Sunday, April 18, 2010

Third Time's The Charm - A Sermon for 3 Easter, 2010

This is a loaded story full of great images and great lines. That whole fishing story with Jesus telling the professional fishermen how to fish – and then feeding them? Awesome.

And there are tons of things in this little story you want to take note of. The fact that fishing didn’t work for the disciples. The fact that this story looks an awful lot like the story of when Jesus called his disciples for the first time saying, “I will make you fish for people.” The fact that while they were hauling all that miraculous fish onto the shore, Jesus had already cooked them some fish (with bread), and that this meal of fish and bread might remind the reader of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

But there’s one little line the evangelist slips in that I want to look at: “This was now the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. “

Why is that important?

To start off, three is always an important number in scripture. So something important is going on here. Come to think of it, if you ever notice in literature, food is always important, too. Important things always happen around food, so this scene is doubly important.

What that third appearance might say to us is that twice was not enough. The first two times Jesus appeared to them it was inside behind locked doors – about a week apart. In those first two visits, Jesus commissioned them, but it wasn’t enough. They still did not understand their mission, so they went back to what they knew – fishing.

It’s that third appearance that convinces them Jesus is really and truly back, and more importantly that his resurrection means something for their lives. Maybe after the first two appearances, they felt something like: “Well, it’s great Jesus rose, but now he’s gone again, and it didn’t really have any lasting impact on our lives now.” Anyone ever feel like that before?

So, this third visit lets them know they can’t go back to what they were before because they are no longer fishers of fish. They are fishers of people. Jesus can provide his own fish. He needs them to go out to the people. This third visit lets them know that they are to feed the people as Jesus fed them, not with bread alone but with the word of Christ’s love.

Something else happens in that third visit, however, that makes an even bigger impact on them, especially on Peter. Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” and Peter answers three times, “Yes.” Many have said this is Jesus’ way of reminding Peter of his triple denial of Jesus on the night of his arrest, as well as a way of telling him all is forgiven.

But with the help of a tiny bit of Greek, you might see that there’s even more here. The first two times Jesus asks, he uses the Greek word “agape,” which means a deep abiding, selfless caring. But when Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” he uses the word, “philia,” which means a loyal friendship, though it can be deep, too.

It’s only the third time of asking that Jesus changes his words: He asks, “Do you philia me?” and Peter, upset, says “Yes, I philia you.”

Why the different words? And why, on the third time, does Jesus change from agape to philia?

Perhaps, Peter just might not have agape within him at this point. Perhaps that deep, selfless love is just too much for him at this point in his journey. He’s been through a lot lately, remember, and he is just a young man, barely in his twenties – we tend to forget this. It is Jesus who changes his expectations this time. He says, in essence, “Philia is enough for now.”

And maybe the lesson for us is, even if you can’t love selflessly and deeply yet, Jesus will meet you where you are. Friendship is a good place to start.

I know a lot of people who don’t believe in God, or aren’t sure what they believe, but they like what they see in Jesus, and they even like some things that they see the church do.

Maybe it took those three appearances and those three questions to find out just where Peter stood, and for Jesus to know that while Peter was hardly on firm ground with his faith, it was enough for now. Peter and the other disciples would get other chances to live out their Agape for Jesus. They would spend their entire lives living it out. Without this third visit and those three questions, however, they might have sunk back into their old lives for good.

For them, the third time was the charm. Amen.