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There's Still Room at the Table


“There’s Still Room”

A message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, UCC

May 1, 2022


John 21:15-19 NRSV


15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your

own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 

19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow

me.”


Do you have memories of big family holiday meals? Like Christmas, or

Thanksgiving, or maybe Easter? I remember as a kid, youngest of four, that if we had

company over for a meal like that I was at the “kids table.” Did you have that

experience? It wasn’t bad, in fact, you maybe didn’t have to watch your manners quite

so much, but it was still a bit of the “separate but equal” philosophy. There was a little

bit of “second-class” citizen feel to it. There is a commercial I saw recently on TV

where it shows one of the children in the family getting moved up from the “kids

table” to the big table, and he has this big, proud grin on his face – “I’ve finally

arrived!”

Peter was probably feeling like a lot lower than a “second-class” disciple at this

point in the story of his relationship with Jesus. He was always a bit of a loose cannon.

Wanting Jesus to give him a full body wash when Jesus was simply washing feet to

illustrate serving one another. Contradicting Jesus when he predicted his death.

Cutting off one of the soldier’s ears when they arrested Jesus. But then he heard

Mary’s claim that he was risen, that he wasn’t in the tomb where they had laid his

dead, tortured body. He had run, along with the faster so-called “beloved disciple” to

see, and in typical Peter fashion, even though the other disciple got there first, he had

pushed him aside and entered the tomb to be the first to do so. We assume he was

there in the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples when Thomas wasn’t. But there

was still an issue that had to be resolved.


We all know that Peter had denied Jesus. Denied knowing him. Denied being a

disciple. Denied any relationship with Jesus on the night when Jesus was arrested and

dragged through a travesty of a trial and conviction. His denial must have hung over

Peter heavily. Despite having seen the Risen Christ enter that locked room and not

only show himself once, but twice, and despite not only showing himself but breathing

the Holy Spirit upon the disciples to send them out, beyond locked doors, Peter’s

denial still seemed enough of a problem for Peter, that Peter had returned to fishing.

As if everything was back to the way it was before Jesus. As if the resurrection didn’t

change everything. Peter went fishing. A few of the disciples joined him.


It was a fruitless and frustrating night of no fish fishing. They were out all night

and as they returned to shore with empty nets a figure on the shore hollered out to

them: “Ahoy the boat! You haven’t caught anything have you?” You can imagine

Peter thinking, “Know-it-all! What do you think, the boat just looks empty because we

caught invisible fish?” But they shout out, “Nope, no fish tonight.” The man on the

shore, still unknown to them as Jesus, says, “throw the net on the other side of the

boat.” Again, one can imagine Peter, ever the impatient one, thinking, “oh, sure, that’s

the problem, throw the net on the OTHER side of the boat and we’ll surely catch a boat

full! We’ve been fishermen our whole lives. Who are you Captain Ahab?” But, they

throw the nets over and, “Whoa, Nelly!” The boat almost capsizes as their nets are

suddenly filled with a miraculous catch. Someone counted them all, evidently: 153

fish. I don’t know if you’ve ever caught 153 fish in one expedition. I think that

qualifies as a LOT of fish.


Someone in the boat gets the idea that this is a lot of fish, a miraculous lot of

fish, takes another look at the guy on the shore and says, “That’s JESUS!” And Peter,

being Peter, pulls his robe on, jumps in the water and swims to shore, he’s so excited to

see Jesus! The writer of John’s Gospel, in the verses just before we the ones we read

this morning, tells us they gathered on the shore and Jesus took bread and fish and

blessed and broke them and they shared them. Sound familiar? Yes. It was a

reenactment of the last supper they had shared with Jesus before his arrest, execution,

and death. And Peter was welcome to sit at that table, even as he had been welcome

before he had denied Jesus.


In the scene we read this morning, just after this seaside communion, Jesus takes

Peter aside and they walk down the beach, and Jesus asks Peter 3 times – Peter, do you

love me more than these? Every sermon you have heard on this passage, I am sure,

pointed out that just as Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus reaffirms for Peter that he

DOES love Jesus. It is essentially a “recommissioning” of Peter. For the early church

it was important that those who knew of Peter’s denial, also know of Peter’s

reinstatement as a disciple, as an Apostle, approved of, loved, forgiven, and sent by

Jesus to lead the gathering of disciples. There was no shaming, no blaming, Jesus does

not even say, “Peter, you are forgiven.” It might be said that Jesus is giving Peter the

opportunity to prove to himself he truly does love Jesus more than all the other things

in his life. The whole sequence of the passage is a declaration that Jesus forgives all

things and the breakfast on the beach is the assurance that there is still room for Peter

at the table, and there is still room for anyone and everyone.


I’ve known a lot of people over the years who think there isn’t room at the table

for them. They believe they are not worthy to take part in the Sacrament of Holy

Communion. The Church for too long has twisted the original meaning of this meal to

make it one where only certain people were worthy of taking part in it. It was too holy,

too sacred to allow everyone to take part. I believe, and in general throughout our

denomination, churches believe that there is room at the table for anyone. This table is

set as a feast for sinners, not a privilege for the perfect.


This table, this symbolic meal was never intended to be an exclusive buffet for

insiders, members of the club who knew the secret handshake, who had paid the annual

dues, who assumed they deserved God’s grace. It was always intended to be an open

table to symbolize the fellowship that Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry. He

never turned the sick, the sad, or the sinner away. He only criticized the religious

fanatics and leaders who believed they defined what was righteous, and they were

responsible to protect God’s holiness, while they used their power and privilege to

push religious injustices on the powerless, the marginalized, and the outsider. He

called them out for cooperating with the Roman Empire and its brutal abuse of power

for the glory of Caesar. He ate with sinners, drank with drunks, touched the unclean,

healed on the Sabbath when the insurance boards wouldn’t pay.


There’s still room at this table today. That’s the outrageous, revolutionary

promise of the Risen Christ today. He still welcomes anyone to know there is room at

this table for anyone who hungers and thirsts. And it was never intended to be a meal

for gluttons who went home satisfied while others starved. It was intended as spiritual

nutrition to renew disciples to do what Christ has called us to do. It was, and is, a

symbolic reminder of our commissioning just like Peter’s: feed my sheep, feed my

lambs, feed my sheep. Peter wasn’t called to be a fisherman to pay the bills and live

like Jesus had never called him to “serve others as I have served you.” He wasn’t

supposed to return to a life of selfish labor, but a life of self-sacrifice for the hurting,

the outsider, the broken outcast, and the wandering, lost sheep of God’s sheepfold.

We have been sent to serve, to love, and to bring the good news that God has

always had room for more at the table of grace. We don’t have to go around beating

people up with our “Christian witness” to do this. We don’t have to convert people to

anything to welcome them into our fellowship or to share our table or to do what we

can to help them. We can do it knowing we do it in the name of Christ, but we don’t

have to preach to them before, during, or after we “feed” the hungry sheep.


Just after Christmas the church received a card and a check from the Cartwright

family from Buffalo, New York. They had traveled down to Key West for a short

vacation. They had a tire go flat just as they got to our church and pulled off into our

parking lot. The mom, who wrote the note said, “after 45 minutes of watching

YouTube videos” on how to change the tire they had been unable to get the old tire off.

She said they were at their wits end and in her words, “the Florida heat” had worn

them out – she noted it was 15 degrees in Buffalo that day. She said a silent prayer for

help and decided to try to flag someone down. She wrote, “to my amazement the first

person I flagged was more than willing to help and his truck was equipped with a floor

jack and he had a hydraulic power gun to remove the lug nuts. Ten minutes later their

tire was changed and they were ready to go again. They tried to pay the young man

but he just smiled and said, “just pass it on.” So they sent the money they had tried to

give him to our Barnabas fund and said it was in “Jo- Jo’s” honor. She added that our

sign out front that day said, “God’s timing is perfect!”


So if you’ve ever wondered if there is room for you in God’s grace, there’s still

room. If you’ve ever wondered if you were really welcome at God’s table, there’s still

room. If you thought that you’d never have the opportunity to serve someone to show

the love of Jesus that you have known, there’s still room at the table to serve someone.

If you have ever thought there was no way a sinner like you could be welcome in

God’s embrace, there’s still room.


When we come to this table we never come alone. We come in Jo-Jo’s name.

We come in Peter’s name. We come in the name of that person who has never been

welcome anywhere. We don’t come because we earned a place. We don’t come

because we paid for the invitation with our perfection. We come because we know we

are hungry and thirsty. And we make room for everyone because we know what it is

like to be hungry and thirsty. And we come because the Lord welcomes us with open

arms.


And then he sends us out to serve and bless and love someone whose tire just

went flat, whose life just exploded, whose grief overwhelmed them, whose fear and

hurt and suffering has left them on the side of the road wondering if there is anyone out

there with enough love to answer Jesus’ call. Come eat. Then go and serve. AMEN.

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