Monday, January 24, 2011

Sermon John 21: Do You Love Me? Reflecting the Love of God

Why does Jesus ask Peter three times about love.
I think Jesus has his doubts about Peter

This is the Peter, you recall from last weeks sermon, who didn’t want to accept Jesus call to follow by laying down his life and picking up a cross.

More importantly this is the Peter who talked a good game just before Jesus arrest; he would fight and die for Jesus. But when the soldiers showed up Peter ran and hid. And when confronted by someone who recognized him as one of Jesus’ disciples he denied knowing who Jesus was…. Three times.

Frankly I’m surprised that Jesus would sit down to breakfast with Peter.
I don’t think I would have.
Why would I open myself up to that kind of disappointment again.
Why would I trust only to run the risk of betrayal again.
I don’t need to stay up all night thinking about how Peter’s fear or distractions got the better of him
I trusted this guy to be the rock of the church,
But he was too busy fishing to get started

I don’t want the pain of being stabbed in the back again

I’m tired of stickin my neck out for this guy,
Taking his hand when he sinks in the stormy sea
Going out of my way to find him when he is lost in Galilee
Giving him a catch of fish even…
A gift he definitely doesn’t deserve
and this is the kind of thanks I get
is him saying he doesn’t even know me.

We don’t know if these thoughts ran through Jesus head as he was quizzing Peter
But they would be running through mine

And this little imaginative exercise gets us to the really uncomfortable center of this story.

The risk that God took in loving us
And the long history of disappointment.

We may operate under the assumption that God loves us because we are decent folk
But that isn’t the story the bible tells

Adam and Eve chose to listen to the advice of the serpent
And you tell me how hard it is to keep on loving someone who
Listens to the advice of a bad friend,
And insists on making bad choices and then
Calling you for consolation

Israel is freed from slavery in Egypt
God smashes their shackles
And breaks their chains
And leads them across the red sea
And how do they thank him?
By complaining about the menu in the desert
And wishing they could go back and put the chain on again

You tell me how much ingratitude hurts
Does it make you feel like being loving?

The love that is recorded in the Bible is a risky and costly king of love
It isn’t the magical and mysterious emotion that makes everything seem beautiful
It isn’t the high of dopamine washing through your brain

The love of God in the Bible is soul wrenching, gutsy work.
Love isn’t about emotions or chemicals
And it isn’t reserved for those who have earned it or deserve it
Or even return it

As Rob Bell says, God loves us just the way we are, and too much to let us stay this way

The love of God is a gift given not for who we are,
But for who we might be,
To transform us into the beautiful creation we were meant to be

From Genesis to Revelation we are given story after story of God’s great undeserved love for us
Like Jesus love for the lepers, willing to risk his own health
Like Jesus love for the woman caught in adultery,
willing to sacrifice his reputation
Like Jesus love for the Geresene Demoniac, willing to lay aside safety.
Like Jesus love for the Romans, choosing to die instead of fight back.
Like Jesus love for Peter, willing to be betrayed again
In the hope that God’s love will transform them
Into the beautiful creation they were meant to be.

It is kind of strange really,
That not only does the Bible redefine love,
From chemical reaction
And sappy emotion
To this selfless, risky choice, over and over and over again

But also, that when you stop and consider it
The Bible seems to suggest that there are lots of good reasons NOT to love
Because this kind of love costs something, perhaps everything.

The story is told that Clarence Jordan, that great Southern, social prophet, visited an integrated church in the Deep South. Jordan was surprised to find a relatively large church so thoroughly integrated, not only black and white but also rich and poor; and this was in the early sixties, too. Jordan asked the old country preacher, "How did you get the church this way?"
"What way?" the preacher asked. Jordan went on to explain his surprise at finding a church so integrated, and in the South, too.
The preacher said, "Well, when our preacher left our small church, I went to the deacons and said, 'I'll be the preacher.' The first Sunday as preacher, I opened the book and read, 'As many of you as has been baptized into Jesus has put on Jesus and there is no longer any Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, males or females, because you all is one in Jesus.'
Then I closed the book and I said, 'If you are one with Jesus, you are one with all kind of folks. And if you ain't, well, you ain't.'"
Jordan asked what happened after that. "Well," the preacher said, "the deacons took me into the back room and they told me they didn't want to hear that kind of preaching no more."
Jordan asked what he did then. "I fired them deacons," the preacher roared.
"Then what happened?" asked Jordan.
"Well," said the old hillbilly preacher, "I preached that church down to four. Not long after that, it started growing. And it grew. And I found out that revival sometimes don't mean bringin' people in but gettin' people out that don't dare to love Jesus." (As told in Hauerwas and Willimon, Where Resident Aliens Live, Nashville: Abingdon, 1996, p. 103).
That is the bad news.

But maybe it is also good news.

Maybe Jesus challenges Peter with three questions about love
Because he sees in Peter the ability to love
Yet unrealized potential, but great potential nonetheless
Perhaps he knew that the image of God
Lying dormant in Peter, was the image of risky, self-sacrificing love
That God could give Peter the power to love others
And to teach others to love
Perhaps Jesus knew that Peter could be the rock upon which the church would be built.
Perhaps it wasn’t doubt, but belief, or hope.

Belief and hope that Peter would respond to the challenge
Throw off his own fetters of fear and self-preservation
The comfort of the life he knows at the seashore
The convenience of going back to life the way it was
To go out and take the risk of carrying God’s long story of risky love to the world.

The challenging question remains,
Do we dare love Christ this much?
The inspiring promise remains
The love that protected Adam and Eve
That guided Israel in the desert
That healed the lepers
Sheltered the shamed woman
That forgave peter and embraced him
That shocking, world creating, life changing love
Is waiting for another Peter in this day and age
Looking for another disciple to say

Yes Lord, I love you
Despite the costs,
Including the risks
Because of the hope it brings
I love you

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