John 21:15-19 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Good morning and thank you for the privilege of preaching for such a crowd. I wrote this sermon from a place of brokenness, and stand here in emptiness, praying that where I am weak, Christ Jesus will be strong, and that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will all hear the word you need from God today.
I want to begin with the question “do you love me?” And unfortunately I feel the need to clarify a very popular topic – the three Greek words for Love. Some of the alumni here have preached this hundreds of times, so I’ll make it quick.
Eros –for erotic love – basically only gets talked about in wedding sermons. Filia is friendship – brotherly love. And Agape we Christians rank the highest – it’s the love with which God loves us, and we ought to love God. Or at least those are the cliches. We rank them like that. But they are not that simple.
In the Gospel of John, agape does tend to denote a Godly love, and filia a very human love. But this doesn’t mean filia is a lower form of love. Jesus also says that he is friends with God, and we can be friends with God as well. And Jesus experienced deep and valuable friendships too. When Lazarus died, and Jesus went to his tomb and wept, the people remarked in awe – see how he loved him!! This friendship was a close intimacy. The word “friend” has lost its punch in the age of facebook, but in Greco-Roman society friendship was one of the highest bonds, higher in some cases than family or spouse.
Now I mention this because Jesus and Peter, in this story, are arguing back and forth with filia and agape. Jesus asks – Peter, do you agape-love me more than everyone else? Peter says yes, but in his own statement he uses the filia word – I’ll translate it “I care for you.” It’s not a lesser kind of love, but a mutual, caretaking, affectionate love. Again Jesus asks – peter, do you love me? -- and Peter says YOU KNOW I care for you. Peter knows in a way that he cannot say he loves Jesus with that agape love, because Jesus has already defined agape for us. Greater agape love has no one than this – to lay down our lives for our friends. And Peter failed to do this. He swore he would lay down his life and follow Jesus, even to death, but he denied him and fled.
The last time Jesus is pushing Peter. He no longer asks about agape; he adopts Peter’s language of friendship and asks the third time: “do you care for me?” And Peter, totally distraught, says “You know everything! You know I care for you!!!”
Peter knows that he cannot claim to have done everything right. He knows he has denied and abandoned Jesus. But he also knows the depth of his love – this human, intimate, passionate love. It may be all he has to go on, but he holds it up for all it’s worth.
And i think it’s worth a lot. It shouldn’t be ranked inferior to agape.
It’s worth a lot to live passionately, with all the intensity of human emotion it brings.
We hear about it even in church – Are you fully alive? Are you passionate about your faith?? I heard a sermon recently, saying that the power of the resurrection is about making us fully and passionately alive.
And I am skeptical of this at first. It leads to an attitude of “I’m so empty... I just need more things to care about!” which is only an inch away from the consumer attitude: “I need more things.” It is so similar to what the culture tells us. We can buy sexy perfumes that make us Passionate. Clothes, food, cars, everything is marketed as the one thing we need in order to Live Life Fully. A particularly valuable item to purchase, in the pursuit of passionate living, is a plane ticket to some far-away place. I bought one when I was 21, with my little sister, to work in an orphanage called Children Of Uganda. Before we got on that plane, we wrote an immensely dramatic song about why we were doing this. A lot of it was about needing to be more fully alive. The chorus of the song was “what does it feel like to live? Amen.” And I look back on this and laugh a little. We did so much in the name of self-consciously passionate living.
But something in that is -- empty. It just doesn’t take you very far.
And there’s something funny about the word itself. Looking up passionate in the Oxford English Dictionary I found some great words:
Passionate. affected with passion or strong feeling; dominated by intense emotion; ardently enthusiastic. zealously devoted. Sounds good...
I looked up passion: and I found it sounded a lot less like a sexy perfume. As the first and oldest use of the word i found;
Passion: The sufferings of Jesus in the last days of his life, from the Last Supper to his death; the Crucifixion itself. The sufferings of a martyr, martyrdom.
Passion is passive – it’s something that happens to you. It’s like a vocation that you weren’t looking for, but it signed itself up for you.
Peter, in this encounter, is told by Jesus about his passion, and his death. He has a call – to feed Jesus’ sheep – and earlier in the gospel of John, Jesus told us what this job is about. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. You don’t go looking for a job like that, any more than you go looking for a hurricane. Martin Bell wrote that to encounter Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh must have been like running straight into the path of a hurricane. You wouldn’t do it on purpose.
Some of us are naturally passionate, and some of us find it difficult, and that’s okay. BUT if we walk into the path of Jesus’ hurricane, and get a passion inflicted upon us, we WILL become passionate. Like it or not. When you’ve come home from your expensive trip to Uganda, and are now fundraising to keep six hundred orphan children fed, you don’t stop to question how intense your love is. When you know some Palestinian Christians, and you hear of more settlement violence, you don’t have to self-consciously craft an expression of righteous anger. It comes with the territory. Or let me say it this way – when you have sheep to tend, and a wolf approaches, you will not be faking your passionate protection over those sheep, even to the risk of your own life.
No. Some people may say that “the resurrection is about being fully & passionately alive,” but I think passionate living is just a side effect. There has to be more power in the resurrection than that. Peter was always passionate. But that wasn’t enough. He wasn’t able to follow Jesus all the way.
I’ll get personal. I have a vested interest in the resurrection meaning more than living passionately in the here and now.
I had a friend over at the Lutheran seminary, who studied there two years ago, named Hans Petersen, who was very gifted at living passionately. It’s just how God made him – with this transparent face, where you could see everything. If he liked a plate of food, he LOVED that plate of food, and let everyone know it. If he heard about some injustice in Palestine, he wasn’t just upset, he was outraged, and you could see it. Hans taught me about living passionately, about loving God and loving justice and loving people -- fully -- the way I believe Peter did.
And last week, installing solar panels on a fourth-story roof, he fell to his death.
I have a vested interest in proclaiming that the resurrection is about more than living passionately here and now.
That in the resurrection of Christ Jesus, something that was broken got fixed. A door that was not open to us, no matter how passionately we tried to force it, got opened, and not by our own power. A door that will lead us through our sufferings into Glory.
Peter, before Christ’s passion, had said to him, “Master, I will follow you anywhere. I will lay down my life for you.” And Jesus said no. You you won’t... can’t... you are going to deny me, and you cannot follow me now. But you will follow me later.”
Something that was broken got fixed in the resurrection, and Jesus used the same words in a different way when he said at the last to Peter, “follow me.” Now Peter can follow, and will follow. Now he’s got sheep to feed, sufferings to undergo of course, but the way to glory is open before him. The resurrection has given him the courage and the strength he needs to go forward, not on his own power. And we can all have the courage and the strength we need to go forward into our own vocation, and our own passion, should we be afflicted with one. We gather around this table to RECEIVE the power of the resurrection – that courage, that strength we need to follow Jesus. We can all have courage to go forward knowing that death no longer has the final word.