This sermon is part of the sermon series "No Wonder They Crucified Him". See series.
Of all the things that Jesus ever said, one of my absolute favorites is the thing he says in John 21:12. Maybe you noticed it. The text reads: "Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast.'" Is there anything so simply wonderful as hearing someone say those words—especially if they're accompanied by the statement: "And I'll even cook!"
For the past several years, I've been going to an Easter brunch at the home of one of the families in our church who have this really rare mental condition: They and some of their friends like cooking for and socializing with pastors. No, really, they do. I mean they invite a whole bunch of us and they keep inviting us back. I don't get it, but I'm so grateful for it.
When I get there today, the party will already be in full swing, and the house filled with such wonderful aromas. The host will give me a huge bear hug as I come in the door, slap me on the back, and say: "Hey, what can I get you to drink?" We'll spend the afternoon gorging and guzzling. We'll take off our ties (the shoes we'll lose later). Somebody, not even a reverend, will pray a real prayer of thanksgiving for the many blessings we have, and we'll all say a heartfelt "Amen." We'll buzz about what happened here in church this morning and how glad we all were that that wonderful choir made up for the poor preaching.
If pattern holds, our kids will all run amok. We'll lock them in the basement playroom, but it will be okay. The Johnson home is a safe place. You can be yourself there. You can open up about almost anything, and we will. We'll shake our heads and sigh over that terrible tragedy that happened recently, that friend we have who is so sick, that problem one of us is having at work. We'll laugh at someone's joke and nearly cry with laughter over the idiosyncrasies of someone we love. We'll range between discussing baseball and TV to confessing what God has been impressing on our heart and what trips us up.
There's a holiness about that circle—a sense of sanctuary and of sweet realism at the same time; of home and family in the very broadest and best sense. I often think, as I'm sitting there, This is what church should be like, everywhere. And I think I'm not alone.
An invitation to breakfast
"Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast.'" He had conquered death and risen from the grave. He had a kingdom in mind that he was planning to build. But Jesus called the people through whom he'd alter history in the centuries ahead to come to the first Easter brunch.
In many ways, it was nothing new for Jesus. Before his death and resurrection, he'd often pictured the kingdom of God as like a banquet table. He'd laid out a meal for at least 5,000 people on one occasion. He annoyed the pinch-faced Pharisees by his penchant for partying it up with a questionable cast of characters. On the night before his death, he'd gathered his disciples around him and thrown one final feast—telling them that they should keep on getting together to eat and drink and share like this, and that when they did so, they should remember him, because he would be there in their midst.
There are several important messages in this for us, I think. One of them is simply that God enjoys seeing people fed. God likes to feed people physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually, and spiritually—and he forms the Christian community for that purpose.
At the start, the Christian church was all about that. If you open up your Bibles to Acts 2:42-47, you get the very first video clip of the original church. It says that the original church met primarily in people's homes, devoting themselves to God's teachings, praising God, eating with glad and sincere hearts, and giving to anyone as they had need. Oh, they apparently went to the big temple together, too, but the real life of the church lay in the way they did life together out in their neighborhoods, feeding one another with both physical and spiritual food.
For the longest time, I did not get this. I was what you might call a Birth and Resurrection Society church-goer. My family dragged me to the Christmas and Easter services every year. Every now and then, something got to me in what the preacher was saying or I liked one of the songs, but to be honest, I just didn't get it.Why do all these people do this every week? I thought.
And then, years later, I got roped into actually meeting consistently with some Christ-followers over breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We actually talked about what was going on in our lives, and nobody "sssshhhed" us. We asked questions of the Bible. We shared what we had or knew of God with one another.
Some of those people had a lot of spiritual food to share with me, and I realized just how hungry I'd been for it without really knowing it. And suddenly I got it. It dawned on me that, in all those years of showing up on the holidays, I hadn't been to church yet. I'd just been to a church building. I'd never sat around the fire where God could really feed me.
Not just the usual brunch
"Come and have breakfast," said Jesus that morning. And Simon Peter, doubting Thomas, Nathanael, the two sons of Zebedee (James and John), and two others came. The Bible says that they'd been out all night fishing and had caught nothing. They must have been in their 20's! I was there once myself. "I thought she liked me, but … ah, well … nothing!"
And then those disciples had heard a voice in the darkness speaking to them from the shoreline. It told them to make a change. "Throw your net on the [other] side of the boat, and you will find [what you're looking for]." For some reason—maybe desperation, maybe inspiration—they'd obeyed the voice. They hauled in their net and then played it out on the other side, and bam! found it filled with so many fish that their net nearly broke. Amazed by the grace they'd received, hungry for some genuine food after a very long night, those seven men came.
In my experience, this is how it often is for people who come to Jesus. Some of us become aware that a mysterious voice has been guiding us on life's seas—that it has led us to blessing—and now we simply want to get closer to the Source. Others of us come to the brunch after a long night on our own. We're not really sure who or what we'll find here, but we know we're plenty hungry, and whatever's cooking on this shoreline smells good. Still others of us, I suppose, are like the nameless people in the story. We're just along for the ride, but that's okay. At least now we're here by the fire. We're in position for what comes next, when suddenly we see that Jesus won't just do brunch in the usual way. He will not be content leaving us just fat and happy. He is determined to make us healthy in soul.
"When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?'" If you know the prior story of Peter, then you know this was a devastating question. Pardon the pun, but it was a "fillet of soul." It laid Peter open like one of those fish on the grill, exposing the truth about him.
Peter's primary problem in life, you see, was his pride. It was never enough for Peter to be just one of the pack. He had to be better than other people, more valued, louder, and more noticed than other people. And so, on the night when Jesus revealed that he would soon be betrayed, Peter had spoken up: These guys might forsake you, Jesus, but I never will! I love you more than these guys do.
And then, to save his own skin, Peter had denied Jesus—not just once, but three times.
What is the question that Jesus might ask at breakfast today that would cut to your very soul, exposing the particular emptiness you need to face? "Are you more intent on raising healthy kids than being successful in other ways?" "Are you keeping the vows you made?" "Do you want to know God and not just about God?" "Are you honoring your father and mother?" "Do you walk your talk?" "Can you stomach the truth?" "Do you want to get well, lame man?" "Where are you, Adam?"
"The word of God," says Hebrews 4:12, "is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit … [exposing] the thoughts and attitudes of [our] heart." The Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ is also living and active. He dares to ask us the penetrating questions that cut to the very soul. No wonder they crucified him. And no wonder he wouldn't stay dead. For you see, God keeps coming back to ask us the questions that need to be answered—not to hurt us, but to heal us—as the rest of this story makes clear.
Three times—once to counterbalance each of the three times Peter denied him before—Jesus asks: "Peter, do you truly love me more than these" others do? What he really asked, and Peter answered, however, is only clear in the Greek translation of the text, where we can see the word that each of them uses for "love." The Greeks, you see, had a word for unconditional, unfailing, never-denying love. It was the word agape. It's the way God loves us. They also had a word for human affection, for the kind of well-intentioned love that may make bold claims one moment and fail bitterly the next. It was the word fileo.
The first time Jesus asked, he said: "Do you truly agape me, Peter?" The fisherman could have replied in his characteristic prideful way. But a humble honesty has begun to fill the once empty place at the core of Peter's soul. "Yes, Lord, you know that I feel fileo for you," he says. Again Jesus tests him, "Simon, son of John, do you truly agape me?" "Yes, Lord, you know that I fileo you."
But then Jesus does something amazing. He changes the formula in a stunning way. The third time, Jesus asks: "Do you have fileo for me, Peter?" And breathing, I believe, a sigh of relief at this grace, Peter quietly responds, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I have fileo for you." Then Jesus replies by restoring once more the commission that will build the church to the ends of the earth. Jesus says: Then, Peter, as I have done with you, feed my sheep. Feed my people.
And Peter went on to do just that.
Grace to follow
For centuries, the disciples of Jesus have passed by the precise location where that exchange happened. I stood there some years ago. It is an uncluttered shoreline, looking very much like it probably looked then. I arrived at the end of the day, near sunset. The waters of the Sea of Galilee were calm. I didn't see a single fish or clue that a campfire had ever been there. What evidence, I thought, is there here that these events ever transpired, or that Jesus still lives?
It was about then that I heard a sound from a little stone chapel nestled back in a glade, the sound of people singing in Korean the words of a song: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see."
What do you see? And how do you respond to the question Christ asks you: Are you my disciple? Are you taking the steps needed to grow in my likeness, to fulfill my mission through you?
If your answer is like Peter's—Well, honestly, I've got a long way to go, Lord. I could use some help from others. I'd like to know more about those discipleship groups your church sponsors—then I'd say, "Hallelujah!" That's a great new beginning. Christ will work with that, and we can help, for he still meets and feeds his imperfect people with such an amazing grace.
But if your answer to Christ's question about following more intentionally is to say: "I resent the question," or, "The question doesn't matter much to me," then I hope to see you at Christmas. Maybe I'll see you when you need a wedding performed or a child baptized or to bury your dead. I really mean that. I hope I will see you. But I'm not going to stop praying for the day when you'll long to know the truth of the promise: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to get right with God and others. For they shall be filled."
But in the meantime, we'll keep the fire burning here. We'll keep things cooking. We'll save a space for you at brunch. Until that day when you hear the voice of Jesus saying, "Follow me," and you answer humbly: "Yes, Lord … here I come."
Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church.us, a nondenominational, multisite church with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard, Illinois.