Weekly Seeds: Follow God

Sunday, May 1, 2022
Third Sunday of Easter | Year C

Focus Theme:
Follow God

Focus Prayer:
God who Calls, let us hear your voice, follow your path, and remain in your presence. Amen.

Focus Reading:
John 21:1–19

21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 9:1–6 (7–20)
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11–14
John 21:1–19

Focus Questions:
1. What does it mean to be called?
2. Do you have a sense of calling in your life?
3. Do you believe in Jesus or follow Jesus or both?
4. What is the difference?
5. Why does it matter?

By Cheryl Lindsay

What does it mean to be called? Some might suggest it is a unique experience reserved for a select few. Others would counter that all of us are called in different but valued ways. The biblical narrative shares multiple call narratives, and in the Johannine gospel, we see that one person can be called multiple times. That is Peter’s story, but is it unique to Peter? Is he exceptional or is Peter exemplary?

I like the stories of biblical characters outside of their best moments. I like the tales the lectionary often shies away from, the actions that make us uncomfortable, and the choices that make us cringe. They remind us that these characters were profoundly human; there are no super saints coming in to save the day. These are not perfect people who live above the struggle to do and be what God calls them to do and to be. The common denominator is that when invited to follow God–to come or to go in the name and the way of the Holy One–they said yes.

A regular feature of each appearance of the risen Lord is a commissioning of the disciples. Dialogues with the risen Lord became a common genre in Gnostic literature (e.g., the Apocryphon of John). The beginnings of this genre can be noted in the brief conversations in the resurrection appearances in the synoptic gospels and in John 20, but John offers the longest, most developed dialogue with the risen Lord in the canonical gospels. Jesus questions and commissions Peter and makes prophetic pronouncements regarding the deaths of Peter and the Beloved Disciple, but this dialogue is free of the kind of mystical language and restricted knowledge that came to characterize the genre. The Gospel of John addresses the missionary task through the miracle of the great catch offish (21:1-14), the pastoral task through the dialogue with Peter (21:15-19), and the role of the reliable witness in the closing verses (21:20-25). (Alan Culpepper)

Peter said yes over and over. He doesn’t know what he’s signing up for but he says yes. He acts impulsively and even recklessly and then says yes. He fails Jesus in the most critical hour, and while he grieves his grave error, he says yes yet again. I often think that the fundamental difference between Peter and Judas (when they realize what they have done to Jesus in light of the crucifixion) is that Peter believed he could be forgiven. I think that’s also the same difference between Peter and those first human beings who had to confront their actions against their Creator. Yet, in some ways, he shared the same impulse–to conceal himself from the direct gaze of God.

I’m not sure why Peter was naked in this boat. Maybe that was part of his fishing routine. Maybe he shed his clothes in response to the environmental conditions of that particular day. Or, he may have been expressing frustration with the lack of a catch before this encounter with Jesus. But, his intuitive response was to hide, presumably in shame, when he realized that Jesus had found him. It is an act reminiscent of Adam and Eve in the garden stitching coverings for themselves from the God who then questioned, “Who told you you were naked?” This concealment may be more significant than the original offense; it solidifies the disconnection from God in a way that a bite of “forbidden fruit” or even a predicted denial could not.

The narratives diverge at this point. This is not a story of a fall; it’s a story of reconciliation. In the fall, the human beings are removed from abundance to scarcity. With Jesus enters this scene, the disciples are overwhelmed by the haul of fish.

The Fourth Gospel has also a fishing scene, in which Peter takes a leading place. The appendix does not come from the same pen as the first twenty chapters. This fishing scene is probably misplaced chronologically, but is nearer historical tradition than the Resurrection narratives of the main part of the Gospel, in that the appearances of Jesus are centred in Galilee rather than in Jerusalem. The story reads like a first appearance. The disciples suddenly come face to face with their Lord, without knowing that he had risen from the dead. But the appendix comes from the same school as does the Gospel. This is shown by the peculiar Johannine language, the close way in which the appendix is fitted into the former narrative, and the symbolic attitude to events which plainly shows itself, as well as by the reference to the beloved disciple. Here we have a story of the restoration of Peter to full discipleship after his denial of Jesus. (H J. Flower)

In a reversal of the three denials that Peter uttered while Jesus hung on the cross, Jesus asks Peter “do you love me” three times. The offer of redemption is not subtle:

Although some interpreters find no connection between this scene and John 21,15 the web of references to sheep and shepherding, laying down one’s life, Peter’s empty claim, Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s denial, and then the fulfillment of that prophecy in the courtyard require that Jesus’ questions and commands to Peter be read in view of these earlier scenes. The emphatic repetition of the question three times, the narrator’s comment that Peter was grieved that Jesus repeated the question a third time, and the reference to the charcoal fire (άνθρακιά), which occurs only in John 18:18 and 21:9, further assure the reader that this first conversation between Jesus and Peter following Peter’s denials should be read as the risen Lord reaching out to Peter in forgiveness and reestablishing Peter’s role as a disciple by giving him the role of a shepherd. It is primarily a scene of restoration—a second call to discipleship: “Follow me.” (Alan Culpepper)

Once again, Peter is called away from his fishing boat to follow Jesus. Jesus offers no reproach but an invitation that begins in the form of a question-answer-imperative. Ilaria Ramelli suggests that the question should be properly translated as “Do you love me more than you love these things?” This framing recognizes that a life with God is not a simple choice. Following Jesus means not choosing something or someone else. It requires adjustment, commitment, and sacrifice. It necessitates prioritizations and continuous interrogation.

Peter felt hurt that Jesus asked him three times, but the path of his journey with Jesus was full of this rhythm of call, response, invitation (question-answer-imperative). From that early fishing trip to the one reported in this passage, Jesus provides Peter with the option to take the journey of following Jesus into a dawning new creation. Peter doesn’t become perfect although he matured over time. He grew into the responsibility he received. I suspect he benefited more from the mistakes he made than he would have from a smoother path.

In this brief reflection, it’s not possible to note all the imagery and allusions found within this passage, but I think there’s another comparison that merits consideration. Peter’s relationship with Jesus also reminds us of David’s relationship to the Sovereign One. David, who was also called from his routine occupation to assume eventual leadership of the covenant people. David knew how to fight and was willing to die for his faith but more than anything wanted to worship the Living God and build a dwelling place for God in order to do just that in the same way that Peter petitioned to stay on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Most of all, David, despite undeniable personal failings, was described as a person “after God’s own heart.” Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”

The call to follow God rests on the invitation to love God. Loving God manifests in following God. It doesn’t require us to get ready or reach some level of perfection. The only thing needed is our assent, our continual and renewed “yes” to life with Jesus. We can say yes after having doubts. We can say yes after shouting emphatically “no.” We can say yes begrudgingly, uncertainly, or wholeheartedly.

A life with the Triune God is one of being in community as human beings who sometimes hide, who sometimes deny, who sometimes disappoint with a Gracious God who searches and finds us in the boat, in the wilderness, in the sanctuary, in the heights, or in the depths. A Still Speaking God continues to extend this invitation.

Follow God.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“The idea of place, where we belong, is a constant subject for many of us. We want to know whether it is possible to live on earth peacefully. Is it possible to sustain life? Can we embrace an ethos of sustainability that is not solely about the appropriate care of the world’s resources, but is also about the creation of meaning–the making of lives that we feel are worth living. Tracy Chapman sings lyrics that give expression to this yearning, repeating, ‘I wanna wake up and know where I’m going.’ Again and again as I travel around I am stunned by how many citizens in our nation feel lost, feel bereft of a sense of direction, feel as though they cannot see where our journeys lead, that they cannot know where they are going. Many folks feel no sense of place. What they know, what they have, is a sense of crisis, of impending doom. Even the old, the elders, who have lived from decade to decade and beyond, say life is different in this time, ‘way strange,’ that our world today is a world of ‘too much’ — that this too muchness creates a wilderness of spirit, the everyday anguish that shapes the bagits of being for those who are lost, wandering, searching.”
— bell hooks, Belonging: A Culture of Place

For further reflection:
“One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime. Nor is surrender to the will of God (per se) adequate to fullness of power in Christ. Maturity is the accomplishment of years, and I can only surrender to the will of God as I know what that will is.” — Elisabeth Elliot”
“To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus into a society where justice rules, where love shapes everything. To follow Jesus means to take up his dream and work for it.” — Scot McKnight
“To be comforted by God is a promise that few of us ever receive, because we are consumed with controlling our situations to avoid being vulnerable.” ― E’yen A. Gardner

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.