"Do You Love Me?”

Easter 3

April 10, 2016


Text:  John 21:1-19


    Once Jesus’ disciples accepted the fact that Jesus was risen from the dead, they weren’t quite sure at first what they were supposed to do about it.  So one day some of the disciples were together, and Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”  Of course, that was how Peter and some of the other disciples had made a living before Jesus came into their lives.  I think Peter must have been feeling bored with waiting (and maybe a bit pinched financially) and decided to do something.

    The other disciples decided to go with him, so they went out on the lake in a boat and fished all night.  Over and over they threw the fishing net into the lake, waited, then pulled it in.  Each time, the result was the same.  The net was empty.  Imagine with me the growing frustration and discouragement they must have felt as this happened repeatedly.  

At daybreak, someone called out to them from the shore, “Hey, boys, have you caught anything?”  

“No,” they replied.  

“Throw out your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  They did, and this time the net was so full of fish they couldn’t even get it into the boat.  Peter realized it was Jesus, and got so excited that he impulsively threw on his clothes, jumped into the lake, and swam to shore to greet him, leaving the rest of the disciples to use the boat to drag the net full of fish to shore.  

When they reached the shore, Jesus already had breakfast cooking, and invited them to add some of the fish they had just caught.  The net had 153 large fish in it, but was not torn.  So they had breakfast with Jesus.

What I want to focus on this morning, however, is what happened right after they finished eating.  Jesus turned to Simon Peter and asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  I’m not sure what “these” refers to here.  The fish?  The other disciples?  I’m not sure it really matters.  Jesus is really asking Peter, and by extension you and me, “Do you love me more than anything else?”  

Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” not once, not twice, but three times.  Three times.  One time for each time Peter denied that he even knew Jesus when Jesus was undergoing the trial that would lead to his crucifixion.  Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to undeny Jesus.  And Peter took it, answering each time, “Lord, you know that I love you.”  Of course, by the third time Jesus asked, Peter was becoming upset that Jesus kept asking the question.  I am not sure how aware Peter was at the time of what Jesus was doing.  But he responded in faith, “Lord, you know everything.  You know I love you!”

“Do you love me?”  Jesus asks us that same question.  There are times when you and I deny Jesus, not so much with our lips as with our lives.  Too many times I don’t really act like I know Jesus, let alone love him.  Yet over and over Jesus asks us, “Do you love me?”, offering us the opportunity to profess our love for Jesus once more and rededicate our lives to serving him.

Let us also remember that after each time Peter said, “Lord, you know I love you”, Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs; take care of my sheep; feed my sheep.”  Serving Jesus means serving those who belong to Jesus.  This does not mean, however, that we only serve those who are already in the church or already know and love Jesus.  Earlier in John’s gospel (chapter 10, to be exact), as Jesus talked about being the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, Jesus said, “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen.  I must lead them too.  They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”  We are to care for all who belong to Jesus, including those who aren’t part of the “sheep pen” we call the church, for Jesus loves them too and wants them to know and love him.

When we love Jesus, we also relinquish the right to call our own shots.  That’s pretty hard for me, because I like to be in control.  I suspect I am not alone in this.  But we need to remember that God calls the shots.  As Jesus told Peter, “When you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted.  When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.”  The Gospel writer tells us that Jesus said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.  The tradition is that Peter was crucified upside down, which he requested because he did not believe himself worthy to die in the same way Jesus did.

Jesus concluded his words to Peter that day by saying, “Follow me.”  As in, “Since you love me, follow me, no matter where that may take you, no matter who you may meet, no matter what you may suffer or endure.  I will be with you--and no matter what happens to you, if you follow me, God will be glorified.”  The world may not be thrilled because you and I choose to follow Jesus--indeed, it is almost certain that it won’t be.  The world thrives on self-serving attitudes of hatred and division.  I find it is very easy for me to get caught up in these same attitudes.  The way of Jesus is quite the opposite--and as the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.”  Those who foment attitudes of hatred and division cannot stand it when people choose to love those others deem undeserving and unlovable, and will many times resort to violence to keep their divisions in place.  This was true during the Civil Rights movement, and remains true in the divisive atmosphere of today’s political and social discourse.

Jesus asks us, “Do you love me?”.  When we answer in the affirmative, he commissions us to care for his people, no matter where they fit in the prevailing social order, and to follow him wherever that may lead.  Let us be faithful in our love for Jesus and our service to others on his behalf.  Amen.

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