Imagine for a moment the following scene: A bride holds hands with her groom as they drive away from the church. She is wearing the most expensive dress she will ever wear. Her makeup is done to perfection. Her hair adorns her head like a crown, which is altogether fitting for this glorious coronation of love. She leans close to her husband and whispers into his ear, “Do you love me?” He turns to her and smiles, “Of course I do!” and he squeezes her hand.
Flash forward six years. It is five o’clock in the afternoon. This same woman is on her hands and knees using a sour-smelling wash cloth to wipe up a much more sour smelling mess made when her 18-month old son became suddenly ill all over her and the floor. Two pregnancies had stretched her stomach muscles into a permanent baby bump. Twenty-five extra pounds had swollen her hips, bottom and thighs. No make-up adorned her face, and her hair, long and stringy, kept falling into her eyes. She had been working hard all day caring for her two children. She had no time for exercise and her body felt flabby and out of shape. She wore an over-sized T-shirt and sweat pants to cover up her failed physique.
She was looking forward to the day when her youngest child would be out of diapers. Her dream was to restart her career shortly after that—earn some money to help out with the family income, buy a gym membership and start working out, be able to afford some nice clothes and a new hair style, get out of the house for at least part of the day and have a life of her own. After all, that’s why she went to university for four years and racked up thousands of dollars of student debt. She didn’t invest that kind of time and money in an education so that she could spend all day changing diapers, wiping up spilled food and scrubbing out throw up stains.
And then this morning, her plans were derailed again when a home pregnancy test confirmed what she had suspected: Baby # 3 was on the way. Now she may never be able to return to the work force.Her grief over the loss of her dreams and the putrid smell of the baby vomit combined to overwhelm her emotionally. She sat down on the floor and began sobbing.
Just then, her husband arrived home from work and walked in through the front door. She looked up at him, her eyes red with tears, and cried out, “Do you love me?”
Her husband knelt down in the baby vomit and wrapped his arms around her. He holds her close, cradling her head on his shoulder and whispered in her ear, “Of course, I do!” and he squeezes her tightly.
“Of course, I love you!” the husband says. The husband’s love for his bride does not depend on how she looks or what she does or whether she is successful or whether she is making a lot or a little or any money. You see, the husband in this story is Jesus, and every one of us is that bride.
Each of us is broken in some way. Perhaps you are living with broken dreams. Maybe you are struggling with a broken body. Or maybe your finances are out of control and you cannot seem to fix them. And many of us think, in our broken twisted thinking, that the solution for us is to fix our problems and then Jesus will love us. But that kind of thinking is called denial and it will not work because our brokenness runs deeper than the surface symptoms we see and our brokenness is beyond our ability to repair. That kind of thinking is also flawed because it is based on the false premise that our brokenness somehow prevents Jesus from loving us. Actually it is quite the other way around. Jesus loves us no matter what. But our denial is what prevents his love from getting through to us. As long as we continue to strive to fix ourselves, we don’t need Jesus and his love because we are trying to be our own saviours. In cases like that, it is our denial that needs to be smashed, so that Jesus’ love is able to permeate all the way through to the centre of the core of our being.
Jesus loves broken people. We know that because we can see how Jesus loved Peter. It is hard to imagine a more unlikely candidate for the position of leader of the followers of Jesus. Peter was a hard-working, rough-around-the-edges fisherman, who often spoke or acted first, and thought later.
During his three years with Jesus, Peter’s flaws were illuminated and seen more clearly, but that is what happens whenever a person gets closer to God. When Peter first met Jesus, and caught a miraculous catch of fish after falling Jesus’ instructions, Peter “…fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8b). When Peter saw Jesus in radiant glory having a conversation with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, he exclaimed, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah,” Luke tells us that Peter did not know what he was saying. Once when Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed and be raised from the dead, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him for saying such things. Jesus responded by saying to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33)
But the most striking illustration of Jesus’ love for broken people occurred in the hours before his death and a few weeks after his resurrection. After celebrating the Passover Meal together, Jesus predicted that he would soon be deserted by all of his followers and Peter exclaimed that his love and loyalty for Jesus would be greater than all the rest of the disciples. Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matthew 26:34-35a). A few hours later, while Jesus was being tried in the house of the high priest, Peter stood with several others around a fire trying to keep warm. Three times Peter was accused of being a follower of Jesus and three times Peter denied Jesus. And then the rooster crowed and Peter realized what he had done, he left that place and wept bitterly.
Flash forward several weeks and Peter and several other disciples have gone back to fishing. A stranger calls out from the shore with instructions and there is another miraculous catch of fish. They realize that it is the risen Jesus and when they get to shore, there is another fire and another meal that they eat together.
Nobody felt like talking much at this meal. They all knew that Jesus’ prediction that they would all desert him had come true. And Peter knew that Jesus’ prediction that he would deny Jesus three times had also come true.
So Peter’s heart sank when Jesus called him by his old name and said, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
The old bravado was gone. In his moment of testing, Peter had come face-to-face with the totality of his inner resources and realized that there was nothing good there.
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
A second time, the question came, “Simon son of Jonah, do you love me?”
Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
A third time the same question came, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” This time, Peter was especially grieved because he saw the parallels between Jesus’ three-time questioning of Peter and Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus. Jesus was plumbing the depths of Peter’s heart to see if all of Peter’s denial had been smashed to smithereens and cleared out of the way. No longer was Peter answering on the basis of his will, or his strength. He was answering on the basis of Jesus’ will and Jesus’ strength. The third time Peter answered, he said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” Then Jesus indicated how Peter would die and concluded by saying the same words which started Peter’s life with Jesus, the same words which begin our life with Jesus, “Follow me.”
Jesus loves broken people. We also know that because of a second person who was broken on the night when Jesus was betrayed. Prior to that last Passover Meal, Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and agreed to deliver Jesus into their hands for thirty pieces of silver. When they gathered to eat the Passover together, Jesus was the guest of honour and he had Judas seated immediately to his left, the place reserved for the guest of honour’s most trusted friend. When Jesus dipped the bread and then give it to Judas, it indicated, in that culture, that Jesus greatly loved and honoured Judas.
Later, when Jesus was condemned, Judas also wept bitterly. He cried out to the chief priests and the elders, “I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us? They replied. “That’s your responsibility.” In despair, Judas threw the money into the temple, went away and hanged himself.
Judas and Peter were both in denial. Judas and Peter both sinned. Judas and Peter both regretted their sin. Yet there is this great difference between the two in that Peter was restored and Judas died in despair. It was not because Judas’s sin was worse than Peter’s. It was because Judas’s denial was not yet smashed to smithereens. Judas, like many of the rest of us, was still trying to save himself. And when that project failed, Judas had no hope left.
If only Judas had been able to bring himself back to the community of broken people who followed Jesus. There he could have found the forgiveness and support that he needed to get through the tough days ahead. There he could have welcomed the risen Jesus and received the new life that only he can give. With Jesus, he could have experienced healing and restoration and hope for the future. But his pride and his denial prevented that from happening.
The same pattern plays out in our lives today. When we stop serving consistently and stop attending worship regularly, sometimes what is going on is that we have the same root problem in their lives as Judas did. That is, we have sin in their lives: either something that we have done in the past which fills us with shame, or some kind of sin in the present which we do not want to turn away from. So we stay away from their community of Jesus followers. And sometimes as we leave, we blame the church for some perceived failure and, in so doing, justify our departure.
As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are to be a community of truth and love. We let the truth and love that Jesus communicates to us in his Word soak into the core of our being. We speak the truth in love to ourselves and others. We act in love and truth as we live with and serve others. Because we all know, deep down, we are all just like Judas, we are all just like Peter. But Peter was not only remorseful over his sin. His denial and his pride were completely smashed by Jesus. There was no guile or cunning left in him. He hung out with the rest of the broken Jesus followers until he had a heartfelt encounter with the risen Jesus and that is what made all the difference.
Jesus loves broken people. You are broken and loved.
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on May 4, 2014.)