Scriptures: John 21:1-14, 15-19; Luke 5:1-11
This story was told by Fred Speakman, a Presbyterian
minister born and raised in Oklahoma. It is from his book Love Is Something You Do. He tells about a drunk in his hometown named Old Governor Campbell. No one could remember how he got the title "Governor." In reality he was a shiftless derelict bum, like many other town drunks, except for one thing. Fred Speakman writes,
Old Governor Campbell was converted at every revival! The Southwest's own version of the tent-meeting, the sawdust trail, a particularly bewildering blend of sincerity and emotional extravagance, was still very much in vogue. And every year or so the Governor would be converted. The news would spread from the Court House to the barber shops: "I hear old Governor's got religion again." It would be told as a joke, with many a laugh. But it was a hollow joke. It was nervous laughter. For sure enough, there he'd be, clean-shaven, hair trimmed, his shabby clothes at least laundered and pressed, not lounging in some favorite corner but standing erect out on the street for a few days-never more than a few days! You would see the press go out of his suit as the slouch came back into his shoulders. You could watch the stubble and grime come back on his chin as the proud little blue lights went out in his eyes. He would seem to wilt visibly under the brutal barrage from the curbstone wits, "How many days now, Guv'ner? Would you lead all us sinners in prayer, Guv'ner? Hear you're takin' up preachin' yourself, Guv'ner!"
That would do it. That would always do it. Long before the cool gusts of the autumn winds would come to send the dead leaves scuttling like crabs across the Court House lawn, he'd be back in character, and those who seemed to enjoy the spectacle would slip him a quarter and a knowing wink, and might say to their barber later, . "You know, that's trouble with religion. You take old Governor Campbell. There he is stiff as a billy goat again. But if a revival hits town this winter, you know who'll be converted first" (pp.108-109).
For reasons I will explain in a moment, this story reminds
me of Peter. First, however, I need to do a little Bible study with you about Peter, comparing the story of Peter that we heard from Luke 5 in the children's message to the story we just read from John 21. I have noted their similarities on the screen: [Slide 1]
1) A night fishing trip comes up empty [click 1]
Luke 5: "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing"
John 21: "Jesus said to them, 'Children, you have no fish, have you?' They answered him, 'No.'"
2) Jesus suggests trying again [click 2]
Luke 5: "Put out in the deep water and let down your nets."
John 21: "Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some."
3) They catch more fish than they can handle [click 3]
Luke 5: "They caught so many fish their nets were beginning to break."
John 21: "And now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish."
4) Peter reacts with shame [click 4]
Luke 5: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."
John 21: "When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea."
Let me say a word about this last verse. Why would Peter work with no clothes on, then put on his clothes to jump in the water? That makes no sense, unless it is symbolic! In this case Peter is like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. If you remember when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they were naked and not ashamed. But after they ate the forbidden fruit, they realized they were naked and felt ashamed, and hid from the Lord. When Peter realizes that the person on the beach is Jesus, he reacts with shame. Why? I will come back to that question in a moment.
5) Jesus commissions Peter to ministry [click 5]
Luke 5: "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."
John 21: "Feed my sheep."
These two stories in Luke 5 and John 21 are very similar.
Some of the details are different, but mostly they are same, except for one huge difference. The story in Luke 5 occurs near the beginning of Jesus' ministry when Jesus calls his first disciples. The story in John 21 occurs at the end of Jesus' ministry after his resurrection from the dead. This has led some Bible scholars to suggest that John 21 is misplaced, that it was originally a story about Peter's call to discipleship but John misplaced it at the end of the gospel because John did not know where it belonged.
To my mind that totally misses the point. John 21 is not a
misplaced version of Peter's call to discipleship. It is a story of Peter's recall to discipleship. Even though Peter was called to be a disciple early in Jesus' ministry, he must be called again. Why? Well, think about what has happened. After Jesus was arrested Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus. Then after Jesus rose from the dead, Peter suddenly announces, "I'm going fishing." Now there is nothing wrong with fishing, but in this context for Peter to say, "I'm going fishing," means "I am going back to the life I had before Jesus." Peter was a fisherman before he met Jesus. Jesus called him from his life as a fisherman to his life as a disciple. But suddenly after Jesus' resurrection Peter reverts back to his old life. So Jesus must call him again, and he does it in a way that will remind him of his first call to discipleship. [Slide 2: Blank]
Near the end of John 21 Jesus asks Peter the same question
three times: "Simon son of John, do you love me?" There is no doubt that Jesus asked this question three times to allow Peter a chance to make up for the three times he denied knowing Jesus.
By the way, in case we miss that connection, there is a little detail in the story to confirm it. In John 21, verse 9 says, "When they gone a shore, they saw a charcoal fire there." Most fires in the New Testament were made of wood, but we are specifically told that this fire was made of charcoal. There is only one other place in the entire New Testament where a charcoal fire is mentioned. It is the fire in the courtyard of the high priest where Peter is standing when denies knowing Jesus. Everything in this scene reminds Peter of how he let Jesus down. The three questions, the charcoal fire, the fact that Jesus appears to Peter at a time when he has gone back to his old way of life-all these details remind Peter how he has fallen away from Jesus. Yet at the same time it reminds Peter how Jesus has not given up on him.
At the end of the story about Old Governor Campbell, Fred
Speakman writes, "His disaster isn't that he gets converted at every revival. His tragedy is much the same as ours; he simply doesn't get converted often enough. . You and I are meant to be converted at every revival" (p. 110).
Committing our lives to Jesus is not something we need to do
only once. It is something we need to do over and over.
While I was in Spokane a couple approached me about doing a
small service at their home with their family in which they could renew their wedding vows. I said, "Sure," and then I asked what occasion prompted them to do this. They told me they were celebrating their 10th anniversary, then the wife said, "When we got married, I felt overwhelmed by the thought of making a lifetime commitment. So I told myself I would commit to 10 years. I thought I could handle 10 years. So I committed to our relationship for 10 years, and now that it has been 10 years I'm ready to commit to another 10 years."
I had never thought of marriage that way, but for them it
apparently worked. It turned out that I was in Spokane long enough to do another renewal of their vows after 20 years. After 20 years the wife told me she was ready to re-up for another 10 years. Her husband, too. So they did.
I am not suggesting that your commitment to marriage or to
Jesus should only be for 10 years. But it wouldn't hurt to renew that commitment every ten years or every year or even every day.