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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Healing Peter

Healing Peter

John 21:1-19

There are some interesting similarities between the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus when Jesus was arrested and the story of Peter’s reuniting with Jesus after the resurrection.  In both stories there are charcoal fires present and in both stories Peter is asked 3 times , in the first case whether he knows Jesus and in the second case whether he loves Jesus.  Let’s hear this story.  (Read John 21:1-19)

Our statement of love for others is important.  I remember the time my son was rushed into surgery with a depressed skull fracture due to a fall out of a tree.  I had taken him to the emergency room after a couple of his friends walked him home holding on to his arms and shoulders.  I laid him down on the couch and noted that some blood was coming from his ear.  When he started asking where it hurt, I knew he was in trouble and rushed him to the nearest emergency room.  They examined him, took him to x-ray, did not find any fractures and came out to me and said he could go home.  As I began to gather my belongings the nurse came back out and said they had to send him to x-ray again because he had started to seizure.  The second set of x-rays exposed a depressed skull fracture and they rushed him immediately into surgery.  I did not get to see him before he went in.  I remember sitting alone in the waiting room thinking a thousand ways this could all come out.  But most of all I regretted not being able to tell him I loved him.  My regret blossomed into despair and hopelessness.  Those were long, lonely hours, but eventually someone came, gave me a blanket and something to eat and drink and I waited longer.  At last the doctor came and said my son was in recovery and I could go sit with him.  They were just waiting for him to wake up, trying to get him to respond with no success so they could begin to assess the damage.  I was led into a room where I saw my son hooked up to a million tubes and head bandaged into a rather large turban.  I was terrified.  But then I leaned over him and said the words I had regretted not saying, “Andy, I love you.”  He responded to those words, when the words of doctors and nurses had failed to get a response.  Healing had begun for my son and for myself.

Peter needed such healing.  He had denied Jesus three times because he was afraid.  When Jesus needed a friend the most, Peter had deserted him.  Least we be too hard on Peter it was a logical thing to do.  Peter did not have the courage to stand up for his beloved teacher.  His need for self-preservation was too strong.  Guilt, disappointment, anguish must have plagued Peter those few days before the great discovery that Jesus had risen.  Think of the joy Peter must have felt when he saw the risen Jesus.  Then think of the guilt he must have felt knowing that his faith had not been strong enough to hang in there with Jesus.  Yes, Peter needed healing. 

So Jesus did a very wise thing.  He confronted Peter by asking him if he loved him.  Peter did not deny Jesus this time.  We get the sense that there was purpose in Jesus asking three times.  And I believe there was.  Jesus was offering Peter the chance to heal from his guilt.  Peter affirmed his love for Jesus.  The first time Jesus responded to Peter telling him to feed his lambs, those newly entering faith in Jesus.  The second time Jesus responded to Peter’s confession to tend his sheep, those who were already established in the faith.  Yet when Jesus asked the third time, Peter became concerned and hurt and with his concern came a confession of faith.  The third time he added to his affirmation of his love this statement, “Lord, you know everything!”  At last Peter got it!  And with that confession Jesus was able to tell Peter what lay ahead for him in the manner he would die.  Peter was ready to accept what Jesus told him and did not deny or back away from the responsibility that came with his confession.  Peter was to become the “rock” that would build the fledgling church, and help in the spread of the faith, even though he knew it would mean his death.  It is commonly believed that Peter died of crucifixion, and some say he was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die like his savior.  We don’t know the truth about his death for sure but he supposedly died 30 or so years after Jesus’ resurrection so he had a lot of time to build the church.

Who are the people like Peter of our times?  Perhaps there is a little of that character in all of us.  Perhaps there are times when we, like Peter, deny Jesus.  In our increasingly secular society, we are finding it harder to talk straight about Jesus.  It is easier to go with the flow of this society and to engage in the behaviors of this world that lead us to want more and focus on ourselves.  Just look at the images of beauty on our commercials, the young, thin, elegant models who display numerous products designed to make us beautiful and the young handsome men who model underwear and drive fast cars.  And look at the number or products that enhance beauty and make us look and feel good.  We are in a self-centered, gotta have this and that society.  And, as if that wasn’t enough, many of our young people are growing up in a Jesus-less society, not even knowing who he is and what he did.  Oh they get glimpses when they see some shows on TV around Christmas and Easter, but those are becoming increasingly secular as well. 

The most common way we have of denying Jesus is to not include Jesus in our daily life.  We can’t be bothered or we don’t think about him when we wake up in the morning.  We keep him hidden deep within us as we go about our daily lives.  Maybe we “let” him out on Sunday morning or when we need him when we find ourselves in desperate situations and then turn our thoughts to him.  But when we do that we are missing a whole lot of significant enrichment in our lives.  To “live” Jesus in our daily lives gives a different feel and flavor to life.  To walk in the light of Jesus gives us a great sense of being loved and loving in a wholesome, healing way.  To “live” Jesus in our daily lives gives us steadfast courage in the midst of turmoil, assurance in the midst of the doubts around us, strength in the midst of conflict and anxiety and purpose and direction in the midst of the fogginess and uncertainty of living a self-centered life. 

So the question Jesus asks of Peter is our question as well, “Kathy, do you love me?”  “Lord, You know that I do!”  “Feed and tend my sheep.”  You see our faith isn’t just for us, it belongs to the world.  How else can we change things around us than offer the love of Jesus to others, first to this congregation, strengthening each other’s faith, sharing our stories of faith, assuring each other that Jesus is alive and well in this community of faith.  Then, as we are strengthened in faith sharing that faith with others in this community and wherever we go  by our acts and words. 

It is so easy to get swamped in life in our times because we know so much about the rest of the world and its conflicts and behaviors.  It is so easy to live with a sense of hopelessness about it.  We see our religious symbols being stripped from our society, names of holidays being changed, the act of praying becoming less and less popular and we lament that the world isn’t like it used to be.  But I have noticed when I “live” Jesus that I see things differently.  I notice how good people treat each other and I notice those who pray silently and vocally at restaurants and meals.  People still ask me to say grace even though it is not their common practice at meal times.  I focus on people who do good things and am more likely to commend them.  I see the ugly part of life, but I also see the good part of life.  If I “live” Jesus I find the world as a whole a beautiful place to live, but also feel God’s pain at its injustices and hurts.  And God gives me the strength to step in and speak up when I am called to do so.  And when I “live” Jesus I acknowledge the tragedy of loved ones dying, but I also am able to see hope and beauty in that process, no matter how difficult or easy that process is. 

“Living” Jesus rather than trying to stuff him away when we feel like it changes our perspective on life.  It is not easy to always “live” Jesus, but the more we become conscious of him within us, the more we acknowledge that we love him the more whole we become and our ability to live life with hope and assurance increases.  The more we acknowledge Jesus’ love for us and our love for him, the better we are able to share that love and the better we are able to know and live that love.  As the cycle repeats itself within us, denial, repentance (asking forgiveness for denying Jesus), accepting Jesus’ love, and then acknowledging our love for Jesus, The stronger we become in faith and we become better at living more wholesome, purposeful lives. 

I have seen the power of Jesus to help overcomes addictions, to heal in remarkable ways, to calm fractured lives, to put people back together who have been shattered by tragedy, and to open others up to sharing their stories of faith in meaningful ways.  I have seen the power of Jesus to call people back again when they have strayed and to bring people to their knees in acknowledging their need for Jesus.  He will not go away, but continues to work in this world.  

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