May 5, 2019 sermon

Posted by on May 5, 2019 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

May 5, 2019

Throughout the season of Easter I have talked time and time again, until I’m sure you are almost tired of it, about Jesus’ primary message in the gospel of John. Today, as we read the closing chapter in John’s gospel, the author makes it absolutely clear what that message is. After a rather confusing story about Jesus having breakfast with some of his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee, Jesus takes Simon Peter aside and asks him the same question three times. The question is this: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Now, why would Jesus ask Simon Peter the same question three times? One interpretation I have heard promoted is that this gives Peter three opportunities to make up for his betrayal of Jesus three times on the night before his crucifixion. I’m sure there are other interpretations as well, but the point I think the author of John is trying to make is to emphasize that nothing else really matters. If Simon Peter doesn’t love Jesus, then he will never be the person Jesus needs to lead the new faith movement that will begin after the death of Jesus.

Have you ever been asked by someone whether or not you love that person? Maybe a spouse or partner has asked you that question. Possibly it was a parent or child who asked you. It might have even been a close friend. Have you ever asked someone if he or she loves you? Again, it could have been a spouse, partner, parent child, or friend who you asked, but have you ever asked that person, “Do you love me,” three times in a row? Have you ever been asked by someone, “Do you love me,” not once or twice but three times within a minute? If you have experienced either of these scenarios, I imagine it would suggest that you or the other person has some doubt about the love being professed.

Few things, if any, are as important as being loved. Oh sure, we often try to convince ourselves that other things are just as important, but we are only deceiving ourselves. When we want something or other, whether it is something money can buy or an experience we can have or a successful career or whatever, we will often sacrifice a loving relationship in our quest for that something. How many of us have hurt a loved one because we wanted something that is crying out for our attention. How many of us have been hurt by someone who loves us because that person needed that something more than us? Please notice that I did not say that love was not present, only that love of another person was taking second place to the desire for something else. I imagine we’ve all done this to someone at some time and had it done to us at some time. When this sort of thing happens, the words, “I love you,” may sound a bit hollow.

I wonder if this is why Jesus asked Simon Peter three times whether or not Peter loved him. Peter had denied his love of Jesus three times when Jesus needed to know he was loved more than ever. Jesus had been arrested and knew he was facing a mock trial that could very well end up with his death. This had to be the most crucial moment in the life of Jesus and we all know that when we are in times of crisis, what we need most of all is to be surrounded by people who love us.

Think of some of the times we have faced a crisis of some kind. Maybe it was a health situation or a financial problem or a relationship issue that was scaring the dickens out of us and we simply needed to know that there were people who cared about us and loved us and would stick by our side, no matter what. What we didn’t need at those times was for the people who professed that they love us to walk away because they were too busy with other things or to run away because they were afraid of getting caught up in our situation.

Yet, we’ve seen this sort of denial take place many times. How often do we read in the newspaper about someone being accused of a crime and suddenly those people who were casual friends abandon that person. This happens in the church as well. I could tell you of stories of people who made mistakes or errors in judgement and the church leadership quickly abandoned those people, hoping that the church would not receive negative news because of it. It happens in government as well as in business and almost every area of life. Like Simon Peter, many people will deny their love for someone if it puts their own lives in danger in some way. That’s often the reality of life.

However, I could also tell you stories of people who have not abandoned family or friends in times of crisis, despite the reality of what it might cost them by sticking with those people. People get sick, people get into trouble, people make mistakes, people sin, people are not perfect, and that includes all of us here today. When we receive that terrible news or that scary diagnosis or that horrible prognosis, we need to be loved! That’s the reality of life. Without that love, the crisis we are facing may very well be too much to endure.

One of the most devastating things we will ever have to face is the death of someone we love dearly and who loves us just as dearly. Many of us have experienced this reality and it has left its mark on us. Those who have not yet faced this often live in fear of it. Why do you think Simon Peter denied knowing Jesus on the night of his arrest? It was because he was afraid for himself. We know that Peter had a wife and family and wanted to spend time with them. Fear causes us to do things we would not do otherwise. Whenever fear is present, love is diminished. The greater the fear in a person, the less room there is for love in that same person. There is a scripture passage that claims where there is perfect love there is no fear. Well, the opposite is also true. Where there is only fear, there can be no love.

This, I think is why the Gospel of John finishes up with Jesus questioning Simon Peter about his love. Jesus realizes that if Peter cannot let go of his fears by replacing them with love, Peter’s life will never be what it is intended to be. This is true for all of us as well. Will our fears control us or will our love be our guiding light? When we are faced with difficult situations or when those we love encounter fearful situations how will we respond – with fear or with love? How we answer that question can have an enormous effect on how we deal with those situations. How we react to fear will determine whether or not we will go through those situations with any sense of peace and comfort.

Nobody is immune to fear and if anyone tells you they are, don’t believe them. They are not being honest with themselves or with you. That said, all people experience different levels of fear, depending on many factors. For instance, how serious is the crisis, have they experienced something similar before, how close are they to the situation or person affected, what is their age, and so on. For instance, an eighty or ninety year old may react better than a twenty year old to a health crisis or a healthy, young adult may handle a financial crisis better than a senior citizen with little opportunity to earn income, but not always. I’ve sat with very old people who are facing the end of life and some of them handle it better than others. The reason is that some are quite ready to die, satisfied with the life they’ve lived, and some are terrified of death, sometimes because there are unresolved issues.

In other words, there is no sure way to predict how we or anyone else will respond to a crisis or situation until we are in the midst of it. Only a short time before Simon Peter denied knowing Jesus, he had stood before Jesus and boldly declared that even if everybody else abandoned Jesus, he would never do so. Boy, did Peter blow that one and have to eat his words! It’s surprising how often those people we think will handle a fearful situation well do not, and those we think might collapse when faced with a crisis hold up amazingly well. How is it possible that young children dealing with cancer sometimes face it with such courage and hope, while the adults around them succumb to all sorts of negative thoughts and envision the worst outcomes?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I do know that those children and anyone facing a health crisis or any sort of scary situation do better when surrounded by a circle of love. The question, “Do you love me?” may not be asked but it is certainly present.

Going back to our gospel reading for today, it is interesting that when Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and Peter says “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” Jesus doesn’t simply thank Peter but says to him, “Then, go and look after my sheep.”

This, I think, is where we discover whether the profession of love spoken with words are true. Jesus is telling Peter that if he truly loves him he will go out and show his love by his actions. Peter had spoken words of love before and failed to live up to them. Now, Peter is being asked to demonstrate his spoken love for Jesus by loving others with his actions.

Isn’t this how it is for all of us as well? We can gather in church or in a social setting and declare that we care about others and want to help them in their times of need, but then go back to our homes and our regular lives without doing anything else. Or we can profess our love of others in our churches and social settings and then go to the homes of those people in need, or to the hospitals, or wherever they may be, and demonstrate our love with our actions.

Jesus left his followers with a commandment that we all know, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This commandment consists of only 8 words but it takes a lifetime to live up to them. Loving others is not always easy. For others to love us is definitely not always easy. We all have so many warts and blemishes and cracks and crevasses that are part of us that make it difficult for others to always love us. Yet this is exactly what Jesus did for his disciples, even those who betrayed him, denied him, and abandoned him. Jesus looked past our faults and mistakes, beyond our flaws and sins, and loved us, just as we are.

In doing so, he left us an example, not only with words but with his actions. And now he asks us, just as he asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” And if we answer, “Yes, Lord, you know that we love you,” his reply to us is, “Then go and feed my sheep, tend to my flock, look after those who are hurting, care for those who are in need, and show me that you truly do love me.”