Sunday, May 6, 2012

it's all about L.O.V.E.

Love is one of the most complicated of all human emotions.  Wrapped up in four little letters is the yearning of the heart, the hope of what could be as well as memories of what was.

It would be so much easier to keep our emotions in check if we were like the Greeks, with multiple words for love - eros for passionate, desiring, physical love; philia for a love based on friendship and loyalty to friends and family alike; and agape which is often equated with the love of God and the sacrificial love that one has for others.

But all we have is L.O.V.E.  And love has a tendency to get us into trouble at times, more often than not its the lack of love - for ourselves and others that gets us into trouble.  On the other hand, love also helps us to be better people, for love is, indeed patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4a).

Because I love the United Methodist Church, and because I dream of us living into God's love in radical, Christ focused ways, I was compelled to respond to events of General Conference this week, and the defeat of the Hamilton/Slaughter substitution amendment in particular from the pulpit this morning.  To follow is the text of this morning's homily.  (please forgive the ellipses and dashes)

John 21:15-17
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.

This morning’s scripture lesson is a continuation of Jesus' third appearance to his disciples after the resurrection.  This time, Jesus is on the shore along the sea of Galilee.  This morning we find Jesus and the disciples enjoying breakfast and Peter becomes the focus of Christ's parable about love.

Peter, of all of the disciples was the most impetuous – often outrageous, and yet, I find him to be a very, very human disciple. I can relate to Peter. On the night of Jesus’ arrest Peter swore his allegiance to Jesus – and then before the sun rose the next day, he denied him – not once – but three times.

From all accounts, it seems that Peter is getting a good talking to – and like any parent it would seem that Jesus wants to make a point - I have done this before myself - making my children repeat the instructions over and over again before an important task, but friends, there is so much more to our Gospel lesson than  this.

Three times Jesus asks Peter – do you love me? And each time Peter replies – more vehemently each time – 'of course you know I do…'

Then feed my sheep, Jesus says.

Are we to take this literally?  Does this mean that Jesus wants Peter to go out and became a sheep rancher?

Not at all – in fact we know that he was a fisherman – a fisherman who responded to Jesus’ call to drop his nets and follow him – to become a fisher for people. So what happens to these fish once they are caught? What happens to people once they hear the good news and become a Christ follower?

They become one of His – since Jesus is the good shepherd, they, we become one of His flock – a sheep of his fold.  We see this throughout scripture –  in the Gospel of Mark chapter 6, verse 34

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

And in Luke chapter 15:

Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

And returning to the Gospel of John, chapter 10:7-11

Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.   I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Thanks be to God for Jesus, the good shepherd – who love us and calls us to himself!

The past two weeks delegates from the United Methodist church around the globe gathered in Tampa, Florida to set the course for our denomination. We gather only once every four years – and it is mesmerizing to watch the process and proceedings unfold.

There is meaningful worship, legislative committee work and then, over the course of five days, the group gathers to vote on the structure of the church. You may have read about some of the proceedings, there are plenty of reports out there if you’re interested –

What I learned from watching the proceedings was that we are a global church – and culture matters. What is acceptable in one part of the world, like our dependence on cell phones and Wi-Fi for example, is foreign in another – an iPhone isn’t going to do me much good in the bush in Africa or in a remote village in the Philippines, or on the northern end of Bremer county for that matter.

We also all read scripture through the lens of our experiences, traditions and use our minds to sort it all out. Undoubtedly there are parts of scripture that challenge us and our sensibilities. There are parts of scripture that say that a woman is not to speak to the assembly (church), that shaving is taboo, that slavery is acceptable, that widows are supposed to marry their brother in law and have a child right away.

I lift this all up, because as I read this passage in the Gospel of John – and elsewhere in scripture - Jesus never makes a distinction as to exactly who his sheep are. Sheep are sheep – people are people – each precious and beloved in God’s sight – each created in God’s own image…that is powerful to me – that speaks to my own belovedness and uniqueness – the knowledge that God does not withhold his love, even if I am to deny him, like Peter did, is a powerful living – breathing – example of God’s amazing love and grace.

As United Methodists, we call this Prevenient Grace – God loving us before we even know of God. God's prevenient grace is with us from birth, preparing us for new life in Christ. "Prevenient" means "comes before."

Wesley did not believe that humanity was totally "depraved" but rather God places a little spark of divine grace within us which enables us to recognize and accept God's justifying grace.

and because God first loved us – we are able to love others…

I believe the source of all love is God – I believe that this love is then meant to be shared in healthy and holistic ways to the Glory of God – it’s the love of Jesus that kept Mother Teresa in Calcutta, serving among the poorest of the poor, it’s the love of God that draws us together as we sing praises to the one who created us, its God’s love that should be at the center of all of our relationships and it is God’s love that makes room for the least and the lost, those who are outcast from ‘normal society’, the widow, the orphan, the broken and hurting.

As followers of Christ, as baptized believers in the Way, the Truth and the Life – we are like Peter – challenged to respond to these same three questions Jesus asked Peter.  If you love me...feed, tend, love my sheep.

At General conference, the issue of homosexuality and the UMC’s stance was once again a point of contention and yes, even hurt. We are divided about this – there is no doubt. The debate is often a bitter one. One of the most encouraging moments in General Conference this last week was when Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter lifted up an amendment – basically saying that we agree to disagree – but we do so in love.

I think that this document is very important, not only in the discussion about homosexuality, but it can form and inform us as we move forward as a church – as we live out God’s call and claim on our own lives as followers of Jesus.

***** The Hamilton/Slaughter Amendment:*****

Homosexuality continues to divide our society and the church. All in the United Methodist Church affirm that homosexual persons are people of sacred worth and all are welcome in our churches, but we disagree as a people regarding whether homosexual practices is contrary to the will of God.

The Bible is our primary text for discerning God’s will. We read and interpret it by the light of the Spirit’s witness, with the help of the thoughtful reflections of Christians throughout the centuries and assisted by our understanding of history, culture, and science.

The majority view through the history of the church is that the scriptures teach that same-sex sexual intimacy is contrary to the will of God. This view is rooted in several passages from both the Old and New Testament.

A significant minority of our church views the scriptures that speak to same-sex intimacy as reflecting the understanding, values, historical circumstances and sexual ethics of the period in which the scriptures were written, and therefore believe these passages do not reflect the timeless will of God. They read the scriptures related to same-sex intimacy in the same way that they read the Bible’s passages on polygamy, concubinage, slavery and the role of women in the church.

United Methodists will continue to struggle with this issue in the years ahead as a growing number of young adults identify today with what is the minority view. The majority view of the General Conference, and thus the official position of the church, continues to hold out that same-sex intimacy is not God’s will. We recognize, however, that many faithful United Methodists disagree with this view.

It is likely that this issue will continue to be a source of conflict within the church. We have a choice: We can divide, or we can commit to disagree with compassion, grace, and love, while continuing to seek to understand the concerns of the other. Given these options, schism or respectful co-existence, we choose the latter.

We commit to disagree with respect and love, we commit to love all persons and above all, we pledge to seek God’s will. With regard to homosexuality, as with so many other issues, United Methodists adopt the attitude of John Wesley who once said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.”

Submitted by Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter.

****** (you may read more at this link: click here)

Sadly, this amendment did not pass, but I think it is a document that we can and should use to inform our lives together.

As we prayerfully discern how God is calling us to live as a church, I think we have to first come to grips with what God’s love is all about – is it abundant and extended to all, or is it just for a few select folk?

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 – not just those who look like you – remember those who are sick, in prison, the widowed and orphaned.’ 

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. Not just the 'good' ones, remember the ones who have a tendency to stray – they need you even more some times’  

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. I am giving you the whole world – and everyone in it, to love and to care for – just as God loves and cares for you.

Are we ready, church, to feed His sheep, tend his lambs? Even those society would call black sheep?

I pray that we are – in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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