When I first got engaged I received a lot of unsolicited advice. Two particular pieces of advice stand out in my mind; First be careful what you do during that first week of marriage. Because whatever you do during that week will become your job for the rest of the marriage. Second if you do something wrong often enough sooner or later your wife will stop asking you to do it.
I have found some truth in both of these pieces of advice. During the first week of marriage I took the garbage and compost out. Today after almost five years of marriage I suspect Meghan can count on her hands how many times she has taken the garbage to the curb. Likewise Meghan has stopped long ago asking for my help in assembling or disassembling anything.
While both pieces of advice were given in jest, I think, the second can carry some pretty sad consequences. No one likes feeling like a failure, and no one likes trying their best only to be told to pack it in and go home. There is the subtle threat in this piece of advice, if you don’t do things well enough you are not worth having around.
I think this is the mindset that we find the Apostle Peter in when we read John 21.
During what has come to be known as the last supper Jesus predicted that he would be betrayed by one of his disciples and abandoned by the rest. Peter responded to that prediction by saying, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Peter was wrong. Just as Jesus predicted Peter denied him, not once or even twice but three times that very night. During the last denial we are told that Peter even called down curses upon himself swearing that he had never met Jesus.
Since that night Jesus was tried, killed, buried, and raised from the dead. Jesus has appeared to his disciples and a number of other people. The disciples are all no doubt wondering what does this mean for the mission they were on with Jesus. But I think Peter is wondering something different. I think he is wondering if he messed up being a disciples so badly that Jesus no longer wants him around.
Thankfully Peter doesn’t have to wait long to find out. After an unsuccessful night of fishing Jesus appears on the shore and directs the disciples to cast the net on the other side of the boat. They do so which nets (pun intended) them a gigantic catch. This event had to be eerily familiar to Peter. Jesus used a similar miracle when he called Peter to follow him the first time.
Over the course of breakfast and a conversation along the beech Jesus asks Peter three times, one for every denial, if he loves him. By the end of the conversation we are sure that Peter is forgiven, and that his place as a follower of Jesus is secure. Jesus called and welcomed Peter back.
That is why I love this story. I love that Peter failed so spectacularly that it caused him to assume he had forever fallen out of favour with Jesus. And that Jesus went to great lengths to call Peter back. While I don’t think I have ever failed quite so badly as Peter did the night Jesus was arrested I am hardly free of missteps Collectively throughout my life I have made more mistakes than I care to admit, many of them over and over again.
I don’t think I am alone in this. I think we have all experienced times of great failure or times of frequent failure and we have wondered have we exhausted God’s willingness to restore and forgive? Peter’s restoration tells us the answer is no. No will have not and cannot fall so far that God is unwilling to bring us back.
God will forgive the biggest of sins. God will restore as many times as it takes.
***This is a much adapted version of a sermon I gave on Sunday April 21st entitled Never Give Up Never Surrender***