April 29, 2018: Seeking Jesus Wk 4
John 21: 1-19
Do You Love Me?
Today we conclude our series that is looking at Jesus‘s appearances on Easter. We’re looking at how the disciples recognized Jesus and how their life was impacted by it. Today we’re going to look at Jesus‘s appearance on the seashore to disciples there. Within his appearance it’s pretty simple how they recognize Jesus and where they recognize Jesus. They have returned to Galilee and have gone out to fish. And they fish all night, these professional fishermen, and they wind up with nothing. They’re on their way back in and a stranger comes up on the shore and asked them if they caught anything. They said no. He says to throw it on the other side of the boat. I just imagine that the disciples being there like “who are you? What do you know? We know how to fish. You don’t throw the net on that side, you throw the net on the other side of the boat. Just who do you think you are?” But I also see them thinking “we tried everything else, might as well try this.” They throw the net on the wrong side of the boat, and they wind up with so many fish they cannot haul it in. And John says at this moment “it is the Lord.” John recognizes Jesus not because he’s able to get them fish necessarily, but because he’s meeting their needs: they are fisherman, they need fish, he meets their needs. And in meeting their needs he is recognized.
We also see here that Jesus has a meal with the disciples. This goes back to one of the other stories that we talked about where in the breaking of bread, or in this case the eating of fish, that Jesus is recognized. When Jesus does the things that he did in his life and his resurrection life, he is recognized by the disciples. When Jesus does ordinary things every day things that’s when they’re able to see Jesus is Jesus. When he’s working, or in this case fishing, when he is eating, when is conversing, when he is relaxing next to the disciples, when he’s being the Jesus they knew in life; they recognize him in the afterlife.
In our particular story they do not actually recognize Jesus for the first time in the meal. They already know it is Jesus before that, but it is in the middle of the conversation after the meal that Jesus truly reaches them. It is then that Jesus makes an impact on their life, that Jesus changes them. Jesus has a fireside chat with the disciples. I’m going to bet that most of you like me are not old enough to remember fireside chats from the 1930s but these were the things that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did when he was president. They were a way of circumventing the newspaper media of the day, the equivalent of President Trump going to Twitter in the 1930s. A way to get the message directly to the people, to make them think that he was speaking directly to them, by getting on the radio himself. And instead of giving a massive speech, just simply talking. Talking with them in a nice, conversational tone. There was something comforting about it. There was something healing about the President getting on my radio and talking to me like that.
I imagine interactions with God in today’s world and in the past world at all times to be similar to that fireside chat feeling. This is how Jesus talks to us in the world. And sometimes I think we miss Jesus talking to us in the world because we’re not looking for someone who’s going to sit next to the fire and have an hour long conversation with us while reclining. Rather we are looking for a interaction with God that is more a kin to Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail: where a large cloud shows up in the sky with a halo of light around it, and the cloud opens like two doors, and a bearded man with a crown on his head pops his face out of the clouds and speaks in the voice of James Earl Jones. When that’s what you expect, you miss the man sitting outside the restaurant, outside the Laundromat; that opportunity just to say “hi.” Jesus shows up and has an ordinary conversation. And that ordinary conversation changes Peter’s life, and it changes John’s life, and the others as well. What did they talk about?
I can imagine the disciples felt like failures at this moment. They really felt like Murphy’s Law was having it in for them. They were disciples of one of the most popular rabbis in the world and when the going got tough they deserted the teacher, they denied the teacher. The teacher was killed. They had to feel like the worst disciples on the face of the planet. Their trip into Jerusalem that was supposed to be this triumphant time when their messiah would take the throne of Israel has now turned into them running away from Jerusalem and a dead Jesus. And so they did what so many of us would do if they gave up: they went back to what has always worked for them. They went back to what they knew: fishing. But even then they were failures. Even then, when they went back to fishing, they fish all night and get nothing. “When, Lord, will this day ever get better?” “God can I just have one thing go right?” Have you ever had that kind of day? Are you having that kind of day?
Jesus responds to that here by seeking them out where they are. It was an act that was meant to show them “you are still family to me.” Meant to show you still matter to me, I love you, I still love you. I know what you’ve done and still, I love you. This Jesus says to them; and to us.
Sometimes we are here in this moment of failure is if nothing is going right and nothing will ever go right again, as if our life will never be the same, as if maybe it’s better to just run away and start anew or go back to the beginning. Maybe it’s better to end it. Jesus doesn’t let them do that, but he also doesn’t leave them high and dry. He comes and meets them where they are, and he affirms them where they are, and then he sends them where he wants them to go. He does not shame them for being there, because there is no shame in being there. There is no shame in having run back to the beginning. There is no shame in wanting to just get away and wanting to end it, and wanting to not do this anymore. That’s not shameful. But he also doesn’t let them stay there. It’s not healthy. It’s not shameful, but it’s not healthy. And so he points them from that place and offers to walk with them where he wants them to go. In fact he offers to lead them.
I think this is one way that we can feed Jesus’ sheep. When we are not in that place, we can go to the seashore and we can be the voice of Jesus to those that are. We can be the voice of Jesus giving a purpose again, showing compassion again, making someone feel loved again. In Weight Watchers, one of the leaders of the meetings I attend on a somewhat regular basis has saying that when you have gained, you need your meeting. When you’re not doing so well, on that day you need to come in and get the support of those around you. But when you’re doing well, when you have a losing week, after we get a week that’s good, that’s when your meeting needs you. So when you’re doing bad, you need your meeting, but when your doing you’re your meeting needs you. Church is kind of like that. If you are in this place then there is no place more important for you to be on Sunday morning than in church, seeking out Jesus to have a whole fireside chat to encourage you and to remind you of your forgiveness. But when a church is full of people who are in crisis mode then there will be no one show them Jesus, to be Jesus to them, to remind them of their purpose. They’ll be no John’s to say “it is the Lord,” but only Peters wondering who is that on the shore. It’s vital to be here in good times and bad.
All right, so what happens with Peter. You’ve heard the story several times I’m sure. Peter is asked three times by Jesus “do you love me.” And Peter responds three times “yes Lord, you know that I love you.” It does correspond to the three times that Peter had denied Jesus, and many have pointed to Jesus kind of forgiving Peter in this moment by allowing Peter the opportunity to somewhat undo what has been done. Something that struck me about that throughout my time studying this passage is that Jesus had already forgiven Peter before he shows up on the seashore and tells him to throw the net on the other side of the boat. I’m pretty sure Peter had been forgiven when Jesus turned around and looked at him in the trial. Jesus does not need to hear Peter tell him three times that Peter loves him. Jesus knows that Peter made a mistake, but he also knows that Peter truly is the rock upon which he will build his church. But I think that Peter needed to hear Peter say three times “you know that I love you, Lord.” Sometimes my prayer is not “God forgive me,” it is “thank you God for forgiving me, now help me to forgive myself. For I cannot move on and be the person you want me to be if I am stuck thinking about what I’ve done.”
“Do you love me?” Jesus asks you today. If you need to forgive yourself, if there something that is weighing you down, I invite you to come and say under your breath “yes Lord, you know that I love you.” And then be prepared for God to send you out with a new found purpose or new found calling. That is if you listen. Because this is what Jesus does to Peter. Jesus is in the business of giving purpose.
Each time Peter responds “yes Lord, you know that I love you,” Jesus answered him with a job: feed my lambs, tend my lambs, feed my lambs. Love me, in other words. We’re called to tangibly love Jesus. But sometimes I think that we don’t really know what that means. Sometimes that question is an unwelcome role reversal. Because it was supposed to be Jesus loving us. Jesus is the one is supposed to be blessing us. We love Jesus? It not supposed to work that way. But I also think that somewhere in our hearts we want to we want to love him, to thank him, by following him.
I think ultimately feed my sheep and follow me are intertwined. Here is the secret to the passage, where I will leave you. By loving in the face of hate and spreading good news to the poor and the lame you will be feeding Jesus’s sheep. That’s what it means to love Jesus. It falls in line with what I’ve said so many times: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, welcome the stranger. But here’s the trick, and the secret: Jesus is already there. After all, his command is to follow him. He is there already working. As we conclude our series on trying to find Jesus I want to say that if you’re looking for Jesus in the world, it might help to start where he is: with the least of these. Giving them food, hanging out with them, conversing with them by the fire. If we’re going to follow Jesus, we follow Jesus to the least of the world; where the last are because they will become first. So as a church, let us seek to love Jesus by feeding his lambs. All those lambs around us. And through that, we will be with Jesus. Amen.