Sermon – April 10th 2016
3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C)
By Roland Legge
Easter is scandalous! Those in power were sure they had put an end to Jesus. But Jesus would not go away.
Jesus never did anything in the usual way. Wouldn’t a great leader choose the powerful to join him or her? Not Jesus. Instead Jesus chose very ordinary imperfect people to be his disciples, like Peter, you and me.
Peter was an ordinary fisherman before he met Jesus. If you based your perception of Peter from the Gospels, you wouldn’t think Peter to be wise and courageous. Peter had a way of messing up over and over again. He often would not understand what Jesus was meaning. Then during the last few hours of Jesus life, Peter too afraid to admit to the Roman authorities that he knew this man. So it is surprising and remarkable that it was Peter who was to become the “rock” of the church.
So today when we enter the story, Peter is having an encounter with the risen Christ. Now, first notice, that Peter and his friends don’t recognize Jesus at the beginning. I wonder, why. Do you? But once Peter recognizes Jesus he jumps out of the boat with exuberance to the shore to meet Jesus. Peter seems different. Possibly, for the first time in Peter’s life, he takes an exuberant leap of faith out of the boat into a new way of being. Peter is ready to take a risk. It doesn’t say he stops and thinks about it, he just does it. I am willing to guess that Jesus must have had a big smile as he saw Peter maturing in his faith.
Now Jesus asks Peter three times, does he love him. By the third time Peter was feeling hurt. Why would Jesus ask him this three times? Remember now, it was three times that Peter denied Jesus. So it was going to take at least three times to make Peter right with him. But there is more. Walter Wink shares this. He says:
Then sudden poignancy: Peter, do you agapas (the highest, self-giving love, agape) me? Peter: “Yes, Lord;
you know that I philo (to have friendship, affection for) you.” Jesus: “Feed my lambs.” A second time Jesus asks: Do you agapas me? “Yes Lord; you know that I philo you.” “Tend my sheep.” A third time Jesus asks, Do you phileis me? Peter, grieved that this third time Jesus had adopted his word, replies, “You know everything; you know that I philo you.” “Feed my sheep.”
In this gentle scene of restitution after perfidy, we see enacted the severity and costliness of love: It breaks our heart by accepting our inability to reciprocate. Do I need to move from “liking” God to “loving”?
Walter Wink was professor of biblical interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City when this article appeared. Sojourners Magazine Washington D.C.
Here, Walter reminds us that Jesus is also calling Peter to love much more deeply. Jesus wants Peter to share agape love with all people. Even in this scene Peter fears that he doesn’t have that kind of love in him.
What is agape love? Here is the definition I found in Harper’s Bible Dictionary:
Agape, because it was used so seldom and was so unspecific in meaning could be used in the New Testament to designate the unmerited love God shows to humankind in sending his son as suffering redeemer. When used of human love it means selfless and self-giving love.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary Harper San Francisco General Editor Paul J. Achtemeier 1985 P.G. 14
I believe Jesus calls us live out all forms of love. But I suspect that agape love is lived out the least in our world as it was in Jesus and Peter’s day.
Our world is so hungry for agape love. A good place to reflect on how well we are doing in this area is to reflect on how well we love those we find most difficult to love. One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, in her book “Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith” shares part of a sermon her minister gave on love and some of her own reflections. She says…
I sat there in church, working this through in my mind, tugging at it, yet hunkered down on the inside to protect myself from having to take it in, and then Veronica said one of the most stunning things I’ve heard her say: When someone is acting butt-ugly, God loves them just the same as God loves the innocent. They are still just as loved by God.” It was outrageous. Veronica said you don’t have to support people’s political agendas, but you do have to love them, if you want to follow Jesus.
Now for some perspective. All throughout her book she talks about her anger with President George Bush. Now she begins to work out how on earth she could try to love him..
In my head I saw the president, marching on an aircraft carrier, with his little squinched-up Yertle the Turtle mouth, like a five year-old whose dad own the ship. Which his dad probably does. Then I saw a photo op, signing papers, and something made me stop. I wasn’t thinking about his legislation or his tax cuts for the wealthy—I just experimented with the idea that God loves him just as much as God loves my niece Clara, that God looks at him in the same way my brother looks at baby Clara. How could this be? It didn’t seem right. But I stuck with it. And after a while I could feel the tiniest of spaces in the knot, the lightest breath between tangled links…….
Driving home, I tried to hold on to what I’d heard that day: that loving your enemies was nonnegotiable. It meant trying to respect them, it meant identifying with their humanity and weaknesses. It didn’t mean unconditional acceptance of their crazy behavior. They were still accountable for the atrocities they’d perpetuated, as you were accountable for yours. But you worked at doing better, at loving them, for the profoundest spiritual reason: You were trying not to make things worse.
Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott Riverhead Books New York P.G. 224-225
Jesus is calling all of us practice agape love every day. This is no easy thing to do. In my job as a minister I meet many people. I am always going to meet people who anger, annoy and frustrate me. I am sure this is the same for all of us. But what I have learned through Peter and Jesus and through Anne Lamott, agape loving is all about being able to see that of God in another person. It is also about being accountable for our choices and actions. So to love is not to ignore sin in the world but to face it with our presence in mind, body and spirit. To speak truth in love to those who offend you. Know that in the end, facing sin and injustice with the presence of the Creator enables us to radiate that love wherever we go.