Foundations Week 5 - "The Call"
Today we are concluding the sermon series that we started on January 1st--a series entitled Foundations. This idea at the heart of this series was simply this: We need a strong foundation to take the first good step in the right direction for this new year.
Each week we have come back to a very profound and shockingly simple truth that I learned long ago from Pastor Andy Stanley: It's your direction not your intention that determines your destination.
In other words, it doesn't matter how good your intentions are, if you step off in the wrong direction, chances are you won't end up where you wanted to go.
In order to take that first good step, however, we need a strong foundation to ensure we are on good footing. We've established that our foundation needs to have faith, trust, hope and today we're going to be talking about the foundation stone of love.
What I want you know today--what I want you to walk out the door with and hold on to long after I am done talking is this: Christ's call to love is your highest calling.
Nearly twenty four years ago, my wife Merideth and I were pulling out of the parking lot of the church we'd just started attending. I'd been out of church for years. Most of that time I'd spent not really believing in God, the Bible, church or anything.
So, we're pulling out of the church parking lot and I light up a cigarette because I was a two pack a day smoker then and the hour and change I was in church left me feeling a bit shaky. As I am blowing smoke out of the window, I catch a glimpse of my wife staring at me out of the corner of my eye.
She had a small smile on her face, and it kind of creeped me out. "What?" I asked her at last. "You would make a great minister," she told me. I think I almost choked to death laughing at her.
But that moment planted a seed. It took ten years to grow. But ten years later we were on our way to Chicago where I would attend seminary and begin this strange and wonderful journey of being a minister.
It took ten years because I had to learn in those ten years what it meant to love Jesus--to really love Jesus. Because what I discovered then was that loving Jesus wasn't something you could just talk about. I began to learn during those ten years that loving Jesus meant loving the people Jesus loves---no matter what it costs you.
I had an identity---as the kind of person who wasn't exactly the right person to follow Jesus completely. I thought I was stuck with this identity, which was what made me laugh at my wife when she told me that I would make a great minister.
But during those ten years my identity was re-formed---and continues to be--by my highest calling, which is simply to answer Christ's call to love.
The reason why I always say I am stumbling after Jesus is because to love Jesus means to love others, and loving others is something that is just flat hard to do... and I don't always do it well. Sometimes I trip on my own pride and fall flat on my face. Sometimes I want to sit down on the side of the road and stay right where I am instead of going where Jesus is leading me.
Every single one of us in here knows this to a certain extent--even those who struggle a bit to really believe in Jesus. It's like we know that there's a greater purpose for us, and we can't keep using all the old excuses we've always used as to why we aren't fulfilling that greater purpose.
We know deep down inside that we were meant for so much more. We were meant to live abundant, expansive lives of love. We were meant to show our love for Jesus by loving the world as sacrificially and beautifully as Jesus did.
But the difficult bit is getting over ourselves, isn't it? The challenge is having the courage to first love Jesus and then love like Jesus no matter what.
In John chapter 21 verses 15-19 we have one of the most important passages of Scripture for my life--the story commonly known as The Restoration of Peter.
If you aren't all that familiar with Peter's story, let me share a bit of backstory before I read this passage. Peter was the one disciple who always acted first and thought later. He wanted so desperately to be like Jesus, to learn everything he could from Jesus.
Peter also swore to Jesus that come what may he would never leave Jesus' side. He swore that he would rather die than deny or abandon Jesus if Jesus' enemies came to get him. And of course, that's exactly what happened.
Peter denied Jesus not once, not twice but three times. In one of the Gospel accounts, Peter dramatically denies that he knew who Jesus was, and at that very moment looks up and sees Jesus looking at him. So he goes out and weeps bitterly over what he's done.
But at the time of the story we're reading today, Jesus has been raised from the dead and has appeared to the disciples on multiple occasions. I think Peter knew that Jesus had forgiven him. I am almost sure of that. But I do think Peter thought he was disqualified from ever truly serving Jesus in the way he had.
15 After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
The most accurate Greek translation of Jesus' question is "Do you love me more than these others do?"
I think what Jesus was doing here was naming something with Peter---He was always the guy who had put himself out there as the one who would never leave Jesus, the one who would lead the others in dying if need be to stay by his side.
But he'd denied Jesus in dramatic fashion.
Jesus also calls Peter by his full, given name of Simon, son of John.
All of this was Jesus' way of saying to Peter, "I know who you really are. I know what you've done. I know the deepest part of you."
“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Notice something here... Jesus doesn't say to Peter, "You love me? Then why the heck did you deny me, man?!!" What does he say to Peter? "Feed my lambs. Love my people. Lead the church."
16 He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.”
17-19 Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.”
A lot of ink has been spilled about the different forms of the Greek word "love" are used in this passage. Some people have said that Jesus was saying the real word "love" and Peter was only using the word "like." I don't think it's that simple.
The subtle nuance here is that Peter is essentially declaring, "I am not worthy. I am disqualified. I am not good enough to be your disciple. I love you, but obviously, it wasn't enough.
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
Jesus restores Peter three times. Three times as a counterbalance for the three denials, and each time he calls Peter to feed his lambs, shepherd his sheep, show that he loves Jesus by loving others.
I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded, “Follow me.”
Essentially Jesus tells Peter that if he is going to demonstrate his love for him, it will prove costly. The community of faith reading this Gospel would have already known about Peter's martyrdom in Rome at the hands of Nero.
This entire conversation could be summed up with this one simple question--the question that Jesus is basically asking Peter to answer: HOW FAR ARE YOU WILLING TO LET LOVE TAKE YOU?
"You say you love me," Jesus says... "then show it by loving others... by loving the world... by caring for the people I care about... even if it kills you."
I imagine there are some of you out there today who be thinking: "You pastors are all alike... why do you set out these impossible standards? No one can live up to that!"
I get it. I sometimes feel that way, too.
But I think that the reason most of us dismiss Jesus' radical call to love the world in order to show our love for him is because we reduce it to something that we think is beyond the pale. It's too hard, too crazy, too costly... something only for really saintly people like Mother Theresa or Pope Francis.
But what if it wasn't? What if costly, radical love is exactly what Jesus is talking about here? And what if loving Jesus in radical ways is something we have the chance to do every, single day.
Writer Ann Voskamp writes, "...when you let yourself love, you let parts of you die. Or you aren't really loving." She then goes on to say that you have to trust that what is being let go, what is dying is never the "eternal, needed parts of you," just the parts that were getting in the way of you truly loving like Jesus.
Let me ask you an important question that may help clarify this. Where are you struggling to love like Jesus right now?
Are you struggling to love that person in your life who voted for that candidate---the one you didn't vote for? Yeah, that's a tough one.
Are you struggling to love someone in your family, who has become hard to love? Someone who is breaking your heart, tearing your family to shreds?
Are you struggling to love a spouse who has worn you down with anger, resentment and bitterness? Who has betrayed you?
Maybe you are struggling to love people in the wider world. You're struggling to love Democrats. Or Republicans. Or Independents--they're pretty smug sometimes, I'll admit.
Or people of another race or religion who you struggle to understand.
Maybe... you are struggling to love church-y people who act like they've got this whole Christian thing all figured out, but you know they don't... because you're one of them.
What is holding you back from from loving Jesus by loving others? Christ's call to love is your highest calling. It's what you are called to do in every situation, in every moment of your journey with Jesus.
And it's never too late for us to start demonstrating that love. Peter got another chance to show his love for Jesus almost immediately after this moment in John 21. If you jump to Acts chapter 2 just 50 days or so after the day Jesus died, you find Peter standing in front of thousands of people on the Temple steps, preaching about Jesus, pulling no punches.
Then not long after that, we find Peter standing in front of the Sanhedrin, the very religious council that condemned Jesus to death. And they tell him to stop talking about Jesus and Peter says to them, "You do what you have to do, but as for us---we're not going to stop talking about what we've seen and heard."
After that day on the beach, Peter took very seriously Jesus command to love him--by loving other people, and among the many ways that Peter loved other people was by sharing the Good News that the world had been turned upside down, and Jesus was Lord. He surrendered himself to love no matter the cost.
So what do you do with all of this? Where in your life do you need to pursue your highest calling? Where do you need to surrender yourself to love?
We have a way that you can act on this today and make it a part of your new year. All throughout the Sanctuary we have placed these little wooden blocks, symbols of the foundation stone of love.
Take one of those stones, and write on it the place or the person or the area in your life where you need to surrender yourself to love.
Christ's call to love is your highest calling. And with a solid foundation stone of love, side by side with the stones of faith, hope and trust---you will have a firm foundation to step off in the right direction in this new year.