Today we celebrate 189 years as a community of faith. We reflect on how God has called and used this community in the past and the challenges and opportunities that await us in the future.
Scripture: John 21: 1-19
Happy Anniversary! 189 years as a community of faith, serving God, serving this community, and serving one another. That’s a long time and each of us has played a role in the life of this community of faith. Each of us has made an impact over these 189 years.
Every Sunday we come, and we worship God. We offer our praise and adoration, we listen, and we learn, we pray, and we commit to the work of the kingdom. Every Sunday we do this, we rededicate ourselves week in and week out. Throughout the week we strive towards lives that model the teaching of Jesus. We offer grace, mercy, and love to those who we meet.
Each week we renew ourselves before God through worship. This Sunday as a community of faith we come before God celebrating 189 years of renewal and faithful service. It’s a story that’s told throughout scripture. Jesus himself, sought out times of quiet and renewal.
In our gospel reading today the disciples are searching for renewal. Jesus had been killed, the tomb found empty, and Jesus had appeared before them in the upper room. Still, something was missing. Even though the boundaries of death had been shattered, I can’t help but wonder if the disciples were still struggling with that eternal questions: what next?
What do they decide, I think it’s Peter who kicks things off by deciding to go fishing. Now I feel for Peter, his reputation is in shambles after denying Jesus three times. Going out to fish, might be less of a risk and more of Peter saying, “I’m not cut out for this.” It’s hard to know their motivations, but the disciples fall back on something that is familiar to them. They go fishing.
Now this might have been out of a need to fish for food. Or perhaps to fish and sell the fish to earn some income. Or perhaps Peter really thought I’m done with this, it’s time to move on.
Out of this passage John crafts a wonderful narrative for us about leadership, discipleship and renewal. The disciples have remained together, the bonds they’ve created over the past three years remain. They go out and work together, but they don’t have much success at fishing. It’s only when Jesus arrives and tells them to toss the nets over the other side of the boat that they have any success. Now, not to be a skeptic and I know nothing about fishing, but I can’t see what difference one side of the boat versus the other would really make.
Except of course, that they disciples decide to trust Jesus and then find success. The catch is, when they make the choice to toss the nets over the right side of the boat, they don’t know it’s Jesus instructing them. How often has God spoken to us through others? Do we have the wisdom to listen? Can we discern that voice when we hear it?
The scene shifts as the disciples realize it is Jesus who is present, and a clamour ensues as they all seek to reach the shore. It’s here that we get to the heart of the message.
Do you love me?
Do you love me? This is the question that Jesus asks Peter. He asks it three times and Peter responds three times. But what kind of question is, do you love me?
What kind of question is this?
Matt Skinner writes, “who asks a question like this: Do you love me? You usually ask that when you’re entirely sure of the answer you’re going to get, when you’re emotionally needy, or when you want to show up your dialogue partner. Why doesn’t Jesus ask Peter something easier and more disarming, like “Do you know how much I love you?” (Matt Skinner)
Why does Jesus put it all on Peter?
Skinner continues, “It works as a restoration dialogue orchestrated by a relentlessly generous Jesus, which is probably the best interpretation … The conversation also works if you voice both men as deeply hurt and groping for a foundation on which they can rebuild together. It also works as a tale about Jesus inflicting psychological torment on Peter, reminding him of just how far short he fell … and might fall yet again if he’s not careful.” (Matt Skinner)
As Skinner indicates, the first interpretation is probably best and what is most often preached. The second speaks to reconciliation, a primary vocation of the church. The third, I’m not so sure and neither is Skinner. But the question could be asked.
What John has provided us with is an intimate scene between Jesus and Peter. Often we might wonder what the disciples and Jesus talked about, in this passage we receive that in profound detail. And in this conversation, after an unsuccessful night of fishing, Peter finds his renewal.
Peter who broke down and denied knowing Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times then confesses his love for Jesus not once, not twice, but three times. Through trial and failure Peter renews his vocation and rises as the individual that Jesus will build the church on. Jesus needs to know that Peter is capable of loving even through the pain of his failure and denial.
Why does this matter?
Because the entire ministry of Jesus was founded on loving people no matter what. No matter the cost, that’s what the cross represents. A life given in unconditional love because humanity is worth it. People are worth it.
This community of faith knows that and has lived that. Through difficult times and easy times, we have renewed our commitment to Christ. As we look back on 189 years each of us will have our own memories, our own encounters with God that have shaped us. Each of us will have our own story of what 189 years of service to God, community and one another looks like.
As we look forward to 190 years and beyond what new stories will we write in faithful service to God? In what ways will this community of faith continue to be renewed to its calling of sharing the good news of the gospel?
I pray that through acts of love and mercy we will continue to feed the lambs, just as Jesus asked of Peter. In faithful service, sided by side, in partnership with God we will serve with a love that acts as a beacon. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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