Text: John 21:1-19
“If I could have a beer with Jesus
Heaven knows I’d sip it nice and slow
I’d try to pick a place that ain’t too crowded
Or gladly go wherever he wants to go.
You can bet I’d order up a couple tall ones
Tell the waitress put’em on my tab
I’d be sure to let him do the talkin’
Careful when I got the chance to ask.”
These are the opening lines to a song called “Beer With Jesus” by Thomas Rhett and it was one of the first things that came to my mind when I started working on this morning’s resurrection story. It was a song that I remember hearing on the radio last year and filed away in my memory. I think the image of the intimate, personal encounter that the Risen Lord had with his disciples on the shores of Galilee pulled this song from my psyche to think about it again. Can you picture it? Sitting in a bar with Jesus? Now, please don’t hear me downplaying the issues of alcohol, but what I want to lift up is the image it creates. Two close friends, sharing each others company, talking about the issues of life over a tall cold one. The song goes on about the questions that Rhett would ask Jesus, about asking why he turned the other check, does he really hear our prayers, and inquiring about when he is going to come back. The singer says he would put his whole paycheck into the jukebox to get to spend as much time with Jesus to ask the questions that he had always wanted to ask about heaven and saving souls.
But the disciples have a different reaction when they meet Jesus again after those two previous encounters in the upper room back in Jerusalem. Their tongues get tied and they can’t ask him anything! Here we find them back at their old profession of fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Now, I don’t read this as a sign they had given up hope. They had seen the Risen Lord! But I do see this a time that they went back to what was most familiar to them as they sorted out what to do next. It’s hard to say what they may have talked about, if they talked much at all. Would they see Jesus again; and if so, when? Jesus had shared his peace and his Spirit with them in that upper room. What did that mean for them? Their future seemed as uncertain as a trying to figure out when the fish would bite. On their way back to shore, a man yells who is hidden by the early morning shadows. “Lads, have you got any fish?” “No, nothing this night. It has been a bad night to be out.” “How about you cast your net on the right side of your boat,” he yells to them. “That’s where the fish are.” The disciples look at each other, shrug their shoulders, and then cast the net. Immediately the net was so full that there was no way they would be able to pull it back into the boat. The beloved disciple John knows who it is who told them to cast their nets, it is the Lord! Right away Peter puts on his cloths, jumps into the water and swims to shore. There he finds his master waiting for them with grilled fish and fresh bread cooking over a warm fire for their breakfast.
When all the disciples finally make it to shore with their catch, they take their seats around the fire and are served by their teacher, friend, and Lord. The questions that swirled through their minds in the quiet of the night are gone. Some are afraid to ask their questions. Others are just too excited to be back in Jesus’ presence to even think about asking him questions. Jesus passes out the bread and the fish and they eat in silence. When the meal is done, it is Jesus who is the first to speak with his own questions directed toward Simon Peter. Three times he asks Peter if he loves him, recalling Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus on the night of his arrest. And three times Peter responds, “You know that I love you.” Jesus offers forgiveness of Peter’s denial by giving Peter the chance to give a threefold proclamation of his love.
Now notice Jesus’ response after each time Peter declares his love of the Lord. He doesn’t give Peter a long list of rules to follow or a formula to live as a perfect disciple to show his love. But what he does give him is very relational. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” Peter’s love for Christ will be lived out by loving others, a theme that we see over and over in the book of John. It gives Peter a task, a calling, an identity. Basically, Jesus is telling Peter he will be giving his life to the shepherding of the sheep and lambs of Christ’s flock, a role marked not primarily by in terms of rule and power but in terms of service and giving. And in loving Jesus’ lambs and sheep, he will love Christ.
Jesus’ words not only gave Peter a task and an identity, it also gives him a cross. Love always involves responsibility, and it also involves sacrifice. They go hand in hand. In feeding and tending the lambs of Christ with the food of the word of God, tradition tells us his shepherding led him to Rome, where he was nailed to a cross upside down because he felt unworthy to be crucified as Jesus had been.
Friends, we are all called by Christ to feed and tend his flock, inside and outside the walls of the church. Jesus calls Peter and us to love and care for his followers. And I also believe in his words we find he calls us to love and care for those who do not know the Lord. And the tending and feeding of the Lord’s flock may lead to what the world calls an unhappy ending. At least it appeared that way for Peter. Love, it seems, offers no security, except the security in knowing that we are Christ’s and can rest in the arms of his love no matter what happens. The good news of this passage is found in the last two words. “Follow me.” When we feed and we tend, when we minister and we reach out, when we swing a hammer and we deliver meals, and when we pray and we give, we do all these things with Christ. He doesn’t just point a finger and say “Go!” But he also takes us by the hand and invites us to follow. He went all the way with Peter to Peter’s cross.
The sacrifice will also look different for us all. One of our pastor friends shared a recent story of what happened in her church. She is from a different tradition, one that allows the previous pastor to stay on at the church if they wish and one that also has a time when anyone who feels called by the Spirit can stand up and say what they want. This particular Sunday, the previous pastor got up and spoke about the Iranian-American pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran for sharing the Gospel there and the torturous conditions he has endured. Then the previous pastor of this congregation swept his finger at everyone and said, “No one here really loves Jesus. If you did, you would be over there, imprisoned with this man.” Our friend realized things had gone a little too far with that statement, and in a gentle manner said, “Thank you for sharing all that. Would you mind leading us in prayer for this man in Iran?” “No!” he said. “I’m not worthy to pray for this man.” And with that, walked out of the service.
I think he missed something about loving Jesus. He was comparing his own calling and sacrifice to the calling and sacrifice of this pastor in Iran. And just like we have different relationships with people, each one of us will have a different relationship with Jesus. Not all of us are called to go to Iran. I know I’m not. But when Jesus asks you, “Do you love me?” I hope each and every one of you can say yes, but in saying yes, know that sacrifice will be involved. For some of you, it may be giving up your vacation this summer to help lead Vacation Bible School or even the rest of your quiet Sunday morning to help teach a class of the youngest members of the church, because Jesus is sitting in that 3rd grade class room ready to embrace them and you as they are formed in the faith. It might mean giving a little more to help two of our youth go to a life changing event that I know will deepen their walk with Christ. It may mean opening your home to a Bible study, because Christ is sitting on your couch ready to share what it means to follow him as his Word is studied. It will mean giving of your time, it will mean giving of your resources, but most importantly, it will mean giving of yourself.
Friends, the next time that you are having breakfast, or an adult beverage of your choice, or a cup of tea, or sitting in your backyard enjoying the signs of spring, look up and picture Jesus sitting with you. He is there. Let him speak, or at least let him ask you the question, “Do you love me?” He isn’t asking you that question to make you feel guilty or heap a whole pile of “shoulds” on you. He is asking because he loves you. He wants you to love him, too. And when you are ready to say “Yes”, be prepared for the journey of your life because he will reach his hand out to you and say, “Then come, follow me.”
In the name of the one who shepherds us as we tend his flock with him, Amen.