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Do You Love Me More Than These?

John 21:1-11

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”


This powerful story of forgiveness comes as one of the last stories in the book of John. It is critical to understand the context of this scripture, especially the nature of Peter’s relationship with Jesus in this scene in order for fully appreciate the deeper lessons here. Prior to the assigned text, Jesus makes his third appearance post Crucifixion at the Sea of Galilee, suggesting to the fishermen how to catch fish more effectively because their efforts up until that point had produced none.  John recognizes Jesus and tells Peter (who is also in the boat) that it is Jesus on the shore. Peter is guilt-ridden and probably desperate to see Jesus because the last time he was with Jesus, Peter betrayed him, not once, not twice, but three times.  So he jumps in the water and swims ashore to meet Jesus. Note, Jesus has come near but Peter must make the effort to enter fully in Jesus’ presence. But instead of immediately having a conversation about Peter’s betrayal of him, Jesus first feeds breakfast to the fishermen who have rowed ashore. Jesus’ first priority is to ensure they (his sheep) are all fed and nourished.

Verse 15 is where Jesus addresses Peter and Peter’s denial of him. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me…?”  and three times Peter answers “yes, Lord: you know I love you” (which honestly seems a little presumptuous given Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and may say something about how human Peter was, even in the midst of being forgiven).  Jesus then responds all three times to Peter’s answers with instructions to feed and tend Jesus’ ”sheep” (people).

Jesus’ three questions align with Peter’s three times of betrayal. But also, Peter’s guilt runs so deep and Jesus knew asking the question, “do you love me” one time would not go deep enough to excise all of Peter’s remorse.   Jesus does not respond to Peter by forgiving him outright either. Jesus also knew simply telling Peter he is forgiven would not fully heal Peter’s self-inflicted wound. So Jesus instructs Peter to care for Jesus’ sheep (people).  Did Peter know he was forgiven? Possibly – probably, but even if Peter accepted that forgiveness, it was not enough. Peter had to learn accepting God’s forgiveness should elicit a response or even a yearning to show God’s love to others.

So what?

When I was little we sang a song in the church choir, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, overall a vigil keep. In my name, lead them forth, gently as a shepherd.” I remember thinking about taking care of animals by being kind to them as I sang the song. It was a simple lesson for a young person but as an adult and in this season of Lent, this story from the book of John has a much deeper meaning that requires more from me (and us). Because we are loved and forgiven, we should respond by loving, forgiving and caring for all God’s people (everyone).

Now what?

Bible scholar, N.T. Wright wrote “Somewhere, deep down inside, there is a love for Jesus, and though you’ve let him down enough times, he wants to find that love, to give you a chance to express it, to heal the hurts and failures of the past, and give you new work to do” .  We are going to disappoint God (and others). Accepting forgiveness so that we “feel it in our bones” is challenging.  But God loves us so much and God’s forgiveness runs deep so that once we fully embrace forgiveness, we are ready to go and be God’s witness to that love and forgiveness in the community and the world. Thanks be to God for the gift of grace and for our abilities to go love, tend and forgive others!


Dear God, help me to remember that I am loved and forgiven, and to respond by forgiving and caring for all of God’s creation. Amen.

About the Author

Allison Cochran is the Coordinator for Member Engagement at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church.

Posted by Allison Cochran with

What’s Next? Talking about the Future of the Church

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Last night we were honored to welcome the Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka to Preston Hollow as a part of our semi-annual speaker series. Rodger is Senior Associate Pastor and Pastor of Adult Educational Ministries at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas.

Rodger engaged us with intelligence, imagination, and humor about the church in the twenty-first century. Below are a few highlights from his talk. We encourage you to watch the full presentation.

You will not want to miss out!

What is the number one reason that people join churches? Warmth.

People are drawn to church community for good preaching and music, vibrant children and youth ministry, convivence, and a sense of belonging. But if a congregation is not warm, none of those other things matter. What is more, is that one very specific thing has to happen for congregations to be deemed warm: someone has to talk to them.

It can be a greeter but not necessarily, if it is authentic.

It can happen during passing of the peace, if it is genuine.

According to systems theory, a critical mass of people has the ability to affect (infect) a larger group. Kindness and warmth are contagious, so be warm.

Why are mainline churches in decline? (Pew Survey on Religious Life)

One of the major reasons for the decline of mainline church (Presbyterian) is largely due to birthrate. We are aging and not adding people. The more educated you are, the less children you have. Presbyterians are the 3rd most highly educated in the Christian family.

We are also still a very, very white denomination. Our monolithic make-up in terms of race, also hurts us in this regard.

The 21st century Church needs to think about the Gospel in three words:

Living, Dying, Rising

Living: The things we do to keep going. They may not be glamorous or novel but they are necessary (at least for now) to keep going.

Dying: Practices, rituals, programs where life is ebbing or there is no life. We may still be doing them but their time has passed or come to an end.

The church has a hard time with death—especially of ministry. We don’t want to stop doing things. Even though central to the gospel of Jesus Christ is that Christ died. Without dying, there is no possibility of resurrection.

Rising: Those things that are new and fresh. Those things that are emerging. And we must be clear that resurrection is not resuscitation. What are the things are rising among us?

Six things that are rising and worthy of our attention:

1. Shift from tribal education to immigrant education. The number of people who do not know us, are growing. We must watch everything that we do, all that we assume, never taking for granted that people know or understand our language, our practices, our culture. We must be outward-seeker focused, teach people, and not assume that people know.

2. From mission out there to mission right here. If all we do is mission far away, and don’t have an impact on the place where we are planted, there is a suspicion about how committed are actually are to actually transforming the world.

3. From reasoned spirituality to mystery-filled spiritually. Awe and wonder and mystery are hugely attractive right now. People are looking for ways to discover awe and wonder and mystery. There is a shift form reason to mystery, awe, and wonder.

4.  From high tech to high touch. With the rise of high tech comes the longing for high-touch. Suddenly, people are attracted to personal touches and human connection.

5. From attractional to invitational ministry. We have long thought that if we have the right programs and ministries people will be attracted to us. It is the, “If you build it, they will come” idea. This no longer works.  We can no longer make announcements expect that people will show up. Ministry must be invitational.

6. From discipleship to apostleship. The twentieth century church was where we created discipleship opportunities and people came to us. Instead the twenty-first century church is an apostle church where people are sent out as those who are participating in the mission of God.

Rodger closed with some deeply good news:

“This is the church of Jesus Christ, so I am not worried about the future. We will be this church until God decides that we will no longer be. And at that point, I believe that God will still hold us in God’s hands.

We are in a time of momentous change. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing. Perhaps we are being marginalized from our place of power so that we can abide with those who have been on the margins their whole lives. And perhaps that is exactly where Jesus dwells.”


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