Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Skinny-Dip Sermon”

The Biblical text for this unusually titled sermon by Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence[1] was John 21:1-19.[2]

For Christians this is the familiar story of the unsuccessful post-crucifixion fishing trip by Peter and six other disciples. When they returned to shore, a man on the beach told them to go out again and put their net on the other side of the boat. They did and caught a lot of fish. Then one of the disciples recognized the man on the beach as Jesus and said, “It is the Lord.” Peter, who was naked presumably to avoid catching his clothes on the fishing gear, immediately put on his clothes and jumped in the lake. When they all were back on the beach, Jesus had started a charcoal fire to cook fish for breakfast and to warm Peter. After breakfast, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Three times Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” After each response, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Finally Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me!”

Florence said this was another example of Peter as the lone ranger, as the one who always changes the subject from Jesus to himself, as the one who forces Jesus to intervene, as the one who always wants to be the best at everything. Peter is always making “I” statements. We all are like this Peter.

Peter’s immediately putting on his clothes and jumping in the lake, at first glance, is strange behavior. If you want to swim, you do not put on clothes. But it is like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit and needing to clothe themselves when God cries out for them.[3] No one wants to be naked before God and exposing all of his sins. It is really difficult to be forced to look at your own shortcomings.

And Peter did have shortcomings he did not want exposed. Jesus’ asking Peter three times if he loved Jesus while Peter was warming himself by the fire on the beach was telling Peter that Jesus knew that after his arrest, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times in response to direct questions, all while Peter was warming himself by a fire in a courtyard.[4]

Yet Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.” Jesus chose Peter to start the church. And Peter chose to accept this call. It is another example of God’s choosing a flawed human being to do something new and of that human being’s choosing to accept the call of God.

This sermon on May 17th was part of the Festival of Homiletics to bring together a wide variety of outstanding preachers and professors of homiletics; to inspire a discourse about preaching, worship, and culture; to engage issues related to church in the 21st century; to engage theologically the practices of preaching and worship; to invite individual preachers to consider various styles and methodologies of preaching; and to inspire preachers in their roles of proclaiming the gospel.[5]

[1]  See Post: Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Preaching as Testimony” (April 6, 2011).

[2]  Bible, John 21: 1-19.

[3]  Bible, Genesis 3: 10-11.

[4]  Bible, Matthew 26: 69-74; Mark 14: 66-71; Luke 22: 54-60; John 18: 15-18, 25-27.

[5]  Festival of Homiletics (May 16-20, 2011), http://www.goodpreacher.com/festival/index.php.