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Sermon for Easter 3 By The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Transforming love

Its difficult to imagine quite how low Peter and the other disciples must have been feeling in today’s gospel reading

All that they had understood about Jesus over the last few years seems to be in shreds, He’s no longer with them and their hopes and dreams seem in taters. Peter’s been a complete failure when it mattered most and there’s no way back

Like many others in the same situation they drift back into what they had been doing before, at least they could get on with that and make a living – only they can’t catch anything

Imagine Peter thinking (as we all do from time to time) ‘I must be a complete failure, I can’t even do what I have been doing for years…’

And then some complete stranger shouts at them from the shore to suggest they cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they catch a haul they can’t even get into the boat. They’d be thinking, ‘As fishermen how did we miss that?’, although people from the shore did sometimes help and guide the boats to catch fish in the lake

And then they realise the stranger is perhaps no stranger at all, but Jesus, and things start to change. And, this being the gospel of John, he gives us some clues as to what might be about to happen

First of all there is a fire or brazier that has been lit and the smell drifting towards the disciples. When was the last time Peter had been by a brazier? A few days earlier when he had denied knowing Christ. John points us to the events of Peter’s denial of Christ.

After the disciples had sat down and eaten some fish (this must have been a breakfast party with somewhat stilted conversation), Jesus takes Peter to one side for a ‘chat’.

This must have had the feeling of the discipleship equivalent of going into the headmasters study for Peter. ‘Oh no, what’s he going to say now, am I about to be punished for what I did a few days ago’. Just when Peter thought things couldn’t get worse it looks as if they are just about to…

We get another clue in the exchange that takes place between Jesus and Peter. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, in the first instance, more then these although we never quite know what ‘these’ represent. There are some notes in Partnership News this week in the Meditation about the different words that are used in the original Greek text for love in this conversation. John is big on the concept of 3 we remember, 3 days…

The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him using the word for love agape, representing a total self giving kind of love. Peter replies using the weaker work for love, phileo. The last time Jesus meets Peter where he is and uses the same word for love as Peter is using, phileo.

Why this is interesting is that it’s generally accepted that Jesus spoke Aramaic and the conversation with Peter would have taken place in Aramaic. In Aramaic, there aren’t two different words for love, just the one so whilst the theologians and academics reflect on the different words it probably more important to try to unsderstand the clue John is giving us.

It could be that what John is pointing out is that our love for Christ can never be as strong as His love for us, but it doesn’t matter.

What Christ wants for us is to love Him as best we can, in our own imperfect way. He will do the rest.

He goes on to show what that means.

It’s often very difficult to trust someone who has failed us or let us down. We’re very wary about getting our fingers burnt twice.

When Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Jesus’ response isn’t a, ‘Well that all right then, no harm done, least said soonest mended’ approach

Jesus’ response is to give Peter a new task to do; perhaps the most important task there was to do in the early church

Again there is another clue by John. Earlier in his gospel as one of the ‘I am’ sayings he has introduced the motif of Jesus being the good shepherd. Here not only has he reinstated Peter to the discipleship, he has given him the task of leading the early church. He want Peter to share is His own task of the good shepherd, and feed His sheep.

But it’s also important to understand that Peter is given this task, not because Jesus thinks he is well suited to the task, thins he is a great administrator, preacher or leader.

Jesus gives him the task because he has declared that he loves Him.

If we are to do anything as a follower or servant of Jesus our efforts should be driven out of love for Him. In this way our Christian service truly is a reflection and expression of our love for Him. Our actions need to be built on love for Him.

Jesus, just as He does for all of us, heals the failings and hurts of the past for Peter and gives him a new job to do

And, just as our actions are a reflection of our love for Jesus, so they are a sign that we are forgiven by Christ. It works both ways

Often we may feel that our love for Jesus is pretty tepid and lame at times, look at what happened to Peter. Again there is another clue by John

In the words that follow the reading John indicate that Peter was to suffer death as a martyr

Peter may have felt that his love was only phileo love, but when it had been exposed to the transforming love of Jesus it too was transformed into that total self giving agape love.

We shouldn’t get tied up with the mere words of John, however elegant they are. But neither should we forget that we are called by God for a task and as we respond in love for Him, he takes what we offer, our love, our gifts, our failures, all the times we have failed Him in the past, our hurts and loneliness, our pain and sorrow; and transforms it and uses it as a sign of our forgiveness and of His undying and unconditional love for the world.