Love In Action

Easter 3 Year C 2016

The Rev. Sunil Chandy

Christ Church Westerly, RI

 

 

There is a moving scene in the play, Fiddler On The Roof.

Tev yev asks his wife, "Golda, do you love me?"

"Do I what?" she replies

"Do you love me?"

Golda looks at him and responds: "Do I love you? With our daughters getting married and this trouble in the town, you're upset, you're worn out, go inside, go lie down, maybe it's indigestion."

Tev yev interrupts and asks the question, "Golda, do you love me?"

Golda sighs as she looks at him and says, "Do I love you? For 25 years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cows. After 25 years, why talk of love right now?"

 

Tev yev answers, "Golda, the first time I met you was on our wedding day. I was scared, I was shy, I was nervous."

"So was I," said Golda.

"But my father and my mother said we'd learn to love each other, and now I'm asking, "Golda, do you love me?"

"Do I love him?" Golda sighs. "For 25 years I've lived with him, fought with him, 25 years my bed is his! If that's not love, what is?"

"Then you love me?" Tev yev asks.

"I suppose I do!" she says.

"And I suppose I love you too!" he says. "It doesn't change a thing, but after 25 years it's nice to know."1[1]

 

In the Gospel today Jesus asks Peter the same question. And It’s interesting to note that this is last story in John involving the disciples and it occurs in the same place where the disciples first met Jesus in John -- on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. But today’s story picks up with Peter and 6 of the other disciples going back to their old occupations. Back to their old way of life. And once again Peter was back in his old fishing boat. But it wasn’t a very exciting return. They had spent the entire night fishing, but they had caught nothing.

 

I am sure that through that long and frustrating night.  Peter and the others must have remembered another time on the same sea shore almost three years earlier when Jesus said "Come, follow me and I will make you a fisher of men." A time when a itinerant holy man, gave them new hope, a new direction, new life, a new purpose.  Then suddenly, John was pointing toward the shore. Peter looked and saw someone and asked, "Who is it?""Can't you see?" cried John. "It's the Lord!" Then Peter recognizes Jesus.  The scripture is detailed, and it reminds us that Peter was naked, he put on some clothes and then jumped in the water. 

 

Later, when Peter and Jesus at a quieter moment, Jesus asks a question that goes to the heart of Peter. He asks: "Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?" Then two more times Jesus asks this question: "Simon, do you love me?"

And three times Peter responds by saying: "Yes, Lord, you know I love you."

And three times Jesus commissioned Peter: "Feed my sheep!"

 

Now I know that preachers may have an inclination to focus on the three questions that Jesus asked, or the three responses of Peter or the challenge of Jesus to "feed my sheep." But today I would like to focus on how Jesus dealt with Peter.  Because I think it offers us a model that would help us an Easter people to grow in our spirituality.  And in turn to help the world grow deeper in spirituality. 

 

It important to see how Jesus handles Peter – he handles him in a loving way. Love is something we in the church talk great deal about, it is an ideal that we romanticize about. We all agree with Dione Warwick when she sang “what the world needs now is love sweet love.”  It is something we know we need more of. But by watching Jesus deal with Peter along that shore of the Sea of Galilee, we get a good clear picture of love in action. [2]

 

I am sure that as Peter found himself in period of profound awkward silence. There must have been feelings of guilt felt by Peter. Remember scripture describes Peter as a big, impulsive, guy with an even bigger heart.  He often said things before he thought.  We remember during the Passion how Peter swore that he would never leave Jesus!  And even when Jesus foretold Peter’s denial.  Peter kept insisting that he would never deny Jesus.  And yet in Fear he did deny his friend, teacher and Lord Just when he needed him most!

Yes Peter was probably trying to figure out how to put the apology into words. But Jesus dealt with the awkward moment by looking at Peter and asking a simple direct question.  Jesus could have handled the situation in a very judgmental way. He could have asked, "Simon, are you ashamed of denying me?" He could have said, "Simon, I understand you lied about knowing me." He could have asked, "Simon, how can I be sure you won't deny me in the future?" But Jesus knew the hurt in the man’s heart, so he went right to the heart of the matter by asking: "Simon, do you love me?" By asking this question three times Jesus might have been providing a way of helping Peter overcome his earlier denials. But one thing is clear ---Jesus dealt very carefully with Peter. Jesus didn’t try to embarrass Peter or to compound his guilt. Instead, he asked a simple little direct question, but a question that was tempered with a love, caring and compassion.

 

When you love, like Jesus, caring and compassion become the cornerstone of your love. Love is not vicious or hostile. Love does not try to compound the guilt. Love doesn't try to rub salt in the wounds of shame. When we learn to love after the pattern of Jesus, we learn to show care. We learn to show understanding.

 

Peter must have been hurting on the inside. After all, look what he had done. He had denied even knowing Jesus. He had shamed himself by cursing those who accused him of being a disciple. He had used language so vile that even the soldiers were shocked. But alone with Jesus by the Sea of Galilee, Peter was looking for a way to prove his love. But what could he do? He couldn’t appeal to his record of faithfulness because his record was smeared with shame. He could not appeal to his reputation as a man of his word, for that reputation evaporated the night he denied knowing Jesus on three occasions. He could not appeal to the witness and testimony of his fellow disciples because they knew that when the chips were down, fear turned Peter into a coward. Peter had nothing, absolutely nothing, to prove his love was genuine.

 

But, then Jesus three times asked, "Simon, do you love me?" And three times Peter responded: "Lord, you know all things. You know the whole story. You know everything about me. You know I love you."

Peter had nothing left with which to prove his love. And yet, Peter sensed deep within that he did not have to prove his love. He knew that he did not have to prove his loyalty. He knew that the heart of Jesus would be forgiving for his shortcomings.

 

This is the way the love of Jesus is -- it is forgiving. Forgiveness did not take away Peter's memory of his denial -- he carried that memory with him to his grave. The forgiveness of Jesus simply re-established the old relationship and assured Peter he was still loved. This is the way of Jesus' love -- it is forgiving. In spite of the sin in our lives, in spite of the wrong we do, in spite of the guilt and shame we bring on ourselves, the love of Jesus is a love that is forgiving.

 

A priest once told a story of a woman is in the hospital with a terminal illness. Her life has been lived on the wild side. Some would say it was bad and as despicable as they come. But, now she was dying.

A priest, came to her room and she asks, "Am I dying?"

"Yes," the priest said.

"Does he love me?" the woman asked.

"Your husband?" the priest asked.

"No," she said. "You know who I'm talking about. Does God love me?"

The priest said, "Yes, God loves you!"

"I find that hard to believe," the woman said. "You know the kind of life I've lived. How can you say that God still loves me?" The priest smiled at her question and said, "I'm telling you that no matter what you've done, God still loves you." Then the priest began reading one of the prayers in the Last Rites service in the CatholicChurch.  He read the prayer which says: "God loves you and God accepts you. Your sins are forgiven; you belong to God; You are now with God."

 

This is the message which came through to Peter along that shore of the Sea of Galilee. And it is the message which we need to hear. In spite of our sins, in spite of our failures, in spite of everything we have ever done which denies God, God’s love forgives us and accepts us because we belong to God. And as we accept this love and grace, we grow in Christ, and then we follow Jesus by doing the same in the world.  For all of us knows someone in our lives that needs to know they are forgiven! that they are accepted! And that they are loved!  And folks as we follow Jesus in Jesus’ way, we find ourselves and the World grow spiritually in Christ.

 

Amen. 

 

[1] “Do you love me” from musical “Fiddler on the Roof “ by Jerry Brock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. 

[2] Allen Robert , “Do you Love me” John 21:1-14, Wonderful thought by Robert Allen.