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Followers who fail and failures who follow (cafe church script)

April 11, 2016

IMG_2273John 21:1-19


Peter’s story begins and ends with the words of Jesus “Follow me”. It all started when Peter abandoned the fishing industry to learn the kingdom of God from Jesus. As it turned out Peter, often regarded as the founding leader of the early church, was not good at following Jesus. Peter was good at fishing, but a failure at following Jesus.


But it’s one of the defining characteristics of Christians, or it should be, that they are happy about being wrong. We fail regularly but it doesn’t phase us. Winston Churchill once said: Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Or as Samuel Wells put it: It is better to fail in a cause that will finally succeed, than to succeed in a cause that will finally fail. If you live by grace, you can live with your own failures.


If there was a story that gathered together all of Peter’s failures in one place it has to be today’s story. Peter jumps into the water. Do you remember the last time Peter jumped out of a boat? And I imagine he has flashbacks to the time he tried to walk on water and couldn’t focus on Jesus so started to sink. Peter finds himself in front of a fire with burning coals being fed by Jesus. Do you remember the last time Peter was beside burning coals? I imagine he has flashback to the burning coals just a few days ago when Jesus was on trial and as he was warming his hands by the fire he denied Jesus three times.


And then Jesus gives Peter a grilling. Three times he asks him whether he loved him (echoing the three times Peter denied him). It’s like everything about today’s scene is rubbing it in for Peter. And to make matters worse it gets in the bible… it’s a hundred times worse than it being posted on facebook. Peter, the most famous failure in the world.


In the previous section of John’s gospel from last Sunday Peter was with the disciples in an upper room. With them he received the Spirit. With them he was commissioned to forgive sins.


Todays section begins like the morning after. Everybody wakes up and blinks in the morning light, stumbles out of bed and thinks, ‘Well, Jesus has risen, so what do we do now?’ Like Homer Simpson, Peter has no idea, but that never stopped him opening his mouth and coming up with a suggestion.


“I’m going fishing”. … “We’re coming too” they all chorus. Fishing is what Peter does well. Fishing is the thing Peter did before he became a failure. Fishing is ‘business as usual’ when you are not following Jesus.


If you were to wake up one morning and think, “I can’t believe I believed all that stuff about Jesus raised from death, and the kingdom of God coming to earth and all the rest. I think I’ll stop all the nonsense and just be a good person. Why do I need to follow Jesus to do that? Clearly I don’t. It seems like a bad dream.” Have you ever felt a little like that? Have you ever doubted your faith in Jesus? That’s the easy question. Most of us have.


Here’s the question: What difference would it make to you if you did? If you became an atheist? Or even if you continued to think there is a God but you weren’t a Christian, you didn’t follow Jesus any more? Or to put it another way, if you suddenly decided to only follow Jesus when it suited your values (like he was an admirable character from the distant past, but that’s all)? What would change?


For Peter it was simple… you just go fishing… but what would it be for you.


pause… discuss


What difference does Jesus make to your life?


Welcome to Peter’s world – the patron saint of those who fail.


Fishing is going back to the old world. It’s not that fishing is somehow a bad thing. It’s just not the thing that matters above all else. Here fishing represents Peter’s failure to catch on to the resurrection. It is his going back rather than forward. And so Jesus comes and appears to them again.


And they are not just fishing, they are fishing on the left hand side of the boat. Why did they fish on the left hand side? [there’s no right or wrong answer here]


And a stranger tells them to do it differently. They have no idea why. All they know is they are not catching any fish. This is the thing Peter is supposed to be good at. This is his profession. But its not a profession of faith. It’s a profession of competence. And he is failing again. This time not just at following Jesus but at what he is supposed to be good at. So at the behest of a complete stranger he switches to the other side of the boat. And the rest is history. The scarcity of the night is replaced by the abundance of the new morning.


Q: When have you listened to strangers? What does it take to listen to a stranger?


They recognise it is Jesus. He is on the beach and has cooked them breakfast. He doesn’t need their fish. He already has fish and has cooked it on those burning coals.


And so they sit down. Face to Face. Jesus and Peter. A very direct question: Peter do you love me more than these? More than what? For centuries Christians have speculated about what Jesus might be referring to… more than his friends… more than the fish. My guess is Jesus is referring to all the things around him that have to do with fishing… In other words… do you love me more than the thing that’s getting in the road of you truly following me.


Here’s another hard question: Is there something that’s stopping you from following Jesus? Let’s stop and just think about that for a moment…


I don’t know if something came to mind for you when I asked that question… but in the end of the day that thing is not the problem … fishing is not the problem … the thing that you think is the problem is not the problem… the thing that matters is love.


Jesus is asking us about love. Do you love me more than these. Jesus is asking about where our heart is…You become what you love. Not what you think you should be or do but for various reasons never get a round to it. The main question for our life concerns our love. Jesus asks us ‘do you love me?’ Not ‘do you think you should love me?’ but ‘Do you love me?’ There’s no ‘should’ in it. Just a fact… true or false. What is the value by which you evaluate all values? What is at the centre of your heart? Who defines its direction?

Peter, biggest failure in a community of failures, do you love me?





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