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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.”
The beginning of chapter 21 has the disciples going fishing
but catching nothing all night until the risen Jesus, standing on the shore,
tells them to fish on the other side of the boat.
They do and catch more than their nets can hold.
Peter rushes to shore, followed by the others, where Jesus cooks them
breakfast on the beach.
This closing chapter of John bookends with the first chapter in some
In that opening chapter, John uses the imagery of light and darkness.
“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
“The true light that shines on all people
was coming into the world. (John 1:9)
But the first chapter moves out of the cosmic and into the specific when
Jesus begins to call his first disciples, including Andrew and Peter, Philip
and Nathaniel, who hear Jesus say to them, “Follow me.”
Unlike other gospels, in which the disciples struggle to understand who
Jesus is, John has these earliest disciples immediately confess that Jesus
is the Messiah.
The light has shined into the darkness of their lives
and they realize that this is the one
who is worth giving up everything to follow.
And so they do.
But following Jesus was hard.
Jesus was confusing.
People didn’t understand.
People followed for the wrong reasons.
Jesus made important people angry.
Even as they followed the light, they found the darkness growing.
Until the night they saw the Light of the World,
the one they called the Messiah, betrayed, arrested, and killed.
Peter even denies three times that he ever knew Jesus….perhaps
wondering if he ever really did.
The beautiful, cosmic language of John’s prologue has crashed
into the messiness and danger of real human life.
The call to follow rang with hope when they left their lives behind for Jesus,
but in the darkness hope is scarce.
They hide, shocked and grieving, and wondering what to do next.
In chapter 20, the risen Christ appears to the disciples, first as a group and
then to Thomas, and they know that Jesus has risen.
but it is chapter 21 that they learn how to follow a risen Lord.
When Jesus meets the disciples at the sea, they are no longer wide-eyed
They know that following is no easy task,
and that discipleship carries no guarantees.
So, when Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
it is not just three affirmations to make up for his three denials.
It is also a reminder that darkness will always be there
waiting to creep in and change his answer.
Peter will have to answer that question,
“Do you love me?” fresh each and every day
if he is going to follow this resurrected Jesus.
The same is true for us, of course.
Some of us can remember the day we made a public profession of faith
or the day we started considering ourselves a follower of Jesus
-the day that we first answered, “Yes, Lord, I love you.”
But that was the beginning of a lifetime of answering that question
–again and again.
And Jesus makes it clear how we show our answer.
“Feed my sheep,” Jesus says.
“Tend my lambs,” Jesus says.
“Feed my sheep,” Jesus says again.
We love Jesus by loving the ones he loves–which is to say, everyone.
Which is also beautiful in general and messy in the specifics.
As we prepare to ordain Jill today,
confirming and celebrating the call that Jesus has already given her,
we know that there was a day when Jill first answered,
“Yes, Lord, I love you,”
having no idea where that answer might take her.
But she started feeding sheep and tending lambs
–caring for others as a counselor,
–caring for children and family and friends and church members,
—serving as a chaplain at the VA
And so much more.
And now God has called her to hospice chaplaincy,
to walk alongside people as the darkness draws close,
As fear threatens to overwhelm.
She holds hands and tells people of a love that is stronger than death,
a love that will never let them go.
While this is holy work, it is not easy work.
Every day she must wake again and answer, “Yes, Lord, I love you.”
And congregations are no different.
Now, I know at Idlewild where I serve,
we are up to our eyeballs in building construction —I see some nodding
We are balancing expenses and capital campaign income.
The neighbors are angry because of the construction traffic.
We spend our time trimming the worship service so it doesn’t go too long
too often, updating our website, and making sure the phones get answered.
You know the drill.
There is so much that churches do that is important
but which can distract us from Jesus’ question.
“Decatur Church,” Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”
Again and again the question comes.
And again and again, you get the chance to say, “yes, Lord, we love you.”
“Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs. Feed my sheep.”
And so you do.
–when a frantic soul finds a caring Threshold volunteer
–when an exhausted mom sits down to a warm meal and finds both her
children and herself fed and cared for at a Wednesday night supper.
–when someone recovering from surgery finds a flower arrangement and a
beautiful note from the church on Monday morning
–when children of DPCC and the young women of the Global Village
Project are welcomed and loved each day.
When these things happen, you are answering, “yes, Lord. We love you.”
But there is no autopilot. We have to always being listening to God’s call to
new sheep who need fed, new lambs to be tended.
And sometimes, we find ourselves working, rowing in the dark,trying to catch fish but coming up empty.
The poetry and fresh excitement are gone,
and it is all the messiness of water and wind and hunger and darkness,
of the frustration, past betrayals, hurt feelings and love and death and life.
In those dark moments, we must listen together for the voice of Jesus,
calling from the shore.
we have to recognize the one to whom we have promised our very lives
the one who stands there ready to feed us, because we are his sheep too.
And we go to where Jesus is, because that is where we will find sheep to
be fed and lambs to be tended.
There with those in need we will find him there with the marks on his hands
and the hole in his side, knowing so well that the darkness is real and life is
messy and hard.
And yet he shines as light shining in the darkness, saying again, “Follow
And again we have a chance to say, “Yes, Lord, we love you.”
May it be so. Amen.
Rev. Rebekah Abel Lamar
John 20:15-19 (Isaiah 43:1-7)
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Ordination of Jill Joyner