I used to write sermons by trying to discover itch and then the scratch of it.
For instance, one possible itch of the Parable of the Good Samaritan would be the apathy humanity can have toward those who are other, outsiders, outcasts. The scratch is that all humanity is outside of God's will for us, but still we are accepted by Christ. Therefore as outsiders welcomed into God's grace, we are called to embrace the outsider.
I suppose I still do this to an extent. But the other day I found a really interesting blog called the hardest question I really wish I'd thought of this myself. Various bloggers write posts on the coming weeks lectionary. There are lots of blogs that do this. What I think is unique is that the bloggers are highlighting the most challenging, perhaps even offensive lessons to be drawn from the readings (this is my take on it, the folks at the hardest question might want to put it differently). So this is what I am looking for as I write a sermon now. What will be the hardest thing to hear in the lesson, what will challenge us most, be the most difficult to carry out, what is the painful change being commanded of me, in this story.
So I'm on John 21 for this sunday.
Jesus makes a post resurrection appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. He loads down their empty net with fish and then invites Peter to breakfast.
This is followed by Jesus questioning Peter's love three times.
do yo love me, feed my sheep.
I found it difficult to identify anything terribly troubling in all this.
Until I started to think about Jesus inviting Peter to breakfast when Peter had denied even knowing him less than a week before. That kind of love goes way beyond sentimentality and romance which is the popular understanding of love. It is risky and probably stupid, to trust someone who has let you down, disappointed you and stabbed you in the back.
John is closing his gospel with a picture of Jesus being reconciled with the person who hurt him the most. Love is redefined from chemical reaction in the brain or sappy emotions to a courageous act of forgiveness and the reforging of a broken relationship. We build the church on this kind of love in action. This is the foundation of the church's ministry of peace-making, to be willing to create peace, day after day, week after week with the one's we love and who sometimes let us down, hurt us, betray us.
I found this quote by Thomas Merton. I'd read it long ago, and have never forgotten it:
As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them… It is principally in the suffering and sacrifice that are demanded of men to live together in peace and harmony that love is perfected in us.
What will I do with this lesson.
Start inviting more folks over for lunch after church, or dinner during the week. Not necessarily just in the case of a break in the relationship, but just to build strong relationships and in so doing to give and receive the love of Christ.