Do You Love Me? Do You Love Me? Do You Love me?

"Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?" Those are actually Jesus' words to Peter in today's Gospel lesson. He asks him three times. The third time, like any of us who might get asked that question three times, having answered 'yes' the first two times, Peter feels hurt that Jesus doesn't believe him. I don't think Jesus doubted Peter, but he's making a point-Peter did, after all, DENY Jesus three times. The repetition seems lost on Peter however, because he doesn't seem to make the connection, rather, his ego feels hurt.

So, let us, each one of us, take Peter's place and have Jesus ask us. How many times would Jesus have to ask YOU to make it equivalent to the number of times you have denied Jesus? I'm not sure I could BEAR to know the number of times Jesus would have to ask me!

I deny Jesus when I don't do what he asked me to do. Underlying everything he asked Peter to do, "Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep," is something he said earlier in the Gospel of John in chapter 13-said it to all his disciples then and says it to we his disciples now: "I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples."

I try, I really do. And I'm sure you try, too. But I catch myself getting caught up in unkind thoughts sometimes. This especially when I see someone hurt someone else physically or even emotionally or with unkind words. I can rationalize or make excuses all I want about my unkind thoughts toward them, but Jesus is very clear: Love one another. Loving someone is not the same as liking someone, or condoning what they do. Loving someone as Jesus loved us means to care about their eternal soul, about their salvation.

We should never want someone to go to hell. We are attached to every negative thought that we don't let go of. So, if you want someone to go to hell, don't forget you are attached to that and it will drag you right there with that person.

Fortunately we aren't in control of whether someone goes to hell or not. However, if you have in your thoughts negatively consigned someone to hell or carry thoughts of revenge toward them, you are dragging yourself right along with those thoughts and you consign yourself to a life of hell. You will not experience the fullness of God's love.

Again, you don't have to LIKE someone, but you do have to care about their eternal soul. None of us have lived perfect lives. Maybe we haven't out-rightly or intentionally murdered anyone, but any thoughts or actions that separate us from the fullness of God's grace, love and mercy is sin in Jesus' eyes. To Jesus there is no degree of sin. Sin is sin. In society we have a gradation system of sin-this sin is worst than that sin. Fortunately that's not the way that Jesus views sin.

None of us have gone through life without hurting someone in some way. Often we didn't mean to, or perhaps didn't even know that we HAD hurt them. We are all in need of God's forgiveness. We can think someone is a greater sinner than we are, but in the eyes of Jesus, the sins we commit against one another are the same. Only in sinning against God does Jesus seem to make a distinction.

Leading children away from God, causing them to sin, is a sin that Jesus says it would be better to have a millstone around one's neck and be thrown into the sea than what will happen to someone who commits such a sin. The other regards sinning against the Holy Spirit. That is, a sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable-not by limitation of God's grace, but because to sin against the Holy Spirit is willful blindness. It is to say that the light is darkness. It is to say the things of God are of the devil. Such people can't be forgiven because there is no desire for pardon or they don't even recognize pardon. To sin against the Holy Spirit is to do evil things in the name of God.

We all know and have known world leaders like this. We must LOVE them. That's right. We must pray for their eternal soul. We must love one another as Jesus loves us. Jesus certainly doesn't like all the things that we do to or think about others, or that we do to or think about ourselves. But he loves us still.

Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" and when Peter responds "Lord, you know that I love you," Jesus says to him, "If you love me, then feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep." In other words, if you love me, SHOW it, don't just say it. He's saying to Peter you already said you loved me and would never desert me, or deny me and yet that's exactly what you did. So, if you say you love me, then here's what you must do.

And everything Jesus says in his response is based on us loving one another as he has loved us. Feeding Jesus' lambs means caring for those who say they are followers of Jesus' teachings, but are very vulnerable, are very fragile. They are the folks who could easily be turned away from Jesus if something traumatic happened in their lives. They are the folks who say they are followers, but don't know what it is that Jesus actually said. They don't know the story of Jesus and don't care about getting the story straight. They just use what they think they know to suit their particular stance. These are folks who quote the Bible to back up their stance, and yet what they quote is inaccurate.

We must feed these lambs of Jesus. We must love them and pray for their souls and help them to fully know Jesus and to fully experience God's love and forgiveness.

We must tend Jesus' sheep. That is, we must see that people are cared for. We must be sure they aren't taken advantage of, cheated, robbed of justice, overlooked, treated unfairly. We must protect those who are not capable of protecting themselves-those who are poorly educated, or lacking in the ability to discern properly, or who are physically or mentally handicapped.

We must feed Jesus' sheep. This means we must make sure we are all spiritually fed. We must be certain that we have spiritual stamina to withstand the constant bombardment by Satan tempting us to sin, to turn away from what Jesus asks us to do or think or say.

All this is based in love. We are motivated to do these things-feeding Jesus' lambs, tending Jesus' sheep, feeding Jesus' sheep-because we care about their eternal soul.

You may care about your children by physically caring for them and protecting them, but if you don't care about their eternal soul, all your caring in this world is for naught. You can't MAKE them love and know Jesus, but your love for them should certainly include prayers for their eternal soul. If you slack off and don't keep praying for them, if you just write them off and say that one day they will come around, you don't want to push them into religion because you will just turn them off to it, you are leading them away from Jesus. Parents were given the first responsibility, and in having the child baptized promised to fulfill that responsibility, that the child would be brought up to know the faith, to know the love of Jesus.

But, when a child, or adult, is baptized into the communion of fellowship of believers, we are ALL then responsible. And frankly, I see a lot of folks writing off the youth. They don't do everything that is necessary as a congregation to make sure that the youth are brought up knowing the love of Jesus. They let someone ELSE do it, and the someone ELSE is really supposed to be THEM. So, how is it following Jesus' command to love one another as Jesus loves us if we just let the youth of our congregation and the youth of this town or the unchurched youth and adults be taken care of by someone ELSE? And that someone ELSE that we supposedly leave their spiritual well-being to doesn't care. So, then how are WE doing what we are called to do-feed Jesus' lambs, tend Jesus' sheep, feed Jesus' sheep?

It all starts with loving one another as Jesus loved us. "Do you love me? Jesus asks you and me. Do you love me? he asks us again. Do you love me" he asks us yet again, and again and again….Do you love me Nicholas? Do you love me Thomas? Do you love me Freda? Do you love me Jim? Do you love me Margaret? Do you love me Ed? Do you love me George? Do you love me Dorothy? Do you love me Charlotte? Do you love me Ken, Dave, Bill, Jerry, Louise, Mary, Sue, Pat, Miriam…..?

Everyone. Ask the question that Jesus is asking each one of us, putting YOUR name at the end of the sentence. Ready….Do you love me?……Again, Do you love me?……Again….Do you love me….?

And answer with me-Yes, Jesus, I love you. Yes, Jesus, I love you. Yes, Jesus, I love you.

I am able to love you, Jesus, because you first loved me. Knowing and experiencing that love, I am able to love you and love others as you have loved me.

We are all Jesus' little children. He tells us that we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. He knows how weak and vulnerable we are and he loves us still. How wonderful is that?! And all he asks is that we love one another as he has and continues to love us.

Sing with me. "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me; the Bible tells me so."


Read more sermons by Pastor Brie