Following Jesus

John 21:15-25

This is our last week in the gospel of John. I’m going to use a John story next week, but I’m not so much going to preach on it as I am going to jump off of it. You’ll see. Anyway. This is our last Sunday in the gospel of John. The very end of the book. And as we wrap it up, I want to remind you of some themes that we’ve seen the whole way through. 

The first is that Jesus is God and shows us exactly what God is like. To do God’s will is to trust Jesus. Trusting Jesus leads us into transcendent life, both now and in whatever happens after death. Transcendent life is abundant life; God’s grace is always extravagant to the point of being ridiculous. 

Which is good to know because trusting Jesus is active and relational. We don’t do it in our heads; we do it with our bodies in the world, even when it’s risky. The people who have the hardest time trusting Jesus are usually the people who have the most privilege because they have a greatest interest in keeping the system the way it is because it benefits them. But the people who are willing to risk, to value God’s Kingdom more than they value their possessions, power, and privilege, those people will experience resurrection power. And their personal stories will change the world and lead others to trust Jesus. Jesus doesn’t need to be here in the flesh because we are here. The followers of Jesus are Jesus in the world the way that Jesus was God in the world. That’s one way to summarize the gospel of John.

So now, the final story. This is the second half of last week’s story, where doing what Jesus tells them to do causes the disciples to catch a ridiculously abundant number of fish. That miracle leads them into deeper relationship with Jesus as they accept his invitation to breakfast on the beach. We pick the story up again starting in verse 15.

When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”

Jesus and the disciple whom he loved

Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. This was the one who had leaned against Jesus at the meal and asked him, “Lord, who is going to betray you?” When Peter saw this disciple, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain until I come, what difference does that make to you? You must follow me.” Therefore, the word spread among the brothers and sisters that this disciple wouldn’t die. However, Jesus didn’t say he wouldn’t die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what difference does that make to you?” This is the disciple who testifies concerning these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If all of them were recorded, I imagine the world itself wouldn’t have enough room for the scrolls that would be written.

These are the words of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

John 21:15-25

Jesus calls us to follow him. To follow him because we trust him. To follow him actively with our bodies in the world, not to follow him on Instagram. Jesus calls us to be participants and not spectators as the Kingdom breaks into the world. 

On the night before Jesus died, Peter denied three times that he was a follower of Jesus. And in this story, Jesus allows him to affirm three times that he does love Jesus. That affirmation of Peter’s love brings a direction from Jesus: take care of my people. Lead my community. And finally Jesus gives Peter the same invitation-slash-command that he gave at the very beginning when Jesus and Peter first met: Follow me. 

But now Peter knows what that means. To follow Jesus, to love Jesus, is to love Jesus’ community. We can’t love Jesus without loving the community of Jesus-followers. To love Jesus is to love the church, in all its beauty and in all its mess. Because the church is not now and never has been a building. The church is now and always has been a deeply beautiful and deeply messy community of flesh-and-blood human beings who are trying to follow Jesus by loving one another. That’s the only command he gives in this gospel: Love one another as I have loved you. 

So if trusting Jesus is an action and not a thought or a feeling, and if loving Jesus means loving the Church, we all have to periodically ask ourselves if our lives bear out the love and trust for Jesus that we profess. God loves the world and so do we, and the church is our training ground and our comrades for how we love the world. We love here first. But I know some people struggle with that. 

Let me tell you what I see. Some people don’t actively participate in the life of the faith community because maybe they don’t know they are needed or they don’t know what to do. Let me tell you, we need you, and we have plenty of things you can do. With 15 minutes a month, you can be a greeter and shape the first impression that people have of Zion each time the doors are open. With 30 minutes a month you can help set up our hospitality and clean up after the service. With an hour a month, you can share spiritual tools for abundant life with women or men in Delaware County Jail. With an hour and a half a month, you can teach Sunday School and help our kids grow in a faith that is progressive, inclusive, humble, bold, and loving. With two hours a month you can run the technology that makes our community globally accessible. No one should do everything and everyone can do something. 

Other people don’t actively participate in the life of the church because they have been wounded. Sometimes the wound has nothing to do with church directly, people are just struggling. In that case, I encourage you, I urge you, come to church and let the community love you back to health. If you have doubts, bring them. Voice them. If you have questions; bring them. Ask them. It’s OK. You’re OK, and if you don’t feel OK now, come to church and let Jesus’ community surround you and care for you as you get OK.

Sometimes the wound does have to do with church. Could be theological baggage; you were taught something that was hurtful. Could be you were physically hurt. Could be you weren’t valued; people just wanted you to show up and be quiet and give money and leave. Or it could be that you hesitate to be actively involved in church now because it was overwhelming in the past. Maybe the expectation you experienced was that you would do everything; that you would say yes to everything; that you would sacrifice your family and your hobbies and your rest, and now you don’t even want to walk through the doors every week, much less participate. God sees those wounds. God didn’t cause them, but God wants to heal them. Because our past pain should not rob us of future joy. 

I’ve noticed that humans are sometimes like pendulums. The further we’ve been pulled in one direction, when we are released, we tend to go real far in the other direction. Problem is any extreme is usually unhealthy. Eventually, we want to swing back to a healthy and sustainable middle. Often I have seen and experienced for myself, that the willingness to get back was part of the healing process. I personally rarely feel ready for the thing I know is right. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, right? My soul wants it but I hesitate. 

Jesus calls us to follow him. He gives us time and space for the healing of wounds, but the calling doesn’t go away. Follow me, he says. Don’t give up on Jesus because he sure hasn’t given up on you. Resurrection means something good is always possible. The end of that chapter isn’t the end of your story. Jesus is better than anything that has happened to us in the past. Follow him; trust him; love him by loving his people; put down roots in a faith community; be a participant instead of a spectator because meaning happens in the doing. Follow Jesus. Not on Instagram, but with our daily living. Amen. 

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