Sunday, April 28, 2013

John 13:31-35 Easter 5 "Love One Another"

"Love One Another"
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.  My children, I will be with you only a little longer.  You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.  A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:31-35
1.  Christian love is one of the hardest topics for me to talk about.  I guess it’s because I don’t want you to think that I’m weak or effeminate if I stand up here and spend the next 20 minutes talking about love.  But I don’t think any of you would accuse Jesus of being weak or effeminate, and he was the one who said, “Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Besides, I’m not actually telling you that you need to go around telling everyone that you love them.  That would be both weird and dangerous. Saying “I love you” to someone is like handing a person a loaded gun.  It’s powerful, risky, and you don’t always know what is going to happen next.  I would never say to another man’s wife, “I love you.”  In fact, I very rarely say those words to anyone but my mother and my fiancĂ©e.
But you don’t even have to say the words to be dangerous with love.  Sometimes just showing that you care about another person is dangerous.  That’s the other reason why Christian love is such a hard thing to talk about.   It’s so easy to try to love like Christ, but have it blow up in your face.
People who are dating need to be very careful how they love.  For instance, a lonely high school boy wanting a girlfriend may hear Jesus’ words, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Then, wanting to love and be loved, he gives his heart away to some girl who really would not be a good spouse for him.  Maybe he realizes that later, and has to break her heart.  Maybe she realizes it and breaks his.  Maybe neither of them see, but the relationship continues to destroy both of them.
A man meets a woman by chance at a coffee shop.  They get to talking, and she indicates that there has been some sorrow in her life lately.  Her husband left her for another woman.  Out of Christian love and concern, he listens and tries to comfort.   After a while, he gets up to say goodbye, and she thanks him.  She tells him how much it helped for him to sit and listen, and asks if they can do it again.  He says yes, thinking that he is just showing good Christ-like love and concern for this woman.    After a few meetings, the woman asks for more.  She wants a relationship, but he can’t give it.  Now she is doubly hurt.  Nobody wants her.
You want to be like Christ and you reach out to help someone in need.  Now that person won’t leave you alone.  He is always there.  He is always taking your time, always looking for more.  When you try to pull back, he gets angry.
You get the picture.  When we try to love, it can blow up in our face.  Like the teenager, sometimes we love so that we will be loved.  When our love isn’t returned, it hurts.  Maybe the man in the coffee shop didn’t realize the potential harm he was doing to that divorced woman because he was too busy feeling good about helping her.  In the last example, sometimes we show love and concern and regret it because it turns out to be more than we bargained for.  There is usually a selfish side to our love.  That’s not good, it displeases God, and it often is going to blow up in our face.
2.  This business of loving each other like Christ loved us is tricky.  We need to take another look at how the Master did it.  Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, just after the betrayer left, turned to his disciples and said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified.”  On the last night of his earthly life, about to be betrayed, denied, condemned, and crucified, Jesus was remarkably secure with himself.  He knew that he would be raised from the dead, that he would ascend into heaven, and rule at the right hand of the Father.  That’s what he meant when he said he would be glorified.
Jesus knew that his future was secure, but he was concerned about his disciples.  He wouldn’t be with them visibly anymore to assure them of God’s love for them and his own love.  In a sense, they would be left behind while he went on ahead into heaven.  He said to them, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”  Doesn’t it sound like a dying father giving his last wishes to his children?  He wanted us to take care of each other after he died.  He said, “Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
This changes the picture for us.  How could we not show some love and concern for each other?  This was Jesus last wish.  Especially because he is alive and can see what we are doing, how horrible it would be for him to see us just looking out for ourselves—and this after he has loved us with such unconditional, selfless, sacrificing love.
Jesus’ love for us isn’t the kind of love that you have for someone who makes you feel good, like “I love my wife; she’s a great cook,” and “I love my husband when he isn’t watching TV.”  Jesus loved all kinds of people who weren’t very good to him at all.  He loved Peter and died for him, knowing that Peter would deny him.  He loved Judas and died for him too, knowing that Judas would betray him for 30 pieces of silver.  Jesus loved the soldiers and died for them, though they would pound nails through his hands.  He even prayed for them, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Jesus loved and died for the Sanhedrin, even though they would never love him back.  That was a restrained love though, because they would have taken his love for them in the wrong way.  Jesus loved and died for all of us, even though he knew how many would never return his love.  He died for you and me, knowing that we would be glad to take his love but so slow to imitate his love.  Really, we are like the clingy friend who keeps on taking advantage of Jesus’ love, but rarely giving back—but Jesus has a heart big enough for all of that.  He died for all of us.  On the night before he died, his thoughts were all on us.  He called us his children.  His last wishes were that we care for each other.  Love one another, as I have loved you.  That’s unlimited, unconditional love.  Big love.
How could we not show some love and concern for each other?  Especially since Jesus is alive, and he sees us caring for the people he loves so dearly.
Trying to love people is still going to be a risky thing, but Jesus’ big love for us changes the picture again.  He has given us the security to be able to handle the risks.  We are part of a big loving heavenly family.  We have a Savior who not only loves us enough to die for us, but actually did.  We have a Father who knows our every need, cares deeply for us, and thanks to Jesus blood washing away our guilt, he sees no reason why we should not be his dear children.
Showing love and concern for people is still going to be risky, but we have the security we need.  Some will always take advantage of you, but you can handle that, because you have the Father’s love and you have riches in heaven.  When you think about how Jesus has loved us, it really doesn’t seem like such a big deal when people take advantage of us.
Jesus brings security to the person who is dating.  If you know that you are loved by God and precious to him, and you are unconditionally loved and supported by your Christ-like parents, it will help you to not feel so needy for love.  You will be able to show care and concern for the people you are dating, but also be careful how closely you love until you find that one to marry, the one your parents approve of.
The man in the coffee shop who wanted to show his love and concern for the divorced woman would be helped by God’s secure love.  Knowing that he is securely loved by God and precious to him, he can tell himself that he doesn’t need the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from helping others, and he might be a little more careful about the way he shows his love for that hurting woman.  Maybe he would refer her to another woman—someone who would care, but not become attached.
When we are secure in Christ’s love for us, look at the beautiful thing that happens: we become like little Christs as we show the same love and concern for others.  Jesus said this would happen, “They will know that you are my disciples when you love one another.”
In hindsight, I see a lot about Jesus love and the love I should imitate from my Father.  He used to take me fishing all the time.  He was very busy with work, the fish weren’t always biting, and I wasn’t always a very pleasant fishing partner.  I didn’t want to talk, I was focused on catching fish.  And I would get really frustrated when I wasn’t catching any fish.  Dad kept taking me though.  That’s unconditional, unlimited, selfless Christian love.  Looking back, I realize what he was doing, how wrong I was at times, and how good he was to me.  I want to be like that.  The really beautiful thing about it is that it’s the kind of picture that shows me how Jesus keeps on loving even if I haven’t been a pleasant, loving person, just in the hope that I would see how wrong I am, how good he is, and how I should imitate him.  Yes, it will be risky, but God’s love for us gives us the security we need.  And it’s worth it to be like Christ to each other, fulfilling his last wishes.  “Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

John 21:1-14 Second Sunday after Easter

I’ve got a fish story for you today, and it’s a whopper.  But unlike almost every other fish story, this one is totally true.  It’s only believable though, because Jesus is in it.  Also, because Jesus is in it, this is much more than a fish story.  It’s a story that helps us.  It shows another reason why it’s so great for us that Jesus is alive.
We have big work to do for God, and this story tells us that Jesus is alive to give success to our work.  The disciples had heard Jesus tell them that he was sending them out to continue the work that he started, the work of forgiving sins.   It’s always a little intimidating to take over a job that someone else has been doing well, and no one has ever preached the Word of forgiveness better than Jesus did.  Those are huge shoes to fill.
While they were waiting to find out what to do next, they went back to Galilee.  They needed food, and since they were professional fishermen, they went fishing.  Jesus appeared to them while they were fishing, and this is how it happened:
2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.  6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
John 21:1-14

The amazing, unbelievable thing about this fish story is that they didn’t catch anything all night, and then, all of the sudden, they caught a lot of big fish.  When I go fishing, if I haven’t had a bite in a long time, I go home.  It isn’t happening.  You can always catch one or two fish, but if you haven’t had a bite, you aren’t going to suddenly catch a lot of fish.  Professional fishermen are much better at catching fish than I am, and these professional fishermen were using nets.  It wasn’t a matter of the fish not biting all night, and then all of the sudden getting hungry.  If you don’t catch any fish in the nets all night, there just aren’t many fish around.  You aren’t going to catch a lot all of the sudden.  Jesus told them to throw the net out on the right side of the boat, as if that would make a difference, as if they hadn’t already tried that several times, but they did it and the net was filled.  We find out later in the story that there were 153 large fish.
When the disciple whom Jesus loved, probably John, saw all the fish, he and probably the others remembered another time when this had happened.  It was right after they had met Jesus, and they had been out fishing all night and caught nothing.  Jesus told them to push their boats out again and let the nets down for a catch.  They had done it, and their catch of fish had filled the boats so full that they began to sink.  Then Jesus had told them that instead of catching fish, they would be catching men for the kingdom of God.
Now, after the resurrection, it wasn’t deja vu. It wasn’t a hallucination.  It was Jesus, alive, and showing them that nothing had changed.  Their world had recently been turned upside down: Jesus had been arrested and crucified, but they saw him alive again.  Even still, though he was alive, he wasn’t with them all the time like he was before.   Jesus came to show them that some things hadn’t changed.  He still wanted them to catch men, and he was still going to be the one filling the nets.  Jesus takes the pressure off of his disciples.  He is the one who fills the nets.

Theme:  Jesus fills the nets.
That was great news for the apostles, and its easy to see why that’s great news for people like me who preach the Gospel too.  I don’t have to worry about whether or not I will be persuasive enough to bring people into the church.  I just have to preach the Word, casting out the net, so to speak.  Jesus, the Lord, will make sure that the net is filled.  That doesn’t mean that it will always come back full, but where and when he wants to, Jesus will bring people faith.  Jesus fills the nets.
That’s great news for pastors and apostles, but it helps you too.  All of us have people in our lives who need to hear what God says.  Even if you don’t know anyone who isn’t a Christian, we all need to be straightened out once in a while, and we all need to be told that our sins are forgiven.  You have your children, friends, and family, and you have Jesus’ command to tell them that they have sins that are either forgiven, or not forgiven. 
Now if we really take this seriously that Jesus is Lord and he fills the nets, we are going to find hope for other things that we do too.  If God is going to continue to gather people into his kingdom, he needs this world to continue to operate smoothly.  He has made some of us teachers, garbage collectors, carpenters, and accountants.  Every useful occupation fits into his plan.  Probably a lot of the ones we see as useless do too.  Apparently, God even needs old people who don’t think they can do much, because he has left a lot of you here.  Whatever Jesus gives you the opportunity to do, he will help you do it.  Maybe you’re an old woman and you don’t really know why God is leaving you here, but the disciples didn’t really know why Jesus was asking them to cast their nets out on the other side either.  Sometimes we just need to do what he asks us to do, and let him worry about how it fits into his plan.  He is the one who fills the nets.
Maybe you haven’t been a very good fisherman for Jesus, though.  You’re not sure that you’ve been doing the things you are supposed to do.  You’ve heard people talk about turning your life over to Jesus, but you really have a hard time seriously saying that Jesus is in control of every aspect of your life.  Every time you review the 10 Commandments, you think of another way that you have rebelled against his Lordship. You don’t think you’re like the disciples in the boat, casting their nets for Jesus.  No, it’s the fish that you can identify with, the struggling fish trying to get out of the net. 
That’s a scary thought, because a person who struggles against God’s will is sometimes a person who is not a part of his kingdom, and will not be saved.  But this is where you are different from the fish, and where you know that you will be saved.  You actually want to be in the boat with Jesus.  His Word is in your ears, and that means his net has already been cast around you.  He is drawing you in.  As much as your sinful mind may struggle against him, you don’t actually have to swim out of the net.  You don’t have to forget about church and never come back.  You don’t have to keep your Bible closed and never read it.  Stay in the net.  
A fish will never stop fighting to get away, even after it is in the net.  There is a part of us that is always like that.  Our sinful heart will always be struggling against God, our whole life long.  But as much as you may struggle against the net, you don’t have to leave it.  Stay close to the Word.

Jesus is the one who makes sure the fish are caught in the net, and interestingly enough, even with so many large struggling fish, Jesus made sure the net was not torn.  He made sure the fish would be caught.  He will make sure that you are, and he will make sure that your work is part of his work to catch others.  Trust that Jesus will use his Word to pull you in and pull in others, like a net pulling in fish.   Remember that Jesus fills the nets.  Amen.