Harrowing Of Hell
April 14, 2013

Do You Love Me More than These?

Preacher: The Rev Doyt Conn

John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.  2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus and Peter

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

We meet Peter in the Gospel today. We’ve met him before. But now that we’re at the end of his journey with Jesus, I’d like to look at how things went for him along the way.

They are standing on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias, which is also the Sea of Galilee. There are 153 fish in the net. Some of Peter’s friends are sorting them, some are cleaning them, some are washing down the boat, and others are putting away the gear. Breakfast smells wonderful, and there is a warm fire to stand around. The day is lovely. It couldn’t be more perfect.

Jesus turns to Peter, and sweeping his hand across all of these things, asks the most beautiful, powerful question in scripture, “Do you love me more than these?” Do you love me more than these? It is a question that I invite you to consider today as we consider the life of Peter.

Peter was raised with an image of the Messiah that was very different than that of the man standing next to him. Peter had been fed from his earliest days on stories of the Messiah’s victory over the world. He knew a militant Messiah. That was the Messianic vision, that was the mission. He knew that when the Messiah came, the world would be set right, and the Jew’s would be put back on top, and they would rule the world by the word of God.

Then Jesus showed up.

He was that kind of guy, unique in Peter’s experience, who seemed to have the word of God seeping out of every pore of his being. He invited Peter to follow him, and Peter did. For three years they traveled together, and while in some ways it always felt like they were on the run from the authorities, in other ways it felt like they were conquering the world. Jesus said amazing things; simply and with clarity, and they always made sense. People were compelled by him; they followed him by the thousands. And then there were the miracles. The guy could walk on water, and raise people from the dead. Then one day Jesus turned to the disciples and asked, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter knew, because he knew the mission, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”

To Peter’s mind that meant one thing: off to Jerusalem to victory, to defeat the Romans, and then rule the world. There was some confusion around this point. After Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus then went onto say “off to Jerusalem, where I will die.” This, of course, did not fit the mission, so Peter gently pushed back. Jesus responded, “Get behind me Satan.” I can imagine Peter whispering to the other disciples, “I’m sure he’s just having a bad day.”

The next thing we know they are in the garden of Gethsemane. Judas has confronted them there with soldiers. Peter pulls his knife and slashes off the ear of the High Priest’s slave. The time for action had come, if it was ever going to happen it was going to happen in the garden, right then, that night. Carpe diem – seize the day. He struck off the slave’s ear. The battle had begun. The Messiah was in town, and the mission was at hand until Jesus called it off saying, “Put away your sword.”

How can you have victory without a sword? That is like having power without money; that is like being smart without going to college. “Put away your sword.”

Peter was just confused. He followed Jesus to the High Priest’s house at some distance. There a woman asked him, “Are you one of his disciples?” No was his honest answer. No, he was not a disciple of Jesus. He was a disciple of the Messiah. At this point he was not sure who Jesus was. The mission in his mind was muddled which is an easy thing to have happen. Peter felt sick, like a man who had grown up vegetarian, only to find himself trapped in a world that only served meat.

There comes a time in life when the stories we have been told, the food we have been fed, the ambitions that fuel our vision get snuffed out. And we wonder why? Was it all a lie? Did we hear wrong? What did we miss? Are we so dense? Are we that dumb? That is how Peter felt. Some of us know that feeling. Some of us wonder: I did everything right and yet my children still have wandered. I worked really hard, and yet I kept getting passed over for a promotion. I have eaten right and exercised, and yet I got sick. I’ve been kind, only to be treated badly. I studied hard and tested well, and yet my job is boring. What happened to the mission? That is the question Peter was confronted with. What happened to the mission?

And here is the problem, the mission was wrong. The mission was completely wrong. That is what Peter was confronted with. Can you imagine? Something held as a core, fundamental principle wasn’t the point. Can you imagine? It is the point Jesus is making when he asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?”

Fishing is good, as are friends, and a warm fire. 153 fish in a net is like hitting your yearly quota in just one day. This is life, it is part of life, and it is good, but it is a bit less than what Jesus is talking about. “Do you love me more than these?”

There is no mission in the kingdom of God.

A mission needs a targeted cliental. A mission needs particular goods and services. A mission needs points of differentiation or distinction. In the kingdom of God everyone is include. There is no better client. There is no better good or service or product. There is no needed point of distinction, because everyone is utterly distinct, and this is what gives everyone equality in the kingdom of God.

Jesus never articulates a grand plan. He never says this is how it will be. There is no one size fit all in God’s divine economy. In the world that Jesus lives in, everything is completely unique, everything is completely contextual, and no two things that are the same. That is why Jesus doesn’t heal all of people with leprosy. That is why Jesus doesn’t cure all blindness. That is why Jesus doesn’t enable all cripples to walk. His miracles are particular and unique, as a way of offering people access to their unique relationship with God.

There is no mission in the kingdom of God.

Everyone is included. Everyone is the client. Everyone’s goods and services are equal and valuable. There are no distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, employees and employers, men and women, old and young, dead and alive. There are no outsiders in the kingdom of God. Everyone is included.

The life Jesus lives makes this point by hitting both ends of the bell curve. He spends time with the poor and the sick and the widows, they were the one’s excluded. Jesus showed them to be included. But he also spends time with the powerful Roman Centurion. He also ate with the Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes. Everyone means everyone. That is how life in the kingdom of God works. That was Jesus’ point and Peter missed it, because he was living under the impression that the Messiah had a mission to put the Jews back in the driver’s seat.

Peter had this Messianic mission pulled out from under him in the Garden of Gethsemane that night which is why when the woman in the High Priest’s house asked, “Are you a follower of Jesus?” In good conscious he said, “No.” So he went back to following his old mission as a fisherman. He fished all night and had no luck. Then sun crested the hills, a light came from the east, and as it did, he could see a man on the shore, over a fire. Then the Disciple Whom Jesus loved called out, “It is the Lord.” Peter jumped into the water and in short order breeched the 100 yards, and was there in Jesus’ presence.

And Jesus asks, “Do you love me more than these?”

It is the most beautiful, powerful question in scripture, “Do you love me more than these?”

“I do,” Peter replies, “I do.”

More than the mission of success? I do.
More than the goal of status? I do.
More than piles of gold or flocks of children or the size of a home? I do.
More than your child’s success?
More than the health of your body?
More than the wisdom of your mind? I do.

And what we do with this “I do” fits perfectly into the context of the kingdom of God. For Peter it meant feeding lambs and tending sheep. For you it may mean something completely different or it may be closer to the same. But whatever it is, whatever God called you into being to do, embrace it, value it, compare it to no one else’s gifts and talents, run it through no broader cultural norm or expectation or mission for this may muddle your hearing of the most powerful, beautiful question asked, “Do you love me more than these?”