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 John 21:15-19

Peter:  A Conversion of Purpose

Last week Jean Vanier died.  Jean Vanier was a well-known Canadian philosopher, theologian, teacher, writer, and lecturer but in 1964 he left all of that behind, bought a house in France, and invited two men with intellectual disabilities to live with him.  He named that home l’Arche, (after Noah’s Ark), with the idea of setting up a place of refuge and new beginnings for both people with and without intellectual disabilities.  

That was 1964  -in France – since then, the idea has blossomed and grown into more than 125 of these communities in 40 different countries around the world, including l’Arche communities in Antigonish, Wolfville, Halifax, and Cape Breton.

125 of these communities, where people live together as equals.  People with and without intellectual disabilities.  They eat together – they work together – they relax together – they socialize together.

The underlying idea is that when people live in community together, when they are truly in relationship with one another, they will be transformed by one another. 

This week on CBC I was listening to an interview he had done in 2005 – he was sharing a bit about what it was like to live in these communities – what it was like to live with people with intellectual disabilities – he said the biggest question of the people of l’Arche was – “Do you love me?”  Do you love me?  

They ask it in different ways – sometimes they can’t speak, and so they can only use body language – they cling to you when you are leaving- if they can speak, they ask if you will come back – they ask if you will be their friend.  But what they are really asking is “Do you love me?”

Vanier said that they ask that question so often because they are so absolutely vulnerable.  Many of them know what it is to be rejected.  Many of them know what it is to come from a place of not being wanted.  Many of them know what it is to be a burden.  

It leads them to be obsessed with asking the question – Do you love me?

As I listened to Vanier so beautifully articulate the deepest human need – that of vulnerability and being loved – I had to think of this passage we just read in John 21.  When Jesus asks Peter three times – Do you love me – do you love me – do you love me?

When I read these questions through the lens of the l’Arche communities – I sure get a different sense of this conversation that Jesus had with Peter than I have ever had.  Before I listened to Vanier – when I was reading this passage at the beginning of the week   – I heard this conversation almost as a job interview – 

“Peter, are you the right guy for this job of leading the church.  Will you be good enough to take on the task of feeding my sheep – taking care of my followers – being the one who will become the rock of the church?  Do you love me?”  

But when I reread the passage, through the lens of vulnerability and pain, I hear a very different Jesus.  I don’t hear an authoritarian boss at a job interview 

but I hear Jesus as the one who has been rejected – the one who has been denied – as the one who had become a burden to society and so had to be crucified.  

This is Jesus coming back to his disciple in all vulnerability – his wounds still very much evident – his hands still showing the evidence of missed hammer blows and nail holes – his forehead still showing signs of the crown of thorns – the wound in his side barely closed over the fist-sized hole punctured there – 

the rejection still very much right there – yes, he is the resurrected Lord,  

but he is still Jesus – the wounded, crucified Jesus – and he needs to know.  

And so he takes Peter aside, this same Peter who denied even knowing Jesus just a few weeks ago – three times – I don’t know the man – I have nothing to do with him – never seen him before …

Jesus takes Peter aside, and likely looking deeply into Peter’s eyes, Jesus asks him,

Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?

Do you love me?  I am about to leave this earth – I am about to go back to my Father in heaven  – will you still be my friend when I am gone?  Do you love me?  

To me, this is profound on so many levels.  

The vulnerability.  The readiness to forgive.  The physical reminders on Jesus that this is what his death was all about in the first place – that Jesus died for forgiveness – Jesus died so that new life could be found – Jesus died to give Peter – to give all of us – that fresh new start and clean slate and chance to begin again.

If you get nothing else out of this sermon – get at least this.  Jesus comes to us and asks the very same question of us – in the same tone – with the same posture of  humility – and the same vulnerability.

Do you love me?

Because we have done the same as Peter – over and over again – we have denied Jesus.  We have walked the other way.  We have pretended we don’t hear Jesus when he calls to us.  We have more than made it necessary for Jesus to have died on the cross – 

And yet, as with Peter, Jesus comes to us – and he asks: 

Do you love me?

This is not about making sure we are good enough – this is about reminding us that Jesus loves us – that he wants to be in relationship with us – he wants us to know that he went to the cross for us – 

After hearing this story of forgiveness and reinstatement, we need never doubt the truth of this.   We need never question God’s love for us.  We need never wonder if God will finally reject us and cast us aside – that is not the question.

The only question here is – Do youlove me?  That is the question Jesus asks you and me.  And Peter.

“Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” 

Three times the question – three times the answer – three times to show how deeply this all went – three times to go deeply enough to heal the past hurts – to re-establish relationship to the point that there can be no mistake about the forgiveness and reconciliation offered by Jesus.

Do you love me?  

Even as Jesus asked Peter the question, Peter must have been wondering the same about Jesus.  After all, Peter is the one who had messed things up in the first place.  He had denied knowing Jesus.  He is the one that should have been unsure whether or not Jesus loved him still.

And yet as the passage goes on, it becomes clear that not only is Jesus all about forgiveness –he is also all about showing that forgiveness by entrusting Peter with a new job.

Verse 15:  Feed my lambs.

Verse 16:  Take care of my sheep.

Verse 17:  Feed my sheep.

Up to this point, Peter had been a follower. A disciple.  The one being taught and cared for and shown what Jesus was all about and why he had come to earth.  Peter had been on the receiving end.  

But now everything was about to change. Jesus would be leaving – and the disciples would be left to carry on the work that Jesus had begun.  The healing.  The teaching.  The caring.  The feeding.  

Peter would be instrumental in this.  Once Jesus established that Peter was on the right page, headed in the right direction – with his heart in the right place, he quickly challenged Peter with his new task.  Feed my lambs.  Take care of my sheep.  Feed my sheep.

This is Jesus passing on his own personal work to Peter.  This is the ministry that Jesus was all about – Jesus is the good shepherd – the one who leads his sheep to good pasture, quiet waters – the one who restores the souls of his sheep. Jesus is the one who carries his sheep through the valley of the shadow of death so they need not fear evil. 

And now Jesus is giving this task to Peter. And to his other followers. And to the church.

And this is the aspect of conversion that I want to talk about this morning.  

Last week was about Zacchaeus – the conversion he experienced as he met Jesus.  Immediate.  Urgent. 180 degree turn.  Headed for the waterfall and radically changed course.  

This week, I chose Peter, because not only does he show the ups and downs of a life of following Jesus, he is also an example of finding new purpose through conversion.

And that is what it is for us as well. We experience healing. Forgiveness.  New life.  But all of that happens in order to bring us to a place where we use all of that in order to do the work that God has called us to do.  

And that new work is all about caring - feeding – ministering – healing – speaking out against injustice – taking the time to eat with others – to have deeper conversations with others – to be involved in feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, visiting the sick and those in prison – clothing the naked – offering that cup of cold water in the name of Jesus. 

Do you love me – feed my sheep.

This is an echo of what Jesus said in Matthew 22:37 – where Jesus summarized God’s law in two concise commands - 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.

Do you love me?  Feed my sheep.

As I was writing this sermon, I noticed a flyer on my desk from World Renew.  The heading on the flyer – Ending Hunger.  

It was a reminder that we are not alone with this task of loving God and caring for his sheep.  We are part of a much larger community.  Worldwide. Millions upon millions of people who are followers of Jesus.  Millions upon millions who have experienced forgiveness of sins and who want to live out of this place of forgiveness in order to carry on what Jesus began.

Loving – and feeding.  Loving and caring for.  Loving and being loved.

That is our new purpose.  To join the work of followers of Jesus in caring for his sheep.

I want to close by looking again at the closing verses:  Jesus says to Peter in verse 18

“I tell you the truth, when you were younger, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and some else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.  

What a description of vulnerability. What a reminder that in the end, we are all needy.  We are all weak.  We are all helpless.  And we are all in need of the healing, restoring, forgiving, love of the Father offered to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This morning I invite each of us to quietly receive that grace once again, and in receiving, offering your love back to Jesus, and then opening your heart to the new purpose that God will pour in.

Let’s pray:

Lord, we desperately need your love. Every day.  Every hour.  Every minute.  Fill us with your love so that we can express our love to you.  Renew in us the joy of your salvation, and prepare us to do the works that you have in mind for us to do.

Through the love of you, our Father – and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.