Monday, April 11, 2016

Do you love me?

Sermon preached for Easter 3C on Sunday, April 10, 2016.

    In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye famously asks his wife Golde, “Do you love me?”  She dismisses him.  Now is not the time.  With daughters to be married, trouble in the town, you’re all upset, go lie down... it will go away.  But he persists, the old fool.  Yet she refuses to answer in words.  Instead Golde recounts to Tevye the shape of her love.  I washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, birthed your children, milked your cow, fought with you, fought for you... what do YOU think?  If that’s not love, what is?
    Today at the end of the Gospel reading, Jesus asked Peter the same question: “Do you love Me?”  Peter interrupted Jesus, protested how much He loved Him, and was offended that Jesus should even have to ask.  Now this was from Peter after all – Peter who betrayed Jesus not once, not twice, but three times with denials.  This was from Peter, mind you, who ran from the cross in fear that he too might be next.
    Though Jesus might be justified in asking, Peter did not know how to respond except to protest the question.  Jesus was not interested in insistent words.  Jesus Himself defined the shape of love.  “Feed My lambs...”  If Peter loved Jesus, that love would have a shape and a form.
    To feed the lambs of Christ is to speak the Word faithfully until the lambs of God hear His voice and recognize it and follow it.  It was a call to preach the Gospel.  To feed the lambs of Christ is to set His table in the presence of their enemies – to give them heaven’s bread and salvation’s cup.  It was a call to administer and distribute the flesh and blood of Christ in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
    To feed the lambs of Christ is to shepherd the people, guiding them from their enemies who would prey upon their weakness before temptation, their shame under guilt, their innocence before evil, and the power of their desires.  It was a call to live among the lambs of Christ and walk with them the journey of this mortal life every step of the way lest they be given over to darkness or lose their way in the twists and turns of this mortal life.  It was a call to shepherd the lost and the wandering back into the fold and equip the young for life within the flock.
    That is what Peter was to do -- not as apostle or disciple but as pastor ordained into this ministry on Easter evening when Jesus breathed the Spirit on the 11 and gave them the keys of the Kingdom.  And this is the calling of all those whom the Lord still calls to be undershepherds and bishops of the flock that He claims as His own.  But what of the lambs, of the sheep, of you the people of God?  Do you love Jesus?  And what is the shape of your love?
    So much of Christianity is all about loving Jesus – almost to the point where love for Jesus becomes more important than Jesus love for us.  But the exaggerated importance of our love for Jesus should not taint the question.  Do you love Jesus?
    Before you open your mouths to protest this question or to give eloquent answer in words, remember that love has a shape and a form.  If you love Jesus, go to church.  Worship should not be an occasional activity but the chief and highest claim of your time.  If you love Jesus, go to church.  No protestation here or equivocation.  Go to church.  Eat His flesh and drink His blood.
    If you love Jesus, then read His Word.  Know the voice of Your great Good Shepherd as the familiar voice of Scripture and not as a strange and unfamiliar voice.  If you love Jesus, love His Word and the preaching of that Word.  Get into a Bible study and read the Word on your own.  Trust what you read and seek answers to your questions from faithful pastors and not the fly by night authorities of TV or internet or popular books.
    If you love Jesus, then pray.  Don’t complain about how hard it is to pray or how tired you are or how difficult it is to put prayers into words.  If you love Jesus, pray.  Pray not for yourself but first for the Church, for missionaries and pastors, for church workers, for the sick, for the wounded in mind and heart, for the grieving, and for the dying. If you love Jesus, pray.
    If you love Jesus, do the good works of mercy He has called you to do.  Do them in your home with your care of spouse and child, parents and family.  Do them in your work among your peers and even to those in authority over you. Do the good works He has called you to do in home and work, in your neighborhood and community, as a good citizen.  This is your vocation, the domain where your love for God takes concrete shape and form. 
    The shape of love is not merely words but works.  As we learn God’s love by the shape of a cross, by the splatter of blood on our sins, and by a tomb empty of death and filled with hope and eternal life, so your love has a shape.  God does not protest love’s question with words but stretched out His hands in suffering upon the cross so that you and I would know this love concretely and unmistakably.  Give your love a shape.  Go to church, eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood, read His Word, pray, and do the good works of Him who has called you.
    Though we are tempted to define the caring pastor by the jokes he tells, the time he spends in living rooms talking about common interest or sitting at the kitchen table over coffee, these are not the primary ways in which your pastors love you.  It is all well and good but the love your pastor has for you is shown not with their words that claim love but through his actions:  by preaching faithfully the Word of God, calling you to repentance when you fall, calling you to faith at life's worst moments, absolving you of your sins, washing you in baptismal water, teaching you to know the familiar voice of the Good Shepherd through His Word, and feeding you Christ’s flesh and blood.  This ministry is their highest love for Jesus and for you, His very lambs.
    How do you love Jesus?  Don’t say it.  Do it.  Don’t be a stranger to His House and table or to His Word and prayer.   Don’t be too comfortable in the ways of the world or the deep ruts of your favorite sins.  Don’t be deaf to the call to repent and confess your trespasses and sins.   Don’t be stingy with your time or your financial resources for His church.  Don’t forget your vocation and calling to love your spouse, love your children, love your parents, love your neighbor, and live as a good citizen.  Love not in word but in deed, says James.  This is the way God has loved you.  Today we acknowledge how God has loved us in deeds and not simply in words and we pray:  Help us, Lord, to love you back in this same way.  Amen.