Peter: Thoughts on a struggling discipleship.

John 21: 15-19

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.’ 16A 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.’17He 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. 18Very 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.’

If you have ever seen the movie or read the book “the Godfather” you might recall a scene when Michael Corleone sees Apolonia for the first time.

He is overwhelmed by his attraction for her – immediately.

The men he is with look at each other and say, “He has been hit by the thunderbolt.”

The Italian Thunderbolt!

Described this way:

“When love strikes someone like lightning, so powerful and intense it can’t be denied. It’s beautiful and messy, cracking a chest open and spilling their soul out for the world to see. It turns a person inside out, and there’s no going back from it. Once the thunderbolt hits, your life is irrevocably changed.”

Can such a thing happen?

This from an article in Psychology Today:

Love at first sight: Is it possible? Do people really meet and in moments simply know they’re meant to be? New evidence suggests that yes, they do. … The idea is wonderfully romantic: Two strangers see each other “across a crowded room,” there’s an instant attraction, an electric spark, and suddenly they’ve found their match and never look back. In a world where dating often requires a lot of work — work that comes with disappointment, rejection, and uncertainty — falling in love at first sight has strong appeal. … [E]vidence suggests that about 60 percent of people have experienced it. … but it’s not so much “love” or “passion,” instead, it’s a strong pull or attraction that makes someone particularly open to the possibilities of a relationship. 

Over the first three Sundays of Lent, we have heard about three people who have had personal encounters with Jesus and, as a result, have had immediate – virtually miraculous – life changing experiences.

Nicodemus immediately became a follower and defender of Jesus before the Sanhedrin.

The Samaritan Woman immediately became the first evangelist in Samaria.

Zacchaeus immediately placed his wealth and position at God’s disposal.

All three experienced a strong pull or attraction that made them particularly open to discipleship with Jesus.

Jesus has often had that effect on people.

Sudden conversions – like Paul on the Damascus road.

It’s also the kind of thing that made Billy Graham famous.

Alter calls at the end of a crusade generated countless converts.

Lightning struck people coming forward to become disciples of Jesus.

And many of us here can tell our own stories about how our encounter with Jesus struck us in that way.

But then there are those who … well … have not had that experience.

They have been baptized, attended Sunday school, been confirmed, come to church, prayed daily, read the Bible, celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and yet do not feel struck by lightning.

No thunderbolt for them!

I know lots of people like that.

What do we say to those people?

Maybe we sing them the song, “Do you love me?” from Fiddler on the Roof.

A song that comes to mind every time I read today’s text.

Tevye and Golde have been married for 25 years.

And finally have this conversation:

Do you love me?
Do I what?
Do you love me?
Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You’re upset, you’re worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it’s indigestion

But do you love me?
Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?
Do you love me?
I’m your wife
“I know…”
But do you love me?
Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that’s not love, what is?
Then you love me?
I suppose I do
And I suppose I love you too
It doesn’t change a thing
But even so
After twenty-five years
It’s nice to know

25 years of community and companionship.

With all the ups and downs of life that comes with it.

And they never spoke of romantic love.

But in the end, when they finally do talk of love, they speak of only community and companionship.

Their faithfulness.

What they did.

Not how they felt.

For many, that is the life of discipleship.

No thunderbolt.


Not felt.


With all the ups and downs of life that comes with it.

Which brings us to Peter and Jesus.

Jesus is meeting with his disciples after the resurrection.

They have breakfast together and then Jesus calls Peter aside for a private conversation.

“So … Peter … Do you love me?”

I can hear Peter’s response.

“I have been with you for three years.

I left my job and family and walked all over Judea with you.

I tried to walk on water for you.

I climbed that mountain and saw you with Moses and Elijah and offered to build you three houses.

What do you think, Jesus?”

“That’s all good Peter,” Jesus says.

“It has been a great ride.

But Peter, remember this conversation?

Matthew 16: 15-19; 21-23

[W]ho do you say that I am?’16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ …

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

You said I was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

You said I was your Lord.

Then I told you what was going to happen.

How it was all going to work out.

And you scolded me.

You tried to stop me.

You said you were my Lord.

“Oh no Jesus! Never! That’s too hard! That is not the kind of savior I want. There must be some other way. I know a better way. I know an easier way. You do not need to do this. You are mine! I’m in control! You do what I want!”

Like Satan in the wilderness, you tempted me to abandon the divine plan.

I am here to do the will of my Father, not the will of Peter!

And then there was this, Peter.

John 18

15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus … into the courtyard of the high priest… [A] woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ …

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ 27Again Peter denied it … .

This was after you had assured me that even if everyone else deserted me, you would not.

Then you denied me three times!

And now here we are Peter.

“Peter … do you love me” does not sound like such an unreasonable question.”

It’s almost comical that Peter is offended.

It’s almost like Tevye and Golde.

A conversation about their life together, 3 years of community and companionship.

With all the ups and downs of life and faith that came with it.

But in the end, when they finally do talk about it, that community and companionship with all the ups and downs is enough.

And then Jesus tells Peter that his days of wavering are over.

Jesus turns the reigns of his ministry over to Peter.

It should be a happy ending, right?

Not so much.

Peter needs to follow Jesus.

Even to death.

And he does.

I think that is a more common description of discipleship.

We try to follow Jesus.

But we don’t always do so well.

We proclaim Jesus is our Lord.

But then try to be his Lord.

We come to church but don’t like to talk much about our faith in public.

And yet … Jesus sticks with us.

From time to time he asks us if we love him.

And we spend some time reflecting on our discipleship journey and decide that we do.

And that Jesus loves us, too.

Which is good to know.

Because Jesus has a task for us from time to time.

It requires us to continue to follow him, even when the going gets hard.

But that’s what love often is right?

No thunderbolt.

But a long journey of companionship and community.

I can live with that.

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