As a church, we camp every fall as part of our Harvest Celebration. All around the camp, there is activity. Kids are swinging. Some are playing soccer or various other games with a few adults mingled in. Still others are fishing or swimming, depending on the weather. Adults move in and out of tents while others work on breakfast or lunch. Movement is everywhere. But at the center of camping are campfires. You can always find people sitting around a campfire. Scattered throughout the place where we camp are at least three different fires. One is large, the centerpoint for the camp, the place where we all gather for worship or other formal meetings. Directly west, some forty yards across the open space where our traditional square dance occurs, is another campfire around which 5 to 6 families often gather. And then deeper into the trees is the third fire around which numerous others eat and talk. So much happens around the campfire. Conversation and laughter, quiet presence and meals, even singing and internal reflection. The immeasurable also happens here, the spiritual formation of our hearts that cannot be quantified. I don't sit still well but when I do, when I finally relax around the campfire, something happens in my soul that happens in few other places.
The campfire was a significant site for one of the great apostles. It didn't begin as good place. It was around the campfire that this individual's greatest failure occurred, one that derailed his faith. Do you know of whom I speak? It was Peter. Peter had professed his faith in Jesus a few days prior to this horrific event in the disciple's life. It moved the Lord. But something about his faith was far from pure because it involved a confidence in the wrong source: himself. Just hours away now from the crucifixion, Peter once again made a similar declaration: "Lord," Peter professed, "if all the others fail you, I won't." He was confident. Jesus wasn't...at least not in Peter's self-assured profession. Mark's Gospel, chapter 14, tells the rest of the story. Jesus responded, "Peter, tonight you will disown me three times." And then it happened just as Jesus had said it would. Faith derailed. It had to be. Faith in the wrong thing is no faith at all.
What an agonizing 36 hours or so for Peter. I wonder what he did? I think he might have spent time in Psalm 69...alone. Aloneness probably best describes those hours. Sin does that. Sin scatters us, each to his own way just like it did in the beginning with Adam and Eve. Read Psalm 69 for yourself and see if it might apply to a man who had failed so miserably but who also knew the scriptures. He does quote from this Psalm in Acts 1, perhaps because it was fresh on his heart and mind. He was looking for hope. He found it on Sunday. Happy Resurrection Day, Peter! The same to you and to me!
First there was the tomb incident. Mary goes and comes back, and then goes back again, this time trailing Peter and John. John arrives first, then Peter, who races on by and goes right into the tomb only to find Jesus gone. Could it be? Could there be hope? Yes, there is and he finds it shortly thereafter. Peter had gone back to fishing. That is what we do when we fail at something. We return to what we are good at. Peter was good at fishing. At the moment, he had, no doubt, declared himself bad at being a disciple. Out in the boat with several good friends, all fishermen at heart, one of them heard a voice. It was the voice of Jesus, though at the time they didn't recognize him. Finally, John does. "It is the Lord," declares the disciple who reminded himself repeatedly in the Gospel how much he was loved by Jesus. Perhaps that is a good practice because we so easily forget. (I might try that: "Kent, the pastor whom Jesus loved!") Now, notice something I had never seen till recently, pointed out to me while I was attending a class on the Gospel According to John. Notice what Jesus had taken the time to do because of what he was about to do. Verse 9 tells us that when they landed on shore, they saw a campfire. I wondered if anything stirred in Peter. After all, the last time he stood around a fire things had not gone so well. It was the place where he denied knowing Jesus. It was place of his greatest failure. Now, however, it would become a place of healing. It would be a place where Jesus would free him and then reinstate him to his truest calling as a fisherman.
I am so drawn to what Jesus did here. So personal is our God and Savior. He knew what had happened to Peter around that campfire days earlier. Now it would be different. He would redeem a place that had become for his friend a place of death. "Peter, do you love me?" he would ask three times. Peter responded affirmatively each time, with each response, I suspect, releasing a bit of angst from his tortured soul. It would all lead this young man down a lifelong path of formation. It would result in these words becoming his source of confidence: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us 'do-overs' into a living hope.
Campfire formation. Once a place of failure, now a place of life. Don't miss the larger point here. God often takes us back to places of our greatest pains, those of our own doing and those perpetrated against us, in order to heal us. By healing, I refer to freedom not the removal of scars. We would rather forget. We would rather deny they exist. Not our good God and his Holy Spirit. These places where lies whisper to us and where foolishness got a foothold are places to be revisited so that we can be released to love and not self-protect. Let Him do his work even when it feels like we will be destroyed. God is personal. He knew what Peter needed, knew what had him locked up such that he could not be effective for the kingdom. And in His great mercy, he breathed life into a broken place in the soul of his friend. He seeks to do the same in yours and in mine. For Peter, it all happened around a campfire. I wonder where it might take place for you or me?
Peace to you. The best is yet to come!