april 18, 2010

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
Psalm 30
John 21:1-17
April 18, 2010

This is a love story, of sorts. Three Sunday’s ago, we read the story of “The Last Supper.” This morning’s gospel story from John is the story of “The First Breakfast.”

This story from John’s account of the Resurrection is laden with details of the daily—what time of day, which Sea, who was there, what they were nicknamed, what side of the boat to cast the net over, what they were having for breakfast, how many fish were finally part of the haul. It seems John wants to make sure it feels real—real enough for us to imagine ourselves in the story…real enough to enter the story…real enough for us to make the story our own.

John wants us to see Jesus, to see the glory of God revealed in Jesus. Often, John uses elaborate metaphor and rich symbolism. He does that here, too. But, here John also uses detail, real detail, to draw us in.

John wants to ask us, for us to ask ourselves, the questions Jesus asks Peter.

Note: This is the third time in John’s gospel the risen Jesus appears to his followers.

Know: The number 3 signifies completion, or wholeness.

So this is the story of “The First Breakfast,” and it is intended to point us toward the whole story, the complete story, of Christian discipleship.

But first, I want to take us to another love story, and another First Breakfast. Many of you know that I returned to California in March for a wedding. Wade, a dear friend of mine from seminary, one of the people I have been closest to, was getting married. It was the kind of wedding everyone wanted to attend. I don’t even like weddings, and I flew across the country to be there. The wedding of two people, who love each other well, and love their communities well. Those of us who were friends of Wade felt sure no one could ever come along who was good enough, worthy of Wade’s love, care, and devotion. Those who were friends with Cory felt sure no one could ever come along who was good enough, worthy of Cory’s love, care, and devotion. Two really special people—kind and caring and compassionate and faithful people—who live their lives trying to find ways to show kindness, care, compassion, and faithfulness, coming together. It was a wonderful wedding. Laughter, celebration, dancing, music. Filled and overflowing with Love. At the end of the wedding, each guest was given a CD—a mix of music compiled by the newly wed couple. It was a mix of love songs. Some, traditional love songs. Some, silly. Others profoundly moving. Many and varied expressions of love. I have been listening to this CD a lot, because it makes me so happy. It’s love songs, and the love shared by the two people who compiled it, remind me of all that is possible in the world, when far too often greed or grief or individual gain seem to prevail. And, along with the CD, we all received an invitation to a “First Breakfast,” and hike the morning after. They wanted to begin their marriage, their first morning as a married couple, gathered at table with friends and family.

As I have immersed myself in the love songs they shared, I have been moved by their faithfulness, and how they reflect not only human expressions of love, but expressions of God’s love for us, God’s people. One of them has a refrain that has been stuck in my head and heart, “I love the way you say Good Morning, and you take me the way I am…” This isn’t so far from the Psalmist’s song…”Your joy comes in the morning! You are right here with me, no matter what, and I can’t begin to thank you enough!”

So much of scripture is a love song, sung from our ancestors to God, and from God to us.

In this First Breakfast story from John, Jesus goes to Simon Peter, and asks him: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon says, “Yes, Teacher, you know I love you.”

It could have been the end of the story. But it’s not.

Remember, that this conversation happens only days after Simon Peter has denied Jesus, three times. Jesus asking Simon three times isn’t out of insecurity, or petty doubt. Simon Peter’s denial of Jesus helped the religious and political powers crucify Jesus. Suffice it to say, his love for Jesus wasn’t quite crystal clear, and readily recognizable.

So Jesus, over brunch, asks Simon Peter. “Do you love me?” “You know I do,” Simon Peter replies. And Jesus says, “Then feed my sheep.”

And then it happens again. “Do you love me?” asks Jesus. “Yes. I do. You know I love you,” Simon Peter replies. And Jesus says, “Then care for my sheep.”

And, for the sake of the whole story, of conveying a complete picture, Jesus asks a third time: “Simon, do you love me?” By now, Simon is upset. I imagine he’s pretty defensive. I imagine his response is similar to the response I get when I ask people I don’t see that often how they are living out their membership vows to commit prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, regularly, to this congregation. Ask once, and the response is, “Of course I take it seriously.” Ask twice, and I get, “It is important. I know I don’t always come as often as I could, or contribute as much as I want, but I’m working on it.” Ask three times, and the response becomes, “What else do you expect? I’m busy. I’m stretched too thin…I do at least as much as the people sitting next to me in the pews…”

After the third time, Simon says, “You know all there is to know. You have to know I love you.”

And Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep. Follow me. But know, if you follow me I’m going to take you where you don’t want to go.”

Now, scholars note the play on words that appears in the original Greek in which this text is written. A lot is lost in translation, if we are only looking at the English. I learned this lesson in a new way at my family’s recent Greek Easter celebration. I learned how to say “I love you” in Polish “Co-ham Chie-bie,” so I could say it to our dear family friends, the Jankowiaks, who I do indeed dearly love. But it turns out the word for Love I was using in Polish is the word Poles use to convey romantic love, erotic love, the kind of love that has deep desire…Which lead to much laughter and amusement when I eagerly expressed my love to Majka…and Ryzchard…and Majka’s brother and mother, both of whom are visiting from Poland and speak no English. I learned that while we have one word for Love in English, other languages have a variety of translations, and the translation we use matters!

When Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” he uses the Greek word agape. It is the kind of love that trumps and includes all others. Agape includes brotherly and sisterly love, the kind of love a parent has for a child, the kind of love a child has for a parent. It includes romantic love, erotic love. Agape covers all the bases.

But when Peter responds, he doesn’t respond with the word agape. He says, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” But he replies with the Greek work philo. Philo…to admire…to like…to honor…to respect. It is good. It is important. But it is not enough.

So Jesus keeps asking. Do you love me? Do you love me enough to live as I live? To love as I love?

Don’t just adore me. Admiring me isn’t enough. If you say you love me, Follow me. Feed people. Care for the community. Seek to live as I live and love as I love. THIS is how you can show and prove your love for me.

David Lose writes: “Jesus’ repetition isn’t meant as rebuke but as absolution: three invitations to confess in order to wipe away three denials just days earlier. In and through this three fold pattern of question and confession Peter is restored—to himself—to his Lord—to the discipleship community. And yet it is more than that, too. Peter is not merely forgiven and restored, but also commissioned.”

Jesus not only restores Peter to where he was before his betrayal, but moves him beyond. Jesus looks Peter n the eye and invites him: Follow me.

And, by entering this story, Jesus looks us in the eye, and invites us: Follow Jesus.

Dallas Willard, in How to be a Disciple, reflects: “It could well prove to be a major turning point in our life if we would…ask ourselves if we really do intend to be life students of Jesus. Do we really intend to do and be all of the high things we profess to believe in?”

Put another way, another scholar writes, “It is almost universally accepted today that you can be a Christian without being a disciple of Christ.” It has become popular, almost trendy, to say you love the Lord. It is much less popular, much less of a trend, to live as our Lord lives, and love as our Lord loved.

I recently talked with my newlywed friend, Wade, and told him how much I am enjoying their mix of love songs, and asked how these first days and weeks of marriage were going.

“It’s a lot of work!,” he said, and then laughed. The work of building a covenant relationship doesn’t end on a wedding day; at a wedding, the real work of a marriage begins.

The work of being a disciple doesn’t culminate when we say, “I love the Lord!” When we say we love Jesus, the real work of discipleship begins. Feed people. Care for the community, especially the least and last. Live as Jesus lived, and love as Jesus loves. Follow in the footsteps of Christ.

So. I trust you all love Jesus. I imagine you wouldn’t be here this morning if you knew nothing of this love. I believe you love Jesus. I believe this because some of you have told me you do, and some of you have shown me you do.

This morning, through this story, Jesus looks us in the eye like he did Simon Peter, over 2,000 years ago, and asks us, “Do you love me?” And with this question, Jesus invites us to follow him. The real question isn’t, “Do you love Jesus? Or, have you accepted Jesus? Or, do you know the Lord?” The real question is: How are you, how are we, feeding his sheep? How are you, how are we, caring for and tending his flock? Will you, will we, follow him? Will you, will we, seek to love as he loved and live as he lived?

May we turn, and follow…May it be so.

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