“Do You Love Me?”

John 21:1-19

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

“Do you love me?”

We have heard this question asked in countless pop songs and novels and movies. A couple may seem to be getting along pretty well, but one partner wonders about the other’s inner feelings. Harry loves Sally, but, Harry asks, does Sally love Harry?

It’s not a simple question. It may happen that Sally does love Harry, but not as much as he loves her.

While Harry may say that he loves Sally, his inattention to her needs suggests otherwise.

And the question isn’t only raised about romantic love. People ask, “Does my mother really love me?” “Do my children care about me?” “Does my friend like me as much as I like him?”

So, too, as we heard today in the Second Lesson, this probing question is also asked in religion. In the text, Christ appears to some of his disciples after the resurrection.

At one point in the story, Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” In other words, does Peter love Jesus more than the other disciples love him–more than all else in life?

Peter replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”

Then Jesus asks Peter a second time, “Do you love me?” Peter answers, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus then says, “Tend my sheep.”

But when Christ asks the same question a third time, Peter isn’t pleased! The Gospel reports that, “Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ Peter replies, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’” So Jesus again says, “Feed my sheep.”

Ancient stories often repeat questions; this literary technique emphasizes the gravity of the issue at stake. In this case, Peter can’t just say that he loves Jesus—he will need to put his words into action.

And as the Gospel goes on to note, Peter would eventually give his life as a follower of Christ. Jesus tells him, “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.”

The Gospel writer comments that Jesus “said this to indicate the kind of death by which would glorify God.” Tradition says that Peter was executed by being tied to a cross.

“If you love me, feed my sheep.” In context, “feeding Christ’s sheep” meant that after Jesus ascended to Heaven, Peter should devote himself to the leadership of Christ’s followers on earth. Tradition also says that Peter became the head of the church in Rome and thus the first Pope.

Yet you don’t have to be a Pope to see the obligation of love. If you love a person, you know you’ll have to act in a certain way. You know you can’t hide things. You can’t be a hypocrite; you can’t say one thing and do something else.

But this fact suggests a useful criterion for evaluating the seriousness of relationships. One way to see if your friend loves you is to speculate about what your friend would give up for you. If you got sick, would he rush to the hospital? If you needed money, would she give you a loan?

Some of your friends might well be ready and willing to make sacrifices for you. By contrast, other friends might be much less committed to your wellbeing. Work friends, for example, might do little more than help you with a problem in the office. Outside of work, you’d be on your own.

So, too, we can pose Christ’s question to ourselves: How much would we feel able to offer to our friends? How much would we give to our Church? To God?

At the recent Vestry retreat, we considered some biblical ideas of ministry, and we tried to see how they might relate to the particular vocations of parish leaders.

For example, we looked at how the challenges of modern life added to the difficulties that wardens and vestry face. Because of their complicated schedules and family commitments, members sometimes struggle to find time to solve building problems or to support parish ministries.

Last Sunday, I asked the wife of a member of the Vestry who happened not to be in church that day what he was up to. It turned out that the vestryman was in Stockholm—in the midst of a whirlwind business tour of a number of countries in Europe.

Many lay people find themselves pulled in different directions. Contrast our lifestyles with the daily routine that rural farmers shared a century ago.

For these farmers, a trip to church was simply a duty to be performed between morning chores and lunch – a habit that had been followed by their grandparents. It was a natural part of their life, like plowing the fields or milking the cows—the farmers didn’t ask how going to church fit in to complicated schedules!

Now, of course, our spiritual commitments to love God and our neighbors won’t equal the sacrifices of the original disciples. Like Peter, many of them went on to become martyrs for their faith. Nor will they equal the sacrifices of Christians in Egypt and Nigeria who are being persecuted and murdered by Muslim extremists.

Yet, still, for all of us, religion means putting love into practice. Religion isn’t just one item to check off on a To-Do List. Faith is a whole life dedicated to loving God and our neighbors.

And like any relationship involving love it’s personal. We each have to figure out how our individual convictions will be tested.

God asks each of us, “Do you love me?” If we answer yes, we need then to ask ourselves, how are we putting our words into action? Whom are we helping? Whom are we feeding? What are we serving in Christ’s name?

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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