“Do You Love Me?”

This was the title of the October 21 sermon by Associate Pastor Sarah Brouwer at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. [1] Below are photographs of Rev. Brouwer and of the church’s front entrance.

 

 

 

 

Preparing for the Word

The following Prayer of Confession was led by Executive Associate Pastor Meghan K. Gage-Finn with the congregation’s responses followed by silent prayers of confession:

  • One: O God, we confess that we need to approach the world differently, and, with your help, turn our judgments into acts of grace.
  • All: Help us to show grace to one another, and ourselves, O God.
  • One: As we pray, and name those things we are not proud of, we encounter all of the insecurity and fear that keeps us from loving ourselves and one another.
  • All: Help us to trust in your forgiveness, O God.
  • One: The Spirit leads us to seek and name the truth; in turn we can begin to reconcile, and heal wounds kept invisible.
  • All: Help us to rely on your Spirit, O God.
  • One: Injustice continues, and because of our privilege we are able to tune it out, and leave those who suffer in our wake of ignorance.
  • All: Help us to pay attention and engage in the work of justice and peace, O God. 
  • One: We come together to confess, to support one another in the hard work of being honest, and to marvel at the gift of God’s grace.

Listening for the Word

The Scripture: John 21: 1-19 (NRSV):

“After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 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. 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.”

“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 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. 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. 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.”

“When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 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. 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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

“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.’ 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.’ 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. 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.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

 The Sermon:[2]

“For the disciples in our text for today, going fishing wasn’t really an option- more of a necessity, as they needed to eat. But, we find them, too, with a sense of longing, because at this point they were grieving Jesus’ death. And so, they return to the Sea of Tiberius to do some fishing. Maybe they also just needed something to do something that felt familiar and brought back good memories. Tiberias, or more commonly called the Sea of Galilee, was near where the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 had taken place and where the Sermon on the Mount happened. It’s also where Jesus walked on water and calmed a storm. So, the disciples got out of town and headed to the beach, a place of memories. And while it might have seemed like a good idea to begin with, after fishing all night long and catching nothing, they were left even more emotionally, spiritually and physically worn out–maybe even ready to give up.”

“At a very low moment, scarce of food and hope, Jesus appears on the beach, at first unrecognizable. They see him from a distance, with the fire already going, preparing fish and bread for them. He tells the disciples to put the net in the water one last time and pull up some fish. And they do and [obtain an] abundance of fish. Then, the best thing ever happens. . . . . One of the disciples recognizes that it’s Jesus and Peter is so excited he jumps awkwardly and half-naked into the water, filled with abundance and joy that his friend is back.”

“I love Peter’s response. He doesn’t stop to check himself for appropriateness. He doesn’t try to make sense of the situation. Peter is unabashed in his eagerness to meet Jesus on the beach and it’s almost as if he loses his mind a little bit. He loves Jesus in an uncalculated, inexplicable way. And Jesus loves them, too.”

“I heard someone say once that this scene is so simple it’s hard to know what John is getting at. But, maybe that’s the point. It’s an encounter of abundant love  — no more and no less. It’s a memory the disciples had that John decided to write down. And they probably left some parts out — how the fire on the beach warmed them after a long, cold night on the boat, the crackling sound of the fire and the smell of the smoke as it cooked all of the fish, the nourishment of good bread and protein after hours of hunger, and the safety and communion they felt in Jesus’ presence. What a welcome, simple meal, after so much betrayal and death.”

“In many ways the story from John’s Gospel is one of scarcity and fear, which does not seem far from where we are today. A basic meal of plentiful fish and bread and a God who shows up when hope seems lost stands in stark contrast against the forceful and scary regimes of Jesus’ time.”

“The disciples’ initial lack of recognition of Jesus is a good reminder to me that scarcity can keep us from seeing abundance. Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees, when it feels like everything is wildly and irreversibly out of control. For the disciples it was grief over Jesus’ torturous death and the loss of a future for the people of Israel. For us it’s the partisanship and vitriol and lack of truth or accountability. I will admit, it is sometimes hard for me to imagine where God is showing up these days.”

“In the same way Jesus showed up resurrected on the beach of the Sea of Galilee and fed the disciples, the Body of Christ (the Church)—[according to William Cavanaugh, a professor who studies Catholicism in the Global South]–must continue to show up and disrupt history and stay visible. In the disciplined act of showing up, we [are formed by] the church . . . into a body that is not disappeared, but seen and heard and countercultural and subversive. It’s an act of resistance to all that tries to dominate us. In our showing up we declare that scarcity does not have the final word, and there is, in fact, abundance to reveal.”

“When the disciples are bringing their boat in to meet Jesus on the beach, he tells them to put their nets down just once more to see what they can pull up. It’s a really quick moment in the story that I’ve already glossed over, but John takes the time to mention that 153 fish are pulled out of the lake.”

Again, I don’t fish, but can you imagine taking that much Walleye out at once? On a little boat? With a net that, as the story says, has questionable ability to hold them all? It’s a crazy amount of fish. But, even crazier is that Jesus greets them in his resurrected body. Now, I know this is hard for all of us to wrap our minds around, but try to suspend your disbelief for just a moment, and imagine it. The raw wonder of it. The God we have shows up in a body and eats. It’s real and messy — think of all the sand in the food. But, this is the posture of abundance. Eating together in the midst of grief. Showing up for a meal when all seems lost.”

“And Peter, he not only says he loves Jesus, but he shows up, too. When he hears it is Jesus standing on the shore, he lets nothing stand in his way — not his own knowledge, not a boat, not feelings of fear or regret, not a sense of unworthiness, scarcity or anything else. It is less about him, he seems to realize, and more about Jesus and the meal he has prepared and the love that is offered, and finally, what he can offer others.”

“And so we must go and do as Peter did, without fear or rhyme or reason, with illogical joy and love. God shows up and so must we.”

“Thanks be to God.”

 Reflections[3]

The setting of this encounter is important. The Sea of Tiberius was also known as the Sea of Galilee, where so many important events in Jesus’ life had occurred. This was news to me.

Peter and the others clearly were grieving Jesus’ crucifixion and perhaps were feeling abandoned and as a result perhaps were turning away from being His disciples and instead returning to their previous occupation of fishing.

Sensing all of this, Jesus out of love for them appears on the shore to make their breakfast and produces the large catch on the last try.

Jesus then challenges Peter three times with the question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me? “ Peter’s repeated response, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” shows that he did not understand why Jesus was asking despite the clues provided by Jesus —“Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “ Feed my sheep.” These responses are telling Peter to return to being His disciple, rather than fishing. That is how Peter and everyone else should demonstrate love for Jesus —by their acts of love for others–not mouthing words of love to Jesus.

Previously, I must confess, this passage did not mean much to me. Jesus asking the same question of Peter the second and third times, I thought, was being rude after Peter gave a  correct and truthful answer the first time. The passage also shows this was not a conversation. If it had been, after Peter’s first answer, then Jesus would have said something like, “Well, as I think you know, you need to demonstrate your love for me by tending to our flock. Help the people.”

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[1] The bulletin for this service is available on the church’s website.

[2] Sermon, Do You Love Me? (Oct. 21: 2018).   This extract deletes the pastor’s personal observations that parallel those of the disciples.

[3] This blogger would appreciate comments from biblical scholars about the validity of his reactions to this biblical passage.

Additional Reflections on the New Testament’s John: 21

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

I previously have set forth certain reflections on Chapter 21 of the Gospel of John. Here are additional reflections on that Chapter (full text below) focused on the conversation on the beach between Jesus and Simon Peter.

All of these comments are prompted by sermons from Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church‘s Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen and former Associate Pastor, Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence.

On the boat Peter had stripped off his clothes to avoid their getting entangled in the fishing nets. But when he recognized Jesus, Peter put his clothes back on in perhaps a subconscious attempt to conceal his sinfulness in rejecting Jesus three times after the arrest.

Peter’s covering himself is similar to the reaction of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit and needing to clothe themselves when God cried out for them. No one wants to be naked before God and exposing all of his or her sins.

After coming ashore and having a delicious, needed breakfast on the beach, Peter was asked a question by Jesus, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these [other disciples]?” Peter responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus did not directly challenge the answer, but did so indirectly with the comment, “Feed my lambs.”  In other words, “Prove your love for me by loving others.”

This scene essentially is repeated two more times.

With his thrice repeated question Jesus implicitly was telling Peter that Jesus knew of his three denials. But Jesus did not criticize or rebuke Peter for these failings. Instead Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”

Jesus chose Peter to start the church. And Peter chose to accept this call.

It is another example of God’s choosing a flawed human being to do something new and of that human being’s choosing to accept the call of God.

As a teenager I could not understand why God chose imperfect individuals like Peter and David to do God’s work. Now with many more years of experience, I can see that if God only used perfect ones, all of the rest of us would wait for someone else to answer the call for service, and the work would never get done. Besides, no one is perfect. Flippantly I say, “God is like a beggar, and beggars can’t be choosers.”

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John 21: 1-19 (New Revised Standard):

  • “After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of [Galilee]; and he showed himself in this way.  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.  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.
  • Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 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. The 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.  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.
  • When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.  Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’  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.  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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”
  • “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.’”
  • “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.'”
  • “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.'”
  • “‘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.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.'”

Reflections on the New Testament’s John 21:1-14

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Prompted by sermons from Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church‘s Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen and former Associate Pastor, Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence, I have been pondering John 21: 1-14 and offer these reflections on this passage of the New Testament.

After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Simon Peter and six other disciples return to their livelihood of fishing. They go fishing with their nets, not to do recreational fishing with rods and lures. After all, they have to live and support their families. Presumably they go out in the early morning and continue into the night without any success. They are exhausted, frustrated and famished. [1]

Jesus arrives on the scene unsolicited and unannounced.  His arrival shows He recognizes and understands that even his most devoted followers have an ongoing need for inspiration, reminders and encouragement from, and companionship with, Jesus. His appearance could be seen as a test marketing of the Holy Spirit or doing market research on the Holy Spirit with a focus group.

Jesus’ appearance also shows, I believe, that he too desired companionship with his followers. There was a mutuality of interest and desire.

Jesus had good cause to rebuke his disciples that night for their failures after Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, but Jesus did not do so. Instead, Jesus is the hospitable host. He tells them where they can catch fish [2] and then prepares the camp fire and cooks some of the fish, which he gives with bread to the hungry fishermen-disciples for breakfast. This undoubtedly reminded the disciples of His Last Supper with them when He gave them wine and bread.

The need for the followers of Jesus to be in the every-day world with all of its temptations was emphasized in the anthem “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go,” by Charles Wesley. Its very first line says, “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue.” The rest of the anthem prays for guidance in that daily labor in the real world. It says, “The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill; in all my works thy presence find and prove thy good and perfect will.” (Emphasis added; full text below.)

The Wesley anthem also recognizes the dark side of that daily labor with these words, “Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.” In other words, being involved in the everyday world often leads to idolizing the rewards of the secular world (“the gilded baits of worldly love”), which are the seductions of my daily labor (“my calling’s snare” and the “thorns of choking care”). (Emphasis added.)

The first phrase of this line (“my calling’s snare“) reminded me of the third verse of John Newton’s Amazing Grace: “Through many dangers, toils and snares…we have already come. T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…and Grace will lead us home.” (Emphasis added.)

The word “snare” is not much used today so I looked it up. Snare” originally were anchored cable or wire nooses set to catch wild animals such as squirrels and rabbits. More generally the word means something by which an unwary person is entangled, involved in difficulties, or impeded.

Thus, “my calling’s snare,” for me, means the traps that are commonly associated with my calling or profession. As a former lawyer who personally knew at least three lawyers who were convicted of crimes and served time in prison, I can say that “my calling’s snares” include embezzlement of funds entrusted to the attorney, being involved in promoting or concealing fraudulent activities of others, trading securities based on undisclosed inside information and lying or shading the truth of factual representations.

The Lord’s Prayer speaks directly to these snares or traps when it says, “Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil.” And the verse of “Amazing Grace” quoted above clearly acknowledges that God’s grace, rather than our own efforts, is the reason why so far we have survived the “dangers, toils and snares.”

Amen.

———————————————–

[1] Some commentators see the disciples’ fishing trip as a sign of their complete apostasy and aimlessness. 9 The New Interpreter’s Bible–Luke and John at 857 (Nashville; Abingdon Press, 1995).

[2] Immediately after following Jesus’ direction of where to fish, the disciples miraculously caught a large number of fish (153 large ones, to be precise).

====================================================

John 21: 1-14 (New Revised Standard):

  • “After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of [Galilee]; and he showed himself in this way.  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.  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.
  • Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 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. The 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.  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.
  • When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.  Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’  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.  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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

=====================================================

Charles Wesley , “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go:”

  • “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue; thee, only thee, resolved to know in all I think or speak or do.
  • The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill; in all my works thy presence find and prove thy good and perfect will.
  • Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.
  • Thee may I set at my right hand whose eyes my inmost substance see, and labor on at thy command and offer all my works to thee.
  • Give me to bear thy easy yoke, and every moment watch and pray, and still to things eternal look,
  • And hasten to thy glorious day; for thee delightfully employ whate’er thy bounteous grace hath given.
  • And run my course with even joy, and closely walk with thee to heaven.