Scripture: John 21:1-19 Delivered: April 14, 2013–3rd Easter
Do you watch The Big Bang Theory?
Sheldon Cooper, one of the main characters, is one of the funniest, quirkiest people to ever exist, whether real or fiction. And one of his most consistent quirks goes a bit like this:
Sheldon walks into the living room of his apartment and finds one of his friends sitting on the end of the couch that he has called dibs on, and he matter-of-factly states,“You’re in my seat.”
It doesn’t matter if every other seat in the house is open and available. It doesn’t matter if the person in his seat is mortally ill. Sheldon wants his seat.
It’s a constant ongoing joke in the series— Nobody, but nobody sits in Sheldon’s seat.
Try to argue with him and he lights into a long diatribe about it being the optimal seat for watching television, playing video games, it gets a cross breeze in the summer and in the winter is close enough to the heat to stay warm, but far enough away not to get too hot.
It’s lunacy. Anyone can see that.
On more than one occasion Sheldon’s friends accuse him of being crazy. (He’s not crazy, his mother had him tested). In the end,
it’s always easier just to move and Sheldon happily sits down in his seat and order is restored to what had just a moment before been a chaotic world of change and uncertainty for the quirky young genius.
And we can laugh at Sheldon. We can call him crazy. We can shake our heads and wonder if it would really kill him to sit somewhere else, just once.
But look at how we always go straight back to our favorite pews every single Sunday.
You know why?
It’s not because we’re all a little bit crazy like Sheldon Cooper… It’s because we like familiarity.
Even the most adventurous amongst us appreciates the comforts of the familiar.
We can go globetrotting all over the world, sail the high seas, climb the highest peaks, and hike into the most remote areas of the Rain Forest… but we have to admit, nothing feels quite as good as coming home to your own bed.
We are creatures of habit… sitting in the same places, doing the same things, finding comfort in routine…
And the disciples were just like us.
So, if this story feels familiar, it’s because it is.
Everything about the story of Jesus meeting his disciples on the shore after the resurrection is a sort of re-enactment of scenes we have already seen before.
Not really knowing what else to do, and probably looking to get away from the world for a bit, the disciples take off on a fishing trip.
Jesus appears on the shore, and hails the fishermen—the same way he did at the very beginning of the gospel story—beckoning them not to give up, but to cast their nets to the other side.
And just as we’ve seen happen already, the nets come in full. More than full… they are overflowing with their bounty. The very fact that they didn’t rip and tear is a miracle in and of itself.
It is at this point that one of the disciples, the “one whom Jesus loved”—the more contemplative one, recognizes who that guy back on the shore is.
And in a story that is as typical and familiar as possible for people who know the attitudes and personalities of the disciples, the contemplative disciple, John looks at the one who might’ve been diagnosed with ADHD if he were around today (I’m talking about Simon Peter) and says, “That’s Jesus over there.”
Well—John might’ve been content with waiting to get back to the shore while safely seated in the boat, because John had a much calmer personality and he knew Jesus wasn’t going to go anywhere.
But Simon Peter can’t contain himself. He just jumps overboard and swims back to shore.
And did it ever feel good to get to that shore, (whether you’d come the exuberant way Peter had, or the more sensible way John had) and to see such and old friend.
Jesus was ready for them, too—I’ve always suspected Jesus might be a Methodist because of the way he seems to enjoy having fellowship meals with his friends…
He’s got a good fire going and he’s got bread toasting, and he’s got fish frying and is ready to add some of the disciple’s catch…
The smell, after a long night of fishing must have been intoxicating to the disciples.
And it was familiar.
Because this is what Jesus was always doing. He had always had a purpose, but he always took plenty of time to foster that relationship with his followers, teaching them, guiding them, and simply getting to know them.
They are no stranger to sharing a common meal with Jesus.
How nice it must have been, to have their needs met, and in such a way that seems to intimate closeness and friendship.
But, sometimes, even the familiar can be a little uncomfortable to deal with when it forces us to remember those moments of our lives of which we are least proud.
And that’s exactly what happens.
The same disciple that couldn’t wait for a boat to be rowed back to shore finds himself in a familiar place.
Jesus looks at him and says, “Do you love me?”
Well—it goes without saying, don’t you think? Peter had swam back to shore just to get to Jesus. I mean, the man is still dripping wet…
So Peter says, “You know I do.”
And then comes the command that isn’t so unfamiliar, either. “Feed my sheep.”
They’d heard Jesus talk about the people of this world as sheep, and himself as the Good Shepherd. They knew what he wanted. In the upper room he had told them to go and make believers of all people. So Peter couldn’t have been startled by Jesus’ request.
But what does startle Peter is the next question: “Do you love me?”
What was this all about? Peter had just answered that question. And it was a question that he shouldn’t have had to answer because his actions of the day had already spoken loud and clear.
So Simon Peter, a little defensively now, says, “You know I do!”
And Jesus repeats the command to feed his sheep.
But no sooner than the command was out of his mouth, here comes the third question: “Do you love me?”
What was Jesus playing at? Was he trying to determine Peter’s answer by the law of averages? Did he not believe the first two answers? Did he really expect Peter to answer any differently this time?
Peter is visibly hurt at this. We would all be.
But it’s clear Jesus isn’t teasing. He’s standing there, looking Simon Peter square in the eye, expecting an answer. So, unable to hide his sense of woundedness, Peter says, “Lord, you already know everything… You know I love you.”
And then it came… something familiar, something healing, something amazing.
It burst out of the quiet moment on the shore that morning the same way it had burst out of the horror of that dark night not too many days ago—
Then it had been a rooster crowing, revealing that despite his best intentions Simon Peter, just as Jesus had said he would, had denied his friend, his teacher, and his Lord three times.
But now—as the sun rises over the lake and the morning dew begins to lift and the world slowly stirs to life for a brand new day,
Jesus says for a third time, “Feed my sheep.”
For each denial Jesus had offered a reprieve, a chance to set the record straight, and the honor of being entrusted with the mission Jesus had begun.
Three times had completed the denial… and three times had completed the forgiveness.
This is what Jesus does for us in our lives.
He meets us in familiar places—in the innocent face of a child who steals our heart—in the warmth of a close moment with an old friend—in the comfort of a time of devotion—in the promise of an early morning sunrise or the beauty of an evening sunset…
Jesus meets us in familiar places, and often times, it is the last place we would be expecting him.
But he meets us there.
Whether it is at our communion table in worship or at the family table after a hectic day, Jesus is coming to us, and beckoning us into a closer relationships.
All those foolish moments of denial we had uttered in the darkness of the night that had scattered us is being forgiven as Jesus,
time after time, gives us the chance to acknowledge our love and accept his mission.
Easter is still not over, folks. The sun rising on the disciples and Jesus having breakfast with them on the shore reminds us that it is still just beginning.
And if we are willing to calm down for a moment and to take a good hard look like John did, we’ll find Jesus is calling to us.
And if we aren’t afraid to come to him like Simon Peter did, we’ll find that he’s offering to set things right and he still trusts us to be his followers, to carry such an important message to everyone we meet—to let the world know that a new day is dawning, and the same ol’ God is offering us a brand new life.