Summary: A sermon about overcoming shame with the love of Christ.

“A Fire of Burning Coals”

John 21:1-19

Are there any smells that bring back memories for you?

Perhaps it is the scent of the perfume your grandmother used to wear.

For some, it might be the smell of freshly cut grass.

A friend once told me that he can hardly stand the smell of “musty books” because it reminds him of the first day of school.

The smells of Fall bring back memories for me:

The smell of wood burning in chimneys, leaves which crackle underfoot, and cool air on my cheeks can make me feel like a kid again and I want to run and jump and live!

Sometimes smells can trigger bad memories as well, memories from the past that we would rather forget.

Either way, smells do have the ability to transport us to a different time and place.

And I think that is one of the things that is going on in our Gospel Lesson for this morning.

And it begins with a charcoal fire.

Back in John Chapter 13 Peter insists: “Lord, I will lay down my life for you.”

But Jesus answers: “I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

And sure enough, after Jesus is arrested and as the High Priest is questioning Him we watch helplessly as Peter denies even knowing Jesus.

And then the rooster crows.

And it all happens around a charcoal fire.

Think back to the smell of that fire.

Think about the memories it conjured up for Peter as the smoke rose through the air.

After denying Christ, the writer of Mark tells us that Peter “broke down and wept.”

And even though the Resurrected Christ has already appeared to him twice…

…Peter is still a broken and crushed man as are the other disciples.

I mean, the opening scene of our Gospel Lesson for this morning kind of reminds me of the days after a funeral.

Everyone just mills around in a sad fog without a strong sense of purpose.

Finally, Peter throws up his hands and says, “Enough with this, I’m going fishing.”

The other disciples go with him.

And even though they are expert fishers, they catch nothing!

What a low point in the life of these guys—especially Peter.

It’s been suggested that Peter felt guilty for having denied Christ.

I think it goes beyond that.

I think Peter felt shame.

Shame is different than guilt.

Guilt is focused on behavior, as in: “I did something bad.”

Shame is focused on self, as in: “I am bad.”

We all feel shame at some point or another.

We can experience fleeting shame by burping too loud in a crowded elevator.

Or we can feel chronic shame, thinking that, as a whole person, we are flawed and inferior.

Have you ever felt this way?

Perhaps you feel this way now.

“When they had finished eating,” and the coals on the fire were still hot and giving off that smoky smell that brought Peter’s most shame-filled memories to the very forefront of his mind, Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?”

At first, his response to Jesus’ questioning seems evasive.

He doesn’t say, “I love you,” but only, “You know that I love you.”

And it makes sense when we really think about it.

After-all, in the past Peter had boasted to Jesus about how devoted he was to Him and how much he loved Him, but then when the rubber met the road he failed Him miserably.

Was Peter even sure if he loved Jesus?

I mean, how could he love Christ and deny Him all at the same time?

“Do you love me?”

Let’s all allow that question from Jesus to be directed at ourselves this morning.

“Do you love me?”

Sometimes my failures and feelings of shame can cause me to question my love for Jesus.

I have failed God in countless ways and so many times.

How about you?

When this question is put to us, perhaps there are times when the most certain response we can make to God is not “I love you,” but “You know I love you.”

And when we do that we are relying not on our knowledge of ourselves, but on God’s knowledge of us.

We aren’t relying on our own ability to love by on God’s grace.

I have experienced this when I have dealt with persons in the hospital or in life or death situations.

I may be going through a time, when, I myself don’t know what I am thinking or feeling, but then I am confronted with another human being in need and I feel God’s love for them, and thus for me as well, as I reach out to them in faith.

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