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On Love

Ordinary Sunday 14: 5th July, 2015
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill

Acts 3:1-10, Ps 19, Gal. 1:11-20, John 21:15-19

There is a powerful scene in the film "Good Will Hunting" (1997) starring Robin Williams and Matt Damon that still makes me cry whenever I watch it. Robin Williams plays Sean, a brilliant but wounded psychologist. Matt Damon's character is Will, an abused foster child and mathematical genius. After months of intense psychotherapy, the two have become friends and are talking in Sean's office.

Sean the psychologist is sitting on the desk. He tells his client Will a little bit about his own life story. "My father was an alcoholic," he says, "A mean drunk. He'd come home hammered, looking to whale on somebody. So I'd provoke him, so he wouldn't go after my mother and little brother. The interesting nights were when he wore his rings."

Will replies, "My father used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the table. He'd just say one word, 'Choose'."
"Well, I gotta go with the belt there" Sean laughs.
"I used to go with the wrench," says Will.
"Why the wrench?"
"To show him, that's why."

Sean pauses for a moment; he stands up, picks up Will's file full of photographs of abuse and years of psychologists' notes. "Hey, Will," he says, "I don't know a lot, but you see all this?"
He drops Will's file on his desk, the papers spilling out, then he turns to him. "It's not your fault."
Will shrugs. "Yeah, I know that."
Will averts his eyes to the floor.
"Look at me son," Sean says, "It's not your fault."
Will nods. "I know."
"No Will. It's not your fault."
"I know," says Will.
"No, no, you don't. It's not your fault."
Sean moves closer to Will.
"I know." Will stands up, trying to keep his distance.
Sean gently puts his hands on Will's shoulders.
"It's not your fault."
Will closes his eyes, he's fighting for control.
"It's not your fault."
"Don't mess with me." Will shoves Sean back. "Don't mess with me, Sean, not you!"
"It's not your fault."
Sean puts his hands gently back on Will's shoulders.
"It's not your fault."
Will breaks into sobs. They hug.
"It's not your fault."

Sometimes we need to hear things at a deeper level. Sometimes words of truth need to drill down into our inner being; to touch places they haven't reached before. Sometimes that is the only way healing can take place. Today's gospel is in some ways a similar story. Simon Peter needs to hear something that his Lord has to say to him. He needs to really hear these words of love, challenge and healing. The words of love need to drill down into his soul.

"Simon son of John," his Lord addresses him with his family name. Early in the gospel (Jn 1:42) he is renamed Peter, Cephas, the Rock-man (see W. Temple Readings in St. John's Gospel vol. 1, p. 29) but now, at the end of the gospel, he is just plain old Simon again, John's son. "Do you love me more than these?" his Lord asks. "More than boats, nets, fish, food, family, friends? More than all these things that were the focus of your life before you made the decision to follow me? Do you love me more than these, now that I am gone?" "Yes, Lord; you know that I do. I am your friend. I love you." "Well, in that case, feed my lambs. You have a job to do. You have a pastoral responsibility that comes with Christ-love. Feed my lambs."

There is such a beautiful play on words in the original Greek dialogue. Our Lord's first "do you love me?" is agape-love, self-sacrificial love, divine love, the highest form of love. Peter's response is philo-love, a friend's love, down to earth, human. It is perhaps not quite enough. Not yet. Has he heard? The dialogue needs to go deeper.

"Simon son of John, do you love me dearly, with agape-love?"
"Yes, Lord; you know that I do. I am your friend. I love you."
"Tend my sheep."

It's still not enough. By the third time our dear Peter is perhaps just starting to get it. Maybe a tear is welling up in his eyes. It was three times that he denied even knowing his Master; what a betrayal. And then the cock crowed; all that guilt, all that failure, all that human frailty.

"Simon son of John, do you love me? Do you love me as a friend?" This time they are speaking the same language; philo-love. "Yes, Lord; you know that I do. I am your friend. I love you. I am sorry for my failings, for my denials, for my weakness. I am a flawed human being, but I do love you deeply."

"Feed my sheep," Jesus commands; or is it a commissioning? "Follow me."
What is it that you and I need to hear today? What is the Spirit saying to the church at this time and in this place? Is there something we are not listening to? Our Parish Mission begins in two week's time. I hope you will all come to as much as you can, especially to the three Mission Services — on Thursday and Friday at 6.15pm and Saturday at 4pm. We really do need to be there together, because we need to listen together.

"Reflect, respond, renew" is the title of our Mission. Before we can ever hope to find renewal in our church or our community or our city, we need to listen. Before we can discern ways of responding to God's call in our lives, we first need to prayerfully reflect. We need to listen together, to be still, to embrace the silence of unknowing, and together to reflect on what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

I wonder if we might close, together, in that spirit, with a short time of silence ...


Some
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 Ministerial Priesthood
 Lay presidency
 Catholic Anglicanism
  Reconciliation
 Women bishops
  Homosexuality



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