The Call

I wrote this sermon in 2007 preparing to graduate from Fuller: They say that you ought to “begin with the end in mind”. I think the opposite is also true, we ought also to end with the beginning in mind. So as my time at Fuller is winding up, God has drawn my attention back to what brought me here. And one of things that brought me here, is John 21.
Let me set the scene for you. Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to the disciples a couple of times. The disciples had gone back to fishing and one day while fishing, a man on the shore told them to throw their nets on the other side, and they got a huge haul of fish. John then recognized that it was Jesus, and Peter jumped in and swam to him. Then they sat and had breakfast with Jesus. Our text picks up after breakfast…
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"

22 Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."

As I said, God used this text to speak to me about my call. It was just after Christmas break during my junior year of college. I was on my way to Physics major. Three things had happened. I had just spent a summer in Europe doing evangelism. I had spent the Fall being baffled by Einstein’s theory of relativity. And I had spent Christmas break in Africa visiting my roommate and his family, who were missionaries there. Somehow, all of this culminated and, in a moment of clarity, I knew that I didn’t want to study Physics or do architecture as I had planned. I wanted to study Christian Education. God was gracious enough to offer me some rather incredible confirmation that I should change my major, so I did. But this created a question: does this mean I’m supposed to go into ministry? It seemed like a logical conclusion if I was indeed being led to ministry degree, but I didn’t want to be presumptuous, so I entered into a season of discernment. One afternoon I prayed for God to tell me what he wanted me to do. Lord, what do you want me to do? After praying this prayer, I came to our text and two words seemed to pop-out in bold font – Follow Me! Don’t you love that, when Scripture just leaps out at you? And it was great. But, I didn’t really get it. Follow you? I’m already a Christian. Does that mean go into ministry? What does that mean? Follow you? I spend the next several months trying to figure out what it meant for me to follow Jesus. What the command came to mean to me was “stay right beside me.” I realized that my first call was to intimacy with Christ. The heart of God’s will for my life was relationship with him. Everything else, vocation included, was secondary. As I settled into this awareness, months later, I came across this text again. This time a different set of words popped out at me as God’s call: “Feed my sheep.” Finally, I felt, I had gotten strait answer to my question. God was calling me to vocational ministry. I’ve come back to this text recently, while I’m starting to look more seriously at my future. Thinking about what it will be like to be in ministry. I’ve actually studied this text for the first time and I came across three rather simple insights, that I think are essential for effective ministry. They are things that I want to keep in mind as I begin a ministry career, and I think they are things that we, as ministers, would all do well to remember. The first insight is the most important, because it undergirds the others: Loving Jesus precedes feeding his sheep. Look again in v 15 – Jesus asks him, Do you love me more than these? Then feed my sheep. Do you love me? Then feed my sheep. Love, then feed. Love of Jesus comes first. I suppose there is no simpler, or more profound thing for a minister to hear than this: God has a call on your life and it is this: Love Jesus. Your first call is to Love Jesus. Love of Jesus is prerequisite to feeding his sheep. I’ve been doing a lot of scanning of classified ads lately. And I am sad to say, I haven’t run across “Loves Jesus” as one of the main qualifications listed in the ads. There have been a couple along the lines of “passion for God” but usually they’re looking for “a passion for youth” or a “true love for preaching” or a “genuine interest in New Church Developments”. Regardless, the fact remains that: Love of Jesus is the THE qualification for ministry. Love of Jesus is at the core of ministry. This is because they are his sheep. And frankly, they’re not always all that lovable. The only guarantee that we will serve the church humbly and faithfully is if we keep alive our love for the Lord of us both. As long as we love Jesus, and remember that the church members are his sheep, we will be able to faithfully feed and tend them. I assume that you all know what it takes for you to grow in love for Jesus. I assume you know what furthers your intimacy with him. Certainly, prayer is an essential part of this. Prayer in which you share your heart with Jesus and receive his love and grace. Many, many pastors so neglect their own relationships with Jesus that the only praying they ever do is on request, for others. Don’t be one of these. Love Jesus first. Loving Jesus, developing intimacy with him, comes first. Feeding is second. Loving Jesus is prerequisite to ministry, because it is our love for Jesus that enables us to truly love his sheep. Loving Jesus comes before feeding his sheep. After Peter proclaims his love three times, Jesus doesn’t just commission him for ministry, he says something else. Something shocking. Look again at vs. 18.
18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
Ha! How would you like to be told – "I’m gonna get you killed...ok , let’s go, follow me!" The second insight of this text is this: Following Jesus into ministry entails sacrifice. Sacrifice is the nature of the beast. God willing, none of us will be martyred literally. But in a sense, all ministers are martyrs. We are giving up our lives for the message. Giving up lives of comfort and success to witness to the gospel. I’m sure this has happened to you. You meet someone on a plane or somewhere else and they ask you what you do. You tell them you’re in seminary, or going to be a pastor, or work for a church and what do they say before letting the conversation die? “Good for you!” “Good for you” – It’s like “You poor thing” they say it because they know as well as we do that we’ve picked a sacrificial profession. Several months ago I was examined by the Seattle Presbytery, a middle-aged man about half way back on the left side stood up and asked me this question. “Chris, you’re obviously a very capable individual and could succeed in a number of careers. Why are you going into ministry? You know, there’s not a lot of money in it.” “Really?” I said, getting the laugh I was looking for. And then I told him about my last day with the youth at St. Stephen Presbyterian Church. On my last day with those students, I gave them some parting words. I said to them, “My greatest fear for you is that you will be happy, successful people, of no significance.” There was a moment of silence and I said to the presbytery, “I want to live a life of significance, and though this can certainly be done apart from vocational ministry, I have been gifted for it and called to it, and I want to do it.” ... I’m guessing you feel the same way. Ministry entails sacrifice and we need to embrace the sacrifice. But ministry is also a career of great significance. What the profession does not give in terms of money, it makes up for in terms of meaning. And if we are going to be successful in ministry, we need to come to grips with these facts. Can you imagine anyone more misguided than a pastor trying to get rich and famous in ministry? We must embrace the sacrifice. The good news is that when we follow Jesus to our death, it’s not just death, not death alone. John writes: v19 “He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.” Isn’t that the whole goal of ministry – to glorify God, in life and in death? When love of Jesus is driving our ministry – God’s glory will be it’s persistent goal. Hence, love of Jesus allows us to embrace both the sacrifice and significance of ministry. Following Jesus into ministry includes a sacrifice. Following Jesus as a flock feeder is also following Jesus to your death. Embrace the sacrifice in light of the significance. The third insight I found in this text shows up twice. Peter is supposed to love Jesus, and be prepared for sacrifice as he goes about ministry. But he has a hard time with something. Peter is afflicted with chronic comparing. He seems to be always comparing himself to others. It’s funny how he got here. Remember before Jesus had died, Peter made the claim: “Even if all these others forsake you, I am willing to die for you.” Matthew tell us this. It was only hours later that Peter denied Jesus three times. It is a good bet that it is this incident that Jesus is alluding to when he asks Peter: “Do you love me more than these?” So, Peter, you said your loyalty was greater than the other disciples. How’d that go? Do you still think your love is superior to theirs? Do you love me more than these? Peter’s answer doesn’t attempt any comparison, he just says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” It seems as if he has learned to forsake comparison. But before we have a chance to congratulate him, he’s back in it again, comparing himself to...John. Actually, throughout the gospel of John the author is trying to say something about the relation of Peter and John. They were two of Christianity’s first leaders. This relationship shows up prominently in our text. The author of the Gospel is validating Peter’s authority in the church, but he’s also endorsing John too. Clearly, Jesus is commissioning Peter as shepherd of the church. But as we saw, along with this, comes a prophecy of martyrdom. And that’s what leads Peter to compare himself to John. “Lord, If I’m gonna die as a martyr, what about him? Does he have to suffer that too?” After being told to follow Jesus, Peter looks over his shoulder to see John following the two of them. I hope you catch the subtlety. Peter might be the commissioned shepherd of the church, but he has to be told to do what John is already doing--follow Jesus. Peter is quizzed three times, do you love me? But love is John’s specialty. Shoot, he’s the beloved disciple. So this passage is trying to clarify their roles and qualifications. Anyway, Peter feels the need to compare himself to John in terms of fates. Does he have to be a martyr too? Jesus’ doesn’t answer his question, but sternly rebukes Peter for even asking. “What’s it matter to you? – You follow me!” “It’s none of your business what’s in store for him – You follow me!” It’s a pretty severe rebuke to give to the man he’d just commissioned to lead the church. But it was necessary. Comparison kills ministry. Comparison is the death of vital ministry, because it changes our motive for ministry. Remember, love for Jesus is the source of ministry. But when we are comparing our ministries with others, we begin to minister out of a spirit of competition and competition becomes our motive for ministry. This is incompatible with love for Jesus. When we gaze at the success of others we inevitably find that we have taken our eyes off of the one we are supposed to be following. Comparison cuts ministry off from its proper source, off from our commitment to follow Jesus out of love for him. Last week Dave Rohrer, the pastor who married my wife Lindsay and I, was speaking at Presbyterian Chapel and he told the story of a visit he made to Monte Vista Grove, a retirement center for Presbyterian workers. At the time, Dave was pastoring a small congregation. He was visiting some of his congregants in Monte Vista. when a retired pastor, one of the golden-throated leaders of a mega-church, came over. He elevated himself over Dave, who is a tall man himself, put his hand on his shoulder and asked, “How is your little flock?” I dare say, this golden throated preacher seemws to have taken a helping of the glory which was God’s, for himself. He seemed to derive joy out of insinuating the superiority of his ministry in comparison to Dave’s. Comparison cuts ministry off from its proper source. I hope that we can hear Jesus’ words to Peter for ourselves: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” “If it is my will that the neighboring pastor triple their church membership in a year, what is that to you? Follow me!” “If it is my will that your colleague becomes a popular Christian author and speaker, what is that to you? Follow me!” “If it is my will that the local news station goes to your rival church for a comment on local politics, what is that to you? You follow me!” “If it is my will that your replacement does what you could never do, what is that to you? Follow me!” As we go into various ministries, may God help us remember to First strive to Love Jesus, before we attempt to feed his sheep. Second, embrace both the sacrifice and significance of ministry. Third, stop comparing our ministries to others, lest we replace love of Jesus with competition as the motive of our labors. Peter loved Jesus to the end. And he was crucified. But he didn’t want to be crucified in the same way as Jesus, because he knew he didn’t compare to him, and so, at his request, Peter was crucified upside down. Peter glorified God in his life and his death. May the same be said of us. That above all else, we loved Jesus.

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