Sorry: Repairing Relationships with Those We Love

. 7 min read

Oct 2018, Christ Mountain Top
the Psalm, Psalm 103.1-18
Genesis 3.1-13
John 21.1-25
      Initiative to apologize
      Initiative to start a difficult
conversation, even when not at fault
      Today, repairing relationships with those
we love
set up this story a little.
      In John’s gospel, Peter’s call story is
abbreviated. He is introduced to Jesus by his brother, Andrew, and Jesus gives
him the name “Peter” as opposed to Simon (1.42). He has one line of dialogue in
the ministry of Jesus, in which he speaks up for all the disciples to declare
their loyalty to Jesus when much of the crowd forsakes him (6.68). Then, Peter
shows up in the night of the last supper and in the resurrection stories. He
refuses to have Jesus wash his feet, only to relent. He affirms his loyalty,
that he will lay down his life for Jesus, and Jesus tells him that this very
night he will deny Jesus three times. The mob shows up to arrest Jesus and
Peter lays his life on the line, drawing his sword and cutting off the ear of a
guy named Malchus. Peter is doing exactly what he says he will do, and Jesus
tells him to stop, to put his sword away. Jesus submits to the arrest, the
disciples scatter, but Peter follows at a distance and ends up in the courtyard
as the bizarre “trial” begins. Sure enough, Peter denies knowing Jesus three
times that evening. Now that Christ is risen and appeared to Mary, now that
Peter has seen the empty tomb but not yet met with Jesus, he is at a loss. What
do you do next? He has denied even knowing the man he loves as friend and lord.
And he hasn’t even had the opportunity to apologize.
      What does Peter do? He can’t take refuge
in a relationship that is broken, both by what Peter has done and by Jesus’
death – even though there’s some unresolved mystery around what happened on
      What does Peter do? He takes refuge in his
competency, in what he does well – fishing. He takes refuge in his work.
Nothing wrong with that. Many of us do it. The great thing is that Jesus finds
him there and Peter is only too glad to see him.

we have this other story, the story of the original couple and the original
sin. They have never before experienced the impact of sin. Never before have
they felt estranged from each other or from God. Everything has been harmony
and peace, joyful discovery. We’re told at the end of Genesis 2 that they were
both “naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2.25). For as many times as we have
looked in the mirror and been critical of what we have seen – a pimple, a
wrinkle, the impact of gravity where we once were “buff” – for as often as we
have been afraid to reveal who we really are even before the one we love … that
line in Genesis 2 tells us the real cost of our sin: Shame. And the story in
Genesis 3 adds its partner: Blame (guilt). “The woman that you made for me.”
The man blames the woman he loves and the God he loves. “The serpent.” The
woman blames a talking snake.
      Ever since, as a race, we have been
engaged in coverups and finger-pointing, shame and blame.
our focus is on reconciliation with those we love. That does require two. And
this is not about dealing with domestic abuse or persistent infidelity. The
same principles apply, but in those situations it is important to also consider
personal safety, mental health, the example set for our children, and more.
There are unfortunate and painful situations in which divorce is the only
appropriate option.
      Today, the focus is on these domestic
conflicts, these cycles of blame and shame that are so routinely on display in
our relationships with our spouses and significant others, our children, our
parents, and even with our best friends. Saturday morning we tried out the new
BBQ place, Butcher Bob’s. We’re heading there and Robin tells me that it is
right before the car place “Strittmatter’s” (like the folks in the church, she
says). I say that I don’t recall a Strittmatter’s car place. Could she be referring
to Steinbrenner’s? She made some smart remark about my need to be “right.” We
tend to have fun with that in our house, just to laugh about it. But it is easy
for that to devolve into finger-pointing and denials (coverups): “You always…”
But instead of a tense morning, we had a relaxing breakfast.
      But not when we were first married. Then,
I had to verify everything because being wrong was inconceivable. I’ve grown to
accept it about myself. I’m wrong routinely! Then, if Robin told me that “I
always” did anything, I responded with the two specific instances that were
exceptions to that generalization. Then, I took a lot of long walks and none of
them were romantic or with a puppy. I needed to let off some steam … a lot. One
of the things that was hardest for me was to acknowledge that I was capable of
such anger. And this is why Robin is God’s gift to me for my sanctification,
that is, for the process of me becoming holy as God is holy. Without her I
would not learn these uncomfortable lessons about myself, would not have begun
to practice reconciliation on this level.
you are intimate with someone, and things go wrong, even on a small matter, it
is hard to retreat to your comfort zone. That’s why I took long walks – we were
in a teeny apartment and I needed to have my own space. When Robin was upset,
she didn’t want to take long walks, she wanted to wash the dishes. But she was
still in my space. “Honey, what’s wrong? Don’t hold it in. We really should
talk about it.” Unwise expressions of my own anxiety, not exactly helpful to
her or to the quality of our conversation. I had to learn to give Robin her
space, just as she had to learn to give me my space. One of the reasons we
learned to do that is because we knew that we wouldn’t stay stuck in that
space. We’d have the conversation we needed to have, even if we had to wait a
little bit to do it.
      I love that about Jesus and Peter
reconciling in this story. Peter has retreated to his comfort zone, his
competency, his work. (And work is a great retreat as long as we don’t get
stuck there.) They’ve been fishing all night. And, in John’s chronology, some
time has passed since Easter. Jesus has not confronted Peter. He gave Peter his
own space. Now Jesus shows up, directs them to fish, and it is obvious that
this stranger is no ordinary shoreline fish spotter. Peter drags in the net.
Still Jesus does not force a conversation. Breakfast comes first. Then the
difficult conversation.
years ago a man called to meet with me. He told me he loved his wife, there was
no one else in his affections, but there was some wall, some division, that was
growing between him and his wife and he didn’t know what to do about it. We
talked about it for a few minutes and I turned to words of Jesus to the church
at Ephesus in the Revelation: “you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember
then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation
2.4-5). We talked about what he did to court his wife and how he could begin to
do the same things again, to do “the works you did at first.”
      I love this dimension of Peter’s
reconciliation with Jesus. Jesus shows up and re-enacts what is Peter’s
original call in other gospel accounts (Luke 5.1-11, also Matthew 4.18-22, Mark
1.16-20). Just like their first meeting, they’ve been unsuccessful in a night
of fishing. Just like their first meeting, Jesus tells Peter where to cast his
net. Just like their first meeting, Peter complies and is amazed. No wonder,
this time, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” said, “It’s the Lord!” Peter,
remember your first love and do the things you did at first.
      No wonder Jesus asks him, “Peter, do you
love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Because Jesus wants Peter not
just to profess his love but to remember it. Finally, the third time through
this dance, Jesus deepens the question. The text uses another word for love, a
love that is without condition and without reserve. Peter responds and deepens
his response using another word for knowing, a knowing that is based on
experience, on a shared history, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I
love you.” Peter’s response confirms that he remembers his first love and he is
committed to doing the things he did at first. Peter confirms that he remembers
the entire story of their relationship, Peter appeals to Jesus’ lengthy
experience with him, an experience that has been mostly good.
      And Jesus isn’t fixated on Peter’s
failure, his denials. Jesus has already forgiven him, Jesus has already died
for him, Jesus has already risen for him. Here and now, Jesus wants Peter to
get past his failure, his need to take refuge in his work, to reorient himself
in the context of a relationship of love and affection and to move forward
doing the things he did at first – tending the sheep.
are critical lessons for us to learn in order to live in reconciliation with
those closest to us:
Don’t count individual offenses and generalize a pattern
from them. Instead, pay attention to the larger context of love and loyalty in the
relationship. Forgive and leave it in the past. Break the cycle of shame and
Give each other space in our comfort zone before pushing a
difficult conversation. None of us wants to say hurtful things that we wish we
could take back. Sometimes we may need to ask for space: “I’m committed to have
this conversation. I just need a little space now before I can talk.”
Remember your first love. Repent and do the things you did
at first. There is no guarantee that the other person will respond to that. But
it does provide the opportunity to reset things in the relationship in an older
and perhaps forgotten trust and appreciation for each other.