“The Third Time is the Charm”

“Peter do you love me?  Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.  Then feed my sheep.” 

This is such a difficult and tragic time in the life of this church – Many, if not most all of you, are aware of the sudden and tragic accidental death this past weekend of one of our young people, Wilson King, the son of Ed and Katherine King and the grandson of Ed and Jeannie James, the brother of Alexandra and Graham. What are we to say, what are we to think; what are we to do?

At these times we turn to scripture:

“Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30)

“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want…” (Psalm 23)

“In the face of all of this, if God is for us, who can be against us?   He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future… nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 31-39)

In today’s gospel text, Jesus asks Peter three separate times, “Do you love me?”

“Peter do you love me?  Lord, you know I love you.  Then feed my lambs.

Peter do you love me?   Lord, you know I love you.  Then tend my sheep.

Peter do you love me?   Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.  Then feed my sheep.”  (John 21: 15-17)

In part, we understand this as the gospel of John’s way of canceling out each one of Peter’s denials of Jesus on the night that Jesus was arrested and betrayed.

But Jesus’ persistence demonstrates more than a “tit-for-tat” scorekeeping of rights and wrongs.  The risen Christ ties each of Peter’s confessions of love for him to his three time repeated command — “Care for my sheep.”
What took Peter three times to get – and what takes all of us a lifetime both to get and to practice – is that Jesus’ question “do you love me?” and his command to “feed my sheep” are one and the same.  Peter didn’t understand immediately the implications of what it means to love Christ. Truly loving Christ means feeding the sheep – it means loving, protecting, caring for all those whom Christ loves.

All of us know that the words, “I love you” can never be spoken too often.  For some of us who have weathered the hurts of a broken relationship, to say, “I love you,” for the first time again can be one of the most frightening things we will ever do.

Yet, saying “I love you” out loud is such an important part of any relationship — whether you are

Whispering it to your new sweetheart;
Promising it to your newly born or adopted child;
Re-affirming it again and again to one’s parents, children, and grandchildren; or

Offering it to a lonely or hurting friend

Saying “I love you” once is never enough.  It is just the beginning.  We must say “I love you” over and over again – we must hear “I love you” over and over again – before we begin to trust the reality of those words and before we can feel the weight of the love that lies behind them.

Loving Christ means feeding and tending the sheep, it is one and the same thing.

The love confessed and the love expressed can take many different forms, and not all of them are pleasant.  For every loving moment spent cuddling and holding our new baby, there are an awful lot of equally loving but not so lovely moments spent changing smelly diapers.

Loving a spouse is planning a romantic dinner for two – as well as going to the ballet when you would rather be going to the hockey game (or vice versa).

A loving friend joins you in a comfortable place for coffee and conversation, but it also means being there for them when they call at 2 AM with tragic news

Tending the sheep and loving Christ is sometimes messy, inconvenient, upsetting, and uncomfortable.  It takes more than just good intentions to make the kind of loving commitment Jesus was trying to get Peter to admit to – it takes habits.

In theological circles the word is “habitus.”  The concept behind “habitus” is that of “inhabiting” – “inhabiting” a pattern of living that in itself is an expression of an inner philosophy of life, in the Christian case; it is a philosophy of putting Christ’s love and faith into action.

Establishing faith and love as a habit, as a pattern of living, takes commitment to at least three things:  Repetition, Ritual and Reinforcement.

Repetition: Jesus repeated his question to Peter three times — not out of doubt or because of Peter’s denseness, but in order to strengthen the power of his words.  With each “Do you love me,” the meaning and inferences behind this question seeped more deeply into Peter’s heart.

Lately repetition as a way of learning has gotten bad press for being simply “rote memorization.”  But there is another phrase we all use to describe something we have committed to memory — through repetition; we say, we learned it “by heart.”

All of our prayers, our repeated actions and responses that we “learn by heart” through constant repetition, have become a part of our inner being, our true selves; they are centered deep within our hearts.

“I love you mommy, I love you daddy!” – “Our Father who art in heaven…”  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”

When I was in college, I “learned by heart” the 107 answers to the “so called” Westminster Shorter Catechism.  I have to admit that I did this in order to be awarded the Samuel B. Robinson Financial Prize.  The College Chaplain proceeded to ask me the 107 questions.  I then had to repeat the correct answer. I will never forget that day and the first question:  Dr. Walker began:  “What is the chief end of man?”

“The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

Songs of praise and thanksgiving, prayers, and words of scripture that over the years we have “learned by heart,” represent our expressions of love and faith; and they are so powerful for having been repeated and sung so often.

“Be Thou my vision O Lord of my heart;

Naught be all else to me, save that thou art;

Thou my best thought by day or by night;

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”

“Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee

Take my moments and my days

Let them flow in ceaseless praise

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”

Listen again to the lyrics of the anthem that the choir just sang; it is entitled, “I believe.”

I believe in the sun

Even when it is not shining

And I believe in love

Even when there’s no one there

But I believe in God

Even when he is silent

I believe through any trial

There is always a way.

May there someday be sunshine

May there someday be happiness

May there someday be love

May there someday be peace…”

Establishing faith and love as a habit, as a pattern of living takes commitment to Ritual

Rituals need not be mindless acts; indeed, rituals rightly performed are mindful acts.

We all have our personal rising rituals: we get up, we exercise, we shower, take our medication, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, check the weather forecast and the news headlines.  We all have our own version of this morning routine.  The consistency is comforting and it settles our systems before we launch into another busy day.

Have you established a similar “habitus,” a pattern of faithfulness that serves the same purpose in your relationship to Christ?  We need faith-rituals to give us stability when everything else around us seems to be shifting and is so uncertain.  Faith rituals can be as formal as going to church every Sunday.  A “habitus” ritual might be the repeating of a morning prayer as you awake, or as you are out on your daily walk, run, or bike ride.

“Lord Jesus you are the light of the world;

Fill my mind with your peace and

Fill my heart with your love.”

And thirdly, establishing faith and love as a habit, as a pattern of living takes commitment to Reinforcement.

This past week at the men’s Wednesday coffee discussion group the following story was shared.  A member of the group explained that his mother and father had been married for many years; after she died, several years later, his father remarried.

His first wife tended to be “a nag” and at times berated him for his lack of achievement.  Interestingly his father responded by being an underachiever; in those years he never reached his potential.

Now, a big part of the attractiveness of his second wife was that she was so positive; every morning she would send him off with the most encouraging words.  “I know you can do and achieve whatever you decide.”  He felt so loved; he felt so reinforced by her words each and every day, guess what, he began to achieve in his life as never before; he was happy and he began to reach his potential using his God-given talents.

We all need positive reinforcement to keep the habits of our faith renewed and refreshed. This is why we need to hear “I love you,” as often as we need to say it to others.

Remember to faithfully practice a “habitus” lifestyle of Repetition

“What is the chief end of man?”  “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

Remember to faithfully practice a “habitus” lifestyle of Ritual

“Lord Jesus you are the light of the world;

Fill my mind with your peace and

Fill my heart with your love.”

Remember to faithfully practice a “habitus” lifestyle of Reinforcement

“Peter do you love me?  Lord, you know I love you.  Then feed my lambs.

Peter do you love me?   Lord, you know I love you.  Then tend my sheep.

Peter do you love me?   Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.  Then feed my sheep.”

Let each one of us reach out this day, this week, and in the days and months ahead to support and love each other, but most of all to support and love the family and friends of Wilson King as they seek to deal with his sudden and tragic accidental death.  We can all be of help as we express our love to them through our words, our prayers, and our deeds of kindness.

“In the face of all of this, if God is for us, who can be against us?   He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future… nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Remember, well-loved and well-tended sheep respond devotedly to the shepherd and remember each one of us is called to practice that loving and tending.

AMEN!