It’s not that Jesus needs to know if we love him. Instead he wants to make sure we know what we are to do with that love.
a new take on an old sermon on
Given the sad news of the passing of Justice Ginsburg yesterday, you can bet that this year’s election will be of utmost importance. You might recall what the last one brought us.
I was reminded of it when I came across a comic strip that was in the Daily News, the local paper from Greenville, Michigan where we were still living during last presidential election.
It was from the comic strip Pearls Before Swine which during the last election cycle ran a lampoon of the Presidential race. This particular strip was about the debates. One of its main characters, Rat has decided to run for president. He is standing behind the podium, between two other candidates.
The moderator asks him,
“What do you hope that people will learn about you in the course of tonight’s debate?”
Pointing to either side, he answers, “That I can lie as well as these two.”
The moderator follows up with “So lying is now a virtue?”
To which Rat replies, “Who said anything about lying?”
Come November 3rd we can pretty much guess 48% of our country will vote Democrat, and 48% will vote Republican. If my math is correct, the fate of our country rests in the hands of roughly 4% of the population. To think that a small minority can have such an enormous impact on our lives.
If you find this information alarming, consider this – the entire mission of the church was entrusted to only a few, unqualified people. I believe that when Jesus handed his disciples the keys to the Kingdom, he did so knowing God would be doing all the heavy lifting. All they had to do was trust and remain faithful to God’s Word. For better or worse, that’s exactly what they did.
Today, despite of who we are and what we’ve become, God continues to put his faith in you and me – entrusting us to care of one another. How we vote will say something about our faith...about who and what truly matters in our lives.
This is not me being political. It’s me reminding anyone who dares to take the name of Christ, must also take the cross of Christ and continue his ministry and mission of living the gospel out into the world...by living in the will of God.
Today’s reading isn’t part of this week’s lectionary. It was chosen because it seemed to be the perfect conclusion to a theme that had unexpectedly emerged over the last month or so. It is also the conclusion of John’s gospel that tells a symbolic story of Jesus, after his resurrection, visiting his disciples for the last time to make sure they know their calling in life. (John 21:1-217)
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. - John 21:15-17
It’s a time also when Jesus goes to the beach to have breakfast with his disciples for the last time. Having grown up on a beach, I imagine the water is glassy and still, and the morning mist gives it an eerie calm. A light chill sneaks around in the silent breeze. Along the shoreline you can almost hear a slow, melodic heartbeat; the rhythm of small waves lapping upon the rocks and shells.
I imagine Jesus standing there barefoot. And why not? Walking on sand in sandals is no easy task. With the damp sand squishing between his toes, the resurrected One calls out to his disciples who are fishing about 100 yards offshore. When Peter notices it’s Jesus who is calling out to them, he immediately jumps overboard and rushes towards his friend. Thankfully the others are a little more sensible taking the boat full of fish with them to shore.
Peter is always in a hurry, isn’t he? It’s so like him. And very much like us today. It seems like we’re always rushing here and there with little regard to what’s going on around us. The problem with rushing through this story is we might miss the wonderful subtleties and profound symbolism that offer insight to the ways God works in our lives today.
For example, notice what Jesus is doing. He’s waiting; sitting on the beach for his disciples to come home from work, which by the way isn’t going so well. So, Jesus intervenes; helping them out by nudging them in the right direction.
What does this say to you about how Jesus works in your life? Here’s what I think. Jesus is waiting for me; watching over me as I go about my day. While he waits, he guides me and helps me navigate the work he has called me to do.
And so the first thing we learn is in Christ God is intentionally present in our lives; not just waiting for us, but working and caring for our success.
Next, while Jesus waits and watches over them, he is also preparing a fire for his friends’ breakfast.
This task might seem mundane. But in scripture, fire is highly symbolic. You might recall it was a pillar of fire that led the children of Israel through the wilderness, and tongues of fire that leapt from the mouths of the disciple on the day of Pentecost. Fire is the symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit. So it says something about Jesus’ presence on the beach.
Also, John tells us this is a particular kind of fire. It’s not one made with pieces of driftwood but with charcoal – something you don’t just find charcoal lying around a damp beach in the morning. At that hour, I can’t imagine there were venders out there selling any. No, Jesus had to provide the materials himself. He had to carry the dirty, bulky load with his own hands. This tells me what Jesus is willing to do for us.
Now there are only two places in the New Testament where we find a charcoal fire. Believe it or not, both are in John’s gospel.
The first time is on the night Jesus is taken into custody. While warming himself around a charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter will deny knowing Jesus three times. The second time we see a charcoal fire is here on the beach, where Jesus redeems Peter three times for his betrayal. So, first we see that in Christ God is intentionally present in our lives, and next we see that God carries our burdens and redeems those who seek forgiveness.
Now that we have one kid away in college, that measly meal might feed my family. But 5,000? Leave it up to Jesus to do the impossible – being able to take those ingredients and distribute them to everyone so that no one would leave hungry.
Another interesting thing about this beach breakfast is Jesus doesn’t feed them his fish. Instead he instructs his disciples to get theirs. Did Jesus not prepare enough for everyone? Maybe he wants to see the results of their labor? After all, he has called them to be fishers of people.
Again, Peter is quick to respond. He runs to the net and hauls the bounty across the sand by himself. For all of you Cross-Fitters out there let me see you add that to your routine. Despite the abundance of fish in their bounty, 153 to be exact, the net did not break.
This tells me that in Christ God is intentionally present, carrying our burdens always ready to redeem us and has faithfully equipped us so that we can do the work he has called us to do.
Lastly, there is the beautiful symbolism of the bread. Like fire, bread has a rich history in Israel’s past too. From their exodus out of Egypt to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness to the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night that he was given over to his death, bread always symbolizes something greater than physical food.
It represents God’s Word. As it is written, “People do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” The Word of God is the Bread of Life. In the beginning of John’s gospel, Jesus is described as the perfect embodiment of God’s Word.
Whenever we see Jesus and bread together, we know we are being called to a heavenly feast were God’s words nourishes us and instructs us to do our job that is to love and serve God and one another. Today in the church, this meal has many names: the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper. Whatever you call it, the meaning’s the same. That God is calling us to the table of blessing.
At this Holy Feast, we are reminded that Jesus is the bread that is broken for all who seek to feast on God’s abundant life and salvation.
Through Jesus, God is intentionally present in our life, always ready to redeem us, equip us, and feed us along the way. Whatever your need is — relational, spiritual, physical, or emotional, — God is waiting for you, ready to take care of you.
God’s redeeming love transcends all our human brokenness and sin. It frees us from all our burdens and fills us with all life. God calls you and frees you for a purpose, a calling, which is to carry the bread of life out into the world where love is so desperately needed.
While we see in the final verses Jesus redeeming Peter for his denial, we also see our own redemption and calling. Jesus asks his beloved friends, “Do you love me?” And Peter is quick to respond. In fact, he even gets a little annoyed that Jesus keeps asking him the same question over and over again.
There is something to be said about that repetitiveness, beyond the symbol of redemption. It’s not that Jesus needs to know if we love him. Instead he wants to make sure we know what we are to do with that love.
“If you love me,” Jesus said, “then feed my lambs and tend to my sheep.”
This is the most honest and honorable political act that still rings true today. This is our calling.
Watch over one another. Redeem and forgive each other. Equip and feed and care for those who are not able to do for themselves.
Do not be a wolf in sheep clothing, deceiving people for your advantage.
But instead be the bread of life that welcomes anyone and everyone to the heavenly banquet where God has prepared a place for you and me.
*This is a modified version of a sermon I preached on October 3, 2016 at First Congregational Church, Greenville, Michigan.