First Read: John 21:1-22
Simon Sez… lessons from the life of Peter. #6 “Lord, what about him?”
This is the time of year when a families tend to get together to celebrate the Christmas holiday and it is not uncommon after the presents are opened and the meal is finished as the clan sits around relaxing a bit after the busyness of the past few days that we start to ask the question like: How is so and so doing? Have you seen them — what are they up to – where are they living? And so on and so forth.
These are questions that we all ask for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we ask the question – well what about him or what about her? – out of curiosity – just wondering what’s going on in their life. Sometimes we ask it out of anger – we’re being penalized for something and we want to know – well, what about him? He was involved in this – what about her? — she’s part of it too!! We’re worried about justice. Sometimes we are just being nebby (do you know this word??) That’s a good Pittsburgh word – it means “nosey.” Sometimes we ask the question out of a deep concern for someone else.
Kids ask this question sometimes – just to make sure that they are being treated fairly… They opened their present – and then they ask – well what about him – what did he get? Because they want to make sure that their present is just as good as the brother’s or sister’s.
Simon Peter asked it – in the account from John’s gospel this morning. It is shortly after the resurrection – it has all been a little bit much for Simon Peter – this roller coaster of emotion and experiences that he had been through over the past week or so – he’s about had it – and so he decides to go fishing. And a group of the disciples decide to go along – they go off to a place he is familiar with. He knows a place he can go to calm down – to relax – to think things through – so off they go – they fish all night – but they don’t catch a thing. They look as the morning sun breaks across the sky – and they see on the shore someone at a fire cooking. John realizes that it is Jesus – and he says – “Look, it is the Lord.”
Peter pulls his clothes on –jumps out of the boat and heads to the shore. The rest of the disciples are busy bringing in a boatload of fish for Jesus had said, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” They had listened to his word and now the net was full to capacity. The Gospel account goes on to say that Jesus had them bring some of the fish over to him and they cooked up breakfast for everyone on the shore.
Shortly after breakfast Jesus and Simon Peter take a little walk together – along the shore. As they do Jesus begins to ask Peter a series of questions – in fact three times he asks him a question – and it is essentially the same question all three times. “Simon, do you love me? Do you really love me?” And three times – Peter says, “Yes, of course Lord, you know so.” And then three times in response to Peter’s answer, Jesus gives Simon a specific task – for him to carry out for the sake of his kingdom – for the sake of his church – “Feed my lambs… tend my sheep… feed my sheep…”
As Peter is trying to take this all in – as he is walking along with Jesus – he keeps glancing back over his shoulder – because there in the shadows moving along the shore with them – is John – (he always called himself: “the disciple whom Jesus loved”!!) And as Simon looks behind and John is following along – it doesn’t say why – maybe he’s trying to eavesdrop a little on their conversation – Peter stops and says, “Lord, what about him?” – What about him?
Now it seems like an innocent enough question – Peter and John had been through all kinds of things together. But Jesus gives Peter something of a sharp response. Jesus looks at Peter and says, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
Basically he looks at Peter and says, “Peter, it’s none of your business – what happens to John. Now quit trying to change the subject on me – we’re talking about you right now – not John – and what you must do – is follow me!”
Don’t worry about him – you worry about you – and what you need to do – is follow me!!
Follow me – Simon had heard those words somewhere before hadn’t he?? And so have we! John Maxwell has suggested that as we attempt – as churches and as individual Christians – to follow Jesus Christ – that there are four “M’s” that are important for us to pay attention to. They are: Mission, Maturity, Ministry, and Mobilization.
Let’s take a look at these four areas to see how Simon’s question works for us in these 4 areas.
The first of these areas is Mission –here we are not talking about “mission” in the classic use of the word in the church – as in sending missionaries overseas or something like that. Here it has a more pragmatic sense – like a mission statement that a business or corporation might have. In other words – mission means – what is your mission? Where are you going? What is your direction in life?
In that frame of reference, Peter’s question is a really good one. What about him? What about her? As we focus on where it is that we are going we need to ask this question particularly of the relationships in our lives. If we are going to follow Jesus Christ – then we need to ask it of those that we spend a significant amount of time with – what about him or her or them?? Are their missions – are their directions in life – compatible with ours – are we both following Jesus Christ?
Paul, writing to the Romans, saw that this could be a problem for us—and that’s why he said in chapter 12 verse 2 – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world – or as J. B. Phillips translates it – “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold” – “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Paul is not suggesting here that we give up all our friends and move into a monastery, but we must be aware of where we are headed in life – and where those that we spend time with – those who have an influence upon us – are headed. Because often we become who we are with – we talk about this all the time in relationship to children or teenagers – but it is just as true for adults as well – the dominant person or the dominant attitude of the crowd can be very persuasive. And it can happen to us without us even realizing it – if we are not awake and aware and thinking.
The second “m” is called maturity. Obviously an important part of our faith has to do with us growing up – spiritually speaking of course – into Jesus Christ.
In Galatians the fifth chapter (5:22) Paul gives us a picture of what a mature Christian looks like – he says that the mature Christian is the person who has so allowed the Holy Spirit to work in his or her life that the Fruit of the Spirit are obviously present in that person’s life. Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit – the mature Christian he says has such fruit as these in their life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…
This is another good time to ask the question – what about him – what about her? Maybe this is a person I can learn from in my spiritual walk – maybe they are more mature than I – but how can I know? It’s simple – you look at their life – if you see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – this is somebody who has their walk with God in right stead – and no doubt you can learn from them about where you ought to be headed.
I remember Paul writing to the Christians he was instructing: “Follow me – as far as you seem me following Christ.” Imitate me as far as you see me imitating Christ. As much as I look like Christ – do what I do. Thus it a good question to ask as we seek to mature in the faith – what about him? – what about her? – do they look like Christ? – do they follow him? If so – spend time with them – that you might mature.
The third ‘m’ in this list stands for Ministry. One of the things you will find when you seriously pick up your ministry is that it comes with both times of great elation – and deepest grief.
Over the years one of the joys of my ministry has been celebrating the baptism of infants. It is a reminder that the faith is not really ours to keep but rather it is ours to pass on. Sometimes there were youth who made a serious commitment of faith to Jesus Christ and this brought a real joy to the heart – watching others walk away into a life of doubt and fear and unbelief – when they had heard the same lessons of the faith – brought a deep sadness. Remembering the life and faith of those saints who had for many years lived the faith – who left behind not only good memories of a job well done but also the foundation of a legacy for the future was a privilege. Helping a family to lie to rest a little one – 6 months, 4 years, 5 years, 16 years old – was about enough to break one’s heart.
But the greatest joy was always to watch someone pick up their faith in such a way that it brought a new way of living – literally new life – to see God transform a life and lead someone in faith and ministry – this has been such a joy. Ministry is like that – it has it times of great accomplishment – it has times of wondrous joy – it has moments of tears and sorrow.
But we are all called to ministry – each and every one of us. Life as a Christian – as a member of Christ’s body, the Church, is not really so much about membership privileges – as it is about being involved in ministry.
We are supposed to give up our rights and pick up our ministry. And in that context – it is not a the proper place to ask Simon’s question – Lord, what about him, what about her?? That’s basically what Peter was struggling with – Lord, what about John? Don’t worry about him – don’t worry about her – God gives him or her their ministry – you don’t need to worry about whether they are doing what they are supposed to do – you need to worry about whether you are doing what you are called to do.
I wonder if in the tone of voice that Peter used with Jesus that day if Peter wasn’t saying a something a little bit like: Whoa, three times you’re dumping this on me – you gave me an awful lot of work to do here – this is heavy-duty responsibility – what about him? Is he going to get anything? He’s not pulling his weight, I don’t think.
But that’s not for us to decide. Jesus looked at Peter and basically said, it’s none of your business – God has gifted each of us differently – the important thing is that you get on with what God has called you to do. Don’t try to be somebody else.
The final “m” is mobilization. That means it is time to get started in our ministry. When we feel the need to ask Simon Peter’s question perhaps we should do it while looking in the mirror – Staring at your own face. Not, Lord – what about them? But rather, Lord, what about me?
Am I really doing what I have been called to do – am I really getting on with my ministry? In all honesty there are a lot of Christians – how do I say this nicely? – who like to sit on their duffs – and don’t pick up their ministry and get with it.
A number of years ago I had a funeral service for a young man who had committed suicide at 16 years old. There were 50 cars in the funeral processional – and at the memorial service in the evening the church was packed. It was particularly packed with other kids his age. One of the things that really concerned me in the midst of that gathering was that I saw a lot of tears and hugs – they gave each other hugs – they were crying all over the place – but they weren’t really understanding that tears and hugs are not enough – that they now needed to do something – they needed to move off of themselves and take on a task. If they were really going to honor their friendship with him – they needed to do something – put a book in the library – plant a tree – stay in school – make something of themselves – come to church. They needed to get on with doing something rather than wallowing in this grief.
We Christians need to be mobilized in our ministry as well – and get on with the task to which God has called us. For the Master’s response to Simon’s question was simply: This is none of your business – don’t you worry about it – what you need to do is follow me. Keep your focus where it belongs.
Are you ready – are you ready – to hear Christ’s call – and to follow? We know that Peter did – but what will you do?