Sunday, March 14, 2010


Here's some thoughts from today's message at STORYCHURCH. You can find it online here if you'd like to listen.

What happens when following Jesus leads down a path you weren’t expecting? John 21 starts out with the disciples deciding to go back to fishing. These are men who spent three years with Jesus, with a certain sense of where this whole thing was leading. They didn’t know when, but at some point Jesus was going to establish a kingdom and they were going to be a big part of that. But then Jesus is crucified. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Not in their version of the story. By the time we get to John 21, Jesus has risen from the dead and already appeared to the disciples. But still, it’s different now. They aren’t spending every waking moment with him. In fact, it’s all mysterious and uncertain now. Jesus comes and goes - and he even looks different than before. Everything has changed. What now? The disciples aren’t sure. They don’t seem to have any sense of purpose for their own lives now. So they return to the one thing they know - fishing. They go back to the boats. It’s interesting to me that Peter is the one who goes first. “I’m going out to fish” he says. The other disciples say “we’ll go with you.” Peter is a leader. Jesus has pinned him as a leader from day one. But in the absence of Jesus, Peter doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know where to lead. But it’s clear that people want to follow him.

The last time we saw the disciples fishing, they had had a pretty unsuccessful night of fishing. They haven’t yet met Jesus. He asks Peter if he can get in his boat and teach from the water. Peter agrees. A little while later, Jesus tells Peter to go throw his nets into the deep water. Peter reluctantly agrees. As a result, they catch so many fish that it nearly sinks two boats. Peter’s response is amazing - “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man.” This is the beginning of a new life for Peter and the disciples. Jesus calls them away from fishing, and they leave everything to follow him.

Now back to John 21. Peter and the disciples go back to fishing. Again, they have a pretty unsuccessful night. Jesus is standing on the shore, about a hundred yards away. He asks how the fishing is going - and it isn’t going well. Jesus tells them to throw the net on the right side of the boat, because that’s where the fish are. It seems like about this time the disciples would have been having flashbacks. I can almost picture them squinting toward the shore - “Is it him?” For whatever reason, they listen to the stranger’s advice. When the net begins to overflow, their suspicions are confirmed. John says it first - “It is the Lord.” Peter immediately jumps in the water and swims to shore. He can’t even wait for them to row in. When he gets to shore he finds Jesus cooking breakfast, fish and bread. Where did Jesus get the fish?

When the rest of the disciples make it to shore, it says that “none of the disciples dared ask him ‘Who are you?’ Then knew it was the Lord.” They knew it, but how? Apparently not because they recognized him by his appearance, but by his miracle. It’s an interesting thought. Jesus has physically changed. He doesn’t even look the same. Or he does, and they still couldn’t convince themselves that he was alive.

After eating, Jesus asks Peter an important question. What’s interesting is that he doesn’t ask all the disciples. He asks Peter. “Peter, do you love me more than these?” I used to think he meant, “do you love me more than these guys love me?” But I think he’s actually saying “Do you love me more than these - these fish.” It’s as if Jesus wants to know Peter’s commitment level. But he’s also affirming Peter I believe. Peter is, after all, the one who denied Jesus three times. And so here, three times he gets to tell Jesus that he loves him. In the process, Jesus delivers a divine calling to Peter. Feed my sheep, take care of my sheep, feed my lambs. Peter is singled out amongst all the disciples as the one Jesus wants to take care of his sheep. Who are Jesus’ sheep? The other disciples in this context I suppose. But leadership is costly. Jesus tells him that it will eventually cost him his life. And he ends it with a call to “Follow me.”

Peter receives a divine calling from Jesus, that includes a pretty hefty cost. Things have certainly changed haven’t they? The last time Peter left fishing to follow Jesus, it was for something greater. He had a sense that something great was coming his way. In fact, something great was coming his way, but not the way he expected it to happen. This time, the call to follow Jesus comes with a vision of how it will end - with Peter’s crucifixion and death. It’s no surprise that Peter is looking over his shoulder at this point. It’s then that he notices John following closely behind.

“What about him?”

It’s an honest question. I mean, if following Jesus means my death, at least tell me I’m not alone. Let me know that someone else will be in it with me. There may also have been a bit of wonder in that question as well. What about him? What is his calling? What will happen to him? It too is a natural question. How does my calling compare to his calling? Maybe his is better. Maybe it’s worse. I wonder how my calling stacks up against his. Where does my calling rank in the hierarchy of calling?

Jesus’ answer is difficult. “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

Your calling leads to a brutal death. What if his calling leads to immortality? So what? You must follow me. Peter, you must embrace your own story. You are not John. You are not anyone else. I’m calling you to lead. Your calling is unique.

There’s this false idea we have in church world that says that one’s value and worth is based on the outward things we can see - the blessings. He’s rich, so God must love him more. They are way more talented than me, so their purpose must be more important than mine. They seem to have it easy, my life is hard - God must not love me as much. And that causes us to covet each other’s calling. We believe that to be them would be so much better. To live their story would be way more satisfying than my own.

Somewhere along the line, as followers of Jesus, we must come to understand that each of us has a purpose. God has uniquely shaped us to accomplish his will. For some of us that will mean great wealth. For some of us that will mean poverty. For some of us that may mean a beautiful family, for others it may mean a single life, or a childless life.

The danger in comparing our lives to those around us is this - the only life that will fulfill us is the one that follows Jesus. Living their life will leave you hopeless. Living their story will not satisfy you. The question Jesus asks of Peter should echo in our ears all the time - “What is that to you? You must follow me.” Your calling is unique. Your story is the best life you can live. Embrace it.


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