November 22, 2020
One of the fitness leaders in my online workouts likes to say, “If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.” It’s a great statement—a great idea. But for me—as for many of us—it’s easier said than done. How many of us have had to start over…frequently? Start over on a diet or a workout program; start over in a career; start over with sobriety; start over with relationships. Sometimes it’s not our choice, it’s out of our hands. Sometimes, it’s because we gave up.
That’s what I hear when Peter states to the other disciples, “I’m going fishing.” They had been in the upper room, living behind locked doors for a while. Jesus did show up for them…twice. He showed them the scars on his hands and feet. He showed them his side. He gave them his peace. He sent them into the world to share the good news of his death and his resurrection. And that’s where the story originally ends.
But someone felt there needed to be some resolution for Peter—the one who denied Jesus three times, who gave up, gave in, and ran away. The story just couldn’t end with that. What happened next? So, someone filled in the gaps and told us about the day Peter decided to get on with his life. He went back to what he knew, and the other fishermen went with him.
“I’m going fishing,” he said. “Yep, we’ll go, too.” They were lost. So what that Jesus sent them? What does that mean? What does that look like? What were they supposed to do without Jesus leading the way? So, they went back to what they knew. They went back to normal. It’s what we all long for as we’re making our way through this dark night of pandemic, loneliness, fear, and anger. Can’t we just get back to normal?
Except, normal didn’t work anymore. The fishermen caught nothing. Now what? So, some guy on the shore tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Really? I doubt the boat’s so big that the opposite side would yield anything different. But it does. And they recognize Jesus for who he is. And they rush into shore to greet him.
Around the fire, they roast fish for breakfast, and Jesus breaks bread. They have communion, and it’s just like old times. Until Jesus turns to Peter and asks him if he loves him. Now, this isn’t just any question. It gets to the heart of all that Peter has been through—from brazenly identifying him as Messiah at Caesarea Philippi to denying their connection outside the trial. And Jesus uses the word ‘agape.’ Do you love me with abiding fervor? With the kind of intensity that doesn’t fall away at the first sign of trouble? And Peter says, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” But Peter doesn’t use ‘agape.’ He uses ‘phileo’—the brotherly companion kind of love.
Jesus asks again. “Do you agape me?” And Peter responds again, “Yes, Lord. You know that I phileo you.” The third time, Jesus shifts and asks, “Peter, do you phileo me?” Stunned and saddened, Peter says, “You know everything. You know I phileo you.” And I wonder if the unspoken addendum is that Peter is afraid to agape. Because that kind of love requires sacrifice. But after every statement—even the third time—Jesus tells Peter to tend and feed his sheep. Take care of the people. If the disciples were wondering what they were supposed to do after the locked room, this is it. Take care of the people. Feed them with God’s Word. Share the hope of Jesus to all who find themselves just as lost as these poor disciples.
I recently watched one of the Nas Daily videos that recognizes the religious diversity of the United Arab Emirates—smack in the middle of Arabia. First of all, let me tell you the little I know of Nas Daily. It was started by a man named Nuseir Yassin, a Palestinian Israeli. He decided to make 1-minute uplifting videos every day for 1000 days. Not without struggle, he accomplished that and began to grow the mission and vision of his work. His mission: “We are a force for good.”
So, back to the Emirates. In this video, he showcases the way in which the various religions of the area not only tolerate each other. They respect and affirm each other. Grocery stores have a separate room for pork products in order to respect Muslim and Jewish people. One Muslim temple is named “Mary, Mother of Jesus” to affirm the Catholic Church across the way. Muslim, Christian, Morman, Jewish, Sieks—all respected and lifted up in this nation. This is what restoration looks like. Making space for the other.
At that fateful breakfast between Peter and Jesus, Jesus didn’t expect Peter to somehow will himself to love with agape. He wasn’t there, yet. And I really respect Peter’s honesty about that. Instead, Jesus takes his expectations to where Peter is. He affirms Peter’s answers. And even though Peter is disheartened about not being able to be who he wants to be for Jesus, he doesn’t try to plaster on a good face and be who he’s not. That’s what got him in trouble before. He postured himself as a strong disciple, and then balked at the weight of it when it really mattered.
This time, he was honest with himself and Jesus. And Jesus didn’t ask him to be anything else. Because it’s only in that honesty that he would have the strength to feed and nurture and care for those who would follow Jesus.
A pastor went to visit her parishioner where he worked at a car dealership. The parishioner had been struggling with his faith, and hadn’t been to worship in a while. He told his pastor that he was just having a hard time pulling his life together, and he didn’t feel like he belonged there. So the pastor asked him what part of the building they were standing in at that moment. He said, “The showroom.” “Very nice,” she said. “Lovely, brand new cars that have never seen the road or the weather. What’s behind the doors and in the back?” she asked. “That’s the service department,” he said. “So, if my car is riding rough, where should I take it? What if I don’t want to take it to the service department because I’m ashamed of it? Should I wait until it’s running well to bring it in?” The man laughed and said, “Of course not. That’s what the service department is for.”
“That’s what worship and the Church is for,” she said. “Think of it as God’s service department. You shouldn’t expect to be in top running form in order to come here. This is the place we go to when we need help, not when we’re perfect.”
Restoration is recognizing that something is wrong. Like alcoholics anonymous, we need to admit we have a problem before it can be addressed. We’re not expected to be perfect. We’re not expected to have things all together. If we did, there would have been no reason—and no opportunity—for Jesus to be crucified. But he did die. And he was resurrected. All to affirm our brokenness in this world. To affirm who we are and not ask us to be who we are not.
And affirmation is so much more than tolerance. Tolerance is putting up with what bugs us because either we feel obligated or powerless to change it. Affirmation is blessing what we are uncomfortable with because love compels us to it. Affirmation is more than saying, “You’re welcome here.” Affirmation is saying, “I am blessed because you, specifically, are here today.” It looks people in the eye rather than over their heads.
One of the commentaries I read referenced a ministry in Nashville called Thistle Farms and the Magdalene House. It started with the residence, offering a 2-year rent-free living community for women coming out of prison and off of addiction. Thistle Farms grew from that, helping these women gain employment skills, training, and resumes. In the video that was shared, one woman noted that they love all the women that come into the home, whether or not they are lovable. They love them until the women love themselves.
That’s what Jesus did for Peter. That’s what he does for us. In affirming where we are and who we are and what we have done or not done, he loves us in the midst of our brokenness. But he doesn’t stop there. He restores us into better relationship. He draws us into agape—slowly, intentionally, and with grace. And in that process of being transformed, our relationship with everything and everyone will be transformed, as well. That’s not to say that we ever actually achieve that in this lifetime. That’s not the point. The point is that Christ achieved it in his death so that we have all of eternity to continue to grow and be restored into the agape for which we’ve been created.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church