Peter’s Journey

TWO SERMONS ON HOW PETER WAS BROKEN AND RESTORED.

Listen To Peter’s Problem. Listen To Love For Breakfast

PETER’S PROBLEM AND LOVE FOR BREAKFAST

PETER AND THE FIRE

PETER AND JESUS

PETER’S PROBLEM

GOOD FRIDAY SERMON

JOHN 18:1-27

 

I got to ask. What is Peter’s problem? I mean he goes from one of Jesus’ most trusted disciples, willing to die for Jesus, to denying him. Other Gospels tell us that when the rooster crowded Peter realized what he had done, for Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny him three times, and he wept bitterly. Peter was warned by Jesus and yet he seemingly is oblivious to Jesus’ warnings. He travels down a path that leads to him denying and betraying his dear teacher and friend. The Gospels tell us that Peter went from being a brave man to a broken man in the light of charcoal fire. And on Sunday we will hear how at another charcoal fire Jesus restored Peter.  But before we learn how Peter was restored we need to know how Peter, the rock,  was broken into pieces. Because I think what broke Peter breaks many of us. And what restored Peter can restore many of us.  This evening I have four points

  1. What Peter’s problem was not
  2. What Peter’s Problem was
  3. The Consequences of Peter’s problem
  4. How we know we have Peter’s problem

First, Let’s talk about what Peter’s problem was not.  Peter’s problem was not that he lacked Faith. Peter was the first of the disciples to declare that Jesus was the Son of God. And because of this declaration Jesus said that he would build his church upon Peter ( Matthew 16:16).  In the Gospel of John Jesus calls himself the bread of life and tells the crowd that they must eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. But in the Jewish religion drinking of blood from an animal, let alone a person, is forbidden. Jesus tells the crowd a hard saying, something that challenges their preconceived notions, and as a result many turn away.  John 6:68 says Jesus had many disciples before that sermon. But because of this saying many left him, and it appears few more than the original twelve were left in the wake of this sermon. Jesus basically killed his church with a sermon. And Jesus asked the twelve, “do you want to go away as well?” Peter responds, “ Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter did not deny Jesus because he lacked faith.

Nor did Peter deny Jesus because he lacked courage or was afraid to die. Certainly, all the disciples fell asleep during the hours that Jesus asked them to pray with him. Their flesh was weak in that respect.  But when the hour arrived, John tells us, that Peter, whose nickname means rock, was ready to rock that garden. He might be compared to our modern actor the Rock Dwayne Johnson. He was ready to lay the smack down. He was ready to be a Bible action hero.  I read one commentator who suggested that there were as many as a hundred to two hundred in the crowd that Judas mustered to arrest Jesus. Facing these odds Peter has the guts to pull a knife. The word suggests something larger than a cutting knife but smaller than a sword. When I think about Peter pulling this knife I think of the movie Crocodile Dundee where an Australian crocodile hunter tries to survive in the urban jungle of New York City. The phrase, “you call that a knife, this is a knife.” Comes to mind.  Crocodile Dundee was not intimidated by a bunch of muggers trying to rob him. And Peter is not intimidated by an angry mob, even though he is hopelessly outnumbered. Peter is a man of action. He is a man of courage. So he acts. He cuts off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the High Priest. In the midst of impossible odds, Peter sticks it to the man.  Peter has made clear he is not afraid to die or insult the high priest. Peter has shown he has courage in his heart.

And yet a few hours later Peter sneaks into the court yard where Jesus is being tried and warms himself around a camp fire surrounded by Jesus’ enemies. He denies Jesus to a slave girl, certainly someone far less intimidating than an angry mob of two hundred people.  Even one of the guys who was at the fight, apparently a relative one ear Malchus essentially says, “I know you are that guy. That guy who cut of my bro’s ear.” And yet Peter denies Jesus three times.  At first I thought this was because Peter was afraid of getting caught and executed with Jesus. But Peter has proved in this very chapter that he is not afraid to die at the hands of an angry crowd and yet he is intimidated by a slave girl and the cousin of one eared Malchus? It doesn’t make any sense. What changed Peter’s mind?

And that brings us to Peter’s problem. Peter’s problem isn’t just that he is a sinner, or human, or imperfect. We are all sinners but not all of us leave our friends in the lurch when they need us the most. To sum it up Peter’s problem is self-deception. Peter’s problem isn’t that he lied to Jesus like Judas did but that he lied to himself. Peter’s problem was that he was sincere he was just sincerely wrong.  Maybe you have heard of the phrase the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Perhaps Peter didn’t invent this phrase but he sure would agree with it.

Peter’s problem was not that he lacked faith, or passion, courage, or that he wasn’t a capable human being. Peter was not some academic living in an ivory tower. He was a fisherman. He led a hard life on the Sea of Galilee. He worked late into the night to provide for his family. He knew that at any moment a storm could arise and he could drown him in that large lake, but he went out anyway because he had a job to do. Peter was a man willing to take risks. He was passionately devoted to Jesus. He was one of the first disciples that Jesus called. He was with his brother Andrew fishing one day. And one account says that Jesus called Him saying, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And he and his brother dropped their nets to follow Jesus, no questions asked. I don’t know about you but I might need a little more explanation before I follow a random stranger God knows where. But despite all his strengths Peter lacked knowledge of the truth. Jesus, the way the Truth and the life, stood before Him, and though he confessed Jesus, he did not fully understand Jesus.  In the words of Jesus, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32)  Peter believed in Jesus but he did not believe what Jesus said. He had faith in Jesus Christ. But he did not have the faith of Jesus Christ. He had shaped the Lord in his own image and did not understand the purpose for which Jesus came. Peter was self-deceived. And it cost Peter dearly.

We see Peter’s self deception throughout the Gospels.  Right after Peter declares that Jesus is the Son of God and Jesus declares that he shall build his church upon Peter, Jesus tells his disciples that he must die and on the third day rise again from the dead.  Peter takes him aside and says that this should not be so. And Jesus rebukes Peter and says, Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God. But on the things of man.” We see this again in the Gospel of John when Jesus washes the disciple’s feet. Peter is horrified that Jesus, his esteemed teacher, would humble himself in such a way. Peter thinks it is beneath Jesus and insists that he must wash Jesus’ feet. Jesus replies, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  And of course, in classic Peter fashion, he realizes his mistake, and asks Jesus to wash his hands and dunk his head as well. But of course it is not about the washing it is about the meaning behind it. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus came not so that Peter could die for Jesus but so that Jesus could die for Peter. So that he could die for each and everyone of us. And still today there are many of us who are not humble enough to admit our need for a savior.

Tali Sharot is a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London. As she explains on the NPR show Hidden Brain , she has spent her life trying to explain why it is so hard to get people to change their minds about anything. The scientific term for self deception is confirmation bias. In other words, we hear what we want to hear. We accept information that affirms our preconceived notions and we reject information that goes against these notions. Generally, this serves us well. If someone tells you that flying purple elephants are real, chances are you don’t want to believe that person on the spot.  But when what is true defies common sense, which is short hand for our limited experience, then confirmation bias can become a problem.  For example, Tali presented the same information about climate change to those who thought climate change was real and those who were skeptics. She found that no one changed their views. They just found information within the data to justify what they already believed.  Jesus was very clear about what his mission was. Peter believed in Jesus but didn’t believe what Jesus said. He paid a steep price for it. His false belief broke him as a man.  Paul puts it well in 2 Timothy 3:3, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”  That time has come. That time has always been.

What then are the consequences of Peter’s problem? What are the consequences of self deception? The leadership classic text, “Leadership and Self Deception,” describes some of these consequences in our everyday lives. The author tells the story of Ignaz Semmel Weis. Semmelweis was a European doctor, an obstetrician, in the mid 1800s. He worked at the Vienna General Hospital, a research hospital, that also tragically had a tremendous mortality rate among women in the maternity ward. The mortality rate was 1 in 10 women.  They tried all the conventional treatments of the day which included bleeding the patient with leeches. Trouble breathing, was solved with improved ventilation. They dealt with the symptoms but could not figure out the underlying problem. One section of the maternity ward, Semmelweis section, had a far higher mortality rate than another section in the same hospital. The only difference is his section was attended by doctors while the other was attended by midwives. He tried to equalize everything to see if he could find the missing link. But nothing seemed to work. Then Semmelweis went on a four month vacation. He returned to find that the mortality rate had dropped substantially during his absence. Could he be the problem? But what was he doing wrong? Then he found the missing link. Vienna hospital was a research hospital. And all the doctors did their training and research on cadavers before they saw their living patients. They didn’t disinfect their hands.  Semmelweis was the first to invent the idea of “germs” the idea of invisible agents that caused disease.  He ordered all doctors to wash their hands with chlorine and lime. Immediately the death rate fell to 1 in a 100. Semmelweis thought everyone else was the problem. But he had been killing his own patients without knowing it.

Leadership and self deception calls this phenomina “being inside the box”. We see others in a distorted way as mere objects that we can manipulate to get our way. Thinking out side the box is seeing others as they actually are, as people. We Christians would say we should see others as invaluable and complicated creations made in the image of God. We would say of Christians that we are heirs to Christ given the power through knowledge of the truth and the power of God’s love to become children of God. Peter’s problem was that he was in love with the idea of Jesus instead of Jesus himself. He had faith in Jesus but did not understand the faith of Jesus, what Jesus believed in, what Jesus came to die for. Peter is not unique. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus came to his own but his own did not receive him. The entire world ganged up on Jesus to arrest him in the garden. But while Adam failed in the Garden of Eden, Christ would not fail in the garden of gethsemane. Jesus saw people as they truly were. He knew the hearts of men. He knew what was coming. No one could take his life from him. He laid it down willing.  I believe that lying to ourselves is far more dangerous than lying to others, because self deception is usually the root of lying to others. Self deception is the root of all kinds of misery in our lives, if you haven’t figured that out yet, than I would submit that you are self deceived. Of the Pharisees, who were self deceived, Jesus said this in Matthew 15:14, “Let them alone, they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit.” If we are deceiving ourselves generally Jesus will let the natural consequences of our self deception play out. Because often we cannot come to our senses before we inflict much suffering and pain on ourselves and on others.

How do you know when you are self deceived? I have had to deal with a lot of deception in myself to become an effective shepherd so I will give a few signs.

1.You judge others more harshly than you judge yourself. Jesus says first look for the log in your own eye before you remove the speck in your neighbor’s.  John Calvin said that there are two essential forms of knowledge. Knowledge of God and knowledge of self.  It is not that we cannot point out flaws in others. It is that our own flaws hinder us from providing clear and concise counsel to others. Often we project our issues on others, making them a scapegoat for our own problems, because we don’t want to look in the mirror. If you do not know your own weaknesses you will be controlled by your own weaknesses.

  1. People who are self deceived often say “only God can judge me”. I once knew a woman who justified her drinking problem by quoting Colossians 2:16, “therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink.” This scripture is talking about Jewish festival observance not binge drinking. But this woman saw what she wanted to see because she had already decided in her mind how she was going to live her life even though her life was clearly destructive and not according to the scriptures. Often people who are self deceived will claim that only God can judge them and refuse wise counsel even though scripture commands us to confess our sins to one another(James 5:16). Proverbs 15:22 says, “plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” I know when I have used the phrase “only God can judge me” I am generally doing something that I have a sense that God disapproves of and that is why I am being defensive, because the Holy Spirit witnesses against me in my Spirit. Now not everyone in this world is safe and supportive so that you can confess to them. Not every person you go to has the heart to restore you with a spirit of gentleness instead of shaming you with a spirit of rejection. But if you don’t have someone you trust implicitly who will say hard things to you with a spirit of gentleness, than I would submit to you that you are in danger of self deception.

Peter’s problem is self deception. And the path of self deception leads to misery, brokenness, and isolation. We may raise our sword with all the might in the world, but if we are self deceived we are doing so not out of the power of God but to distract from our insecurity. Tali Sharot, the neuroscientist I mentioned who did a study on how people change their minds, notes that mere facts rarely change our minds. Instead, deeply moving emotional experiences, tend to open us up to receive new truths or new lies as the case may be.  Perhaps that is why Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. Because he knew Peter needed an irrefutable sign to shatter his layer of self deception. Before God can use a man for glory he usually has to allow him to be broken so he may learn humility. So he may learn the wisdom of God and not the wisdom of the world. But if God just left us broken and defeated he would not be the God of the Bible. Hope died on Good Friday but that is not the end of the story. Tali Sharot, points out that usually positive emotions are more conducive to bringing us to the truth. God may hand us over to our self deception but that is not where he leaves us. What restored Peter and what will restore us is God’s love. You have heard of the last supper where our savior’s body was broken but Sunday we will talk about the first breakfast where Christ body was restored. Sunday we shall have Love for breakfast. Till then let us repent of our self deception and cling to the truth. For if you know the truth the truth shall set you free.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

LOVE FOR BREAKFAST

EASTER SERMON

Old Testament Reading I: Song of Solomon. 1:1-4

 

Old Testament Reading II: Jeremiah 31:1-14

 

New Testament Reading I: Matthew 11:25-30

 

New Testament Reading II: John 21:1-19

 

 

This being Easter I see we have a lot of visitors today. Maybe some of you haven’t heard me preach before. Those of you who have known that I have this great idea I get excited about. I think it is a great business opportunity so perhaps some of you with more business acumen than I can act on it. Here is my idea. So just imagine if we combined the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) with the International House of Prayer (also IHOP). I mean wouldn’t that be awesome!!! Because everybody loves pancakes. And everybody needs prayer. Come for the pancakes. Stay for the prayer. Be filled with maple syrup and with the Holy Spirit at the same time!!! Now doesn’t that sound like a sweet idea?

Here at Calvin we have a men’s breakfast the first Sunday of the Month. All you guys are invited. We have great cooks. Steve Sooy’s food is to die for by the way!!! And there really is something primal about a bunch of men getting up early to have breakfast together. I mean naturally, I wouldn’t want to go to church at 8:30am on a Saturday morning.  But a bunch of guys, getting up early, talking about life, and faith, praying for each other, and eating pancakes, well not every month, we vary the menu I just really like pancakes, well that is just sort of awesome. You guys really need to come out and try it if you haven’t.

Man I love breakfast. I am not going to lie. For a year I lived in a retreat center slash monastery in Richmond called Richmond Hill. We prayed three times a day. And on the weekends we would host retreats. There is nothing like praying to the Lord at 7:00am with a bunch of people in their pajamas and then having a huge, awesome breakfast afterwards.  I mean I don’t really eat a big breakfast by myself these days. I am a single man and sometimes that is like foraging in the wilderness. But when I can have a good, hardy breakfast, it is pretty awesome. During seminary I went on a three week seminar to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life to walk along the Sea of Galilee, to see the hills of Jerusalem, to walk in the same places that Jesus walked. But you know the thing I missed the most about America when I was in the Middle East? Bacon. A lot of folks over there are Jewish and Muslim so they don’t eat bacon.  But on the Sea of Galilee there is a Catholic retreat center with bacon so that place holds a special place in my heart and my stomach, which are pretty connected as you no doubt realize by now. I mean Jesus ministered there too of course. But the fact that there is bacon there now helps it hold a special place in my heart which is closely connected to my stomach.

I think my obsession with breakfast started with my grandmother, Louise Roberts. My grandmother made amazing pancakes. They were just the right thickness. She made them on this big grittle. They had lots of little holes in them that made them really fluffy. After my grandmother passed away when I was a Junior in College, my dad tried to make those pancakes. He never really got it down. Not like my grandma’s pancakes. Thinking back on it maybe my love for those pancakes wasn’t about the pancakes themselves. But the memories attached to them. Maybe my love for pancakes is tied to my love for Louise Roberts. Her life and her love loom large over mine. Maybe I love pancakes so much because my grandma served love for breakfast. My grandmother taught me a lot about love, courage, and perseverance. She saw my calling in me before I saw it in myself. We will come back to Louise Roberts at the end of this sermon.

Today’s text, suggests, that Jesus was a fan of breakfast as well. Many churches celebrate the last supper, the Eucharist, or communion. We remember how Jesus broke the bread and poured out the cup, to give us a spiritual feast. A sign and a seal of how he was broken for us on the cross. How his blood and his love was poured out for us on the cross.  We remember the last supper but how many of us in the church remember the first breakfast? We remember how Jesus’ body was broken for us but how many of us remember how Jesus restored his body, that being the church, to the glory she was meant for? As the Gospels tell us Peter was essential to the foundation of the church. That’s why Jesus nicknamed Simon, Peter, a.k.a, the Rock, because on his leadership Jesus would build his church. But on Good Friday we left Peter a broken man. He was not the rock of the church he was thousands of pebbles scattered in the ashes of broken dreams. Before the rooster crowded Peter denied Jesus three times. We learned Friday that this was not because Peter lacked faith, or that he was afraid to die, it was because Peter did not know the truth, so he could not be set free. Peter had faith in Jesus but he did not have the faith of Jesus. He believed in Jesus but he did not believe what Jesus said. He believed that he had to die for Jesus not that Jesus had to die for him. And despite all Jesus’ warnings, Peter shaped the Lord in Peter’s image, instead of allowing himself to be shaped in the image of Christ. Peter did not lie to Jesus and to others as Judas did. Peter lied to himself. He denied the truth. And that lead him down a path where he denied his beloved friend and teacher. He failed miserably at the courage of his convictions. He betrayed every vow he had made to Jesus despite his best intentions because his conviction was based on a fantasy of his own making, and not what Jesus had said. Peter denied the truth. He was self deceived. And he paid a bitter price. He swallowed a bitter pill. It broke him as a man. Whenever we lie to ourselves there will come a point where reality will hit us like a freight train. There are consequences to false beliefs. There are consequences to lying to ourselves. We reap what we sow. If we accept the truth we shall reap life. If we believe in lies we shall reap death.

By the end of Good Friday, Peter was a broken man. And yet we see him in the book of Acts, a man of conviction, a man of Spiritual Strength, a man who performs miracles, the true rock of the church. And we got to wonder what happened in between? How was Peter restored? Because I believe that is how we will be restored.  I know many of you. Many I do not know. I know many of you are broken today. Some of you admit it. Some of you do not. And I am sure somewhere inside of you there is a longing to be whole again. But you are not sure that can happen this side of grave.  But today I have to tell you that it happened for Peter so maybe, just maybe, it can happen for you and me as well. Today perhaps that old children’s nursery rhyme is wrong. Today perhaps humpy dumpty can be put back together again. Because we have something more powerful than all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. We have the Resurrected King Jesus himself. Today I have four points.

  1. How Peter was restored.
  2. The character of this restoration
  3. How the Lord leads us into restoration
  4. How this has worked out in my life and why I have come to this church

First, how was Peter restored? I think the text is clear. Jesus loved Peter with a Divine love and he taught Peter how to let God’s divine love flow through him.  And as Peter went with the flow of Divine love, he gained a spiritual strength that sustained him in trial and tribulation. God’s love restored Peter and His love made it so that when Peter was pressed down hard again, he was a rock, he did not crumble, but he stood firm, he did not back down, he did not sink beneath the waves, but he rose above the storm. At the first breakfast Jesus poured out his love into Peter’s heart and he taught Peter how to move in divine love.  How was Peter restored and how shall we be restored. The simple answer is a revelation of God’s Love.

Second, if God’s Love is what restores us what is the nature of this love? What is it like? The book of Ephesians says we are to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. How can you know something that surpasses knowledge? Like I said before that sounds like eating all the ice cream you want but not gaining any weight. It sounds awesome but it also sounds too good to be true. But I am telling you today it is true. There is a love that surpasses knowledge and that love can fill your life. Like many things we cannot put into words, we walk by faith, and God leads us into spiritual experiences. We can experience this love we just can’t explain it. We can grasp it, we just can’t dissect it to tell how it works. Strangely, three times in this passage Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” And we will get more into this in my next point. But reading this passage I realized that three times in my life the Lord has given me a revelation about His love. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Through these words He has been guiding me into His love. So I will share them with you so we shall walk into his love together.

First, several years ago a friend of mine, who has spoken prophetic words into my life said, “Will you know Jesus, you know the Holy Spirit, but you need to know the Father’s love.”  This didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I didn’t think it was theologically correct. I mean I knew Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit are just like Jesus, so shouldn’t I know the Father by default? But the Trinity is One God in three persons. And though I have no proper analogy to explain this to you I have found this to be true. God is one in three persons. Each member of the Trinity has a unique character. I know that now but I didn’t know that when I received that word. I was driving in my car after this woman had spoken to me. Driving through the inner city neighborhood in Richmond where I lived. I thought about all the kids I had met in the youth nonprofit I had worked for. I thought about how many of them did not know their Fathers. There was an epidemic of fatherlessness in my community. And then I saw that our Father in heaven will never leave or forsake us. Though our mother and father may forsake us he has known us before the foundations of the world and He chooses us. We did not first love God but He first loved us. And he chooses us and provides us power to become sons and daughters of God. And we cry out, “Abba, Father.” I saw the Father’s provision for the righteous and the unrighteous, the just and the unjust. I saw that he provided for the sparrow and will he not provide much more for us who are made in His image? I saw that even we who are evil know how to give good gifts to our children so how much more will our heavenly Father give us good gifts even the Holy Spirit if we ask it of Him? In that moment I had a sense of the immensity of God. I had a sense of how in Him we live and move and have our being. And despite all the suffering and disappointment I had seen in the inner city I saw how he had provided for the orphan and the widow. And I was moved to tears. I pulled over my car. And I wept. I was overcome by the Father’s love.

The second, revelation of God’s love that I had was after I broke up with my girlfriend, whom I had dated for a year, in Indiana. Sometimes I will wake up and a scripture will be on my heart. It will echo through my mind. I will whisper it under my breath until I look it up. The Lord said to me, “your love is better than wine.” I looked it up. The verse is from Song of Solomon, which is sort of the love poetry book of the Bible. It expresses Solomon’s passionate love for one of his wives.  At the beginning of the book the woman speaks and says, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers.” Of course, we know from scripture that Solomon actually did not make good choices with women and those choices led him astray. But God was telling me this was Christ’s love for me and for you. And indeed, as we have discussed in our series on Ephesians, a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Marriage is symbolic of Christ’s relationship with the church. Indeed, the book of Revelation portrays the coming of Christ as a wedding feast, the wedding party to end all wedding parties. I once had a mentor who said to me that there was nothing like the love of a good woman. But God told me that is not true. Christ’s love is better than wine. His is a divine romance. As the book of Revelation declares at the end of history God will call out and calls to us today, “ The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price (Revelation 22:14)

Recently, the Lord spoke to me in a similar way. I woke up and he spoke to me and said, “I have loved you with an undying love.” This comes from Jeremiah 31:1-14.  Here the LORD speaks to a despondent Israel. He has led His people through the wilderness. He has appeared to Israel from far away, from out of the blue, he has crossed a great distance to give this Word and make His love clear. He has loved us with an undying love and he has continued his faithfulness to us. He says he shall rebuild. He says he shall restore. He says he has ransomed Israel and redeemed him from hands too strong for him. This scripture spoke so much to the renewal that I have been experiencing here at Calvin. And when I emailed this scripture to a friend, my chest set on fire with the love of God. I felt God warming my heart, literally letting me know He loved me. I felt His love being poured into my heart so strongly it became a physical experience.

I have faced so much rejection and disappointment in my life. Maybe you have as well. In the ministry you have to have a tolerance for disappointment and you have to accept that your heart will be broken. If your heart doesn’t break for what breaks the heart of Christ you are not doing this job right.  Maybe you have faced great disappointment as well. And maybe people have told you, “well life is just unfair.” Maybe they have said, “cry me a river build a bridge and get over it.”  My philosophy used to be to set low expectations therefore I will always be pleasantly surprised. I called it positive pessimism. But that was a lie.  I became a cynical realist that tried to be upbeat but no one was buying it. Because I had a crushed spirit. And though we may try to fake it people know what is in our spirit.  And what I have learned is that life is unfair but stating that fact doesn’t help mend a broken heart. Proverbs 17:22 says, “a joyful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 18:14 says, “the human spirit can endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear.” Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Saying that life is unfair doesn’t solve the problem that rejection and disappointment can crush our spirits. And when our spirits are crushed people can sense that. We become bitter, or harsh, or needy and clingy. People flee from us which only crushes our spirits more. Disappointment, bitterness, and loneliness become our only companions, a prison that everyone sees but no one is willing to help us escape. Slowly we drown in sorrow. Slowly we become unable to give and receive love. And life drains from our eyes. Some see no escape and resort to suicide. Who can bear a crushed spirit? The answer is none of us can for long.

But there is good news today. Romans 5:5 says, “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Have you been disappointed? Have you disappointed others? Have you been betrayed? Have you been the betrayer? Have you been shamed? Have you shamed others? Paul tells us the remedy to our disappointment. It is God’s love being poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. And I am here to tell you today that God’s Love is not some abstract concept, His love is a real as the air we breathe, the bread we eat, the water we drink. His love is better than wine, more intimate than the touch of any lover, and His love will not disappoint us, for he has loved us with an undying love, his love can restore the breach, and because of His great love for us Christ conquered even death. Christ’s love can be poured out into our hearts. And when this happens we shall not be disappointed and we shall not be ashamed. We shall be restored. Christ will bring the super glue and put us back together again all we need to do is bring the broken pieces.

But how? How does the Lord lead us into His love being poured out into our hearts? He tells us here in today’s passage. He shows Peter His love and how to walk in His love.  His answer is simple. Learn to be a Shepherd. Learn to be a leader.  Learn to step up. His answer is don’t stand on the sidelines. Don’t accept defeat.  If you have been knocked down. If you have been pressed down, if you have been broken , rise again and Christ will shine on you. Get up and stand in the breach. Rise up and lead by following Christ and others will follow you. Find a reason to worship again. Find a reason to lift up a song of praise.

Jesus asks Peter, Simon Peter son of John do you love me more than these other disciples?  Jesus uses the Word agape here. A Greek Word for love that suggest a sacrificial love. A love that loves first.  A love that asks for nothing in return. Peter responds by saying, “yes Lord you know that I phileo you. This is another word for love. It is the love used in Paul’s letters for the love of fellowship, the love of the church. A love like family, that is deeper than blood, because it has been sealed by the blood of lamb. In response to this Jesus says “feed my lambs.” Then Jesus again asks, “do you agape me?” And again Peter says, “yes Lord I phileo you.” Jesus responds, “tend my sheep”. This is a verb which means lead them to new pastures when they have eaten all the grass in the old pasture. Sheep will tend to stay in the same pasture even after they have eaten all the grass. If the Shepherd does not lead them to new pastures they will starve to death. A third time Jesus asks Peter, “do you phileo me?” Peter is grieved because he knows he cannot say that he agapes the Lord. And he admits that Jesus knows everything, and he knows that Peter cannot agape Jesus under his own strength he can only phileo Jesus on his own. And again Jesus says feed my sheep. When you have lead them to a new pasture. Continue to feed them. Jesus seems to say through this act of feeding and leading His sheep Divine love will flow through Peter’s life and one day he will be able to say that he agapes the Lord because the Lord will make it so. Like the Good shepherd he will learn to lay his life down for his flock and not flee like a hired hand when the wolves come in sheep’s clothing to kill the shepherd. I have learned as a shepherd that this job goes against the grain of your flesh. It requires you to love people deeply but to not be too concerned if they return that love. It requires you to lead people, which means people follow you, not out of fear or shame, but because they want to. As Peter would tell his elders later in his life in 1 Peter 5, “So I exhort the elders among you, as fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Today I lay down my life and I reach out for the crown. Lift up your hearts and reach with me. God’s love will restore us. His sheep hear his voice and He will lead us if we step up to lead. But as Jesus tells us it may not always be where we want to go. “You will stretch out your hand” is ancient slang for being crucified. Jesus was predicting Peter’s death. And indeed Peter was crucified. Historical sources suggests that he asked to be crucified upside down because he did not feel he was worthy to be crucified as Jesus was. He will never leave us or forsake us. But he may lead us to places we don’t want to go.

My grandmother knew this to be true in her life. From the time I was born till my 22nd birthday my family would travel from Harrisonburg, Virginia, to Oneonta, New York on my birthday and on Christmas to meet at my grandmother’s house for a twice a year family reunion. Since my birthday is August 15th, at the end of the summer, it was a good time to get together.  Louise Roberts was brilliant. She graduated college at age 18 and taught English at the University of Chicago. That’s where she met my grandfather, Millard Roberts, a sauve Divinity student. They fell in love and married right before World War II broke out. My grandfather shipped off to the Pacific as a Chaplain. My grandmother waited for him for four years. When he returned they had four children one of which is my dad. My grandfather died of cancer when I was three years old. I never really knew him. But my grandmother’s house was full of love, joy, many games of hearts, a Robert’s tradition, and of course pancakes. She never remarried after my grandfather died. And she never talked about him that much. She didn’t talk much at all. But she would always send me cards with money in them and an encouraging word. For my High School graduation I remember she sent me a card that read, “shoot for the moon even if you miss you shall be among the stars.” When she died one of my friends in college turned that phrase into a mug. The mug I have brought here today. She would always smile with such big smile. She didn’t say much but her love held our family together. And since she has been gone we haven’t been nearly as close as an extended family. She taught English at Oneonta State University till she was 84. And then she got cancer. She had periods of remission. But she slowly wasted away. To be honest now and then I still have dreams that she is still alive. The last time I saw her alive was on my 22nd birthday. I had come to faith in Christ the year before. I had gone on a walk in the rain at the College of William & Mary. I went to a dock on a lake on campus. I fell on my knees and I prayed, “Lord Jesus I can not stand on my own any longer come into my heart and teach me how to love.” After that I knew something I hadn’t known before. I knew that this man who had been crucified 2,000 years ago was alive. I didn’t know how but I knew it to be true and that my life was his. When I told my grandmother about this experience she didn’t seem surprised.  I was a new Christian when I saw my grandmother the last time. I am not sure I was ready for what I saw.

She was so thin. Her mind was still there. Her mind was there till the end. But her body was a shadow of her formal self. None of us wanted to say it. But we all knew that was the last time we would see her alive. When death is in the air people do things to keep themselves busy. My grandmother lived in a mansion of a house. She lived in a bedroom on the first floor. She hadn’t been hadn’t been up the three flights of stairs to the second floor in years.  And my dad had taken it upon himself to paint some rooms that needed to be painted on the second floor.

I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. Even though it has been twelve years since she died. That day my cousins and I were playing hearts at the family card table. And my father came to get me. My grandmother had come out of her bedroom with her walker. She did not ask us, she told us, that she was going to look at the rooms my father had painted. She was in no condition to climb one step, let alone over thirty steps. But true love compels you to do what is right. So my father took her by the hands and I got her back. And together we scaled over thirty steps. It felt like scaling Everest. Time seem to move at a crawl. If she slipped, if she fell, that could be the end of it right then and there. But we got to the second floor. My grandmother shuffled to the rooms my father had painted, looked in, and said, “isn’t that wonderful.” Then she turned around and told us we could go back now. And again we repeated the process going down the steps till she was safe back in her room. I was shocked. I now know it wasn’t about those rooms. It was about saying something to herself. It was about saying something to us. It was about saying something to death itself. She said it without words. With dignity and love as she always did.

My grandmother died a couple months later in the dead of winter.  I remember going to her viewing, kneeling before her casket, and looking at the lifeless body of one I had loved so much but really knew so little about. I remembered the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, “ And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ , whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

But I believe as Paul believed that he is risen, the  God’s promise is that he has loves us with an undying love, a love that puts even death to shame. And because I believed that I gave my first sermon at her funeral. I told the story that I tell you now. I told the people how the Lord can lead us where we don’t want to go and even then He will never leave us or forsake us.  In the silence of suffering he is not silent for our lives shall speak of Him.

A couple of months later I came to the decision that I wanted to go to seminary. I told my mom one night as we were driving back from a day trip to Charlottesville. She told me that my grandmother had told her that she thought I would become a minister. This gave me the courage to tell my father. My father and my grandfather hadn’t always had the best relationship so I was afraid he would not approve. But my father just wanted me to do what would make me happy. And both my parents have provided financially and emotionally that I may be here today. I am forever in their debt.

I am not going to lie. It has been a long journey. From that night in the rain where Jesus found me to when I was ordained I walked by faith for eleven years. I began my journey as a jerk. Caring more about myself and my theology than people. The Lord humbled me through much rejection and shame to where I learned how to listen to and love others well. But then I became a pushover, caring too much about what others thought, fearing man more than I feared God. And through His Love that He has poured out into my heart he has taught me how to love people and not to fear people. He has taught me  to be a good shepherd and I have begun to love as a shepherd should love by laying down my life. I am here to lay down my life. To feed you and to lead you to better pastures. I will love you in the love of fellowship. And when neither of us are feeling it I will love you with agape love, I will love you first, as God first loved us and sent his only begotten Son as a atoning sacrifice for our sins . Because that is my calling. And it is my honor to do that for each and every one of you here today.

But when I was ordained I realized I had gotten part of the story wrong. When my mother told me that my grandmother had said she believed I would become a minster I thought she had said so as my mother had taken care of her as she was dying from cancer. After I was ordained I learned that was not the case. My grandmother had said those words when I was eleven years old. Before I even believed in myself she believed in me. She saw my calling in my heart and she spoke it forth in love. Just as Jesus saw Peter’s potential and he spoke to him in love restoring him when all his dreams had been broken. Do you want to know how to break people out of their sins? Do you want to know how to restore people and set them on the right path? See who they truly are and remind them who they truly are. See something they do not see in themselves and speak it forth into their lives.

I began my journey on my knees on a dock in the rain. I asked the Lord to teach me how to love and he has been faithful in answering that prayer. He has taught me how to use my own heart to love people well. But now he is teaching me about His wondrous love, a love that can be poured out into our hearts if we ask it of Him. His is the love of a good Father, his love is better than wine, he has loved us with an undying love and he has redeemed us from hands that are too strong for us. The Lord God has given me the tongue of one who is taught that I may comfort with a word those who are weary (Isaiah 50:4).I have come here to convict, to counsel, and to console. I have come here to build a dock. A waypoint for those who are weary that they may come ashore and find rest. This place has always been a place for those who wander to find a home and I am here to build on that. You will notice in the Narthex, the doors that lead into the sanctuary from the outside, there is a plaster book with these words inscribed on it.  “To all who are weary and seek rest; to all who mourn and long for comfort; to all who struggle and desire victory; to all who sin and need a Saviour; to all who are idle and look for service: to all who are strangers and want fellowship: to all who hunger and thirst after righteousness; and to whosoever will come-this church opens wide her doors and offers her welcome in the name of Jesus Christ her Lord.”   Whatever you have been through ,wherever you are going, whoever you think you are,  Jesus calls to you today. He wants to reveal the Father to you. In the name of the Lord I command you be filled with the Baptism of love today. He calls to you and says, “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rests for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  So whether this is your first time visiting or whether you have been a life time member of Calvin would you join me in taking up the yoke of Christ, in building that dock to lead people safe to shore? For on the shore Jesus has prepared breakfast for us. And if we must throw ourselves into the sea to get to him let it be so.  Because he has prepared a feast of Love to restore us. He is serving love for breakfast. And I don’t know about you but I won’t settle till I get a double portion.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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