The Question that Focuses Us
"Do You Love Me?"
Scripture: John 21:15-19
Old Testament: Deut. 13:1-5
Psalter: Psalm 86
Epistle: Revelation 2:1-7
The power in this short question of just four one-syllable words is that it forces us immediately to the heart of the issue between us and God. It drives past religious activity cuts through theological labels, and detours around church issues, Christian causes, and even personal circumstances to the focus of our hearts. It asks if our busyness, religious or otherwise, flows out of love for Jesus Christ.
In the movie Fiddler On The Roof, Tevye refused to be put off by his wife's recitation of her "good works"; he passionately wanted to know if her heart had any passion for him. Jesus, too, is feeling for the pulse of passionate, burning devotion. He means to trouble us with it, and will keep on poking us with it until it disturbs us deeply—even grieves us!
Why does he ask?
The obvious reason for Jesus' question to Peter was the disciple's spineless surrender to his own fear when he denied Christ three times. But Jesus never brought the matter up as such. That would have been far too superficial. Jesus is dealing with the roots of the denial tree—not the fruits. So he asks not, "Did you deny me after all, Peter?" but, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" His purpose is twofold: diagnosis and therapy.
Diagnosis. All our moral failures point to, at bottom, a collapse (or at least a deterioration) of love. Faulty behavior reveals a flawed love. "You used to call me when you'd be coming home late from work," and "You used to send me flowers" are wifely prods that convey a deeper, darker anxiety. What she really means is, "Do you still love me... like you used to?" Just as dimmed lights mean the electric current has weakened and water dribbling from the opened tap means the water pressure has dropped, so also failure to act in love convincingly reveals the fading of love itself.
Therapy. Power to consistently, courageously and continuously feed the lambs of God is found only in the passion of love and devotion. Love releases immense energy. Ever wonder how fans can stand in line for hours to buy tickets to a rock concert? They love those "musicians"! Love makes sacrifice a privilege, service an honor, suffering a joy—as demonstrated repeatedly by Jesus himself ... and his apostles.
How do I know if I love him ?
Strangely, Jesus never countered Peter's quick and nervous answers with, "Then how could you deny me like you did?" He simply repeated the question, stronger each time. Peter had to see the connection with the denial for himself.
Only upon reflection do we see the shape of our "un-love" for Jesus. Somewhere there will be a specific, concrete act that gives us away. "Un-love" is a matter of record—a history of real deeds left undone—not a lack of warm fuzzies or spiritual feelings; actions, not order.
Check your record, for he surely will at the end. To love is to have obeyed (John 14:21).
The one who loudly denied the Lord ended up gladly dying for him. How does such devotion grow? Surely Pentecost profoundly transformed Peter. But the real renewal came in feeding and caring for sheep and lambs.
Just as exercising a muscle strengthens it, so also doing loving deeds transforms the heart. Love is found both before and after obedience, (before, to prompt it) but mostly afterward. It's acting in love that renews love, as any spouse who honors a birthday or anniversary has discovered. Love grows when we choose to act in love. So if the love of Christ is in us, we'll find a lamb... and feed it.
Call to Worship
The eternal Father, who loved us and set us free from our sins, who loves us still with that love that will not let us go, and who will love us forever, calls us to worship him today as the only true lover of our souls. He stoops to receive the love of our poor hearts. He calls us to remember the depth of his love for us in Christ. He seeks our love!
Prayer of Confession
There are times I think I love you well, O God. But upon hearing your call to love you with all my heart, and all my mind, and all my strength, I confess that my love for you is a diluted love, made insipid and flat by lesser loyalties and a divided heart. My love seems pure only for brief moments; soon my affections are drawn away. How easily my devotion dies. Forgive me; in deep mercy, spare me despite my lost first love for you; in grace rekindle my love for you in seeing anew Jesus' love for me. Amen.
Psalms and Hymns
Psalm 86: "Lord, My Petition Heed"
(especially st. 3,5,6)
Psalm 118: "Give Thanks to God"
[PsH 118, TH 613]
"Father, Help Your People" (especially st. 1,2)
"I've Come to Tell"
"Jesus Calls Us; O'er the Tumult"
[PsH 553, RL 258-259, TH 591 ]
"Lord, I Want to Be a Christian" (especially st. 2)
[PsH 264, PH 372, TH 530]
"Make Me a Channel of Your Peace"
"O God, My Faithful God"
[PsH 574, PH 277 RL 69, TH 602]
"O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High"
[PsH 364, PH 83, RL 342-343, TH 155]
"O Love of God, How Strong and True"
[PsH 463,RL 388,TH 81]
"Spirit of God, Who Dwells Within My Heart"
[PsH 419, PH 326, RL 445, TH 338]