheep? That unfolds as each moment arises – -and we respond in each moment out of an awakened Christ consciousness dwelling deep within each one of us. We are in the 2nd week of Easter. The resurrection is still fresh in our minds. The Presence of the Risen One is real. It calls to us from darkened courtyards, from an empty cross, from a vacant tomb, from a distant lake shore. It comes to our nostrils in the fragrant aroma of grilled fish and fresh bread. The Jesus calls out to us: Do you love me? Our answer determines everything.