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Do You Love Me? Sermon on John 21:1-19

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How important is it to Love Jesus when Jesus tells us to love him, and are we able to love him in thee way he wants us to love him? 

lease listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

April 10, 2016 - Third Sunday in Easter

"Do You Love Me?".  Text is from John 21:1-19

Click here for sermon audio

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

There is so much happening right here today's texts, a richness of information and dialogue, from the Acts reading to Revelation all the way into this particular Gospel text. There is an immense amount of glory to be found in today's scriptures.  

First we heard about the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus, in which this hopeless and desperately fearsome Pharisee, Saul, is suddenly struck down in the street and blinded, and having a vision of Jesus Christ, is brought into the city of Damascus and found by Ananias, one of the very individuals he would have been persecuting, a follower of Christ, and suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit, was nourished and baptized and became the leading evangelist among the early Christians. Who once was lost was now found. 

And then we have this wondrous vision in Revelation, of angels around the thrones singing loudly about the glory of the Lamb who was slain. Millions of them singing the refrain as all creation echoes the glory of the Lord. 

And then we encounter Jesus once again appearing to Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the one who Jesus loved and several others, after Peter has brought his friends on a fishing trip.  Now I love the way this begins. The men are just hanging around, trying to figure out just what to do next. There has been so much going on, the death of Jesus, his resurrection and then his three appearances so far, and the disciples have been understandably brought through the ringer. They are confused, they are emotional they don't know what to do. They've returned to their home town of Galilee and don't have any direction in their lives. So Peter says what folks have been saying for time after time.  "I'm going to go fishing!" And the others that were with him stand up and say that they're going to go with him. 

Are they fishing to go back to their old way of living? Are they simply biding time until they figure out what to do next? And while we are told that it's 153 fish that they finally catch when Jesus shows up and tells them to try the right side of the boat, whatever that number might mean loses the significance to us. And they must have been really big fish, because even that many fish of ordinary size would have created no problem in bringing the nets back in.  

And we should not get bogged down in the state of Peter's undress, or dress, or be confused as to why he got dressed before he jumped in the water. We need not wonder why one of our greatest disciples would have a fishing trip in the middle of the night in the buff, around his compatriots.  The Greek is fairly ambiguous on the word translated to naked, because it could also mean "in his underclothes" and rather than "getting dressed", he's tying it around his waist tighter in order that he can swim to greet Jesus quicker. And like in the other visions, Jesus is eating with the disciples, reminding us that even though he has risen, he has come to be with them in bodily form. And that the breaking of the bread is so very significant in the gospel texts, and that this scene of an abundance of fish and bread, so late in the gospel reminds us so much of what has already taken place in the Gospel of John. 

Cary love symbol.jpg

And so we end the passage with this threeform confession of Peter; which so very reminds us about Peter's triple denial of Jesus as he was being charged and tried. Jesus asks him three times whether he loves him, and Peter responds, absolutely, there's no denying that he loves him. And each time Jesus tells him, in a different way, to take care of the flock.

But like the earlier texts, there's some nuance here in the Greek words. Because the Greeks, so in love with philosophy as well as love itself, had four very distinct words we translate today as love.  The first is entirely centered around Romantic love, which the Greek called ερος (eros). The second one is very rare and is one that is only used once in the new testament in Romans, and only included as a compound word, στοργε (storgē), which is the love that family members have for each other, like with parents and children. The kind of love that sees the subject can do no wrong.

This conversation between Jesus and Peter however, uses the two remaining ones.  When Jesus asks Peter "Do you love me?" the first two times, he is using the word, αγαπε (agapē), which is the deep and abiding unconditional love that God has for each and every one of us. Peter's response, however, when he says, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you," uses the other word, φιλια (philia). This is the word that connotes an affection that one has for another person, what we usually call brotherly love. And there is no denying that it is, indeed, a kind of love. But Jesus is asking Peter if he loves him with all his heart and Peter is answering in first century Greek version of "Yeah, bro, you know I got your back every time".  

Now it may be that I'm making too much of the distinction here, and that they're really two different ways of saying the same thing, but to me Jesus appears to be asking a really difficult and strong question and Peter seems to be waffling a bit with the answer, or not actually taking on the meaning quite as he could. The third time Jesus asks, he does use the word philia and this hurts Peter's feelings, because he's already answered him two other times. God knows everything, even what's in Peter's heart. And God knows that Peter will go to the ends of the earth for him. And because of what Jesus says next, of what Peter will be inclined to do, the nature of where this conversation is going and what became of Jesus' mortal body, Peter will also have his own suffering and death, as will many of those gathered with them. 

When Jesus says "follow me" to Peter, he means be as Jesus was and do as Jesus did, up until the difficult and painful end of life. Because that will give glory to God almighty. 

Now we here in our little church in Berkeley do not have to make those kinds of sacrifices for our faith. And while there is no denying that some Christians in some places in the world do to this very day suffer martyrdom for the faith, and when I say this I am particularly thinking of those poor Coptic Christians executed recently by the Islamic State fighters in Libya; we here are privileged enough to be able to share the glory that is our God with the world without fear of repercussion or martyrdom or death. 

But that does not mean that our lives should always be in comfort, because being the face of Christ in the world often means getting out of our comfort zone. It has meant for me, putting a collar on and taking walks around the town at night and talking to people who are sleeping the street, some of whom are so high on drugs that they may be unpredictable, some of who are so filthy that I have to stifle back a sneeze when I am around them, and doing this in order to show them that someone loves them and is thinking of them. That they have not been forgotten in the world. And we do this risking the anger that comes from some percentage of them when they see any representation of a church that they association with repression and trauma. 

This means for me experiencing the discomfort of walking through the solitary confinement unit at San Quentin and talking to prisoners who have been housed there, often due to violence and getting past my all too human fear of interaction and being able to empathize with men who have been doubly locked up for violence. And being the only sympathetic face that they have seen all week, and not knowing how they are going to respond to you, because of all the preconceptions that I bring with me, that I cannot help bringing with me about men who are locked up behind bars, and doing it anyway because that is the work the holy spirit calls me forth to do. 

This means being open and up front about being a queer pastor and ready to encounter the often inevitable criticism or disgust that comes from some quarters, both in the Christian community as well as in the LGBTQ community as it relates to religion. 

When Jesus asks us if we love him, he is asking for our unconditional surrender to his love for us, that we engage in the work of Christ, no matter comfort level. When Jesus asks us if he we love him, a yes answer does not mean "Yeah, brother, I got your back. You just call me up and I'll help you do what it is you need." A yes answer is living into that love, hard and fast, knowing that our love for Christ might take us into some very uncomfortable and occasionally scary places, but also knowing that God does have our back and is looking out for our interest as well, that we have a reward far beyond the comfort of earthly living. 

God calls us into uncomfortable situations in order to care for his creation, because his great love for us makes us into the caring and wonderful people who God uses to be in those places, making the difference in the world we need to be. These are the places that his gift of grace drives us toward. This is the mission we have been given in our lives to do, to uplift the good news of a God who loves all of creation in all the ways that love happens, and wants us to love him and each other, just as his Holy Spirit impels us to do, deep in our hearts, that we may be his mission and his word in the world. 


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on April 10, 2016 1:24 PM.

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