Do You Love Me?

John 21:1-19
New Hope Fellowship
Third Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2019
Brent Beasley

Jesus called his first disciples from a life of fishing for fish to a life with him of fishing for people. Then Jesus was killed. He then appeared to the disciples in a mysterious way in an upper room—then disappeared.

Now what? What were they supposed to do now? Go back to normal? Life unchanged?

Peter rounded up six of his friends and went fishing. Jesus had called them from a life of fishing, and now, after Easter is over, they go back to fishing. Does this mean that Peter had decided that the big event was over, that it was time to go back to normal life?

Keep in mind, we’re not talking about going fishing for sport or relaxation here. Fishing was their job. This is how they made their living. This was the hard work of hauling in the nets. This was going back to their day jobs.

This return to fishing makes you wonder if they were not able to sustain Easter beyond the resurrection appearances. It seems, maybe, they believed in the resurrection, but this belief in the resurrection had not been translated into life and mission in the world.

We know about this. Here we were two Sundays ago celebrating the resurrection in grand fashion. But after Easter: then what?

For how many of us is the resurrection changing our lives in a tangible way?

How many of us are now on a mission because of what we celebrated two weeks ago? Are any of us on a mission because we have experienced the resurrected Lord?

Yes, I believe in the resurrection! I have seen the Lord! Hooray for God! Let’s go fishing. Time to get back to normal.

So you believe in the resurrection, yes, but translating that belief into life and mission in the world is a whole other story.

Peter said to them, I’m going fishing.

They said to him, We’ll go with you. They went out and got into the boat. They failed to catch anything.

Then, just as day was breaking, John says, about a hundred yards away on the beach, they saw the glow of a charcoal fire and a man standing by it whom at first they didn’t recognize.

The man asked them if they had had any luck, and when they said they had not, he told them to try throwing their nets off the starboard side, and this time they were lucky to the tune of what John says were a hundred and fifty three fish, as if he had actually counted them at the time and never forgotten the number. 153 also happens to be the number of different kinds of fish that were believed to exist at that time. One of each.

What’s interesting here is that they obey the man on the shore before they figure out who he is.

Nobody likes for somebody standing on the shore to tell you what to do when you’re out there working hard. Armchair quarterback. It’s not the critic who counts, Teddy Roosevelt famously said. It’s the man in the arena. If you’d been out fishing all night and some guy standing on the shore told you to cast your net on the other side of the boat, I think you’d say, Yeah, right, and come on in.

But the disciples did exactly what the person on the shore said. And it was in their obedience that they recognized him as Jesus.
When Mary Magdalene saw Jesus after the
resurrection, it was when he spoke her name that she
recognized him.
For those two who met him on the road to Emmaus,
it was when he broke bread and blessed it that they
recognized him.
For these disciples, it was in their obedience that
they recognized him.

Albert Schweitzer is someone I am fascinated by. He was born in 1875 in Germany.

He was a pastor and a brilliant scholar. He earned
a doctorate in theology in 1899,
a doctorate in philosophy in 1900, and
a doctorate in medicine in 1913.

He was also a world-renowned authority on the music of Bach, and he was a celebrated concert organist.

Schweitzer set out on an academic quest to find the historical Jesus, as opposed to the Christ of faith. He wanted to discover academically and rationally who the historical Jesus of Nazareth really was.

His conclusion was that you couldn’t place Jesus in a “jar that could be held.”

He ends his book called The Quest of the Historical Jesus with these poignant words:
He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which he has commanded us to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the suffering, which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is.

Albert Schweitzer learned that he could not totally understand who Jesus is by studying about him. And you may not always recognize that it’s Jesus shouting directions at you from the shore. Sometimes you don’t know anything except that you have heard a voice.

Albert Schweitzer learned that you don’t discover who Jesus is by any way other than a decision to follow him—to do what he says.

To those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the suffering, which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is.

It is in doing what he says, following him, that you discover who he is. There is no other way to go about it.

This discovery changed Schweitzer’s life. At the height of his career, he entered medical school and established a hospital, which he helped build with his own hands, in remote Africa.

He remained there the rest of his life giving medical care to those who were helpless. And the world was so impressed with Schweitzer’s desire to follow Jesus that in 1952 he was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

Albert Schweitzer set out on an academic quest to find out who Jesus really was, but he didn’t learn who Jesus was until he started to follow him.

It was in their obedience that the disciples discovered that it was the Lord.

When they figured out that it really was Jesus, Peter hurled himself into the water and somehow swam and scrambled his way to shore ahead of everyone else.

The brief conversation he had with Jesus is a haunting one for me because what Peter says is so close to what I suspect I would have said if I had been there myself, and because what Jesus says to Peter is so close to what he says to all of us.

Jesus says to Peter, Simon, son of John do you love me?

I can identify with Peter and the other disciples. They believed in the resurrection, but they had a hard time translating that belief into life and mission in the world. I can relate to that.

They did their best to obey Jesus’ commands, and it was in their obedience that they recognized Jesus for who he really is. I can relate to that.

And then Peter got face to face with Jesus. And Jesus didn’t ask Peter about what he believed about the resurrection or salvation or the end times or any other theological issue.

And Jesus didn’t ask Peter about how he was doing on being obedient to his commands.

Jesus asked Peter one question three times: Do you love me?

Do you love me? That question has haunted me for years. Do you love me?

I figure I spent the first half of my life preparing for Jesus to ask me if I had been obedient. I staked my self-concept, my self-worth, on my success in doing things right, not messing up, not failing—on my obedience.

And then I also spent years and years preparing for Jesus to ask me a theological question. I was ready for Jesus to ask me what I thought about religious topics. I spent much of the first half of my life preparing for that.
Four years of religion courses as a college
undergraduate.
Three years of religion courses for my masters.
Four years for a doctorate of ministry—Ivy
League, no less.
Gone to Sunday School my whole life.

But here’s what’s unsettling about all that. It turns out none of that is enough. None of that is the key to life, to happiness, to fulfillment. And what happens when all of that is exposed for not being enough? Thomas Merton once said that people may spend their whole lives climbing up the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

It turns out Jesus isn’t asking me if I was obedient.
Jesus never was asking me about my religious
knowledge.

The question Jesus was asking, the question Jesus has always been asking, is Do you love me? What about that?

Do you love me?

Jesus asked Peter that question a long time ago, but what becomes apparent to me as I read this biblical story is that
I know what I am supposed to believe,
I have gave years to trying to be obedient,
I have known how to be busy at good things,
but maybe I have not known so well how to be in love.

The question is: Are you in love with Jesus?

Jesus’ question was not:
What do you believe about the resurrection?
How much are you going to accomplish?
Can you show some results?
Can I see your resume?

The question is: Are you in love with Jesus?

It is not enough for us to be moral people, eager to help our fellow humans. All of that is very valuable and important. But it is not enough. And if we think that is enough, it’s not ultimately going to work. Jesus said, Do you love me?

Several years ago I was asked to write an article for a journal on the relationship between ethics and mysticism. Quite a dichotomy, really—
ethics, a focus on doing what’s right, action and
mysticism, a focus on being instead of doing, on
contemplation and prayer.

I began the article by quoting Henri Nouwen from his book on Christian leadership where he said that Christian leaders must move from the moral to the mystical.

Nouwen said:
It is not enough for priests and ministers … to be
moral people,
well trained,
eager to help their fellow humans, and
able to respond creatively to the burning issues
of their time.
All of that is very valuable and important, but it is not the heart of Christian leadership.

The central question is, Are [they] truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire
to dwell in God’s presence,
to listen to God’s voice,
to look at God’s beauty,
to touch God’s incarnate Word and
to taste fully God’s infinite goodness?

Nouwen laments that, according to his observation, many of the ethical debates within the Church around issues such as
abortion,
women in ministry,
homosexuality, and
take place on a primarily moral level. These battles are removed from the experience of God’s love and seem more like political battles for power than spiritual searches for truth.

Nouwen argues that it is not enough for Christian leaders to have well-informed opinions on the key issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the love of God.

So the first question is not, What do you believe about the resurrection? It is not, What have you done for God and humanity?

The main question is, Are we truly men and women of God, people with a burning desire
to dwell in God’s presence,
to listen to God’s voice,
to look at God’s beauty,
to taste fully God’s infinite goodness?

Are you in love with Jesus?

So I wrote this article about the connection between doing the right thing and loving God in a more mystical or contemplative way. And I ended the article this way. This was a number of years ago now.

It was about 10:00 pm. I was sitting downstairs all by myself, when I heard my five-year-old daughter Ivy’s loud whisper from upstairs: Daddy, Daddy? My daughter’s quiet voice was louder than most people’s loud voice.

What?

Will you come tuck me in?

It had been a busy day. I had worked hard during the day. I was home alone with the kids that night, so I had picked Ivy up from school along with my son Sam, and I had to make dinner for myself and the kids. We got home and I was making dinner—taking out the Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets from the bags, putting them on the table, squirting out the ketchup, etc.

See that Sam does his homework.
Get the kids in the bath.
Go upstairs to get them in bed.
Close the shutters.
Pull back their comforters and sheets.
Help get the right cat in the right bedroom—Nash to Sam’s and Betty to Ivy’s.
Turn off the lights.
Tell Sam goodnight.
Tell Ivy goodnight.
By 10:00 I am sitting on the couch to relax and watch SportsCenter. That’s when I hear Ivy’s loud whisper: Daddy, Daddy? Will you come tuck me in?

I say, No. I already tucked you in an hour ago. Go to bed.

She gets upset and says, I just want you to tuck me in.

Her question was, Will you come tuck me in? But what she might have said if she was able—what she really wanted to know— is: Yes you
picked me up from school today and
got me dinner and
started my bath and
pulled back my covers and
turned out my light and
put my cat Betty in my room.
I know you’ve been busy and you’ve done a lot of good things on my behalf,
but do you love me?

Jesus asked Peter one question three times: Simon, son of John, do you love me?

There’s a lot more to this story. This is only the beginning of the story. This is not even the main point of this story. There’s a lot more we could say about the rest of this story. If you keep reading, you’ll get to the part where Jesus says Feed my sheep and Follow me.

But I have never really been able to get past that one question. It haunts me, really.

Easter Sunday has come and gone. What are we supposed to do now? We’ve done a lot for God and God’s children. We’ve been busy.

But…
Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?

4 thoughts on “Do You Love Me?

  1. Love this! Been there, done that with my four daughters who did it with their children and are now doing the same with their grandchildren. It was frustrating then but oh so rewarding now. When Jesus asks them the same question He asked Peter, they lovingly and sincerely answer, “Yes!” (And they love 💕 me too!)

    Like

  2. A cauldron of grace, sin, Truth, and love. Keep the Chuckwagon open, Brent, keep stirring us, and ring the bell when it’s suppertime! Thank you for walking with us
    . with love, –kenny

    Liked by 1 person

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