The First Thing Is Love
May 1, 2022 (Confirmation Sunday)
Confirmands: y’all have come a long way. We’ve had a disruptive past two years, with the whole world getting thrown into a tailspin by the pandemic and y’all having to adapt to new ways of doing school, being church, and, of course, coming to confirmation. But today has been years in the making. It started back when y’all were in Sunday school, learning the big stories of the Bible. It kept going while your parents and grandparents brought you to church—maybe some Sundays a little more willingly than others. And you had four years of confirmation, writing worship notes, coming to church on Wednesdays, going on mission trips—but the day is finally here.
Today is the day that you get to come up to the front of the church, before God and everyone, and say that this is your faith to nurture now. You’re not going to rely on your parents to make sure you have a relationship with Jesus—you want to do that yourself now. This gift that you’ve been given by your parents and grandparents, your godparents and Sunday school teachers, Patricia and myself—this gift of faith in Jesus is going to be yours now. Yours to grow and nurture. Yours to build up and build upon. Yours to keep in your life, starting today.
Today, when the Bishop and your family lay hands on you and call on the Holy Spirit to fill you, this will be the start of a new chapter in your faith lives. In a lot of ways, it’s a lot like the gospel reading we just heard, of the disciples coming in from a night of fishing to find Jesus on the lakeshore.
See, this is after all the amazing events of Easter. The disciples have already seen the risen Lord. They’ve seen his hands and his side, and even had a meal or two with him. But in the swirl of how world-changing that new reality is, they’re not sure what their next move is. A big chapter of their lives has closed. The earthly ministry of Jesus—when he would walk around Judea and Galilee healing the sick, casting out demons, and teaching about the kingdom of God—those days were officially done. But a lot like how today isn’t the end of your relationship with Jesus, the resurrection wasn’t the end of the disciples’ relationship with Jesus either. Especially one disciple.
Jesus took the time, after breakfast with the disciples on the lakeshore, to have a quiet conversation with Peter. Y’all remember how Peter was the unofficial leader of the disciples, the hothead who usually spoke before he thought but was loyal to a fault—and also how when he was confronted by others during Jesus’s trial, he denied ever knowing him? Peter had that guilt lingering over his head, how he had buckled right when he was supposed to be strong, and Jesus knew he needed to heal from that. So Jesus sat him down and helped him know how to make it right.
“Do you love me, Simon son of John?” That’s what Jesus asked him. Three times. The same number of times that Peter denied knowing him. And every time that Peter responded “yes,” Jesus told him how to show that love: feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep. The way that Peter could show that he loved Jesus was by caring for the people that Jesus was calling him to care for. Peter was always a man of action, and Jesus was giving him a concrete, real way to act that would help Peter heal from the guilt of denying Jesus.
But it’s not just the fact that Jesus was calling Peter to care for others to show that he loved Jesus. Jesus, when he asks Peter if he loves him, uses the Greek word agape, which is the kind of Godly, self-giving love that sacrifices for others and makes people whole—think of the kind of love your parents have for you. And Peter responds with the Greek word philo, which is more like the way that you love a friend—someone you care for and want the best for, but not as deep and all-encompassing as agape love. Basically, Jesus is asking Peter if he loves him, and Peter says, “yeah, like a friend.”
And then there’s an important change, y’all. The last time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Jesus uses the word philo. See, Jesus wants Peter to get to the point of loving him like agape love, but Peter doesn’t seem to be ready for that just yet. Instead of insisting he get there now, Jesus meets Peter where he is. If Peter isn’t ready for agape love, but is ready for philo love, then that’s where Jesus will start. Because remember, this is the start of a new chapter. And just like it’s the start of a new chapter for Peter, today is the start of a new chapter for y’all too.
When you come forward today, the Bishop is going to ask y’all some questions. Questions about whether you’re ready to take on this faith. Questions about what you believe, and if you’re ready to embrace the gift of faith that you’ve been given by others. And I know y’all are going to say yes—this has been at least four years in the making. But I also want y’all to remember, when you answer, to think of Peter and Jesus’s conversation. Maybe there are still questions. Maybe there are still doubts. Maybe you wonder if you need to love Jesus more, or know about God more, or be more of something before you can really say yes to all these questions you’ll be asked.
But Jesus met Peter where he was.
Jesus will always meet you where you are too. This morning, even more than asking if you understand and believe all the things you’ve learned from Sunday school through confirmation; more than if you’ve got the creed, the commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer all memorized; more than if you agree with what I say about God or what Patricia says about God or what anyone in this congregation says about God; we’re asking you if you love Jesus. And if you love Jesus—whether that’s agape or philo love—know that that’s enough of a place to start this next chapter of your faith lives. Starting at the imperfect place is better than never getting to the perfect place to start.
As you take this next step in your faith, you can also know that you aren’t doing this alone. Peter wasn’t left to figure out Jesus’s call on his own—he was set in a community of the disciples, and surrounded by all the people who would come to know and love Jesus. Each of you, too, is surrounded by God’s people—by your parents and grandparents, your godparents and Sunday school teachers, myself and Patricia, and the whole congregation here. We are all here to support you, to pray for you, to ask the hard questions with you, and to grow together with you in your faith and in your love for Jesus.
And as you grow in your love for Jesus—and I’m sure y’all will—feed his lambs. Tend his sheep. Feed his sheep. Care for the people that God will put into your lives. Share hope, because you love Jesus. Stand up for the oppressed, because you love Jesus. Forgive others, because you love Jesus. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and free the prisoner, because you love Jesus. Know that you are part of a worldwide community that is moved to share love and forgiveness and compassion and justice because we all love Jesus. It’s a love that changes the world. And it’s a love that you’re affirming this morning when you say, “I will, and I ask God to help and guide me.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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