Called Again

May 1, 2022/John 21:1-19

I distinctly remember the one New Year’s Eve that Jeff and I did anything other than fall asleep in front of the TV well before the midnight hour.

We had won an overnight stay at a bed-and-breakfast inn in Tryon, and we decided to cash in our award the last day of the year.  This wasn’t a new place to us; Jeff grew up just a few miles down the highway from this western North Carolina town known for all things equestrian.  But this was the first time we walked along the main street as “tourists,” popping into little shops we never would have visited otherwise, sipping coffee at the local co-op, and then checking into our B&B on a residential street just a few blocks away.

B&Bs, in my experience, fall into one of two main categories.  The kind you hope to discover when you open the door is the kind that is tastefully decorated, if a bit flowery; the kind that has well-appointed bedrooms with comfortable, king-sized beds and oversized bathrooms with marble fixtures, big soaker tubs, and large walk-in showers.  The other kind – the kind that makes your heart drop to your toes – is musty, overdone, cluttered, and weird.

The B&B in Tryon fell into the latter category.  It had more furniture, plants, kitsch than should reasonably be shoehorned into the space.  I remember thinking, “This might be a mistake.”  Especially since we also were eating dinner there that night.

We were pleasantly surprised by the meal.  Fresh salad, beautifully prepared crab cakes, delicious dessert.  All was well.  Until I awoke in the middle of the night thinking I was surely about to die.  Food poisoning.  It may have been the bean sprouts on the salad – bean sprouts are a notorious source of food poisoning, but I haven’t been able to eat crab cakes since that night.

All I wanted was to be at home.  To be in my own space, a space that was familiar and comfortable and where, if I wanted to walk around with a washrag on my forehead and my pajamas sweaty, nobody would have anything to say about it.

When things are going badly, the familiar is what we yearn for.  The familiar offers comfort and eases the sense that what we’re experiencing is surely going to have a horrible outcome and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

So it should come as no surprise that, as a small group of the disciples sat there by the sea that evening, Peter announced, “I am going fishing.”  Fishing was what he knew best, after all.  Fishing was his livelihood, his income, his life – until he met Jesus.  And even though he and the others had seen the resurrected, post-crucifixion Jesus twice now, he was filled with questions and uncertainty and doubt about what exactly the future held.  Being a disciple had never seemed so hard, so impossible.  Fishing had never seemed more familiar, more welcome.  “I am going fishing,” he announced, and the others went with him.

It didn’t even matter, really, that they caught absolutely nothing that night.  As they made their way back to shore, they saw a man standing on the beach who somehow knew their nets had come up empty.  When he told them to cast their net again, they did.  “Why not?” they thought.  Nothing else to do.  But when the net began to sink under the weight of all the fish, they looked again at the man who somehow knew where the fish were schooling that night.  And John – the one Jesus loved – told Peter, “It’s Jesus!”

Now it wasn’t so much the fishing that was familiar as the face of the man standing there on the shore.  Peter didn’t even wait to raise anchor and sail back to land; he jumped into the water and swam for all he was worth.

They arrived to find a fire glowing, the bread baked, and the fish fragrant.  “Have a seat,” Jesus told them.  “Come and have breakfast.”  They put aside whatever unease or discomfort or questions they had and ate their fill.  And when Jesus turned his gaze on Peter and began questioning him, they all were relieved it was Peter getting the inquisition and not them.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Three times – reminding them of the three times Peter had brazenly lied to a servant girl as Jesus suffered at the hands of the Roman soldiers.  “I do not know him.”  Three times.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

And after each question, a mission – “Feed my sheep.”

Three denials, countered by three questions and three charges.  And now Peter knew that fishing was not going to be enough, that he was not going to return to his old, familiar way of life, but continue down a road of service to the one who had called him, had challenged him, had forgiven him his betrayal.  “Far more important than Peter’s denials is the grace of Christ.  The risen Christ still calls, still feeds, still empowers even doubters and deniers for the ministry.”[1]

“Jesus doesn’t seem interested in erasing or fixing Peter’s brokenness.  Instead, Jesus feeds a broken Peter and commissions him to respond by extending Jesus’ sustenance to others.”[2]

These days certainly find us longing for the comfortable and familiar.  We want worship to look like it did before Covid, without worrying about germs or immunity levels.  We want church to go on in a familiar way, without worrying about who might stand in this pulpit in the future.  So maybe we withdraw a bit, thinking we’ll recommit when things settle down.  For now, like Peter, we will just go fishing. But even if we do turn away like Peter, the God who sent love and promise in the form of a simple carpenter does not turn away. 

I thank God for Peter.  Peter, in all his brashness, mouthiness, foolhardiness, and imperfection.  Because if Jesus can forgive and use someone like Peter, I feel a whole lot better about my chances – and yours.  We are all of us broken, imperfect, messed up human beings.  Yet God can use us even in our very human state.  “God’s work still needs us, and being ourselves has not disqualified us from the mission.  Sometimes we choose the familiar work over the faithful work.  Christ calling us back to the job after we have walked away is a true work of love, grace, and restoration.”[3]

“Feeding the Lord’s sheep is a tangible way of staying in relationship with the Lord, as well as the surest way to express our love for him.”[4]  Mercifully, Jesus also equips us for the task.  “The risen Christ continues to share in the table fellowship of the church, continues to supply the strength and nurture we need for our lives and work.”[5]

The meal is ready.  Come and have breakfast.


[1] Thomas H. Troeger, Feasting on the Word C/2, 425

[2] Austin Crenshaw Shelley, “April 10, Third Sunday of Easter,” Christian Century, March 22, 2016

[3] Kiki Barnes, “Called and called back,” Christian Century, May 2022

[4] Gary D. Jones, Feasting on the Word C/2, 424

[5] Troeger, 423


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