Sunday, April 30, 2017

Who Do You Love?

John 21:1-17 (NRSV) 
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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.

This is my favorite resurrection story.  To me it is a powerful story that illustrates the amazing love that Jesus has for us.

This story takes place a few weeks after resurrection day.

In John's gospel, Jesus appears first to Mary, then Peter and the un-named disciple, and then again to Mary who is convinced he is the gardener.

Later that evening he appears to 10 of the disciples who were hiding in a "locked house."

Thomas was not there that evening and says emphatically that he will not beleive unless he can see the wounds on Jesus' body.

And so John tells us that a week later, the disciples --- who are still in Jerusalem and in their locked house --- that Jesus appears to them and invites Thomas to:
"Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

And it is here that our story for this morning begins --- how much time has passed since resurrection morning? --- we cannot be sure, but long enough for the disciples to leave Jerusalem and travel the 80 miles or so back to Capernaum.

Remember they would have walked --- so this is a minimum of 4 days, plus since they were being observant they could not have gone the short way through Samaria but would have had to add an extra couple of days to their journey by traveling along the coastal highway or gone up on the other side of the Jordan river.

This is important -- at least two weeks have passed since Resurrection day --- if not more.

The disciples have encountered the risen Jesus on at least two occasions --- but where are they as our story begins?

They have gone back to their day jobs --- Peter and a handful of the disciples have gone back to what they did before they met Jesus --- Fishing.

I want to pause for a second and let that sink in.

I find that fascinating.

Obviously, the resurrection day experiences had not worked their magic on the disciples up to this point.
          They were not out trying to change the world
          They were not trying to defeat Rome
          They were simply trying to survive

In all my travels to Israel --- the site of this story is one of the most powerful to me, and one of my favorite.  There is a small church that celebrates this encounter between Jesus and the disciples, but especially the interchange between Jesus and Peter.

Peter and the boys are out fishing --- and have been out all night when some stranger from the shore suggests that they should be fishing on the opposite side of the boat.


But they listen and cast their nets to the other side and their nets become full of fish.
          The unnamed disciples proclaims that it is Jesus
                    But the others are not so sure.
          They obviously do not recognize this stranger

Peter jumps in the water, leaving the boat and the fish and rushes to shore. 
          Still not convinced it is Jesus

But as they shared together in a meal --- as they break bread together --- they understood who it was with them (even if they did not recognize him).

And then we get to one of the greatest exchanges in the biblical story

Listen again:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time {Jesus} said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my  sheep.’ {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And {Peter} said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

What a powerful exchange:  do you --- do you love me more than these?

What is it --- Jesus want to know --- that you really love?

What makes this exchange even more powerful is a nuance in the language that we don't often catch.

In English we have one word for LOVE.

So when we use the word love we can have lots of meanings.
I love the Cubs, I love Meridian Street Church, I love meatloaf.  BUT,
·         I love ice cream and
·         I love Nancy aren't the same

And yet we don't distinguish those "loves" --- we assume the hearer will understand

Ancient Greek did not have this same issue

In Greek there are three main words for love
·         Eros -- erotic love or intimate love
·         Phila --- where we get the word fidelity which means love between friends --- affection
·         Agape --- which means unconditional love

I want you to listen again to this story --- this time with the Greek word for love that is used.

Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you agape me more than these?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I phila you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time {Jesus} said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you agape me?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I phila you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my  sheep.’ {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you phila me?’ Peter felt hurt because {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And {Peter} said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I phila you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

Did you HEAR that?

Jesus asks Peter for unconditional love --- when Peter is unable to give that kind of love back --- Jesus accepts him for who he is.

I don't think there is a more powerful story in all the bible.

But the important question for us today --- in 2017 --- is what does this story mean for us?

Maybe first we need to try and understand this word AGAPE or UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

Unconditional love is a phrase that is thrown out all over the place.

We've heard songs about it, seen it in the movies, heard it talked about on Oprah by relationship experts, and read about it in thousands of self help books.
          But, what is unconditional love?

We all want to feel loved.
We think about it, hope for it, fantasize about it, go to great lengths to achieve it, and feel that our lives are incomplete without it.

The lack of unconditional love is the cause of most of our anger and confusion.
It is no exaggeration to say that our emotional need for unconditional love is just as great as our physical need for air and food.

It is especially unfortunate, then, that most of us have no idea what unconditional love really is, and we prove our ignorance with our horrifying divorce rate, the incidence of alcohol and drug addiction in our country, the violence in our society and schools, as well as our overflowing jails.

Our misconceptions of unconditional love began in early childhood, where we saw that:
when we did all the right things
when we were clean, quiet, obedient and otherwise “good” --- people “loved” us.
They smiled at us and spoke in gentle tones.

But we also saw that when we were “bad,” all those signs of “love” vanished.

In short, we were taught by consistent experience that love was conditional, that we had to in some ways buy “love” from the people around us with our words and our behavior.

What’s wrong with conditional love?

We see it everywhere we look, so what could be wrong with it?

Imagine that every time you paid me fifty dollars, I promised to tell you I loved you.
We could do that all day, but at the end of the day would you feel loved?
No, because you’d know that I “loved” you only because you paid me.
We simply can’t feel fulfilled by love we pay for.

We can feel loved only when it is freely, unconditionally given to us.

The instant we do anything at all to win the approval or respect of other people — with what we say, what we do, how we look — we are paying for the attention and affection we receive, and the truth is we can’t feel genuinely loved.

There’s only one kind of love that can fill us up, make us whole, and give us the happiness we all want: unconditional love.

It is unconditional love that we all seek, and somehow we intuitively realize that anything other than that kind of love isn’t really love at all — it’s an imitation of the real thing.

Unconditional love — true love — is so different from the kind of love most of us have known all our lives:
Unconditional Love is caring about the happiness of another person without any thought for what we might get for ourselves.

It is not Unconditional Love when we love other people for doing what we want them to do.
Under those conditions we’re just paying for love again.

It is clear to me that what God desires of us is unconditional love --- and even when we fail to live up to it --- which we often do --- God's unconditional love remains.

Psalm 136 reminds us that “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

1 John tells us that “God is love”.

John 3:16
          "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,”

God wants us to love unconditionally

But the challenge is --- most of us create conditions.

I can run the gamut on the conditions we create --- but we do it intentionally and unintentionally all the time.

Unconditional love means loving people even when we disagree with them.

The reason this is so difficult for some is that the United Methodist Church has been struggling with how inclusive we will be with people who are LGBTQI.

We have struggled over these types of issues before --- and not always with a great deal of success.

In the 1840's the church split over racial issues --- and even when we came back together --- we really didn't welcome our black brothers and sisters into full acceptance, instead we created what we called the Central Jurisdiction for our black brothers and sisters which was solely created along racial lines. 

It wasn't until 1968 that we abolished the Central Jurisdiction --- but racial prejudice and segregation have not disappeared in the United Methodist Church.

Now you can argue that it is not the same issue --- and you would be right, BUT . . .

All I know is what Jesus told me to do:  "Feed his sheep."

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky wrote Friday on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops:

The Judicial Council ruled today on challenges to the election of an out gay bishop in The United Methodist Church. The ruling is long and complicated, reinforcing the reality that the church is not of one mind about inclusion of LGBTQI people and sexual practices outside heterosexual marriage. We thank the Judicial Council for allowing the Commission on A Way Forward to do its work. We have said from the beginning that we trust the commission to find new ways for United Methodists of varying perspective to live and serve God together.

Karen Oliveto, is still a bishop of The United Methodist Church, assigned to the Mountain Sky Area, with all the rights, privileges, responsibilities and protections that every clergy person enjoys. The decision refuted the claim that bishops have the right and responsibility to declare a candidate for election as a bishop ineligible without due process.

On the other hand, the Judicial Council expanded the definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” making it clear that the church is still not open to full LGBTQI inclusion.

While the Judicial Council ordered a review of Bishop Oliveto’s qualifications for ministry, the Western Jurisdiction is already in the process of responding to complaints that were filed after her election. This process will continue according to the provisions of our Book of Discipline.

Bishop Bob Hoshibata from the Desert Southwest Conference wrote this yesterday

I encourage us to remember that at the center of this contentious debate is a person who has been called by God to proclaim God’s love to all persons in the name of Jesus Christ. Bishop Oliveto graciously gives unselfishly of herself as a pastor and as a colleague bishop and I give thanks for her courageous faith and her strong caring leadership.

Although the Judicial Council’s ruling does not immediately nullify Bishop Oliveto’s episcopacy, it does in other statements make it clear that our Church does not yet support full inclusion of LGBTQI persons. Because we are not all of one mind, I call us all to pause for moments of reflection and prayer, breathing deeply to take in God’s spirit. Just as the breath of air gives life and strength to the body; let God’s spirit give us spiritual strength and reassurance that God loves you. For those who have been marginalized and hurt repeatedly by The United Methodist Church, especially LGBTQI persons, I repeat: God loves you. Even when you feel that your Church doesn’t love you, God loves you.

I am praying that we will find the courage to live together following the words of Jesus:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).”

I long for the day when the entire United Methodist Church will understand that we are called to love all persons. I will never stop leading our Conference in proclaiming that love. God’s love given abundantly and freely to all persons is a model for us to emulate in our lives, in our congregations, and in our communities. I continue to hope and pray that we will live and work together honoring the richness of God’s diversity so that even if we do not think alike, we will love each other. Let us be inspired by John Wesley, who asked:
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.”

I don't have an easy answer --- All I know, is I hear Jesus ask me: ‘Steve, do you agape me more than these?’ (hold up book of Discipline and bible)

I try --- but I know that I often fail in loving God fully and loving my neighbor as myself.  Too often I put conditions on that love.

Scott Bader-Saye reminds us:
“Following Jesus will mean surrendering the power that masquerades as security in order to love the neighbor and welcome the stranger. It will mean avoiding the safe path in order to pursue the good.”

I want to close with these words from the late Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
If we make our goal to live a life of compassion and unconditional love, then the world will indeed become a garden where all kinds of flowers can bloom and grow.

That is the garden that the master gardener is calling me into, a garden where all kinds of flowers can bloom and grow.

And I pray that someday I will be able to say; when Jesus asks me again and again and again --- "Steve do you Agape me?" 

I pray that I will be able to say --- Lord, look at my life --- you know I not only loved you as a friend, but I strove to love you and all of your creation with unconditional love.  Amen.

No comments: