“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
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
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
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.