This past week, I was talking on the phone with someone
And she said – I just have to tell you about this amazing love story I got to witness this past weekend.
One of her friends from college had planned a visit with her boyfriend. And the boyfriend had called the friend in advance to let her know that he was planning to propose.
He had it all planned out. Knowing his girlfriend was a huge boxing fan, he had bought them tickets to a nationally televised fight and then at a certain point in the evening – he had planned, in front of the whole crowd, to go out in the ring – and declare his love for her and ask her to marry him.
So, the moment came – and all went as planned. He goes out onto the ring. She is absolutely and utterly surprised – he gets down on one knee and she jumps into his arms and says yes. And they are both crying – and my friend was crying – and people in the audience are crying – who don’t even know this couple.
And my friend over the phone was saying – it was just so beautiful. Just the perfect picture of love – and we were all overwhelmingly moved with emotion –
And I hoped in that moment – that I could feel what they were feeling.
That I could feel that much love for someone else.
Most of us have experienced moments where we’ve seen something beautiful and loving and extravagant happen like this.
And there is this feeling that we have – whether its us in the middle of the situation or whether we are watching something unfold.
That feeling of delight - of connection – of enjoyment and happiness and of feeling elated – like things are exactly where they are supposed to be.
The emotion we associate with love – it can make us feel - more spontaneous – and in some cases – less likely to use our good judgment.
But it makes us feel ALIVE.
I think That’s why we say – we LOVE chocolate or we love Christmas. Or we LOVE a certain piece of music.
We don’t feel the same way toward chocolate as we do our beloved grandmother, but there is that same feeling of warmth and goodness – of enjoyment and delight – and that feeling – is something all of us want to feel more of.
And while I think that most of us would say that love is much much more than just a feeling – that is where we often start.
Jesus talks about love in our Scripture today – but it appears that Jesus isn’t talking about love in the same way that we are often talking about love.
Peter is the one he is directly addressing – and the conversation is happening after the resurrection. Peter and the disciples were fishing all night and they hadn’t caught anything. But then Jesus – sitting on the shore of the sea of Galilee – tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and when they do –they bring in this incredible load – bursting at the seams with fish.
And Peter – seeing that it is Jesus – runs onto the shore.
Obviously filled with emotion.
And they come onto the shore and Jesus – is there having prepared breakfast for them.
It isn’t the first time that they have seen him – but you can imagine they are still trying to process all that has happened.
Especially Peter – the one who – just days ago – when Jesus was betrayed and taken in by the authorities – had fled the scene and denied that he knew him – 3 times.
So, Jesus asks Peter a question – and appropriately – he asks him the question – 3 times –
Simon Peter – son of John – do you love me – more than these?
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
Yes, Peter says – and by the third time – he is hurt – you know I love you –
Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.
Jesus is clearly talking about a love that is much, much deeper than a feeling.
Feelings are fleeting.
If your love is real Jesus says, then it ought to have some legs.
I think about how God’s love began to take root in Peter’s own life. He was a fisherman. And yet he had been chosen.
It’s small at first – he was accepted and seen – he was offered grace – and that love began to grow in his heart as he learned and was challenged and as he grew as a disciple.
That connection with Jesus – kept him going.
But when things got hard – when it seemed Jesus – would be going away –
Fear became too powerful.
And he denied Jesus three times.
And so – part of what Jesus is helping Peter to see on the shore –
Is that -
Even in a moment where we don’t have the feeling.
Even when perhaps – we have the opposite of the feeling.
When we are hurt and angry
When we have lost control and feel overwhelmed
When we are utterly confused and feel all alone
Even then – especially then…
We make a choice
We choose the path of love.
Real love takes us inevitably to the uncomfortable place of service – of the decision and commitment to live our lives acting on that love toward someone else – not because of how we feel or will feel
but because the love is something that is now in us – in a full and abundant way – and we choose to share it.
I’m been thinking about what this love looks like – on the days when we aren’t feeling the warm and fuzzy emotion – but when the depth of our commitment to others is strongest.
I thought about it a lot this past month – after time and again – I cleaned up the mess of bodily functions left by my elderly dog in our house.
I was thinking about this as I spent time this week with my mother – who has devoted most of her free time to caring for my elderly grandmother – who has been plagued by Alzheimer’s.
And I was thinking about it as I heard the story of a country pastor who showed love and welcome to two LGBT couples in his community and lost 25 families from his church as a result.
Jesus points Peter to what it will look like to live out one’s love for Jesus.
The choice that we make to choose the path of love -
will likely take him to a place he doesn’t want to go –
In the same way that it happened for Jesus.
Now let’s be clear – I’m not talking about the kind of self-depracating love that stops acknowledging your own personhood – that neglects your own basic needs and just gives until it hurts.
In fact, we usually know when we have stopped immersing ourselves in the endless love that God has to offer us when we are feeling burnt out and overwhelmed and exhausted. So, if that is you.
Then you need to go back to the well – to let God love on you and let yourself be bathed and surrounded in that love.
So that – when your life is immersed in it -
That you can choose the path of love
We become less worried and concerned about how we are feeling –
and more focused on this greater picture –
When the love begins to pour out -
Our life is directed toward a greater meaning – a greater purpose.
And so we will follow that purpose and intention – no matter – where it leads.
But it starts with love.
We’ve spent these last 6 months talking about what it means to grow as a disciple – about how to take another step forward in our faith journey with Jesus – about what it would look like in one of these areas – knowledge, sharing our faith, relationships with others and with God, giving and service.
When Jesus asked the question -
Do you love me?
He did NOT want Peter to miss this chance to understand what this call was really going to be about.
Perhaps the question that Jesus asks Peter on that morning on the shore of Galilee is the question that all of us need to answer for ourselves.
Because if the answer is yes. If Jesus’ love has truly taken root in our hearts.
Then the next question is obvious -
Are you ready to put that love into action?
This year in February, Martin and I had the privilege of traveling to Israel and sitting on the shore of the sea of Galilee where today’s story took place – where the disciples ate breakfast with Jesus and where Peter would have sat – hearing those words from Jesus – “Do you love me?”
There is a church on that spot now – as there is in almost all of the historic spots where Jesus lived and moved and taught.
But outside the church is a rocky shore.
And as I sat out on that shore that day – looking out at the same scene that Peter would have seen, I couldn’t help hearing God ask me the same question –
Do you love me April? Where has that love taken root in your heart and life? Where are you letting that love become a part of your life in a way that is deeper – and in a way where you are ready to say yes to the call?
Are you ready for your love to have some more legs?
To be more than just something that makes you feel safe and protected and loved?
But also something that brings that same movement into all of the world?
As I sat there in tears on that shore – hearing these questions, my hands began digging into the rocks beneath me – praying and asking for the courage to really let that love take a hold of me…
And I brought a few of those rocks home with me.
Where is it that God is inviting you choose that path of love?
To allow that to take a deeper root in your life?