The Sleeping Lifeguard ~ January 28, 2018 ~ John 21:15-17
Let’s get ready to rock and roll. If you would join me in the unison prayer as it is projected up there on the screen, as we get ready to study the word of God. Let us pray together: Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Now, we are in the gospel of John this morning, let me set the scene for us. Jesus had just risen from the dead, much to the surprise of the disciples. It’s true! They didn’t expect it to happen. I mean, even though he had told them again and again and again, they still didn’t get it. I mean, the women went to the tomb on Sunday morning expecting to see a risen Jesus? No! They were bringing oil and spices to anoint the body. They couldn’t buy them on Friday because on Friday after sundown begins the Sabbath and they can’t work on the Sabbath. So you had to wait until sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, all the stores were closed after sundown on Saturday. So Sunday morning when they reopened, they headed out to the market, they bought the spices and the oils to go to the tomb and anoint Jesus’ body. They fully expected his body to be there. They were quite surprised.
When Peter and John heard the report that Mary brought back, “I have seen the Lord!” What do they do? Do they believe her? No! They went chugging off to the tomb as well. They needed to see it for themselves. They fully expected a body to be in the tomb as well. And then there’s Thomas, right? What about Thomas? After they’re all in the upper room, hiding because they just saw their leader crucified and they figure they’re next, so they’re hiding in the room, and Jesus appears to them. But Thomas wasn’t there. And then when Thomas comes back later, they tell him, and he says, “Nah, I ain’t buying it unless I can see the nail marks in his hands and touch the wound in his side, I won’t believe it.” These people, these guys and gals that he traveled with for three years, all of a sudden they’re liars?
So, I say this because I want to assure you, if you have ever had some moments of doubt or questions, don’t feel bad. You’re in good company. But even after they finally accepted that Jesus is alive, the disciples still were not sure what they were supposed to do. Jesus tells them in Matthew 28 and in Mark 16 to go to Galilee and he will meet them there.
So they leave, they head off to Galilee. After arriving there, Jesus hadn’t shown up right away so they’re kind of waiting for him. While they’re waiting for him they need to eat, so they have to go to work. And they return to that which they were comfortable with and knew something about: fishing. So they go back to fishing. And then one day, in John 21, verse 4 they see a guy standing on the beach. The disciples couldn’t see who it was, though. The guy calls out, “Fellows! Have you caught any fish?” “No,” they replied. And he says, “Throw out your net on the right hand side of the boat and you’ll get some.” So they did, and when they did they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it. This sounds familiar, does it not? John, the disciple whom Jesus loved figures it out in verse 7, he connects the dots. Then, the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. By the time everybody gets there, Jesus had made breakfast for them. He’s got a little fire going, he’s cooking some fish. Now this was done for a couple of reasons: number one, Jesus cannot stop being who he is, and he said very clearly, “I have come to serve, not be served.” He knows that fishing is a very strenuous and taxing profession, that they were there well before dawn, that they’re exhausted. So he’s going to prepare a little meal for them. Because he can’t help – just as he washed their feet – he can’t help but to serve. The other reason, though, is a little more subtle. He wanted to make sure they knew he wasn’t a ghost. He was a real body, flesh being. Ghosts can’t eat food, so he cooked fish and had breakfast with them to prove, “It’s me! I’m really here!”
Then, in our reading this morning, beginning in verse 15: “After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” So the first question that pops into our mind perhaps in this reading is why? Why did he ask him the same question three different times? I mean, did he not believe him? This is Peter we’re talking about, Peter the rock. Peter, who we know was married and could have had children, the Bible doesn’t say but we know he was married because Jesus healed his mother-in-law, so he had a mother-in-law – you can’t have a mother-in-law unless you’re married! So we know Peter was married, perhaps had a family, and we know that Peter left everything behind to follow Jesus. We know that Peter was the only one, when Jesus asked them in Matthew 16, it’s a great story. He’s got his disciples around a little campfire and he says, “Hey, who do the people say that I am?” And he gets a variety of answers. And then he sticks it right to them. “OK, that’s great, but who do you say that I am?” Now to proclaim someone to be equal to God was a crime called blasphemy, punishable by death. So he asks the question and nobody answers. I just picture them kind of looking at each other, you know, kicking the dirt a little bit. And it’s Peter who steps up, Peter who says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He is the first human being on the face of the planet in all of human history to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. That’s Peter! The Rock! Peter that jumped out of the boat and swam to shore!
And yet, it was Peter, wasn’t it, that denied three times he even knew him? Because Peter denied three times he knew him, Jesus asks him, “Do you love me?” three times. He wants Peter to understand, he wants Peter to know, “I remember! But my mercy and my grace and my love and my forgiveness is unconditional.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I took your three denials, Peter, and I put them to death on the cross. Just because you fell does not mean I cannot use you.” I want to make sure everybody hears that and understands it. Jesus is saying, “Even though you have fallen, even though you have made a mistake (sometimes big time), even though you have messed up, that does not mean that I cannot and will not use you for my glory.” So he asks three times, “Simon, do you love me?” And Peter replies three times, “Yes, Lord, I do.” He says, “Then feed my lambs.” Now what does he mean? Does he mean to make them breakfast, like Kelly and Renée do? Which makes it awful tough sometimes, coming in Sunday mornings. I’m coming in to worship and this waft of bacon and waffles comes down the hallway, it’s like AH! Is that what he means, cook them breakfast? Make them a meal, like the fish breakfast? Does he want them to open up a soup kitchen? What does he mean by “feed my lambs?”
Well, we get a hint from an earlier story in John chapter 6. Right after Jesus had fed the 5,000, but in all honesty it’s most likely 10,000 because in the story it tells you that the 5,000 figure is not counting the women and the children. So there’s more than likely 10,000 people that Jesus fed with a few loaves of bread and fish, right? After that story in John 6 verse 47 he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.” Believes in what? “Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness…” Remember that story of Moses, he leads all the Israelites out of slavery and Egypt, and into the wilderness for forty years, and manna appeared every morning, and they collected it all up and made cakes out of it, bread. It kind of tasted like coriander seed. And that was their substance that they lived on for forty years. Jesus says, “Yeah, I know, your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all still died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” I am the living bread that came down from heaven. “Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.” So it’s a metaphor. He’s saying, “Those who believe in me, those who ingest me, if you will, who take me and invite me into their hearts will live forever.”
“Peter, feed them. Share with them, with everyone, the bread of life. Me. If you love me, Peter, share the good news with the world.”
Do we love him? All those who love him are supposed to do the same. I’m going to give you an opportunity to do that this summer. This summer, as a part of my doctoral program, I am designing and going to be implementing a comprehensive evangelism ministry here at South Congregational Church. I am planning and counting on some of you to join me on the streets of Hartford and share the good news with our community. Please don’t let me tell my professors I went out there all by myself! Why do I want to do that? Because Jesus said, “If you love me, feed my lambs.” It’s what everyone who loves him is supposed to be doing. It’s honestly what every church is supposed to be doing, and yet, sadly, I don’t see any churches do it. I come to Hartford all the time. I don’t come across anybody sharing the gospel with me. Every once in a while you do come across somebody who sets up on a corner and yells and screams at you, but I don’t encounter any church sharing the gospel. It doesn’t make any sense. It wasn’t a suggestion. At the end of every service at 9:30 I say the same thing, I quote Matthew 28: “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” That was Jesus’ words. Not, “Hey, you know, if you’ve got some spare time and you feel like it, and it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, would you consider…” No! He says, “GO! and make disciples.” I don’t see churches doing it, and yet, we all moan and groan and complain and can’t understand why our numbers are decreasing. Really? Do you need a doctorate to figure that out? I don’t think so.
I look at it this way. Hailey Evans is a Girl Scout, right? So right now, she is selling Girl Scout cookies. Girl Scout cookies are AWESOME. I know they’re a little expensive, but I look at it this way. For five bucks, I get to support Hailey and her experience, AND I get a few delicious cookies in return. You can’t beat that with a stick. And believe it or not, there are actually people who still have never had a Do-Si-Do or a Tag-Along! And the truth is, they never will unless someone asks. That’s Hailey’s job! To ask! Would you like to buy some cookies? If she’s asleep on the job, she ain’t going to sell any cookies. She needs to ask.
It’s funny, that phrase, asleep on the job. We know what that means, you know, “Don’t fall asleep on the job.” But what really stuck out to me, and which lead me to the title of the message this week was a story I read a couple years ago about a guy who was on a beach and he caught someone doing exactly that, sleeping on the job. She was a lifeguard. She was lying face down underneath her tower with a towel over her head, fast asleep. So he did what everybody does nowadays, right? He grabbed his phone and started taking a video. And you could hear him on the video asking her, in the name of all that is holy (of course I added that, but…) he says he used to be a lifeguard, for 4 or 5 years he was a lifeguard, “How could you be lying down, aren’t you supposed to be watching the water?” He goes on to point out that there is no way she could ever see anyone in the water who might be struggling. The woman wasn’t bothered at all. Wasn’t embarrassed in any way. She simply said she wanted to get into the shade. The man, later interviewed by a local TV station, said, “Man, if something were to happen to me or my wife or my two children, I would be devastated, and she would have to live with that for the rest of her life. It’s her job to watch for people whose lives might be in danger.” Can you imagine, can you imagine because of something you didn’t do, someone was lost forever? Let me ask that again. Could you imagine that because of something you did not do, someone was lost forever?
See where I’m going? Hailey’s job is to sell cookies. A lifeguard’s job is to watch the water. Peter’s job, and anyone else who loves Jesus, is supposed to feed his sheep. To share the good news with someone. Look, if you saw someone in the water who was drowning, you would expect a lifeguard to come and save them, wouldn’t you? Well, if you know someone who is lost… Forget my doctorate for a moment. I know that going out and speaking to strangers is really hard. It is for me too. That’s one of the reasons I’m forcing myself to do it. I’m committing myself to do it because if I don’t put it down on paper and get it submitted and approved, I probably won’t! It’s easy to preach the gospel in front of you guys – you want to hear it! So forget about my doctorate for a moment. Let’s just talk about someone you know, someone you love. Someone you care about, a friend, or maybe someone who lives in the same house with you. If that person does not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, they are lost forever. You know that. That’s not my interpretation of Scripture. That’s God’s word. One of the things you’ll hear me say when you listen on 104.9 is I tell the story (I believe it’s on Sunday, the Sunday message) that, you know, we lived in Maine for 19 years. It’s a beautiful state. We lived in Kittery, Maine. It’s a nice little fishing village right over the border from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and I love Maine. But if you were to ask me directions to get to Maine and I said to you, “Well, you could take I-90 West, or you could take I-90 East, or you could take I-95 North or you could take I-95 South, it doesn’t matter, they all lead to Maine!” you’d go, “Huh? That doesn’t make any sense at all!” And you’d be right.
So why is it, then, that so many people, including a fair number of Christians profess “Well, all roads lead to heaven! It doesn’t matter which faith you belong to or who you worship or which holy book you quote! We’re all going to end up in heaven together someday!” That doesn’t make any sense either! Neither is it accurate. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father” who lives in heaven, got a beautiful condo, “except through me.” He said it! Not me. I’m just repeating it. There is one way to get to heaven: through Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross. You don’t need a theological degree to understand that, and you don’t need a theological degree to tell someone you love or care about. Look, you can tell them look, I’m not asking you to go to church with me, you don’t have to go to church with me, I’m not asking you to raise your hands and say “Amen!” All I want to know is if you understand, do you understand that you, like me, are not perfect? That you, like me, have made mistakes, are fallen, are sinners? And do you understand that you, like me – Jesus went to the cross for your sins? He died so that you could be forgiven? Do you understand that Jesus died for your sins, so that you wouldn’t have to spend an eternity separated from God? That’s like the politically correct way to not say hell. So that you don’t spend an eternity separated from God. Do you understand what Jesus did for you and for me? All you have to do to be saved from that fate of being separated from God for all eternity is to admit it! That’s it! We call that confession. All you have to do is confess. Not to me, to God! Tell him that you understand, you know you are in need of forgiveness. That you understand he sent his son Jesus into the world to suffer the consequences that you rightly and fairly should receive on your behalf. That you are asking for his mercy, his grace, and his forgiveness. And from this day forward you will try to live a life of thankfulness and appreciation of the sacrifice that Christ made on your behalf.
You’re not always going to get it right. He knows I don’t. It’s kind of like wedding vows. Anybody who’s been married or gone to a wedding, you see a husband and a wife, or a bride and a groom exchange vows, promises of faith and devotion to each other. “I will love you and cherish you and honor you through sickness and health and richness and poorness” or whatever it is “until death do us part.” And the day they say it, they absolutely mean it with all their heart. So from that day forward, have they every single day, 365, 24-7, loved and cherished their spouse? …I paused too long, gave Renée a chance to answer! We don’t! Doesn’t mean that we didn’t mean it, we just have good days and bad days. OK?
Well, God knows the same thing. If you’re asking forgiveness, if you’re asking for mercy, if you’re asking for grace, say, “Lord, I’m going to live a life from this day forward, because I understand what you did for me, a life of thankfulness and appreciation…” He’s up there going, “Yeah, I know! I know you’ll do the best you can. I know you’ll have good days and bad days, but that’s what my grace is all about.” He will know, also, if you are honestly and earnestly trying. See, there are people, lots of people, who are drowning. We’re all drowning in our sin. Come on, I’ve seen a lot of your Facebook pages! The first step to being saved from drowning, is recognizing you’re drowning!
But I get it, I get it, to ask complete strangers is tough. Right? That’s why I said I chose that particular project, because I’m going to push myself because I love Jesus. So, don’t join me if you can’t bring yourself to do that. Don’t start with strangers, start with someone you know. Someone you love. Don’t kid yourself, they’re drowning too. Are we going to be sleeping lifeguards and just leave them to their fate? Or are we going to offer them the ultimate lifeline – Jesus Christ? They don’t ever have to set foot in a church! See, a lot of people, if we continue with this lifeguard, swimming type analogy, a lot of people feel like they can’t come to church because church is full of Mark Phelps, right? I used Mark Spitz in the first service, because I didn’t think that anybody here would – anybody know who Mark Spitz is? Alright! Us old people! Michael Phelps, Olympic swimmer, right? Too many people think, in this ocean, we’re all Olympic swimmers! Wrong! We’re all doing the doggie paddle! We’re all doing the best we can. We are an imperfect Christian community loving, serving, and equipping an imperfect world. That’s our goal!
So you don’t have to come to church. Church attendance is not a requirement for salvation. I do, however, believe that once you receive God’s grace, there will be a yearning for more. Once you have eaten the bread of life, you develop a taste for it. And there will be a desire in your heart to live differently, to love more, to serve others, and to tell people about the guy named Jesus who saved your life. You won’t be able to stop yourselves. I heard it this morning in the prayers – South Church is just different. Well it may be different than a lot of other churches, but it’s different because Jesus is here. A lot of people show up in a church on Sunday morning, sing songs, clap, read Scriptures and go home. And Jesus never showed up. It’s true.
Look, if Hailey wants to sell cookies, she’s got to ask. But if she’s being a little snot, or pushy about it, I ain’t going to buy any, right? Similarly, if someone you love does not know that they’re drowning, does not believe it, don’t be a jerk, don’t be pushy, but don’t be asleep with a towel over your head either. If you love them, if you love Him, you gotta ask. Think about it. Pray about it. And for Pete’s sake, buy some Girl Scout cookies from Hailey! They even have some gluten free now for all you people who don’t eat real food. Would you stand and pray with me?