Posted on May 05, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Follow Me! That is what Jesus says to Peter, and to all of us who proclaim with our lips that we love Jesus. Don’t you just love Peter? If there is one thing we can say about Peter, it is that he was consistent. He consistently bumbled around as he tried to figure out what Jesus expected of him and what God was calling him to do. We first heard about Peter in John’s Gospel in the first chapter. His brother Andrew had decided to follow Jesus, and then went and invited his brother, Simon, to come and see the Messiah. When Simon meets Jesus, Jesus told him that he would be called Peter (John 1:42). From that moment on, according to this Gospel writer, Peter followed Jesus.
As Peter followed he witnessed so much. He witnessed Jesus turn water into wine (John 2:1-11). He was present when Jesus fed 5,000 (John 6:1-14). Peter witnessed Jesus stand up to the religious and political authorities of his day (John 7:1-52). He was a witness to Jesus healing the blind (John 9:1-41), and he even witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-57). And in the midst of all of this, Peter was there as Jesus taught and prepared the disciples for the work he would call them to do later. One time, while talking with the disciples about this work, they began to complain that it was too hard; his expectations for them were too much. This is when Jesus asked them, “Do you wish to go away?” (6:67). In other words, I know it is hard; you can leave if you like. But Peter responded, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter got it! He knew Jesus was the Messiah.
As the story continued, we are told that Peter was present when Jesus foretold of his persecution, death, and Resurrection. And then, of course, Peter was the one who denied Jesus three times just as Jesus told him he would do. Peter, the one who professed Jesus to be the One who offered us the words of eternal life, was in that fear-filled, locked room when Jesus showed up and offered him and all the disciples “peace” and showed them him his wounds. Peter was there when Jesus gifted the disciples with the Holy Spirit and gave them their mission, “As the father sent me, so I now send you!” (John 20:21).
And so, after all of this, with Jesus now out of sight, Peter says to the other disciples, “I’m going home. I am going back to my work. I am going fishing.” Peter, the unwilling, bumbling leader seemed to forget life with Jesus and called everyone back to work, work without Jesus. What? After everything he had been through with Jesus, after experiencing the Resurrected Jesus twice, the intense spiritual experience faded quickly and he chose to return to the same old thing he had always done, he went back to fishing for fish. The question is why. Why did Peter go back on his old job? Why? Because that is what we all do. The Resurrection is over. We celebrated it two weeks ago. Now it’s time to get back to our lives, right?
Did Jesus become human, suffer, die, and overcome death so that when it was all over Peter and all who followed Jesus could go back to the same old thing? How many people came here or to other worship services around the world Easter morning only to go back to their old fishing boats the next day? Was it really only about beautiful music, Easter eggs, and chocolate?
The answer to this questions lies in that simple question that Jesus asked Peter three times on the beach, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”. Three times Jesus asked Peter the same question. It was annoying for Peter, but as I have shared with you before, one of my New Testament professors used to always say, if something is repeated, it must be important. This is an important question, not only for Peter but for all of us who proclaim that great Easter proclamation, “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!”. If we believe this, then the question is do we really love Jesus more than these? What are the “these”? I would argue that Jesus is asking Peter, and us, if we love him and his mission more than our careers, more than the wealth we can attain through our jobs, more than the things we value in this life. Now, before you quickly answer, “Of course,” as Peter did, remember that Jesus asked Peter three times. Why? I think he wanted Peter to realize what it meant to say yes to Jesus. To say “I love Jesus” means that we accept the role of the shepherd. It means we will tend the flock. It means we will feed the sheep. To say we believe in Jesus and we love him is not a gift given for our own sake; it is a gift that is meant to enable us not only to love Jesus but to love and care for those who are still wandering and seeking peace. Loving Jesus means caring for and serving all his sheep. In our first lesson, God called upon Ananias to go to Saul and bless him. But Saul was an enemy of the people of “The Way.” Ananias did not want to go, but God said to; therefore, because Ananias loved God, he served Saul.
After we have confessed before the resurrected Jesus, as we heard Thomas do last week, “My Lord and my God,” it is expected that we will be good shepherds. It is expected that we will be good stewards and that, in doing so, we will witness the Risen Lord to all the world. We will be his witnesses by tending his flock and feeding his sheep.
Jesus said, “Follow me” (John 21:19). To follow Jesus means we will go to places we do not want to go or that make us uncomfortable. To follow Jesus means we will need to change our own lives to live differently. To follow Jesus means we are willing to make sacrifices so that others might experience the love of Christ. To follow Jesus means we are willing to live a Resurrected life, which is not a life that is focused on self-gain and self-improvement, but a life that is focused on putting our love into action.
Coming up in two weeks, we have the opportunity once again to serve at the Gathering Table in KCMO. I know it is a Saturday and I know we all have a hundred things to do on Saturdays, but we have an opportunity to put our love into action. Sign up today to make food, sign up today to go that day and serve.
As we know, poverty in Johnson County continues to rise, and our Pantry Pack program continues to serve many families every week. To continue this program, we must continue to give generously of our time, our talents, and our wealth. It’s easy for many us to overlook this program and think, “Oh, it’s fine, there are others doing it.” But the need continues to grow, and it’s time for all of us to put our love into action.
In a few weeks, we will join five other ELCA congregations at the Gay PrideFest, and we need you to be willing to sign up to work the booth for a couple hours. Our goal for this event is to share the love of Christ with a community that has been told by the church for so long, God doesn’t love you. It’s time to put our love into action.
Here at Salem, our mission is to Encounter God, Grow in Faith, and Serve the World. We follow this mission not so that more people will become members at Salem, but so that we might follow that great command to love, and actions like these and others you will be invited to participate in this year are all meant to put our love into action as people of the Resurrection.
Children of God, do you love Jesus "more than these”? If, like Peter, your response is, “Yes, Lord,” then hear Jesus saying to you, "Follow me." As Peter came to understand that morning on the beach, to say, “Yes, I love you, Lord” involves the commitment of our entire life. Amen.