Friday, April 15, 2016

Three Questions! (John 21:15-19) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Why? Where? Who? What? When? How?  Questions.  So many questions.  Are questions important?  Here's one: “How many innings did it take for the SD Padres to finally score a run? 30.  I won't ask the other question, why?”  But lately things are definitely looking up!

Our nearly 3 year old grand daughter Haven loves to say the word why.  You say something.  She asks why?  You answer.  She asks why?   This could go on all day.  Our son and daughter-in-law have found a new technique they use when she gets into the endless questions mode, they asked her a question.   Actually it’s not new.  I believe the Greek Philosopher Socrates perfected it in the 5th century B.C. in Athens.

Obviously we learn by asking questions.  We ask questions as students and on our jobs.  As persons made in God's image, God created us with a special attribute, curiosity.  We are by nature inquisitive.  Curiosity fuels questions which lead to insights, understanding, breakthroughs, innovation and often more questions.  English scientist Sir Isaac Newton asked, “Why does an apple fall from a tree?” “Why does the moon not fall into the Earth?”  These questions led to discoveries about gravity and laws of motion.

Jesus was a master of asking questions.  I am always amazed at how Jesus our Lord used questions to impart vital spiritual and moral truths.  Jesus didn't ask questions because he needed to know the answers.  He used questions to open a new level of spiritual understanding in people.  He asked questions to lead people into truth, for example, about the Kingdom of God.   He asked questions to inspire people to change their minds, to repent and to redirect their lives. The power of his questions cut into the human soul.

Asking questions was central to Jesus’ life and teachings about his identity, about God, about the Kingdom and surprisingly they reveal truths about ourselves.

The Easter season announces a new reality, a truth for all time – Jesus came to offer new life, and through faith in the Risen Lord we can experience new life today and forever.  Jesus' resurrection is a surprise of God’s grace which brings joy, hope amidst despair and power for living today. Easter is a joyous celebration.

But it's more than a party with a surprise appearance by the guest of honor, as we discover in our morning lesson from the gospel of John.  The surprise of Easter, of Jesus' resurrection and appearances to many, is immediately followed by a divine imperative – Follow Me.  Do you hear it?

In our lesson, the Risen Lord asks Simon Peter three questions:  “Do you love me more than these?”  By these, Jesus was likely pointing to Peter’s boat, and his nets and fishing gear since he was a fisherman.  Jesus asks a second time: “Do you love me?”  And a third time: “Do you love me?”  And every time Simon answers “yes.”

In the first two questions Jesus uses the Greek word Agape for love, but in the third he uses the Greek word Philos.  Biblical interpreters have speculated as to whether there was any special significance in Jesus using two different Greek words.  One insight I agree with is that traditionally Agape was used to speak of God’s love for us, it was used exclusively for God, but here Jesus uses Agape in speaking of Peter’s love for Him.  Jesus I believe is saying something profound, those who follow Jesus have the ability, the capacity, by the grace and Spirit of God to love God and to love others like God loves.   That is a extraordinary revelation in this story!

Now we might expect, upon hearing Peter's response, for Jesus to say: “Thanks Peter, I was hoping you would say that,” but does He?  No, instead Jesus immediately delivers a directive: “Feed my sheep, tend my lambs.”  This undoubtedly caught Peter, who by now thought he had proven his devotion to Jesus, by complete surprise.  Was Jesus doubting Peter's dedication?
Jesus then charges Peter to care for, to protect, to watch over his lambs and sheep.  Jesus then tells Peter that Peter will eventually die because of his commitment to Jesus.  His gives Peter a glimpse into the future.

Do you love Jesus?  It's a question Jesus asks of you and me today.  It’s a question the living and reigning Lord asks of every new generation of believers.  And Jesus makes the follow up command to you, to me, and to every new generation as well, “Follow me.”

When Jesus speaks about sheep and lambs, he is of course speaking figuratively, metaphorically; he isn’t referring to cute cuddly little white lambs or woolly sheep.  Jesus is speaking about children and adults, believers and unbelievers alike.  He is talking about caring for children and adults, friends and strangers physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.

How would you answer Jesus question?  Your answer may be “no, or I don’t know, or how do I love you, or yes Lord, I love you.”  It’s a query that won’t go away.   Jesus' birth, his ministry, his death on the cross and resurrection have all been about the goal of reconciling us with God.   It is about what Jesus has done for you and what our response to Jesus will be.

How do we love the Risen Lord?  We love when we worship the Lord, when we pray to him, when we talk to others about him, when we affirm our faith and devotion to the Lord, even in the midst of suffering and disappointment.  Our love comes through expressions of gratitude and appreciation to God for challenges met, goals reached, gifts and blessings given and prayers answered.

But there is a further way; the way of obedience. Involvement, commitment, sacrifice, engagement, service.   Someone said: “Christianity is not a spectator sport. Christians who do not participate either vegetate or evacuate.”  Loving the Lord Jesus means your mind is alive to the presence of others and your heart is open to the needs of people around you.    A Christian writes: “For many years, I have attended midweek Eucharists at St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico. One thing I love is the hand-lettered sign that hangs over the only door into the sanctuary: SERVANT'S ENTRANCE. There isn't any way in or out of that church except through the service door.”

Every time you get frustrated with having to take care of someone, maybe aging parents or an ill neighbor or a relative, every time you get tired of volunteering in the church or community, or visiting someone in a nursing home, or bringing a meal to someone in need, or driving someone to church,  that persistent question of Jesus’ returns.   “Do you love me?   Will you serve me?

Feed my lambs, feed my sheep!”  Jesus is saying watch out for people in need around you.  Jesus commands, feed my lambs, care for children around you and your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  There are opportunities like volunteering at local schools tutoring children, helping with our church Youth group and children's Kingdom Kids or our Friday Night Family movie and pizza ministry.  You may wish to volunteer at child abuse prevention programs.

I think of the inspiring Monarch School here in San Diego which our church helps financially to support.   We hope to have a speaker from Monarch in the Fall.  Monarch School is a public K-12 school in San Diego, founded in 1988, which is exclusively for students who are homeless, at risk of being homeless, or impacted by homelessness.  It is the only such school in the United States.  The mission of the Monarch School is to educate students impacted by homelessness and to help them develop hope for a future with the necessary skills and experiences for personal success.   What a great mission.

Jesus says feed my sheep!  Some examples are providing support for struggling families or singles or visiting elderly persons in nursing homes or volunteering for Meals on Wheels or our own Sunday Night Ministry.

Like the story about a woman who drives a long distance to the nursing home where her mother is now living.  Before each visit, she pauses a moment before getting out of the car.  She remembers the many arguments that plagued their relationship over the years, the harsh words that can never be forgotten, the long years when they barely even spoke to each other.  She hopes it will go well, but she knows that this visit might not, like others before it.

So she bows her head against the steering wheel and prays for patience, wisdom and a positive encounter.  What she doesn’t realize is that her mother is also praying, because she too is nervous about this visit.  It isn’t the ideal relationship, but it’s the relationship they have.  It’s their chance to be a mother and daughter.  It’s the opportunity to say “yes” to loving Jesus, by honoring and loving one another, by an act of obedience.

Jesus' three questions are always appropriate and relevant.  I ask you to think about His questions this week.   Easter is not only about a surprise party with the sudden appearance of the guest of honor.  It is about a summons, a mandate from our Risen Lord to His followers?

May we live joyfully and walk obediently with the one who lived for us, died for us, rose for us and reigns in power for us, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  Alleluia.  Amen!

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