Apr 292013
 


 

Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life,

that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life.”

I read these words from our collect for the day and I thought how right they are for us to be praying this morning.  The word that really hooked me was the word steadfastly – that we may steadfastly follow his steps.  The dictionary tells me that to do something steadfastly is to do it without swerving, to do it constantly, in a firmly loyal way that is steady and unchanging.  So through this prayer we are asking God to empower us to hold so tightly to our faith in Christ that our way of walking in the world will by his way.  Difficult in the best of times.

And these last weeks have not been the best of times for those of us living in the Boston area.  They have been difficult days. As the shock of what occurred almost two weeks ago has lifted we have all come in contact with friends, neighbors , classmates and co-workers who have direct connections to people who were directly affected by the bombings and the pursuit of the suspects.  So the media reports are not something we see or listen to with our usual sense of some remove from the events.  We are involved because we know and love people involved or people who know and love people who are involved, because we are all connected.

So how do we steadfastly walk in the way of Jesus in these days?  What is his way, his truth, his life in the midst of what we are experiencing?  Thankfully we never have to look too far to find the answers. As we gather together in worship each week we take nourishment from words and sacraments that are bread for this journey.  This morning is no different.  The lessons appointed for the day give us instruction for life in this way.

In our first lesson from the book of the Acts of the Apostles – the book that chronicles what happened in the life of the early church following the Resurrection of Jesus – we read of a confrontation between Peter and the leaders of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem followers were Jews whose understanding of Jesus was deeply rooted in their Jewish faith and Peter was one of them.  But they had gotten word that on a trip to Joppa, Peter had eaten dinner in the house of a Gentile.  Given the strict dietary laws of the Jews this made them nervous.  Standing back from this event we may say, “God has just broken down a huge dividing wall and these folk are worried about keeping dietary laws?”  But as my Father used to tell me, “When you point a finger at someone else you usually have 4 other fingers on your hand pointing back at you!”  We too can cling to tradition instead of looking for the movement of God’s Spirit, especially in times when we are feeling vulnerable or threatened.  With us it may not be dietary laws, it may be something else we have always done a certain way that makes us feel safe and so we focus on it.  So this wonderful story from Acts can open us at a time like this.  Because this is not a story about what happens when God’s Spirit looks to break down dividing walls among humanity and faithful people participate with the movement of the Spirit.

What I think is important for us to note today is how Peter conducted himself in this context of criticism and confrontation, in which anxiety was running high all around him.  Peter’s approach to this situation is pastoral, not argumentative.  He does not enter into a hermeneutical struggle and quote scripture in his defense.  As the passage tells us “Peter began to explain it to them, step by step” (Acts 11:4). Peter built a bridge to his critics by sharing his personal experience of God’s Spirit moving among the Gentiles. His conversion through this experience is strong an opens the hearts of the Jerusalem followers to this new avenue of God’s grace at work in the world.

Writing about this passage this week commentator Kyle Fever notes,

“Peter’s report in this passage is prefaced with the statement, “The Gentiles received the word of God.” Notice also that whereas the Jerusalem leaders were focused on Peter’s actions, Peter draws attention to the activity of God among the Gentiles. He does not explain himself in the face of their accusation; he explains the activity of God.” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1617)

 

That struck me as an important strategy for us as we live in these difficult days.  The human instinct seems to be to ask questions such as “Why did this awful thing happen?  What was going on in the minds of the people that did this?  There are no easy and immediate answers to such questions, but a faithful, pastoral, steadfast response is turns the questions to God’s activity in the midst of this threat to our sense of security.  It is difficult to take our eyes, hearts and minds off the images and stories of suffering and pain that resulted from this bombing.  Our compassionate sensibilities are stretched – we feel for the victims – those who lost life or were injured and for their families whose lives have been so tragically altered.  And we feel for the community on Boylston St. and all of Boston that has absorbed the shock waves of this attack.  And yet, as we keep them in our prayers, we need to step back and enlarge our view so that this event does not have the power to bind us with the chains of fear and resentment which can harden into a desire for vengeance, and we can share news of the grace that we have observed in the aftermath.  We can observe that though those who placed and detonated the bombs were bent on hurting  others, many, many more people, in the face of shock and fear mobilized and ran toward the explosion points to save and minister to those who were injured.  Those courageous and compassionate individuals were vehicles of God’s presence in the midst of terror.  Thanks be to God!  They were loving one another as Christ has loved us – putting their lives and safety on the line for the sake of others.  

If we too are to steadfastly walk the way of Jesus, his words to us in this morning’s Gospel will draw us to this wider view.  In this passage we find Jesus at dinner with his disciples, minus one – Judas has just left to bring the authorities to arrest Jesus.  Instead of rally the disciples to a plan of resistance to the violence that is about to befall him, Jesus puts his energy to giving them the instructions they will need to survive.  He begins by calling them “Little Children” (John 13:33). When we studied this passage at the Vestry meeting the other night, many of us agreed that there was a sense of being talked down to here that we did not appreciate.  However when I went back to this text later this week I found connection to that choice of words from Jesus.  As I have looked back over these two weeks it seems to me that in many ways we are like little children when it comes to our sense of how to respond to this tragedy.  We who do not live in a country where these sorts of things are daily occurrences are in some ways like little children in terms of knowing how to process the deep peaks and valleys of emotion that have over taken many of us.  That is not a put-down - it is a good thing.  But it means that we can benefit from instruction and guidance from others who have lived in much more violent and unpredictable situations.  Instruction and guidance on how to overcome fear, resentment and the impulse of revenge in order to live into the self spending love that Jesus calls us to in this Gospel and through the very bread and wine we are about to share, is something that is out there for us if we are willing to seek it.

This week I did just that and I want to end this sermon by sharing the words of two peoples who against what the world might consider all odds, have developed a deep and abiding friendship that is an inspiration to any who are praying to steadfastly walk the way of Jesus.

They are Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad.  I found their story through the Krista Tippet’s Radio Show On Being.  The episode of that show that chronicles their story is called “No More Taking Sides” (http://www.onbeing.org/program/no-more-taking-sides/134)

In her synopsis of their story Krista Tippet writes:

Robi Damelin lost her son David to a Palestinian sniper. Ali Abu Awwad lost his older brother Yousef to an Israeli soldier. But, instead of clinging to traditional ideologies and turning their pain into more violence, they’ve decided to understand the other side — Israeli and Palestinian — by sharing their pain and their humanity. They tell of a gathering network of survivors who share their grief, their stories of loved ones, and their ideas for lasting peace. They don’t want to be right; they want to be honest.

I urge you to go to the On Being website and listen to the full episode as the reconciled friendship between this Israeli woman and this Palestinian man is truly full of light and a beacon of hope to this suffering world of ours.  I’ll will now close by playing a segment of the show for you in which Robi Damelin reads a section of the letter she wrote to the mother of the sniper who killed her son, and a section in which Ali Abu Awwad speaks about his sense of David and Yousef accompanying them in their efforts for peace.  In the name of Christ Jesus. Amen+

On the next page is the full text of Robi Damelin’s letter 

Letter to the Family of the Palestinian Sniper Who Killed David Damelin

by Robi Damelin

This for me is one of the most difficult letters I will ever have to write. My name is Robi Damelin, I am the mother of David who was killed by your son. I know he did not kill David because he was David, if he had known him he could never have done such a thing.

David was 28 years old, he was a student at Tel-Aviv University doing his Masters in the Philosophy of Education, David was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the occupied territories. He had a compassion for all people and understood the suffering of the Palestinians, he treated all around him with dignity. David was part of the movement of the Officers who did not want to serve in the occupied territories but nevertheless for many reasons he went to serve when he was called to the reserves. What makes our children do what they do, they do not understand the pain they are causing, your son by now having to be in jail for many years and mine who I will never be able to hold and see again or see him married, or have a grandchild from him. I cannot describe to you the pain I feel since his death and the pain of his brother and girlfriend, and of all who knew and loved him.

All my life I have spent working for causes of co-existence, both in South Africa and here. After David was killed I started to look for a way to prevent other families both Israeli and Palestinian from suffering this dreadful loss. I was looking for a way to stop the cycle of violence, nothing for me is more sacred than human life, no revenge or hatred can ever bring my child back. After a year, I closed my office and joined the Parents Circle – Families Forum. We are a group of Israeli and Palestinian families who have all lost an immediate family member in the conflict. We are looking for ways to create a dialogue with a long term vision of reconciliation.

After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation. This is not easy for anyone and I am just an ordinary person not a saint. I have now come to the conclusion that I would like to try to find a way to reconcile. Maybe this is difficult for you to understand or believe, but I know that in my heart it is the only path that I can choose, for if what I say is what I mean it is the only way.

I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people, he is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another may not be the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace.

Our lives as two nations are so intertwined, each of us will have to give up on our dreams for the sake of the future of the children who are our responsibility.

I give this letter to people I love and trust to deliver, they will tell you of the work we are doing, and perhaps create in your hearts some hope for the future. I do not know what your reaction will be, it is a risk for me, but I believe that you will understand, as it comes from the most honest part of me. I hope that you will show the letter to your son, and that maybe in the future we can meet.

Let us put an end to the killing and look for a way through mutual understanding and empathy to live a normal life, free of violence.

 

This letter and picture were taken from www.onbeing.org/ program/no-more-taking-sides/134

Have a listen and promote peace.

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 Sermon for Sunday April 28 – The Fifth Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Mon, 29-Apr-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday April 28 – The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Apr 212013
 


By Noah Bullock, Executive Director, Foundation Cristosal

El Salvador  is my adopted country,  I  have lived there for eight years. Geographically little and little known,  El Salvador is affectionately called el pulgarcito, the tiny flea of Latin America. The Capital San Salvador  is closer to Miami, Houston, and Los Angeles than  other U.S. cities like Seattle, Chicago, and Boston. Salvadorans are the third largest Latino population in the United States- there  are 3 million living here. In poetry, Salvadorans are remembered as the ones from which nobody  ever knows where they are from, The eternally undocumented, the do it alls, the sell it alls, the eat it alls, the first to take out a knife.

People often ask me I if feel culture shock when I come back to the United States. I answer that I do not, but what has changed  for me are my references. In conversations I have to consciously  find common references so as not end up talking about  El Salvador.

Strangely, last Tuesday after  news of the bombings broke, as I boarded the subway at Penn station in New York, I felt something that for me was a specifically Salvadoran reference. I felt an uneasy twinge in my chest, that feeling that I might be unsafe. Much has been said about  the events of the past week in Boston. As much as the city and country grieves the loss oflife  the more difficult challenge remaining is to understand and deal with the residual fear and sense  of insecurity that  results from acts of terror. The police may have gotten  their man but the threat that he represents is not quelled  with his capture.

The most poignant reflection  I can make having lived amidst violence is this: having seen violence done we realize that we were never in control in the first place. Our lives are always in a fragile balance and we are never, and never truly were, perfectly secure.  Violent acts alert our conscience to this reality. Terrorists leverage this powerful  truth about life’s vulnerability against us to destabilize, and exert power through fear.

As Friday’s manhunt unfolded, despite the full and impressive display of force, our technology, our wealth, our way of life, the potential  represented by one man at large to destabilize everything was unnerving- one man in millions.

In the face of such terror, the most dangerous outcome for a society is to respond  to their fear by retreating to a state  of anti -communion, an inward looking isolation  in search  of safety, unwilling to break bread  with anyone.

While God’s creation is uncertain and insecure, it is also beautiful and full of grace. Humanity having been made in god’s image rarely succumbs fully to terror; rather we find a way to live joyfully in the darkest hour.

In El Salvador, Cristosal works in communities who suffer insecurity and terror both of the gun and the insecurity inherent in their situation of poverty.  Just like a bomb or a gun poverty is a form of violence and a threat to life itself.

Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez wrote that poverty and its deprivations, exclusion, the voicelessness is death, an unjust death, a physical death.  A family who does not know how they will survive tomorrow, lives in permanent insecurity and fear.

When I first became executive director of Cristosal I was in the middle of a studying of emerging shantytowns on the northern edge of San Salvador.  They are fascinating places to watch evolve, constructed out of plastic, bamboo, mud, tin, and an array of garbage turned building materials; mattress spring fences, vinyl cosmetic ads roofs, old tire terraces. Between 2009 and 2011 there was a curious explosion  of these communities. In 2010, we began to map them, by interviewing the new residents and asldng them where they came from and why them chose to come here.

In the people’s  responses we found that these new communities were comprised of families displaced  by all that ails El Salvador.  Families whose homes were destroyed in mudlsides. Families who could no longer pay rent and buy food. Families displaced  by violence.  They were refugees many with horrific stories. In this context of insecurity and suffering, human dignity and the true beauty of creation emerges triumphant. While carrying out the interviews we began to notice that practically without fail as soon a home was constructed of out of an array improvised materials, the people began to plant flowers around them.  The stench  of sewage, burning trash, and dust in the air, with the police threatening eviction, no work, little food, and the people plant flowers.   They share flowers among each other  planting and replanting.

I began to image the dark places in the world, the ones that grab headlines with terrible statistics that prove the horrors of poverty, violence, and displacement. I began to imagine, hidden  between  the statistics and journalistic accounts, that there must be people  joyfully planting flowers, full of beauty- full of grace.

I don’t not tell this story to romanticize the suffering of the poor rather to bring to light the challenge of pursuing  Christian mission.  Mission is not to be postponed for a better economy, a less violent day, more stable times, but we as god’s people are called to faith in new life to act in an uncertain world.

In moments of insecurity and fear we should be most drawn  to mission  because it is what make us whole as one body. Oscar Anulfo Romero, El Salvador’s  martyred archbishop preached that in mission,

“Each one of us needs to be fired up with passion for justice, for human  rights, for liberation, for equality, but impassioned by the light of faith. It is not enough to be philanthropic. What we as followers of Jesus are looking for is to call everyone to sisterly and brotherly justice and love.

Foundation Cristosal is an organization born in the Anglican Church and with a founding mission for to work for justice, peace and reconciling love in El Salvador. We practice a rights-based approach to development that emerges out of our faithful belief in the inherent dignity and equality of all people. This principle repositions the poor in the development enterprise from that of beneficiaries of assistance projects and goodwill to citizen partners, architects, investors, actors, and owners of their own development process.

The primary development goal of a right-based approach is the increased opportunity and freedom of the poor to equal and full participation. We work in four communities across El Salvador engaging local leaders in an entrepreneurial like process of problem  solving to address the structural causes that create and perpetuate poverty.

Two of these communities are called collectively Las Anemonas. They belong to the shantytowns I mentioned earlier.  Las Anemonas are comprised of just under  of 200 families. The people were displaced  by mudslides that left their  homes uninhabitable and killed 5 people in 2009.  They relocated  to their  currently setting as squatters, internally displaced, in a self- established refugee camp.

Since 2010, Cristosal’s team of development and legal professionals has successfully provided  training and advising to community leadership to organize, access government bureaucracies, and negotiate for the right to basic services like water and power.  Together we have built advocacy campaign that includes neighboring communities and an estimated 10,000  people to lobby for the legalization  of the land rights.

In 2011, the community was the victim of another serious storm  only this time it was not their  demographic vulnerability that put them in peril but their marginalized economic position.  When the rain began and did not stop for 8 days, the informal economy — where the people scratch  out a survival — shut  down.  No peddling in the market, no day laboring, and their small crops planted  in unlikely places began to rot.  To their own estimation they were ok because no one died. No one lost their home.  But for people who live day to day the suspension ofthe day to day extended  to long and the families were forced to eat their reserves. After a week of rain there was nothing left to feed their families with.  One can imagine the terror.

Cristosal received  donations to responded to the disaster and together with community leaders we decided not to hand out food rather to give small loans to jump-start the family economy.  The loans were successful in restoring the people to their economic activities, but we soon observed that the loans were sustaining a level of poverty not breaking it.

After over a year of adjusting  loan amounts, payment periods  the program began to stagnate. We began to study the individual  cases. What we discovered was that the loans amounted to handout of capital that people invested  in the same loosing economic activities that maintain  the family in varying levels of poverty and vulnerability ranging from desperate to surviving.  In effect the people had slightly more money to throw into non-profitable activities and more importantly the families had no become more resilient to disasters.

 What needed  to change was they way the families were participating or more precisely excluded from participating in the national  economy.  They buy inputs, pay for services, and taxes in the formal economy and produce  and offer goods and services at a much lower  rate in the informal market.  They lacked the experience and resources to generate more  profit business models that could produce  profit, allow for savings and investments that could lead growth.  So we reworked the program  with the people and developed  a new idea for a savings, loan, and investment cooperative in the community- Coop Las Anemonas.

This Thursday a group of 20 people, mostly young couples will adopt articles  of constitution, hi-laws, and elect leadership. Each member  will pay the entry fee ($3) and their first monthly contribution ($3).  Most of the people are nervous because they won’t have the six dollars in time, so they will pay the three and go on a payment plan.  The Cooperative will open with a balance of less than $45 to begin investing.

When the group  meets you can feel a buzz that was never there  with the loans.  In last weeks meeting one women  commented that “this is about dignity.” Head and bodies bobbed  in approval.  SI! Si! The crowd responded.

“No one is handing out anything  here!” she went on. “This is our capital and we are going to put it to work!”

The plan is to invest in the raw materials to make popsicles and sell them hopefully doubling the cooperative’s funds.  The group will practice investing small initiative like this and learn  to manage the money and administer the cooperative while they grow their capital fund.  Cristosal will negotiate with the cooperative to inject incrementally the money from the old credit program as the group generates returns on their investment and reaches defined goals.

Within the cooperative there  are two business firms emerging with support of Cristosal staff.  One is comprised of young mothers  who are studying options for developing an industrial sewing company.  The other  is a experimenting with chicken production. Both groups see the cooperative as means in which they will fuel the future of their  businesses and break down the barriers that limit their freedom  and opportunities to exercise their economic rights.

This is about dignity the people said.  They were fired up not by the promise  of what might be given to them, rather, what they might build together. Pooling money and investing  collectively is a risky venture, but I took the group’s enthusiasm as a sign that they were much less fearful about their commitment to one another than the prospect of facing the grave insecurities of their lives alone. Their commitment of $3 brought light to their faith that this breaking  of bread  will produce for them new life, dignity and liberation from fear of the structural violence that threaten their livelihoods.

We were all vulnerable even before we knew violence and terror. Our state  of insecurity is surpassed and beauty and grace of creation  restored in our commitments to each other, impassioned by the light of faith we call everyone  to sisterly and brotherly justice and love. This mission cannot be postponed.

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 Rights-based human development in El Salvador: Sermon for April 21, 2013  Posted by on Sun, 21-Apr-13 Sermons Comments Off on Rights-based human development in El Salvador: Sermon for April 21, 2013
Apr 142013
 


Grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come.  Amen.

What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to you? Let’s spend some time this morning wondering about that together.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

The way I put this question to you is (at least for me) culturally loaded here and now in the USA. Our more hard-line brethren have tried to appropriate the word “Christian” to describe their strain of Jesus-following faith and practice. (They’ve done the same with the word “evangelical”, but that’s a story for another day.)

What does it mean to be a Christian?

A young man who lives near here, let’s call him “George”, confronted this question recently. He tells a sad story. He’s been developing a relationship with “Jill” for the last four years. Everyone who knows both of them and sees them believes they’re great together. But Jill recently told George she needs to break off their relationship because he’s not “Christian”. She says her pastor cited a couple of verses from St. Paul’s second letter to the congregation in Corinth.

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  –2Co 6:14:15 (KJV)

George says he’s tried to become a Christian three times without success, so Jill is going to leave him even though she doesn’t want to. Needless to say his heart is broken. I suppose hers is too. Mine is. I found myself getting indignant about this: how can a fellow Christian pastor throw a few out-of-context Bible verses around intentionally to spoil such a life-giving relationship?  Using Biblical proof-texts to try to score debating points is an unfaithful and dangerous game. The meaning of Holy Scripture, not to mention the love of God, is far too vast and mysterious for that.

Using verses like “what fellowship does light have with darkness” for Jill and George distorts their human struggle to love each other and find companionship. It exaggerates both their positions. Surely George’s soul isn’t the personification of darkness, and surely Jill’s not the picture of perfect light.

But using that second-Corinthians passage goes beyond mere exaggeration. It slanders George and twists his life journey. Three times he says he’s tried to become a Christian. Exactly what that means God knows and he knows; I don’t.  But I do know this: he’s struggling with doubts. But struggle is not unrighteousness. Faith is not the opposite of doubt.   On the contrary, faith is the opposite of certainty. It’s the hope for things unseen.  Do you believe it’s SUNNY / CLOUDY right now?  Well, no. You don’t believe it. You don’t have to believe it. You know it. In the same way George’s struggle with things he doesn’t see does not make him unrighteous.

So, using second-Corinthians against George does two wrongs: exaggerates and slanders him. But it commits a third wrong, an even worse wrong: it judges him, finds him to be a faithless outsider (an infidel), and condemns him.

Remember, today’s question is “what does it mean to be a Christian?”

Five years ago an opinion polling firm called the Barna Group put out a book of research titled UnChristian.  They looked at generational differences in attitudes towards Christianity. They asked this question:

Do you agree that churches are loving environments?

51% of non-church-going young people said no.  And, 38 percent of church-going young people said no.

Wow.  Half of young outsiders believe that churches, by our behavior, deny the core principles of Christianity – love God, love neighbor.  Almost four tenths of young INSIDERS believe we deny it. We have a problem!

What does it mean to be a Christian when many people believe we deny Christ’s teaching? I wonder.

But it’s even worse. This business of labeling people as unbelievers is a way of justifying violence and hatred.  Look at this man Saul we heard about in our Acts reading. He was an educated Jew. His JOB was going from Jewish synagogue to synagogue finding and arresting those he thought were unbelievers – Jews who were following the Way of Jesus.

What does it mean to be a Christian when some people who take Christ’s name use this “infidel” tag against other people?

Maybe it means very little. Maybe “Christian” is a name we sometimes just don’t want to claim. Don’t you sometimes do what Jesus’s disciples did after the resurrection? Don’t you sometimes wish that the whole thing would blow over, like they did? Don’t you, at least metaphorically, sometimes just go back with your co-workers and friends to the struggles of everyday life. Do you, like Peter, sometimes just go fishing after you’ve witnessed the resurrection? I know I do.

What does it mean to be a Christian?  I wonder why we don’t just let it go?

I wonder what it meant for Peter? Out of terror he’s denied Jesus three times. As a result he’s survived the cataclysm of violence that unfolded in Jerusalem. He’s peered into the empty tomb, but been unable to see the angels standing watch there.  And now he’s with his pals fishing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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.  (John Ch 21, NRSV)

And Jesus seeks him out, and finds him. It seems he’s embarrassed when Jesus shows up.  Jesus feeds him – partly with the food he provided. And then Jesus talks to him, and with patience and persistence follows this man Peter and meets him where he is on his journey.

Let me explain: The original language of this Gospel reading has some wordplay – a nuance – that’s missing in English. There are two Greek words for love: philia and agape. If we use those words, their dialog goes like this;

Jesus, “Simon son of John, do you agape me more than these?”
Peter, “Yes, Lord; you know that I philia you.”
Jesus “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus, “Simon son of John, do you agape me?”
Peter, “Yes, Lord; you know that I philia you.”
Jesus “Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you philia me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you philia me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I philia you.”

Jesus “Feed my sheep.

How to read this?  Some scholars say the two words agape and philia mean the same thing.  They are no doubt correct. But, those of us who are married, think of this:  If our wife or husband said, “do you love me?” what do you think would happen if were to answer, “honey, you know I like you?”  Don’t try this at home! if you do the result may involve a sleeping bag and a doghouse, and certainly an accusation of holding out and playing mind-games.

So, what does it mean to be Christian?

For Peter it means that Jesus seeks him, finds him, feeds him, and keeps trying to connect even when Peter’s holding out.  Jesus tries three times, and the third time meets Peter where he is.

Peter denied Jesus three times on the eve of the crucifixion.  Then the resurrected Jesus greeted him, the wretched traitor, in spite of his treason, and gave him the opportunity for two more subtle holding-out style denials. Finally Jesus met him where he was .. do you philia me.

Jesus kept trying, and Peter kept holding out.

I wonder if that’s what it means to be Christian for you and me?  I wonder if you and I are Peter? It doesn’t matter to him how embarrassed we are by his presence in our lives. It doesn’t matter to Jesus what clever and persistently mind games we play to deny him and his love. Jesus never, ever, gives up on us. He always invites us to lay down our foolishness and simply love him.

That’s what it means to be a Christian — for Saul, for Peter, for you and me: to be pursued by Jesus in spite of ourselves, to be repeatedly invited into God’s realm, where we live his in his Way: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.

Amen.

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 Sermon for April 14, 2013 – The Third Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Sun, 14-Apr-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for April 14, 2013 – The Third Sunday of Easter