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Not lambs alone

Readings: John 21:1-19
                Acts 10:34-43

Have you ever let someone down? I mean really let someone down. Not just promise to go out for a drink and then call it off at the last minute. More like promise that you'll stick by someone thick and thin and then fail to back them up when the going gets tough. And have them look at you with mute appeal on your face only for you to break eye contact and stare at the floor.... Its a dirty feeling isn't it?

And I'd been so sure of myself and my loyalty.
Everyone else might let you down but not me. You know how much I love you. I'd never do a thing like that? Don't you know me better than that by now Lord?
He just shook his head quietly. 'Peter by the time the cock crows you will have betrayed me three times .' That made me angry - I would never do that. And everyone else said the same thing. I was determined. No-one was going to get between me and Jesus. I was going to prove him wrong.

How could I have forgotten that in the things that really mattered, he was never wrong.
And so it proved to be
What a nightmare that night was...

By the time an hour had passed I was falling asleep in the garden when Jesus had asked me to watch with him and pray. A simple task. But somehow the heaviness of the Passover meal and all that wine made me really drowsy. And not just once but three times did we fall asleep. Jesus was near to tears of frustration and he obviously had a lot on his mind. But even that was not enough to keep me awake. And then the large crowd came and they all had swords and clubs. I tried to do the right thing and fight back but Jesus rebuked me sharply. 'Put your sword away Peter. Don't you think that I am going to take up my cup of suffering?' Ashamed, frightened - they knew my name - the crowd could turn nasty! I ran away.

And then it just got worse. First I sank to my knees feeling so guilty. I had fled for my life and forgotten my Lord. So nervously i followed the crowd at a distance 'til they ended up at the High Priest's House. I slunk into the courtyard and sat by the fire. A sharp eyed girl recognised me. 'You're one of his friends aren't you' Before I could think the words were in my mouth. Terror overcame me. I didn't want to be arrested too. 'No, you're mistaken'. Someone else took up the cry. I shrugged him off too. And it was a while later before someone else dared ask me if I was one of Jesus followers. I had had time to think up a reason for being there, for explaining that i did know Jesus. Who knows, this could have been a chance to stir up the crowd and rescue Jesus from the high priests. But I did not think of him but only of myself. 'I don't know what you are talking about' I shouted. And the cock crowed. At that moment, inside the house, through the large open window, Jesus turned and looked at me. He knew. I knew. I died inside.

And then I had to watch him die for real. I still can't describe it. Despite all that has happened since it is too soon for me to put into words, the jeers, the pain, the mockery, the cry from the cross. None of his friends knew what to do. Instinctively we gathered together in the upper room we had booked for the Passover. Lost, bereft, confused, we huddled together, weeping quietly. Lambs alone.

Until our grief was broken by a hysterical woman. We were shaken by a loud knocking on the locked door. Mary came hurtling in screaming that Jesus' body had been taken from the tomb. John and I went to check and she was right. How could we have let this happen. We had let him down even in death! She insisted on staying in the garden while we broke the news to the others. We had barely finished the sorry tale when Mary burst in again. But what a transformation! Her face was glowing, she was laughing and she told us - an incredible tale. That she had seen Jesus - the risen Lord. And to tell us that he was returning to our Father God. Her excitement was infectious. But still there was a germ of doubt. Jesus had said something about rising from death true but, this was outrageous. And why appear to Mary, a mere woman, and of dubious character at that. Yet could this possibly be.....?

We were still interrogating poor Mary who was hoarse from retelling what had happened when Jesus appeared in the room. As simple as that. One minute he was not there and the next he was. As if he had always been there. 'Peace be with you' he said. And I for one, and I think all the others, felt a peace that had been missing form our lives for many days. He showed us his wounds. He sent us out to serve others as the father sent him. He breathed the holy spirit on us and told us to forgive people's sins. And disappeared from sight again. That is when my peace was shattered. How could I go out and preach when I had done such wrong. I could not forgive people when I had done the unforgivable. I had betrayed the one I loved most in the world. The Son of God. Jesus appeared again in the upper room, especially for Thomas and wonderful as it was to see the Lord I could barely look at him. I was so ashamed.

Well, the booking ran out on the room and without having a better idea we went home. The business was running well without me, thanks to my strapping lads and some good servants, but still I felt the call of the sea. I was restless, didn't know what to do with myself. Unable to come to terms with what had happened - the good or the bad. So I decided to go back to what I knew best. I said to the lads, 'I'm going fishing' And they came too. Now the idea was to do something, instead of sitting round moping, to show that if I'm good for something its fishing. All night though we caught not a thing. I felt worse. Until the new dawn's rays outlined a figure on the bank who told us to try again with our nets over the other side. And too weary to argue, we did. And gathered up so many fish the boat threatened to capsize. Laughing I turned to John - 'who is that man?' He peered hard. 'It is the Lord!' Quick as a flash I was in the water and wading towards him and the smell of cooking fish on a fire. He was still with us. He had not given up on us. I hadn't quite worked out how he was with us. I watched him eat and drink with amazement. Real flesh and blood then, just different.

'Come for a walk' he said to me after we had eaten. I turned to the boat, all those fish to sort out. 'No, let the others deal with that. You and I need to talk. Simon Peter - do you love me more than these?'

'Yes Lord, you know I love you'.

'Then take care of my lambs' .

Three times he asked me if I loved him. As if he had to ask! 'Yes Lord, you know that I love you'. But of course he had to ask. Not for his sake but for mine. Now I knew I was forgiven. Now I knew I could forgive. And tell people of the wonderful love of God seen through his son - the risen Christ! We saw him a few more times and then he was gone from among us. But he lives on through his words, his actions, his love. Through us, as we tell his story and tend his lambs. Jesus is not dead - our Lord is alive!

That is the joy of Easter. Whatever we have done, however we despise ourselves, God loves us. Even if we feel we have let him down so badly we want to turn away from him - God loves us. That is the Easter message - Jesus death and resurrection had a point and a purpose. To bring us back to God, to show us how great and powerful God's love is for us. Who do we think we are that what we do wrong could turn God away from us. God is bigger than that. He can beat death! Like Peter we can be rejuvenated, restored, know the living Lord in our lives.

Jesus died and rose again for us. For you. For me.
I'm going to say it slowly and I want you to take the thought and make it your own. Because its true!

Jesus died for me.....
Jesus rose again for me.....
Jesus brings new life for me.....
Thank you Jesus!

We are not lambs alone. We have our shepherd to guide us. He has breathed his spirit on us and told us to preach the good news of forgiveness.

Oh yes.

What did Peter do? He took the commands to heart. He preach Christ wherever he went. This man who knew nothing but fish was able to speak words that convicted the hearts of those who heard. Not fancy language. You can tell from the speech to Cornelius. That is the one we heard earlier. He just told it like it was. And peter kept on learning. That is what I like about the Cornelius story. Peter had thought he could only spread the word to people like himself. He soon learnt that God's flock is everybody.

Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Saviour isn't the end. Its just the beginning. Who are our lambs that need tending. Who are the vulnerable, the hurting, the lost and the lonely, the self hating who need to hear the Easter message? I bet you don't have to think hard.

Jesus died for me.....
Jesus rose again for me.....
Jesus brings new life for me.....and everyone.

Let's go out and share the good news - of happy Easter!
Thank you Jesus!