Do you remember the first time you felt like you truly belonged? I'm not talking about a time when the right people accepted you, when you felt like you fit in. I mean the time when you realized you belonged, just as you were, without any additions or subtractions.
For very fortunate ones among us that feeling of belonging came from our families of origin. Our mothers fathers siblings and grandparents loved us just as we were and made a point to let us know. But others of us struggle for many years to belong some of us here or still facing that struggle. My sense of belonging as I am is tied back into my baptism. Knowing that a group of people spoke words of love and acceptance over me and gave me the title child of God at six weeks old has kept me from completely losing my identity.
Belonging is core to our experience as human beings. We long for our family, our group, our tribe to embrace us and tell us we are good enough just the way we are. And when we find that belonging we become fiercely loyal – until we aren't. Because there are those times when we will question our connection. There are those times when doubt, fears, whispers will get in close enough to separate us from those we love.
Peter and the disciples I've been through the ultimate separation from their tribe – Christ had been put to death. They had locked themselves in the upper room and watched as their identity, their sense of belonging, slowly slipped away. Until – until the women brought the good news of the resurrection to their broken hearts. Until – until the risen savior how to come twice to stand among them and offer them peace and reassurance. They rejoiced they celebrated and then, they went fishing!
Wait, fishing? I suppose there is the thought of fishing being celebratory relaxing me time. But in this case – not so much. In this case the disciples of seen Jesus twice they've been given the Holy Spirit, they've been given the ability and responsibility of forgiving sins and they have been sitting in the upper room trying to figure out what to do next.
Peter get sick of it and announces I'm going fishing. This isn't a pleasure cruise, he's going back to what he knows. He's going back to the way of life he knew before. He goes back into the world hoping to find a purpose once more. Well Peter is the only one who's words of denial are recorded in the Scriptures, the other disciples deny Jesus as well. They ran away during the hours following Jesus his arrest and death. They had altering their backs on the belonging they have received.
It's safe to say they all were unsure of what to do next – who they would be – where they would belong – and so they go back to what they know – back to the way of life they lived before. And then – in the Munding of their normal every day tasks, which state by the way were spectacularly bad at that day, they met once more the risen Lord.
In the midst of a rough time of fishing he calls to them from the shore to put their nets on the other side and to hold the catch of the 153 fish without breaking the nets. This reminds us of the call story we heard in Luke chapter 5 a few weeks ago. Where Jesus gave them the same instructions and they holding to catch swamped the boats. If you recall, after that catch, Luke records them leaving the fish on the shore and follow Jesus.
Here, John has Peter dive off the boat and race to Jesus his side where Jesus has already cooked breakfast on the beach. They all break bread together they feast, they remember.
They remember being called – setting their lives down to follow this man. They remember the miraculous deeds they witnessed, the helix, the casting out of demons, the raising of the dead. And they remember they remember their denial of Christ. They remember saying they did not belong to him by their words and actions.
It's almost as if Jesus can hear the words in their heads but I let you down Jesus, I turned away, I walked away, I have sinned, I have fallen short, I am not enough.
Do you love me?
Jesus interrupt Peter and our thoughts of failure with these simple words. Do you love me?
Love here is agape love, unconditional love holy love God like love. Peter responds you know I love you. I philio you, brotherly love I belong to you. Jesus says feed my lambs.
Do you love me? Again agape you know that I love you again brotherly love. Jesus says take care of my sheep.
Do you love me? Jesus asks again this time brotherly love. You know all things you know that I love you says Peter. feed my sheep says Jesus follow me.
Here Jesus offers Peter three chances to claim him once more. To voice again his belongings. But Jesus is offering more than that, he offers a sensible longing and gives peter a clear new purpose. Replace a lot of conditions on our love for God. Sometimes it's guilt and shame as was peters problem. Sometimes it's painful memories of painful experiences. Sometimes it's reluctance to except that God is God and we or not. It doesn't matter though. If we love God and anyway, no matter the limits are conditions, the required response is to care for the children of God, especially the vulnerable ones.
Love me as much as you can right now – all love you completely
love me and show that love by caring for others – I'll provide for you.
Love me by following me, and you will always belong.
Not my friends, Christ comes to us in our every day lives and says follow me. Christ comes into our illness in times of distress and offers healing. Christ comes into our locked rooms, our dark corners and gives us peace. Christ comes to us even when we feel that we've let him down and offers us love – belonging and purpose right where we are – just as we are.