Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The God of Second Chances” (John 21:15-17)
May 5, 2019
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In today’s gospel reading John records the third appearance of the Risen Jesus to his disciples.  During his first appearance the Risen Jesus had proclaimed “Peace be with you” to his disciples, twice in fact, and breathed on them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:19-22).  A week later during his second appearance Jesus had a special word for Thomas, who had doubted Jesus’ resurrection.  Jesus did not argue with Thomas, he simply showed him his scars from Good Friday, scars that confirmed his unconditional love for Thomas and the whole world, scars that eternally testify to the reality of this unconditional love.  When Thomas realized that Jesus had actually risen, that love is stronger than death, he responded, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24-28).

In recounting the Risen Jesus’ third appearance, John tells how Jesus performed a miracle in providing the disciples who had been fishing all night only to catch absolutely nothing with a miraculous catch of fish, so many fish the disciples could not haul them all aboard.  Then Jesus invited the weary disciples to bring some those fish ashore, and there he made breakfast for them.  After breakfast the Risen Jesus then did something very special for another disciple who needed it, Peter.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry Peter had been the chief disciple, always listed first when the disciples were listed in scripture, the only disciple who had the courage to step out of the boat on that stormy night at sea and, albeit briefly, walk on water (Matthew 14:28-29)—the only disciple who correctly answered Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16)—the only disciple to whom Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).  Along with James and John, Peter was the only other disciple who witnessed Jesus’ raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Luke 8:40-55), who witnessed Jesus glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8), and who was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-37).  Peter was indeed a rock…until Holy Week.

At the Last Supper Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion for them (and for you) and then foretold what they would shortly do: “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’  But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” to which Peter responded, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”  As you probably remember Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times” in response to which Peter made his bold promise, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”  Scripture notes that Peter was not alone, for “so said all the disciples” (Matthew 26:31-35).

But later that same night Peter the rock cracked, and did exactly what he said he would never do, and exactly what Jesus predicted he would do, and denied Jesus not once or twice, but three times—denied Jesus completely—“I do not know what you are talking about!”, denied Jesus emphatically—“I do not know the man!”, and denied Jesus with curses and oaths.    And when Peter heard the cock crow, he became completely undone, and as scripture tells us, “he went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:69-75).

Peter had failed, and failed big time.  And Peter knew it, and the other disciples knew it, and of course Jesus knew it.  So during the first two appearances of the Risen Jesus Peter had to have been wondering when Jesus would address the proverbial elephant in the room, but Jesus did not address it…yet.  Then as we read in today’s passage about the third appearance of the Risen Jesus, after his miracle of the miraculous catch of fish, after feeding the disciples breakfast, Jesus finally and gently and thoroughly addressed the elephant in the room:

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.”  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.”  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” (John 21:15-17).

The Risen Jesus revealed to Peter that God is a God of second chances.

Jesus did not lecture Peter.  Jesus did not tell Peter, “I told you so.”  Jesus did not ask Peter what he was thinking, or how he could he have denied him after all he had done for him, or what kind of church could be built on a rock that cracks like that under pressure.  Jesus did not lead an intervention during which the other disciples could all chime in their opinions about how badly Peter had failed.  Jesus did not prescribe Peter any acts of penitence.  Jesus did not give Peter a probationary period during which he needed to prove himself.  Instead, Jesus forgave Peter completely and restored Peter completely as the chief disciple, commissioning him, “Feed my lambs… tend my sheep… feed my sheep.”  No disclaimers, no caveats—just complete forgiveness and complete restoration.

In the same way Peter had denied Jesus three times in a row, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities in a row to reaffirm his love for him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?  Simon son of John, do you love me?  Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Jesus did all this deliberately in front of the other disciples, all of whom, as Jesus foretold at the Last Supper, had like Peter deserted him.  Jesus completely forgave and completely restored Peter in front of the other disciples not only for Peter’s sake but also for their own—for what was true for Peter was true for them: they were also completely forgiven and completely restored because God is a God of second chances.

And what is true for Peter and the other disciples is true for you.  God completely forgives you and completely restores you because God is a God of second chances.

On the other hand, our consumerist American culture is becoming less and less a culture of second chances.  Instead, it is becoming an increasingly throwaway culture.  I recently read a sobering online article that states:

Not so long ago, most American towns had shoe repair businesses, jewelers who fixed watches and clocks, tailors who mended and altered clothes, and ‘fixit’ businesses that refurbished toasters, TVs, radios, and dozens of other household appliances.  Today, most of these businesses are gone. “It’s a dying trade,” said the owner of a New Hampshire appliance repair shop. “Lower-end appliances which you can buy for $200 to $300 are basically throwaway appliances” (Ecologist, September 26, 2017).

Our consumerism promotes this throwaway culture as every time you turn around you are told you need to upgrade your computer, or your phone, or your device—every time you turn around you are told you need to upgrade your clothes, or your car, or your home.  Or on a more uncomfortable level, you may think you need to upgrade your spouse, or your significant other, or yourself.  Out with the old, in with the new—throw it away, throw it away, throw it away.

But the good news of the gospel is that while we may live in a throwaway culture, we do not worship a throwaway God.  God is a forgiving God, a restoring God, a God of second chances.  Jonah Sorrentino, a Christian rapper also known as KJ-52, wrote a song of hope for those who have been thrown out, called “Island of the Misfit Toys” (yes, from the 1960’s Claymation Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer special):

Welcome to the Island of the misfit toys
Land of the broken girls and boys…

I’m heartsick while I’m living in a dream deferred
My heart gripped in pain, mouth full of curse words
I can’t get away until I read the first verse
Of Your Word, then I learned of my birth curse
And that you died for me, and all my net worth
I realized my need just to make a second birth
I bowed my knee and said take away the hurt…

This is for the misfits, rejects, losers, defects
Weirdos, awkward, broke down, strange kids
Don’t forget you are loved, you are loved, you are loved

This is for the skate kids, emos, straight kids, weirdos
Gay kids, losers, broke down zeros,
Don’t forget you are loved, you are loved, you are loved…

This is for the black kids, white kids, dark kids, light kids
Wrong kids, right kids, all kids, I write this
Don’t forget you are loved, you are loved, you are loved
(From his 2014 album Mental)

Jesus did not throw away Peter.  Jesus did not relegate Peter to the Island of Misfit Toys or the Island of Misfit Disciples.  Jesus forgave Peter and restored Peter and gave Peter a second chance.  In giving Peter three opportunities to reaffirm his love, Jesus in essence told Peter, “Don’t forget you are loved, you are loved, you are loved.”

And John tells us what Jesus then said to Peter:

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…follow me (John 21:18-19).

And Peter did.  Peter made the most of his second chance.  Peter spent the rest of his life following his Risen Lord, following the God of second chances.  Peter preached the gospel of the unconditional love of God until, just as Jesus said, indeed one day his arms were outstretched and a belt fastened him to an upside down cross, where Peter gave his life to the glory of the God of second chances.

Regardless of how much of a consumer you may be, chances are that in one way or another in your life you have either been deserted or thrown away, or perhaps denied a second chance when that was the one thing you needed most.

The gospel is good news for those who have been deserted or thrown away—and yes, good news as well for those who themselves have deserted or thrown away others—because God is not a throwaway God, but rather a forgiving God, a restoring God, a God of Second Chances.  What was true for Peter and the other disciples is true for you.

Of course there is another name for “The Island of Misfit Toys”…the Church—where all the misfits are fully forgiven, fully restored, fully loved—an island I am glad to reside with all of you.

And the words of the Risen Jesus, the God of Second Chances, for you today are very simple: “Don’t forget you are loved, you are loved, you are loved.”