Lessons to Learn

Read John 21:15-19

One of the more interesting post-resurrection stories is the one found in our reading today. Jesus had appeared to his closest disciples and they were all sharing in a meal. When the eating was done, while the cleaning up was underway, Jesus asks Peter about the love the disciple has for Jesus. In this interaction, there are a few lessons for us.

The first lesson is the connection Jesus makes between words and actions. After each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord, Jesus tells Peter to feed or tend Jesus’s sheep. Of course, Jesus is talking about the other followers, both present and future. What is obvious in Jesus’s words is the expectation not to just declare a love for the Lord but to show that love by caring for others. Our love for Jesus must be manifested in our acts of love toward others.

The second lesson here is one of grace. Jesus asks Peter three times to declare his love for the Lord. Three times Peter denied any relationship with the Lord prior to the crucifixion. Now in an act of grace and redemption, Peter is given the opportunity to not only acknowledge a relationship but to declare the depth of his love in the relationship. While Peter became frustrated by the repetition, Jesus knew the necessity to counter Peter’s previous actions. We learn of the efforts Jesus will make to offer us grace and redemption. Even when we do not see a necessity in what our Lord asks of us, our Lord knows what we need to overcome the guilt of our past.

The third lesson illustrated here is the need for us to give up control. Jesus tells Peter that there will come a time when someone else will make decisions for him. He indicated that Peter will need to surrender control. Jesus then says, “Follow me!” If we are going to follow Jesus, we must leave behind our previous, or “younger,” attitudes of being in charge of our destiny and choices. Following the Lord requires us to surrender control of our life to the Lord, go where the Lord takes us.

Contained and Controlled

Read Acts 7:44-50

When humanity decided to domesticate animals, a way to control the animals had to be devised early on. Cages, corals, stables and fences were brought into use. These attempts to limit the movement of the animals are still utilized in some form today. Once the animal’s ability to move was controlled, then behavior altering allowed for domestication. These methods, along with psychological methods, have also been utilized with humans. Confinement is a strong control technique.

The passage which we read from the Book of Acts speaks of building confinements. First we hear about a container for the Law. This container, built according to God’s specifications, allowed the Law of God to travel  with the Israelites. It is best known at the Ark of the Covenant and served as a visible sign of God’s presence and rule. Then we are reminded of the Temple which Solomon built, again as God specified. The Temple served as a gathering place for God’s people, a place to offer sacrifices and worship to God, and a visible reminder of God’s presence. The people also come to view these structures as a way to contain God and other people. Containment gives a sense of control.

It is important to keep in mind that the Ark and the Temple were not a need of God’s but a need for humanity. The words in Acts point this out to us. The words also attack the perception that humans could ever contain or control God. God is more expansive than anything conceived by humans. There is not any material or design which originates with humans because all originates  with God. There is no human power strong enough to contain or control God. Let us hear the words of Acts in order to keep a proper perspective.

No Fear

Read 1 John 4:16-18

Over the course of human history, there have been leaders who sought full control over the people who they were to lead. These leaders have employed a variety of tactics to establish and maintain this control. One of the methods utilized by every one of these leaders is the employment of fear. They establish techniques which will instill in the people a fear which prevents them from acting in any manner not prescribed by the leader. This fear is based on witnessing or anticipating repercussions if the leader’s desires are not met. Such repercussions  may include banishment, imprisonment, torture, seizing of assets, dismemberment, loss of statics, financial ruin, or even death. The people follow the leader not out of trust but out of fear.

The writer of I John presents a leader who has an opposite approach. In the midst of a discussion which equates God with love, the writer speaks of a relationship between humans and the Divine. Because we live in love, we have no fear in our relationship. The writer points out that love and fear are incompatible. We do not have to fear anything from God. In fact, since God is love, fear is pushed out of our relationship.

There are church leaders who attempt to use fear much as the world leaders mentioned earlier. These leaders create fear as a way to control while masking it as an attempt to “save” people from God’s wrath. This originated with the Jewish leaders and has come down over centuries to the Church. Jesus spoke against this technique during his ministry. In our passage, we see the incongruity of using fear in regards to a relationship with God. Instead, the message we receive, and should pass to others, is that it is love which draws us into a relationship with God. Love is the source of all of God’s actions, teachings, and promises. Love not fear emboldens us to be in relationship with God. Our actions, teachings and promises should flow out of love.

Don’t Worry

In the late 1980s, Bobby McFerrin released a song entitled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Here are the opening stanzas of that song:

Here’s a little song I wrote

You might want to sing it note for note

Don’t worry, be happy

In every life we have some trouble

But when you worry you make it double

Don’t worry, be happy

Don’t worry, be happy now

Bobby McFerrin

McFerrin reminds us that when we worry, our troubles double. Easier said than done, right?

This concept of being worry free is not a new one. Jesus introduced this same thought as we find recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew. (See Matthew 6:25-34) Jesus points out here that worrying cannot add a single hour to our lives. In fact, scientists tell us that excessive worrying has a very negative impact upon us physically. (See this article from WebMD) So what do we do about our worrying?

I think that we worry when we do not feel we are in control of a situation. We cannot decide the outcome. In these moments, the feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming. Since it appears that control is not in our hands, we do the only thing which seems within our control—we worry.

Once again, the words of Jesus found in Matthew can be helpful. Jesus tells us to seek out the Father in such times. He says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Something in our control is presented to us here. We can seek God, an action within our control. We are not helpless. God gives us a promise that if we seek God, all which we NEED will be given to us.

Bobby McFerrin had it right — Don’t worry, be happy. Instead of worrying, we can be happy in the knowledge that the Father knows what we need and will supply those needs for us.