In this Easter season, are you ready to follow the risen Jesus in a way like never before? Are you ready to take a swing and aim for the bleachers even if it could be the hardest thing to do? Or have you been standing in the batter’s box just waiting for the perfect pitch - the sure thing, an easy hit, or maybe even hoping to get a walk?
These are the questions behind the question Jesus asked of his disciple Peter. Peter, the one Jesus said he would build his church upon. Peter, the one who Jesus called to get out of the boat and walk on the water, which he did until fear set in and he sank. Peter, the one who right before today’s text, impulsively jumped off the boat without thinking and swam to shore to get to Jesus. Peter, the one who adamantly swore to Jesus’ face that he would not, could not deny Jesus in the hours following Jesus’ arrest. Yet he did - three times. Peter, the one who we perhaps have more in common with than any other disciple.
Jesus is calling believers to come face to face with the questions, “how will our community live in the absence of Jesus here on earth? What shape will our lives take together? How will we experience and share Jesus’ presence? What will our identity as a people of faith be?”
This resurrection encounter is less about the glory of Jesus made manifest in individual hearts and more about what the church - the community of believers will do to show Jesus’ great love to a hurting and divided world. There is only one question Jesus is interested in knowing the answer to: Do you love me?
He asks the church, “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus is asking do you love him more than all the stuff you surround and fill your life with - more than your job, your money, your hobbies, your garage full of whatever, your kid’s grades or travel sports teams? The man cave, golf clubs, boat, and RV - that's the easy stuff. What about loving Jesus more than your family, your friends, your church, your own life? To love Jesus does not mean we give up all those things and relationships, or that they are not important, but it does mean we must keep perspective, and have our priorities straight.
And that’s only the first question. He then goes on to ask Peter three more times, “do you love me.” Each time followed by a direct command. Again Jesus is asking:
Church, do you love Jesus? Then feed his lambs - bring life emotionally, spiritually, and mentally to those who are young in their faith walk, new to the church, and those who are vulnerable or easy prey to the wolves of this world. Encourage and strengthen them not by criticism and self serving arrogance, but with understanding and empathy. Walk beside those who have more questions than answers. Engage in conversation with those who think differently. Learn from them. Listen to what it is they are searching for and don’t assume you already know. Connect before you correct - if correction is needed at all.
Church, do you love Jesus? Then shepherd his sheep, all of them. Don't set them up to fail, or play favorites or add to their shame. Rather guide, protect, and offer shelter to those who seek God, who ask the tough questions, who are wondering and wandering. Be the safe place - the safe people that many are looking for today. Show God’s unconditional love and acceptance no matter what. Come to know them by name. Do you know the sheep of this church by name? The sheep of the children’s wing or those upstairs? A shepherd knows the sheep by name. Welcome them and assure them they have a God who sees and knows them too.
Church, do you love Jesus? Then feed his sheep - don’t keep from them what they hunger for by setting stipulations or conditions on who can have what and who can’t. Feed them in body, soul and mind. Invite them to the table - take the table to them. Give them something to hold on to in this world of empty promises. Show them that the love of Jesus is bigger than any of us and that there is room for all Christ’s table. There are so many hungry souls in our culture today and God wants more for them than our loose change, leftovers and scraps.
To love Jesus is to make life as an individual and as a church community evidence of that love and relationship. To love Jesus is to put no limits on his love. There are no limits to Jesus’ love except the ones we put there! The accountability and boundaries will come, but love must come first. Afterall, did Jesus put a limit on his love for you? Did he make sure you had your life all figured out before he loved you? Did he make sure you knew the answers to life’s tough questions before he loved you? Did he make you jump through all the hoops and get your life back on the straight and narrow before he accepted you? No. Then why do we?
We do not sit in the judgement seat, God does. Our job as an Easter church is to follow Jesus’ example. Challenges are not going to change. They will keep coming at us, as individuals and as a church - one pitch after another - fast ball, slider, sinker, curve ball, you name and life will throw it. As Easter people living, building and being an Easter church, I pray it is to Jesus we look for to find direction and example. I pray it is Jesus and not personal agendas, political parties, or denominational rules that show us the way to be church.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine