“Hubris, humbling and healing” (John 21) – preached at Trinity Community Church on April 23rd 2017
WELCOME – I stand before you as an "expert" – in failure!
What do you do when you have done something really awful? (When you've let down your best friend?) Perhaps you continually replay the events in your mind; you, exhausted, might cry yourself to sleep; after you have done the round of self-loathing and have no more 'names' you can call yourself - what then? Give up? How do you deal with the humiliation? How can you face the person you have hurt? How do you live with yourself? Will they ever forgive me? Can I ever forgive myself? Is there life after failure?
When the women arrived that "first morning" to find the stone rolled away and Jesus' tomb empty they were already consumed by grief and a sense of abject failure...
But it is a sign of God's great love that He will often send his angels, and use them, to speak to his beleaguered people – especially in (critical) times of crisis – and times of seeming failure.
The angel said to the women at the empty tomb, "Don't be alarmed: you're looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here; see the place where they laid him. But GO TELL HIS DISCIPLES AND PETER. He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you..." (Mk. 16:6-7)
But GO TELL HIS DISCIPLES AND PETER. It is important that the women tell the disciples this wonderful news that He is not dead – he is alive - and particularly important that Peter knows. "Tell Peter!" Please tell Peter; I haven't finished with him...
We don't know (we are not told) where he went in the days after the crucifixion, or what he was doing; but it's a fair bet that Peter was struggling with a terrible sense of guilt and failure...
We last see him (just as the Lord had predicted) denying all knowledge of his Master,
Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times."
In one glance from Jesus, across the crowded courtyard; in one sound, the crowing of the cockerel; in one moment, with the smell of charcoal playing in his nostrils – Peter knew the depth of his failure. 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter was a resourceful and successful man, a natural-born leader of men, lauded by, trusted and followed by men – oh, he made the occasional mistake (faux pas), would put his foot in it, engage mouth before brain...
But this is big-time failure. It is deliberate. It is real.
At the root of Peter's failure: HUBRIS – self, pride, arrogance, self-reliance – the kind of pride that (in Gk myth) always led to a fall...
The disciples left Jerusalem and gather in Galilee to wait for Jesus who had promised he would meet them there (Matthew 26:32). And while there they go fishing...
"While we're waiting here we might as well do something that we're familiar with. Let's go fishing," says Peter, and the others duly follow. Here's a sad little picture of a failed fishing trip. Peter cannot succeed even at the business he knew best! Even a nights' fishing brings no reprieve, no relief and no fish.
It all has a familiar ring to it; they return to the same shore-line where family, fleets and friends were left behind on a morning 3 years before – the day the adventure began, the day they followed, the day the nets bulged with a monster haul, the day Peter felt unworthy because he knew he was in the presence of the Lord (Lk. 5: 1-11)
The Peter we meet here has already arrived at the empty tomb (the first to go in); we know he has met with the Risen Christ and knows the stunning truth of the resurrection. (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor.15: 4, 5)
But even this cannot make up for the bewildering reality of his (sense of) personal failure. He is haunted by the memory of that soul-searching stare from his Lord.
And Peter denied knowing Jesus a 3rd time: "I swear that I am telling the truth! I do not know the man you are talking about!"
Even as he spoke the night air (only slightly warmed by a charcoal fire) bore the sound of a rooster crowing. Peter remembered all his fine words, then went out and wept bitterly.
The rock was at rock bottom. He wanted to die. What he had done was 'unforgivable', his wounds beyond healing; as a disciple/leader he was a failure. "He was going to make me a fisher for men!" That night – under Peter's captaincy – they had failed. And they must have longed for the times when they went where He sent them, when they did as He asked them, He taught them, He fed them – He healed them. They never failed with Him...
A picture of empty nets and lives, a picture of life without God and a reminder to Peter of the Upper Room: "I am the vine, you are the branches; whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty, for cut off from me (without me) you can do nothing!" (John 15)
And then Peter hears a voice: like a smooth stone skimming across a quiet sea: a faintly familiar and reassuring voice, "Boys, haven't you caught anything yet?" And in the simple words: "Throw that net of yours on the right side of the boat and you will find the fish you've been looking for," it suddenly dawns on John (the acute) and he recognizes: IT IS THE LORD!
So, what do you do when you have let down your best friend? You go to them.
Peter is out of the blocks like an Olympic runner and he leaves the others to bring in the fish. Peter is grieving and exhausted, but leaps into action, tucking himself in as he goes. (This is the run of repentance and love.) A sad little picture is now one of hope. Peter cannot contain himself!
And what was the Risen Christ doing? Was he rebuking the disciples; was he shouting at them, "Look at me, I'm the king of the castle?! How could you have denied me after all I have done for you? Some friend you've proved to be Simon Peter! You're just a coward!"
No, he was cooking a breakfast for his friends: he (our Lord and God) had gathered sticks, he lit a fire (he had the fish!) and he was cooking - something so simple and humble, yet so stunning and powerful; inviting them to come (first) for breakfast.
It was this living hope that began to dawn for Peter when the silence on the shore after breakfast was broken by Jesus. Instead of recriminations: "Do you LOVE ME?" He asks three times, once for each denial and by the third question Peter sees the charcoal fire, and there he makes the link; and there He (Jesus) washes away the bitterness of a damaged memory.
And, what does a friend do when he is betrayed? He forgives as the Lord forgives; to use a modern phrase there is "closure".
And, each time Peter said, "Lord, you know that I love you," Jesus gave him a job to do: "feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, and feed my sheep."
Here is the making of Peter and, strangely, here is the breaking of Peter. Peter who was known for his hubris has to be humbled before God, and before God can use him.
"God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble!"
"Trust in the Lord and do not rely on your own understanding!"
"The Lord disciplines those He loves..."
He has to be broken of the bravado, broken of his reliance on his own resources, broken too of the bruising past which held him back. Peter's response to the Lord is real: he could hide nothing from the Lord; the Lord knew him better than he knew himself. Peter's love for the Lord is as real as his failure – even greater. And the Lord's love for those who love and fail, and fail and still love; well, the Lord's love is inexhaustible!
Peter receives bread and fish (for the body) and forgiveness and life; Jesus gently bends and breaks Peter; he restores (heals, makes whole) and re-instates him. The rock is reforming. Jesus ends the conversation with the words, "Follow me" (v. 19,) words which recall their very first meeting.
We cannot know spiritual healing and health without (giving & receiving) forgiveness. We have to face our failure. Peter knew Jesus had been raised from the dead, but that was not enough: he needed to experience forgiveness. We need to know Friday as well as Sunday!
John could have finished his gospel in the previous chapter, but the Easter story is incomplete without this luminous passage – just as Sunday makes no sense without Friday!
Peter would have to go from humiliation caused by pride, through humbling and towards healing. He will still fail sometimes.
Peter's journey is our journey (we're not so different): he learns that without the Great Shepherd, he is nothing but a lost sheep; that naturally, he is weak; that, unaided, he cannot succeed: he will learn that failure is an event, not a destiny...
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith...And the God of all grace ...will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (from 1 Peter 5)
There are many people who think their crimes are unforgivable, or that their failures are beyond even God's redeeming. Perhaps you have been there; perhaps that is your experience this morning? But the gospel of grace is for you. God forgives and forgets; while the world (and we) keeps score! Have you heard his voice (the Risen Christ) speaking pardon and peace to your hearts; have you heard His assurance that, if you love him, he has a work for you to do?