Peter gets restored?


In yesterday’s post, I alluded to the fact that I’m 100% convinced that Sunday’s beloved story of the restoration of Peter is really as lovely as we think it is.  It all stems from a conversation of which, I was not a part.

Yesterday morning, my boss and his son had breakfast together.  As they are wont to do, they ended up talking about the Gospel lesson for Sunday: paying particular attention to Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ third attempt at the same question.  While the NRSV tries to sound more modern by having Peter “feel hurt,” most translations have John saying that Peter was “grieved” because Jesus had, for a third time, asked him “do you love me?”  TKT came back from breakfast eager to share with me their conversation and to look up that word in the Greek.  Ultimately, it seems to be a plain old word for “grief” or “mourn,” but the question lingered, what made Peter feel this way?

John says that he grieved because Jesus had asked him this question a third time, which seems reasonable enough, but I can’t help but think that there is something deeper that the English misses out on.  The first time Jesus asks Peter “do you love me,” he uses the word “agape.”  Peter replies, “Yes lord, you know that I love you,” but instead of “agape”, he says “phileo.”  Jesus asks again, “Do you agape me?”  Peter again responds, “You know that I phileo you.”  Finally, Jesus says, “Do you phileo me?”

Peter grieved.

Jesus asks of Peter the deepest sort of love that is possible.  He invited Peter back into a relationship of agape, self-giving love, but Peter can’t make that leap.  Jesus knows that agape exists within Peter.  He knows that he will stand firm in the faith, even to the point of crucifixion himself, but unfortunately, Peter can’t see it yet.  Peter remains unsure.  He’s unsure of the power of the Spirit.  He’s unsure of what this new resurrection life means.  He’s unsure about a kingdom that is not of this world.  And so all Peter can muster is phileo.  Deep down, I think he hopes to hear himself say “agape,” but Jesus seems to let him off the hook.  Peter realizes that Jesus knows he has stopped short of being fully restored into relationship, and it is grievous unto him.

As I ponder all the ways in which I keep God and my neighbor at arm’s length, it is grievous unto me as well.  Through the power of the Spirit, God expects agape love from me, but it is often difficult even to muster up phileo.  It is part of falling short.  It is sin that keeps me from loving the way God loves, and like it was for Peter, it keeps us from being fully restored to right relationship.


From Simon to Peter and Back Again


As that breakfast of smoked mullet and fresh bread came to an end, I bet you could cut the tension around that charcoal fire with a knife.  John has set us up for a highly flammable interaction between Jesus and Peter over the course of the last few chapters.  Everybody remembers the last time Peter found himself by a charcoal fire.  It was the night of Jesus’ arrest, and Peter was standing in the courtyard of the high priest, warming himself and denying three times that he even knew Jesus, let alone was one of his disciples.

Peter heard the news that the tomb was empty from Mary Magdalene and took off running to see for himself.  He lost the race, but was still the first to actually step foot in the tomb.  He saw the burial shroud laying folded at the foot.  He took note that the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was laying separately.  Certainly, he knew that Jesus’ body had not been stolen with haste, but unlike the Disciple whom Jesus loved, John gives no indication that Peter was ready to accept the reality of the resurrection.  Instead, Peter went home, presumably to sort it all out in his head.

Now, here we are, more than a week later.  Peter swam to shore with haste, eager to see Jesus again.  Jesus had offered him breakfast, and next came the silence.  Awkward.  Painful.  Tense.  Silence.  And then, Jesus spoke a name, “Simon.”  It was a familiar name: the one given to him at birth; but a name he hadn’t heard in a while.  Since that first encounter with Jesus three years ago, Simon had been called Peter.  At least that’s how the story goes in John’s Gospel.  For three years he had been the Peter, but today he was back to Simon son of John.

Etymologically, he had gone from “The Rock” to “listen carefully, son of God’s graciousness.”  If things hadn’t been weird before, they certainly were now.  Simon, come Peter, now Simon again clearly needed to listen to the graciousness of God.  He would be restored to right relationship (sort of, more on that tomorrow), but first, he needed to pay attention to the graciousness of God.  Apparently he didn’t get it the first time.  Or the second.  But on the third go round, Jesus offers Simon the same welcome he had given Philip all those years ago: the same word that he offered to all the sheep who heard his voice.

“Follow me.”

From Simon to Peter and back again, Jesus was ready to restore his denying disciple, but as we’ll see tomorrow, I’m not sure Peter was quite ready to be restored.

Realer than Real – a sermon

You can hear this sermon on the Saint Paul’s website, or read it here.


My favorite part of April Fools’ Day is waiting to see what “innovative technology” Google is going to introduce each year.  The first one I can remember was back in 2008 when Google announced Gmail Custom Time: the ability to make your email travel back in time.  When your boss asked why you didn’t send the proposal yesterday, you could run back to your office and email it dated two days ago.  You could even make it look like your boss had already read it.  People got really excited, until they figured out it wasn’t real.  My favorite was from 2012, when Google announced Gmail Tap, which would eliminate those clumsy little keyboards on your smart phone and replace it with a dot and a dash.  Sending a text or an email would be revolutionarily simple using Morse Code.  This year, Google announced Google Cardboard Plastic, a virtual reality device that was nothing more than a clear piece of plastic you wear over your face to help you experience actual reality.  The tagline for Google Cardboard Plastic was “What’s realer than real?  Probably nothing.  Or maybe something.  I doubt it though.”


“What’s realer than real?” That seems to be the central question in today’s Gospel lesson.  The Easter story in John is about Mary, Thomas, and the rest of the disciples who seem stuck in the reality that Jesus is dead, when the realer reality was resurrection.  In fact, John tells us that his whole Gospel was written so that we might all come know that resurrection life is realer than the life of this age, and that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, each of us can experience that same kind of life.  “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  There are three different Greek words that get translated as “life” in English Bibles.  Psyche, from which we get psychology, is the soul: the life force that is present within all living things.  Bios, the root word for biology, is one’s livelihood: the way in which one lives their life.  Zoe, the word John uses in today’s passage, is the spiritual life: the life given to those who have been reborn by water and the Spirit: eternal life.  The life that John wants for his readers is a life that is realer than real, it is life that moves beyond merely existing: life that is abundant and everlasting in God.

The life that John hopes for us is the life that Mary, Thomas, and the rest of the disciples just could not wrap their minds around.  Resurrection living is so vastly different from the life of this age, that it can be difficult to handle.  Last week, we heard the story of Mary Magdalene, the first person to see resurrected life.  She was so tied up in grief, anger and confusion that even when the resurrected Jesus was standing right in front of her, she couldn’t recognize him.  It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name that Mary could recognize the reality of resurrection life.  After Mary had seen that a realer life was possible, Jesus made her the first apostle, sending her to find the disciples and proclaim the Good News of his resurrection.  Her message was as simple as it was impossible to believe, “I have seen the Lord!”

Despite Jesus having three times told them that he would be raised on the third day, despite hearing what Mary had experienced in the garden, despite John and Peter having seen the empty tomb for themselves, the disciples just couldn’t break out of the sad reality that surrounded them, and so they did the only thing they could think of: they huddled in their rented room and locked the door out of fear and doubt.  Suddenly, Jesus appeared in their midst, and he spoke a word of peace to them.  Mary saw Jesus, but it wasn’t until she heard him that she believed.  The disciples heard Jesus, but it wasn’t until they saw his hands and his side that they were able to believe.  Once they did, their fear and doubt were quickly replaced by joy and excitement.  After they had seen the resurrected life of Jesus, he made them apostles, sending them out in the power of the Spirit to share the Good News and to follow his example of loving service and the forgiveness of sins.  Thomas had missed this amazing encounter, and so the Apostles went looking for him.  When they found Thomas, they exclaimed a message as simple as it was impossible to believe, “We have seen the Lord!”

But Thomas couldn’t simply break out of the sad reality he was stuck in.  Despite Jesus promising on three different occasions that he’d rise again, despite having heard the word from Mary early on that first Easter Day, despite John and Peter having seen that the tomb was indeed empty, despite the new news from the whole group that Jesus had stood among them, Thomas still couldn’t quite believe that resurrection life was really possible.  He needed the same sort of proof that the rest of them had received: he needed to see those wounds with his own eyes; he needed to touch them with his own hands.  Thomas, like Mary and the rest, was so stricken by grief, doubt, and fear that he just couldn’t imagine that life could be any realer than the real heartache he was feeling.  It took a week, but Thomas got what he needed: a word of peace; a chance to see and to touch; and as a result he moved from simply being a disciple, to becoming the key evangelist in John’s Gospel.  From Thomas’ lips comes the first human proclamation of Jesus’ divinity, “My Lord and my God.”  Jesus blesses Thomas, and all those who would come to believe in the resurrection life despite never having the chance to see him, hear him, or touch him.

Even when it is standing right in front of you, believing in resurrection life is not easy.  Jesus knew that those of us who would follow after the Apostles would have to work hard to keep the faith.  Unlike it was for Mary Magdalene, Jesus probably won’t be standing before you, calling you by name.  Unlike it was for the disciples, Jesus isn’t likely to appear out of thin air in our midst and offer us his peace.  Unlike it was for Thomas, Jesus won’t be inviting you to place your hand in his side anytime soon.  We are those who Jesus said would have to be blessed by believing without having seen him, heard him, or touched him.  We are those who will have to overcome the empirical evidence that suggests that, more often than not, grief and anger, confusion, fear, and doubt are as real as it gets.  John wrote his Gospel to tell you that there is something realer than the reality of this life.  Resurrection life is available to everyone who hands their life over to God and enters a relationship with the resurrected Jesus.  This new way of living after the miracle of the resurrection takes grief, anger, and confusion and turns them into the peace that passes all understanding.  Resurrection life takes doubt and worry and turns them into a joy that is complete.  Resurrection life takes estrangement and sorrow and turns them into deep relationships of trust, compassion, and love.  Resurrection life takes real life and makes it realer.

When that peace is sustained by the Spirit, when that joy grows through ongoing relationship, when that love becomes so ingrained as to simply be a part of who you are, you’ve found the sort of life that is infinitely realer than you could ever ask or imagine.  That kind of living can turn even the most timid disciples into apostles and evangelists, sent by the Spirit to proclaim by word and example the Good News that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; the Good News that resurrection life is available for everyone who believes in him; the Good News that life can be something more than nightmare it so often seems to be.  Google’s April Fools’ joke was onto something.  There is something realer than real: resurrection life. Amen.

My Lord and My God

As many of you know, the original Greek and Hebrew of the Bible did not contain punctuation marks.  More often than not, this isn’t too big of an issue, as the context allows scribes the ability to discern where sentences end, which one’s are questions, and if something is said an an exclamation.  In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, however, we have one of those places where a lack of punctuation in the original text leaves some question about the author’s intent.

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We are all very familiar with the story of “doubting” Thomas.  For whatever reason, he was not a part of the gathering in the upper room the night of Jesus’ resurrection.  He didn’t have the opportunity to see Jesus appear out of thin air, to hear his word of peace, to examine the wounds, or feel his breath waft across the hair on his neck as it stood on end.  The disciples shared with him what they had experienced, but Thomas needed to experience it for himself.  A week later, he gets the chance to see Jesus appear out of thin air, to hear his word of peace, and to examine the wounds.  His response is recorded verbatim by John:

“My lord and my God”

Older translations tend to end this famous phrase with a period, while newer ones are more apt to use an exclamation point.  I’m not sure it makes an earth-shattering difference which one you choose, but I don’t think it is meaningless.  To choose an exclamation point makes these words from Thomas a word of overwhelming excitement and joy; while a period makes them words of reverence and awe.  Robertson’s Word Pictures say that the case of this phrase indicates the latter, that “Thomas was wholly convinced and did not hesitate to address the Risen Christ as Lord and God.”

For me, this encounter with the risen Jesus seems to have more power if it ends in a period.  It is a moment of deep realization for Thomas as doubt, worry, frustration, and stress melt away in a moment of deep knowing between Jesus and Thomas.  Jesus gave Thomas precisely what he needed to believe in the resurrection, and in so doing, offered Thomas the chance to fully see and know that his friend, rabbi, and savior had risen from the grave.  Thomas’ response, then, was one of hushed restraint, as he realized that in that moment everything had changed.

“My lord and my God.”

Becoming Apostles

It being Easter 2, no matter the year, no matter the RCL affiliated congregation, we will hear the story of Jesus and his disciples in the upper room from the second half of John 20.  This is one of those stories that have become so familiar, the preacher has a significant challenge to make it relevant to the (smallish, low Sunday) congregation before them.  There are so many points of entry into this text, and by the time you’ve preached it for two lectionary cycles, you’ll feel like you’ve exhausted them all.  Couple that with the fact that many of us have short weeks and are maybe preached-out after Holy Week, the struggle in preaching this text is real.


One of the cliches that I found myself saying more than once during Follow the Word, our children’s sermon program, this Easter is that Jesus being resurrected from the dead changed everything.  As I said it, I imagined a child asking me a classic children question, “how did Jesus coming back to life change things?”  How, indeed.  Specifically, how would you explain how the resurrection changed the world to a child?  What are the practical examples of resurrection in a world that still seems full of death, fear, and sadness?

In the Gospel lesson for Sunday, we have a few examples of how Jesus’ resurrection changes things.  First, there is the disciples’ move from fear to joy.  Second, there is the move from disciples to apostles, which I’ll focus on in a minute.  Third, there is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Fourth, the establishment of the authority of the Church (sins forgiven and retained).  Fifth, there is the evangelistic moment, “we have seen the Lord.”  Sixty, there is Thomas’ shift from doubt to proclaiming “My Lord and my God.”  Finally, we have Jesus’ assertion that there will be those who come later who will have to believe without seeing.  That’s a lot of change in 13 verses.  No wonder the RCL thinks we need to hear it every year.  Maybe one of these years, we’ll realize that life in the resurrection means that change is the only constant.

Of all this upheaval in the Gospel lesson for Sunday, what struck me today was that Jesus gives the disciples a new identity in his resurrection.  For three years they have been disciples – students under the Rabbi Jesus, learning what it means to live under his teaching, or what Jesus called “the Kingdom of God.”  In the the Matthean and Markan stories of the resurrection, the job of teacher now falls on the disciples, but first, they are called to go.  For John, the task isn’t to teach, but simply to go: that is, to be sent.

“As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you.”

The group gathered in the upper room moves from discipleship to apostleship, which literally means “one who is sent.”  The resurrection of Jesus means that each of us is called to be sent into the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ on our lips.