Acts 9: 1-6, John 21: 1-19
Are you the sort of person who can pinpoint a moment when you first began to love Jesus: your own ‘Damascus moment’? – a moment of blinding clarity and clear call, which changed your life forever?
I have known people with that sort of story: one of my friends, Val, once told me that she was on a bus, thinking through something she’d heard in church, when she suddenly realised that she believed that God’s love for her was shown in Jesus. She told me it was as if all the lights were suddenly turned up, and she felt she should tell other people about God’s love for them.
“Otherwise” she told me “it’s like having all the chocolates and keeping them for yourself !”.
Val was otherwise a very quiet, rather subdued person, but when she talked about her faith her face really did light up.
That sort of change, that sort of realisation in a single moment, turns murderous Saul into possibly the greatest disciple of them all – Paul.
But maybe you have always been secretly rather jealous of people with that sort of dramatic story to tell, because your own story is more one of slow realisation. You can no more pinpoint when you fell in love with Jesus than you can recall the moment you realized that Cadbury’s chocolate is just the best thing ever.
It was Nigel Collinson, a former president of Methodist conference, who helped me understand that dramatic realisation and gradual realisation don’t have to be seen as opposites. Back in 1986 his book ‘The opening door’ used the analogy of a door slowly swinging open in a room. If you are facing the door, you see it slowly open, but if your back is to the door, you suddenly turn and find the door wide open to you. So it can be with faith.
However the door of realization opens for us – what does it mean to respond by loving Jesus?
To help answer that question I’d like us to think about our gospel reading.
In this story, Jesus hails the disciples, who are out fishing, with love “children, you have no fish, have you?”. I think we can hear the love in Jesus’ voice, as he calls them “children..”: and in return, their first act of love is surely to obey Jesus – to cast the net on the other side of the boat.
The net is filled – and John’s eyes are opened “it is the Lord”. Peter’s huge heart takes over from his head – in love for his risen master he puts on some clothes and jumps into the sea, to swim to Jesus ahead of the boat.
Jesus has lit a fire and is cooking bread and fish, but when they reach him he tells them "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught”. Peter goes back on board the boat and brings the whole lot – a bulging netful. If Jesus has asked for something, Peter wants to give his all. This seems very much like an extravagant act of love, to me.
When they have all eaten, Jesus asks Peter the big question : “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”. We have probably come to see this thrice-asked question as an opportunity for Peter to erase his three-fold denial of Jesus, but Peter doesn’t’ seem to get it, does he? By the time Jesus asks for a third time “do you love me?”, the gospel writer tells us Peter felt hurt and he certainly sounds quite exasperated, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”.
And what does loving Jesus mean? Each time Peter says he loves Jesus, Jesus gives him work to do “feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep”.
It is not enough for Peter to love Jesus – he has to also take on loving all other followers of Jesus.
And then Jesus points out to Peter that his love for Jesus will lead him into trouble “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”. Loving Jesus is not going to offer Peter an easy path through life. He may not have been able to fulfil his promise to go with Jesus to death, when Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, but he will end his life on a cross, at the last.
Even in this fairly short account, we learn that loving Jesus, for Peter and the others, involves
Listening to Jesus
Rushing to be with him
Offering everything to him
Declaring love for Jesus
Caring for his followers, his sheep
And accepting the consequences of loving him, even if the world’s hatred leads to death,
Loving Jesus is all of this and more – for those first disciples and for us.
Jesus sums all this up in just two words to Peter “follow me”.
You might remember that Luke’s gospel also contains this story of the miraculous catch of fish – but where John tells us this story here, as part of the resurrection appearances of Jesus, Luke has it right at the beginning of the gospel, when Jesus first calls the fishermen to follow.
So you might be wondering quite when Peter becomes a disciple – when he first starts to follow the earthly Jesus, without even knowing who he is, or here as he follows the resurrected Jesus, who he knows is “the Lord”? And is Peter’ s realisation gradual or sudden?
The answer, of course, is both. Peter has to make a decision to start to follow Jesus, but this is a decision he will have to keep making, everyday of his life, especially when persecution comes.
Yes, he has already said he will follow Jesus, way back when they first met on the shores of Lake Galilee, but Jesus gives him a chance to respond to the call to follow yet again, as a new start, as a new act of commitment to follow Jesus.
And that’s what we’re offered today too.
A new start. The food of our pilgrimage – this bread and wine, signs of our readiness to promise to follow Jesus today.. and tomorrow.. and each new day.
And a sign of God’s promise to give us a fresh start each day, as Jesus gives Peter the forgiveness he needs to leave his mistakes behind.
So we may, like Saul, be able to pinpoint the exact moment when we first encountered Jesus, or we may not.
We may not yet be ready to say we love Jesus, or we may find it hard to number all the ways in which love for Jesus affects our lives.
But we can, like Paul & like Peter, choose to leave our old selves behind and promise to follow Jesus.
He will feed and strengthen us for the journey and will give us all the love and forgiveness we need to make it possible.
And I pray we will find, like my friend Val, that our love for Jesus is returned to us a thousand fold in the great flooding of light that is God’s love for us.
Thanks be to God