Do You Love Me?


Do You Love Me?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 10, 2016

John 21:1-19 Revelation 5:11-14 Psalm 30

In our reading from Revelation, we hear praises to God from every living creature. John tells us that,
I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, “To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!” (5:13)
Then the elders fall down and worship the Lamb. What a wonderful vision! Every creature worshiping Jesus. For the Lamb that Revelation refers to is Jesus. So the question arises, “How do we worship Jesus?” And I think that our reading from John tells us how. That would be the questions Jesus asks Peter, “Peter, Son of John, do you love me?” Worshiping God is loving Jesus, for Jesus is God with us.
There is some kind of dynamic going on between Peter and Jesus, when Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. The first two times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus with an all-giving spiritual love. Peter answers that he is Jesus’ friend. Peter does not answer by saying he loves Jesus with the all-giving spiritual love Jesus asks. In the Greek language that the New Testament was written in, there are three words for love. There is the spiritual love that is all encompassing and all-giving. The word for that love is agape. Then there is love between friends. The word for that love is philos. Finally there is love between lovers, or desire. The word for that kind of love is eros.
So Jesus first asks Peter if he loves Him with the spiritual love that is all-encompassing, all giving. “Do you love me?”—agape. Peter responds by saying, “Yes, Lord, you know that I am your friend.” What is going on here? Jesus asks Peter about spiritual love and Peter responds with friendship. Is love more than Peter wants to commit to? Is love more than Peter is capable of? Does Peter want to lighten things up and not talk about love, but friendship? How would you feel if you asked someone if they loved you, and they said, “Yes, I’m your friend?” Would we feel slighted? Jesus asks Peter a second time, “Do you love me?” A second time Peter says, “Yes, I’m your friend.” The third time, though, Jesus perhaps comes to where Peter is emotionally. He asks, “Are you my friend?” This time Peter gets his feelings hurt because Jesus asked him three times if he loves Him. Peter again responds, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I am your friend.”
I think that Jesus is calling all of us to love unconditionally. Being friendly is good. But I think that Jesus really wants us to love. When we love, we are friendly, that is true. But love means a lot more than being friendly. The Apostle Paul gave us one of the most enduring testimonies to what love is like. Let’s hear the words of the great Apostle,
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. . . . So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13).
The core Christian message is to love. Even after Paul’s glowing testimonial to love, we may ask ourselves how do we do this thing called love? I think that Jesus tells us in His words to Peter. When Peter says that he is Jesus’ friend, each time Jesus says, “Feed my sheep,” or “Tend my sheep.” Some people read this passage to be only for ministers, pastors, and priests. They think this because of who Peter was. Jesus told Peter that he was a rock on which Jesus would found the church. And Peter was a strong Apostle who started some of the churches of early Christianity. The Catholics believe that Peter was the first pope, and that all the popes could be traced back to this first pope, Peter. And every minister, or pastor, is charged to be a shepherd of his or her flock, meaning their church. But I think that this message is for every Christian.
When Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, Jesus is actually asking each one of us if we love Jesus. And the message Jesus gives to Peter is given to each one of us, “Feed my sheep.” We show that we love Jesus by caring for each other. There’s an old blues song that seems to capture some of what it means to care for each other. The refrain to this song goes, “When things go wrong, go wrong with you/It hurts me too.” Caring about others means that we hurt when they hurt. But not only that. For Christian love to be true, we also rejoice and are happy when others are happy. We could add to the blues song, “When things go right, go right with you/I’m happy too.” But then it wouldn’t be a blues song, I guess.
Caring about other people is different than friendship. Caring means that we try to help other people and make things good for them. And this for everyone, not just our friends and family. When we love other people with spiritual love, we want what is best for them for their own sake.
When we consider how to love other people spiritually, we need to consider all kinds of people. We need to consider people who seem to be in a bad place and people who seem to be in a good place. We would respond differently to each kind of situation. If someone is in a bad place, we want to make things better for them. If someone has a drug problem, for instance, we would want to encourage them to get clean and sober. Of course we give them loving support along the way. But we don’t want to be an enabler and make it easy for them to continue to harm themselves. As I’ve said before, I used to have a problem with alcohol. People used to tell me all the time that I drank too much. That’s one of the reasons this denomination wouldn’t let me be a minister when i was younger. Things came to a head when I was teaching. I showed up drunk to teach one day, and one of my students went to my department head. Well, I got fired. That was the best thing that could have happened to me. That student did me a favor. That student was acting from truly Christian motivation (though I don’t know if she was a Christian). She was looking out for the best interests of the school, and intimately for me. I got help for my addiction, and my life got much, much better. So much better than it was when I was spending my time in bars getting stupid.
Now I’m living a healthier life. I am in a loving relationship with Carol, as many of you know now. It is a relationship I could never be in if I were still a drunk. I have held this job for nearly 10 years, ten happy years. I can celebrate with others and I do celebrate with others. My friendships now are solid and caring. Caring for other people isn’t just intervening when others are in a bad way. It is also living well with others and enjoying healthy activities with them. It is mutual support. And, yes, it is friendship. It is a willingness to be friendly to everyone. Sometimes our offer of friendship is not returned. Maybe this is what was happening in the story of Jesus and Peter. Maybe the all-giving spiritual love Jesus wanted from Peter was something Peter wasn’t capable of. But finally, Jesus came to Peter where Peter was, and asked him to be His friend. We won’t be loved by everyone or be befriended by everyone. But we can leave the door open, and hopefully share in another’s joy with a few treasured friends.
Jesus did come to Peter where Peter was. And Jesus comes to each of us where we are. We don’t have to be saints or angels for Jesus to love us. Jesus loves us wherever we are, in whatever spiritual condition we are in at the moment. And Jesus is always calling us to love. To love Him and to care for our fellows as we walk the road of life. And Jesus’ love is God’s love. For God came to earth in Human form as Jesus. God walked with us. God touched us. God loved us, and loves us. And God asks all of us, “Do you love me?”

PRAYER

Lord, we know that you call to us all the time. You ask us if we love you. You ask if we care for our fellows. Sometimes, we may not be ready to hear your call. Sometimes we may not feel charitable toward our neighbors. But you come to us however we are disposed. You call to us on our level. And when you call to us, you gently lift us upward toward heavenly life, toward heavenly love, toward heavenly love. Take our lives and make them yours.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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