This past weekend I had the surprise opportunity to lead worship in the Chapel of the Transfiguration at Kanuga as part of our 95th annual Diocesan Convention. The Gospel text for that service came from the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to John. It was the lakeside scene where Jesus asked Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” It appears that Jesus wanted Peter’s full attention because he did that thing some mothers do when call us by our first and middle name. “Mary Katherine!” Having thus gotten our attention, they say something we should take to heart and head. So it is with Jesus. “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” And as if to make sure Peter knows what he is most to love, Jesus asked Peter twice more, “Do you love me?”
Much had transpired between the last meal they shared in the upper room and fish breakfast they shared that morning of questioning. Peter had said things and made promises he could not take back. Peter and the others had run away from the fight for God’s reign in this world. While they were grieving, others were probably feeling some relief or even joy that this troublesome young rabbi had finally been silenced, his movement snuffed out, and that his followers were in disarray. This is the way things often appear to us in a lifeworld of winner and losers. Winners celebrate and losers wonder what went wrong. Winners claim the trophy, losers are forgotten. I wonder if those on both sides ever hear Jesus asking them, “Do you love me?” “Do you love me more than your trophy, and the adoring crowds, and your championship rings?” And to those who are the losers, “Do you love me more than your need to win?” “Do you love me more than your need to be right?”
I recall the difficult time the church in South Carolina faced in 2003 when Gene Robinson, an openly gay and partnered man, was elected Bishop of New Hampshire. Having been duly elected by the people of New Hampshire to be their chief pastor, that election went before the General Convention for the necessary standing committee assents. The leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina was strongly opposed. There were winners and there were losers. Winners celebrated and the losers wondered how this could be. Our rector had to deal with the fallout in a parish that was not of one mind and where there were many who wanted the church to make some strong proclamation and take some strong action in response. I know where he stood at that time on matters of human sexuality and I also know that he was seeking to hold together a church family he loved under conditions not of his making. I recall him saying that the matter was important, but it was not and would not be our primary concern. It was not the main thing and that we would keep on “main-thinging.” What is the main thing? It is how we answer the question, “Do you love me more than these?” I hope our answer is “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you more than these,” that we will continue to keep that the main thing, and that in first affirming our love of Jesus above all things, we will continue to be true to our baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to respect the dignify of all people, and to repent when we fail.
Grace and peace,