Inspired by John 21:1-19
What in the world was Peter doing naked on a boat! That was my take away when I first read this passage last week. And it was hard to get that image out of my head! I tried to focus on the usual suspects in this well-known story. The fishing, the nets, the casting, the breakfast, Jesus forgiving Peter, all the obvious stuff that we’ve heard a million sermons on. But I could not get the image of Peter in his birthday suit out of my head! So, in my experience, that usually can only mean one thing, God is doing something there, God wants us to notice something there. So, as weird as it was, I pondered, I wondered, I meditated on naked Peter.
I began asking questions like, why was he naked? Why is it even mentioned? Why would John throw Peter under the bus like that? I mean, Peter is painted as being a bit dense in John’s Gospel, John seems to go out of his way to let you know that Peter isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. But John chooses his words very carefully and wouldn’t include this for petty reasons I hope. Other questions might be: Is this connected to Jesus forgiving Peter over breakfast? What does this mean for us, if anything? So this is what I came up with.
John is throwing Peter under the bus here, but for good reason, for reasons that even Peter would agree with, the older, mature, Peter that becomes a leader in the church eventually. John wants us to see just how unprepared Peter was when Jesus shows up again, this time on the sea shore while they are fishing. And the fact that he wanted to go fishing is no trivial matter either. Why was he fishing and not doing all the ministry that Jesus told them to do over the last three years? Well, some may argue that they needed to eat too but I don’t think that’s John’s point.
For some context we have to remember where Peter is coming from and the state of mind that he may have been in because of where he had come from. Not only had he recently witnessed the violent death of Jesus, his friend, his teacher, his pastor, but in a moment of weakness he denied even knowing Jesus, while Jesus was on trial no less! And then the resurrected Jesus shows up and it’s a glorious time and everyone’s celebrating, they find the courage and motivation that they need to leave that locked room. But Peter, Peter is carrying around all this guilt for what he has done and it’s dragging him down. It’s paralyzing him. He’s feeling unworthy to do the ministry that Jesus asked him to do. He’s having troubling following Jesus through his guilt.
I imagine John years later when he is writing his Gospel, asking Peter if he can share these stories. And Peter gasps, saying are you crazy! I don’t want people to remember me that way! How embarrassing! And John says, I know, but people need to hear this, people need to hear about your transformation. Because John has been with Peter since the beginning. He knows the kind of person Peter was when he met him, and sees the wise pastoral leader of the church that he has become. And John is proud of him! And wants to share these stories to give others hope, that if this dumb fisherman can be transformed maybe I can too.
But back to our story. Peter, in all his guilt, goes fishing and is clearly not dressed for Jesus to show up, heck, he’s not even dressed for fishing! Peter is unprepared for Jesus, for ministry, for fishing, for life! Which is maybe why the disciples said, we’ll go with you Pete. And then Jesus shows up, tells them to cast on the other side and then none of them are prepared for what happens next. They literally haul in a boatload of fish, that they were unprepared for, their nets can’t even handle it! And Peter doesn’t even care, because now he knows who is on the shore, that’s his Jesus, Peter may not know a whole lot of things in the state of mind he is in but he knows he needs Jesus, and so dives in after him.
So, here is where I feel we are being challenged by this story. How prepared are we for ministry? How prepared are we for Jesus to show up? How prepared are we for Jesus to ask us to cast on the other side, to change things up, and then be surprised with the results? Which leads to other questions like, how do we even prepare for ministry? How do we prepare for Jesus to show up? How do we even prepare for ministry surprises?
Well, let me give you an example of how I have already seen that play out here at Bethlehem. This past week has been a rough one for Auburn and for many in our congregation. The tragic death of Trevor and Jared, two students from Placer High last Sunday has shaken the city, the high school, those families involved, and of our youth group here at Bethlehem, many of whom knew Trevor and Jared. Unfortunately, this kind of tragedy is not new to our youth group here. Many have shared with me some heartfelt stories surrounding the death of Hannah three years ago.
I don’t bring that up to open an old wound but like John sharing those stories of Peter that he’d rather just forget, it’s a part of your history that has formed you into the body of Christ that you are today. It is part of your history that has prepared for the unexpected, like last week’s tragic deaths. And here’s how, in our staff meeting this week, Lisa King, our children’s ministry director, brought up Hannah and all the things that helped Bethlehem cope and process her death, in the hopes that we can find ways to cope, and process, and heal now. That is an example of how a life event, however tragic, can push us to prepare for the unexpected. But it still takes people like Lisa to see and actively use those opportunities; to follow Jesus.
And here’s another example, one that I noticed even before last Sunday’s tragic event. Pastor Casey has actively worked to make a safe place for our youth here; a safe place for them to share their thoughts, their questions, their emotions, their stories. And more than that, he has been able to create an atmosphere here, where the youth themselves are able to care for, and to minister to each other. That is a beautiful thing to behold. I see it in their hugs, their tears, their laughter, their willingness to welcome outsiders, their protective nature with each other, especially in times of sadness and confusion like this past week.
Hymn: When Pain of the World Surrounds Us
When pain of the world surrounds us with darkness and despair,
when searching just confounds us with false hopes ev'rywhere,
when lives are starved for meaning and destiny is bare,
we are called to follow Jesus and let God's healing flow through us.
We see with fear and trembling our aching world in need,
confessing to each other our wastefulness and greed.
May we with steadfast caring the hungry children feed.
We are called to follow Jesus and let God's justice flow through us.
The church is a holy vessel the living waters fill
to nourish all the people, God's purpose to fulfill.
May we with humble courage be open to God's will.
We are called to follow Jesus and let God's Spirit flow through us.
We praise you for our journey and your abundant grace,
your saving word that guided a struggling human race.
O God, with all creation, your future we embrace.
We are called to follow Jesus and let God's changes flow through us.
By Jim Strathdee