After The Sabbath We Find A New Normal

There is a lot to celebrate this morning, and I am glad that I get to spend today with you. Today we are celebrating our 3rd anniversary with this family. And I still wake up thankful that new get to Model Love in the Model City together.

Secondly I am thankful that for the first time in 63 days we can once again gather together in this place. And while it has been a long 8 weeks, I was glad when they said, Let us go to the house of the Lord. This morning we are finally able to get back together for a time of worship and celebration.

I have been waiting and praying for this day to arrive. If you have been following the sermons and prayer prompts online, you know that I have gone through a lot of different thoughts about our time of quarantine. At first I tried to see it as a blessing, but as weddings were pushed back, basketball games were cancelled, and more things were taken of my calendar I struggled. I don’t like being busy, but I realize that a lot of my self worth is tied to having a calendar that is filled to the brim. I mean no one likes a lazy preacher. 

But that all changed a few weeks ago when we I was talking with a friend of mine and he asked me how I was spending my Sabbath. I liked that idea of Sabbath, because Sabbath time is never wasted time. The idea of Sabbath time is time that God was redeeming. By forcing us to take a break, God was giving our bodies time to refuel so that we will be ready for what happens next. We need a Sabbath so that we can be with people and be sincere and productive.

So over the past two months God has been redeeming our time through Sabbath. And I believe that because you have shared with me how you have been worshiping in your homes. I really got excited when you called me to tell me how you were loving your neighbors and the people that you met in the midst of the quarantine. And I truly believe that over the last 8 weeks God has been nudging us to take an active role in our own faith.

You see, back in December I was having a conversation with a few friends of mine who were in ministry. They were talking about statistics, and how the number of members who just showing up, were steadily declining. They were talking about how it is getting more and more difficult to get anyone to participate in a ministry, and impossible to find anyone to lead a ministry. We all knew that they only way to be the church that Jesus died for was to get back into the practice of making disciples. But none of us really knew how to do that.

I never took a class on making disciples, I mean it didn’t even make the syllabus in my cognitive psychology class. We treated making disciples, kind like we do everything else; we just assume folks will figure it out, and we never did. Since we had no idea how to make disciples, or how to reach people in our new digital age the church became known for what we were against. If you were to ask an atheist last year to describe the church, they would have described us as cold, hard, mean people who were against everything. I know that’s true because I did go out and ask some folks what they thought about the church for our One Another Series last year.

Yet over the last 8 weeks things have changed. There are those of us who refuse to take meeting together, singing, and gathering around the table for granted any longer. There are those of us who have renewed our commitments to God and who have spent time learning how to feed ourselves, instead of waiting for someone to spoon feed us what they think we need to hear. We have actually taken personal responsibility for our faith. There have been members of our church family who understand the Greenbrier Church cannot be contained to this building, but that we take Jesus with us everywhere we go in this world. And there are those of us who have looked their fear and doubt right in the face, and stepped out to share their faith with someone else. During this Sabbatical we have learned to look for opportunities to share the message of Jesus and the hope of the resurrection. Finally people in our community are beginning to hear what the church is FOR.

Yet in the midst of all this excitement and growth, I need to share a moment of caution with you. Because, one of the things that I have heard over and over is that we can’t wait for things to get back to normal. When the truth is that things will never be normal again.

I want you to look with me at a story found in John 21. Peter has already cut off Malchus’ ear in the garden, and then denied Christ in the courtyard not once but 3 times. Peter wept bitterly, believing that he had lost everything. Peter thought he was stronger than he actually was. When Jesus arose from the dead and appeared to the disciples, Peter was overjoyed. But Jesus didn’t stay with them, He appeared twice and both times He disappeared again.

Peter wasn’t sure what was happening, he had no idea if Jesus was gone for good, so Peter made a decision to go back to normal. Remember when Jesus first called Peter he was a fisherman by trade. And now he was just looking for things to get back to normal, he wanted to go back to what was familiar. He was starting to remember the good ole days. But here is something I know about the good ole days, they were never quite as easy or as good as we thought they were.

Peter was remembering what his normal was, he had visions of eating a good fish meal and putting some extra money in his pockets from the extra fish he would sell on the market. It seemed like a good plan. The only problem was, he was not being called to go back to normal, God had something better in mind for him.

Anyway Peter finds a boat and net from somewhere and went back to fishing. It might have been borrowed, or rented, but just because a boat is available doesn’t mean it’s of God. Yet even though he spent the whole night fishing and didn’t catch anything didn’t cause him to give up this hope that things would go back to normal. I mean when the sun finally came up, Peter found himself tired, hungry and broke. And that’s when he heard the voice from the shore.

Friends, did you catch any fish? To which he had to reply no. He was probably thinking, there goes my first customer. But then the man on the shore suggested, Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens. I would imagine Peter is probably thinking, great here is an armchair fisherman. Doesn't he know I have been at this all night? I have already fished off the right side of the boat as well as the front side, back side, left side, and wrong side. But sometimes the only way you can let someone how ridiculous they are, is to show them. And with that Peter threw the nets off of the right side of the boat and something familiar happened. This was not the first time Peter took fishing advice and ended up with so many fish in his net that he struggled to pull them in the boat.

Of course John was the one to recognize Jesus. He tells Peter, it is the Lord. and no one was surprised when Peter jumped into the water and swam to Jesus. When he finally got to the shore, Jesus was already cooking breakfast. I would imagine that as the others joined them, they were able to sit and talk about some of the old times together. But talking about old times eventually would lead up to those final days. That was a period in which no one was really that proud of their actions. Everyone of them had deserted Jesus in His moment of need. Everybody knew they had failed somewhat miserably in the end. Especially Peter. And drowning in his guilt Peter just wanted for things to get back to normal. 

But Jesus is not interested in Peter going back to normal. When they finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"

He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

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."

A third time he said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" Peter said, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!"

He said to him, "Feed my sheep. … Then Jesus said to Peter, "Follow me!"

Jesus showed up on that beach and threw a wrench into Peter’s plan to get back to normal. The First thing Jesus asks Peter is do you love me more than these? What is Jesus talking about? Is He referring to Peter’s love in comparison to the other disciples, because a few days ago Peter was declaring his great his love and dedication were. Remember Peter said even if they all fall away, he’d be there for Jesus no matter what. So, Peter do you still think you love me more than the other guys do?

Or maybe, Jesus is pointing back to the fish and his return to normal. Peter do you love me more than going back to your comfortable and predictable normal? Do you love me enough to take the next step, to move into something greater than your normal? 

Unfortunately, the bible does not tell us exactly what Jesus meant. This is probably because there are so many things in our lives that we love, that we miss about our normal. How many times over the last two months have you lamented that you can’t go to your favorite restaurant and get that dish you love. How often have you talked about not getting to go shopping at that little store where you get those great deals, or buy those really cute things? How many times have we mourned the fact that in an effort to social distance we have stayed away from our parents, or grandchildren, or other people we deeply love?  When Jesus says “do you love me more than these”, He is talking about the things that we love in our normal and we want so desperately to get back to.

Peter responded, “Yes lord, you know that I love you.” And what Jesus says next is not what Peter expects. Peter probably expected Jesus to say, “then why did you do it?, Why did you deny me three times? Why did you run away and leave me all alone? Where were you when I was hanging and dying on that cross?

But instead Jesus said, Feed my lambs. Jesus is inviting Peter into a new and better normal. Jesus is saying, Peter I’ve got a plan for your life, and I want you to spend your life making disciples. I want you to spend the rest of your life loving my people.

Jesus asks Peter a second time, Do you love me more… then Shepherd my sheep. Your new normal is to be with my people and help them grow and mature. And during those times when my people don’t mature, you cannot abandon them. I expect you to be faithful with the passing of time. You teach them how to live and love in their new normal.

And Jesus asks Peter a third time, Do you love me more. Jesus is inviting Peter to look deep into his own soul. It’s easy to make a decision in a church building. It’s easy to claim you want to live in a new normal when you are surrounded by others who are making that same claim. But Peter, look deep into your heart, Do you really love me enough to walk away from your comfortable normal, and give your life to me?

Peter was hurt by the question and said, Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you. And Jesus said, then feed my sheep. Jesus was letting Peter know that this new normal, will last the rest of his life. And there are going to be times when it will be difficult, and hard, but there would be no end to the call of discipleship on his life.

The most important question we have to answer this morning is, do you love me, more than these? Do you love me more than your old comfortable way of doing things? I know that we all want life to get back to normal, but what if that is not God’s plan for our life or for this church? God wants to know if you love Him enough to enter a new normal that will allow you to discover the purpose He has for your life.

As we turn our attention to the table this morning, I am reminded that I don’t have anything to offer God. I have not been invited to join Him at His table because of my goodness, or the number of Bible verses I have memorized or read. I am not invited to the table because I consider myself a better sinner than you. We are invited to the table this morning because when Jesus was asked what do you love? He simply responded you. 

As we gather at the table this morning, we come with empty hands, because we understand that we really don’t have anything to offer God and yet God chooses to love us with a love that’s everlasting.

So this morning at the tables we want to consider these two questions:

First, what normal are you trying to get back to?

And secondly, how can you love God more that your old normal? 

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