Psalm 23, John 21:1-19
April 11, 2010
As we’ve moved through Lent and now Easter, we’ve been trying to see the “Historical Jesus.” And in doing so, we’ve been looking a lot at the Gospel of John. Well, I want to wrap that up today by looking at this last chapter.
This is an interesting chapter. As I’ve said before, John was the only one of the 12 Apostles who died of old age. Tradition holds that all the others were put to death for their faith. And because John survived, there arose around him a community of people who were followers of his teaching. It was a community similar to that of the one discovered at Qumran. That was the community that preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls. And this Gospel, the last to be written, appears to be a collection of the teachings of John, some of which were written at a later time, either by John himself, or added to by his followers as they remembered the stories he told them, having been an eyewitness to the life and ministry of Jesus.
The story we have for today seems to be a later addition. If you look at the end of he 20th chapter, you see this. “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in his name.” Now, doesn’t that sound like a great ending? It talks about other things Jesus did, and then it concludes with John’s whole purpose for writing the book. One author points out how that purpose is seen to be lived out in the life of Thomas. He even calls the words of Thomas, just before the part we read, the climax of the entire book! There, seeing and believing the risen Christ, Thomas says “My Lord and my God!”
So the end of chapter 20 does seem like the perfect ending for this gospel. But then it goes on. So I like the idea of calling this an “addition” or a “post-script.” I think that sounds better than an “afterthought.” “Afterthought” sounds a bit random and less important. But this addition is very important. It’s the call to Peter – and the other disciples – to service. But more than that, it’s about loving Jesus. In each of these calls for Peter to feed and tend his sheep, look at Jesus’ first question? “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
That question would be very fitting for a later addition to John’s Gospel. Because love was a huge word for him. If you look at his letters, the word love is found there over and over. And it became even more important to John later in life. It was said that as John grew old, long after he was able to stand before the people and teach, they would still call for him to come up and say a few words. And tradition has it that when he did, it got to the point where he would only say one thing. He would say, “Little children, love one another.”
The theme for One Great Hour of Sharing this year is “Feed my sheep.” And it comes from this story. That’s what I want us to think about today. As we think about serving Jesus, as we think about this call to “feed my sheep,” I hope we will also think about Jesus’ question. “Do you love me?” And as we’re thinking about that, let’s also remember earlier – in John’s Gospel – where Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples. And there Jesus called his disciples to “keep his commandments.” But he did so with a similar preface. He said, “If you love me…” (John 14:15)
Friends, that is why we serve. That’s why we keep God’s commandments. We do so because we love God! Think about it. Isn’t that the most important thing? But we forget that, don’t we? Like too many people we find ourselves serving God out of a sense of obligation. We serve him from a feeling of fear, or even guilt. We might even do so calling it “dedication.” And there’s nothing wrong with dedication or discipline or any number of other Christian “motivations.” But that’s not what Jesus said was the first reason. Why do we serve? Why do we keep his commandments? “if you love me…” I want you to remember that.
Now, let me give you a personal observation. I know there are those who serve God because they love God. And of course, there are those who do neither. But it also seems to me that there are two other kinds of people. There are some who love Jesus, but who don’t follow him. And there are some who follow Jesus, but who don’t love him. Think about that. Some people love Jesus, but don’t follow him, and some follow him, but don’t love him. And I have to ask, do you fall into either of those categories?
Some people are really impressed with the life and ministry of Jesus. They love his stories of love and compassion. The are even amazed by the grace and salvation he came to offer. But they don’t really ever get to the point where they are “followers.” They may even have given their life to him! But they don’t do very much to try to be like him. They aren’t all that interested in finding his will for them. And they wouldn’t care that much to follow it if they did.
Is that you? Are you enamored with the story of Jesus? Are you amazed at what he did for you? Are you even part of his plan of salvation, but then you don’t do very much in the “following Jesus” category? Do you not try very much to be like him, to do his will, or to learn and grow in him?
Then there are others. There are others who follow Jesus, but don’t really love him. They do so because of some of the reasons I mentioned a moment ago. They follow Jesus out of a sense of obligation or fear or guilt. They do so because it’s part of their discipline. And they can be some of the most Christ-like people. The can even be some of the greatest workers in the church. But they don’t give much thought to loving Jesus.
Maybe that’s you. Maybe you are all about service and ministry and teaching and learning. Maybe you’re an officer or a teacher or a VBS leader. Maybe you’re one who is always in the church kitchen when big things are happening. Maybe you’re always the one up on the ladder working on the gutters or painting, or gardening. But even so, you’ve forgotten the most important reason why you do all those things. Again, dedication and devotion are great things! I’m all for them! Being faithful and being good stewards are what make a church strong. Even loving the church is another good reason for what we do here. But is that the first reason? Do you here these words being said to you, “If you love me…”
John saw that love, that relationship with Jesus, as primary. When Jesus called his people to keep his commandments, he started with those words. When he called Peter to feed his sheep, he started with the question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And I wonder, do we hear that question coming to us? Hear it again in your mind, right now. But put your name at the beginning. Hear God saying, “_____, do you love me?” What do you think your answer would be?
Of course, the next question might be “How do I do that?” “How do I love God?” That might not be as simple as it sounds. And perhaps we should take a little guidance from John himself. In his first letter, he asks the question, “How can you say you love God, who you can’t see when you don’t even love your brother who you can see.” “And this is his commandment, that whoever loves God, should love his brother, also.” (I John 4:20-21)
For John, loving each other goes hand in hand with loving God. So, if you’re not sure if you love God, that’s a good place to start. How well do you love others. I can’t remember if I’ve used this quote before, but it’s funny, and it’s worth hearing again! Tom Lehrer once said, “I know there are people in this world who don’t love others, and I hate people like that!”
The next thing I would ask you is how often you tell God you love him. Sometimes we think love “goes without saying.” And there is some truth to that. Sometimes the way we treat one another is a big thing in showing our love. Some people never say it, but there’s no doubt about it. But there’s something to saying those words “I love you.” They help us focus on it. They help us to remember our love for someone. They help us to guide our actions toward someone else in “being loving.”
And I would caution you here to remember what love is. Love is not a feeling. Love has feelings associated with it. But love has to do with the way we treat one another. It has to do with respect. It has to do with honor. And it’s not reliant on whether we feel respect and honor for another person. That’s how Jesus could say “love your enemies.” It wasn’t about having feelings for enemies, but treating them respectfully, it meant not devaluing them.
So just telling God “I love you” is important. And I would encourage you to do so. Try for a week beginning all your prayers with those words. And then think about what it does for you. How does it affect your love for God? Then, think about all you do for the Church. (Or what you might do!) Think about your life of faith. Think about how you grow in your knowledge and understanding of God. And in all of that, I want you to strive to hear God saying to you, “If you love me…”
God we do love you. We’re not always sure what that means, or how to do it. But we say it, and that’s a start. Help us to know of your love for us, and help us to serve and to follow you because we love you. In all things in our lives, help us to know the joy of our relationship with you. For all of this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.