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Sermon of the WCC general secretary at the Seong Eun Methodist Church in Seoul, Korea

Sermon of the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at the Seong Eun Methodist Church in Seoul, Korea, on 17 November 2019

15 November 2019

Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity

 

John 21:15-19

 

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Thank you for this opportunity to share the Gospel with you this morning! God has given us the good news about Jesus Christ for all of us and for all of our days in life. It is the good news for all of us for the happy days, for the difficult days, for the very ordinary days.

It was a very special day at the Sea of Tiberias. It was also a very ordinary day. It happened to be both a very happy day for Peter and his friends, Thomas called the Twin, and Nathanel, and four others, but also a rather difficult day. At the end it was the day that opened the future for them, all the days to follow Jesus and to go where he sent them.

They had been through turbulent days in Jerusalem. The worst had happened, Jesus their teacher and leader, had been killed. The worst day in their lives. Peter tried to forget, at least deny that he knew that man. The worst possible scenario had happened. Jesus’ words about truth and love, justice for the poor, and hope for the future had indeed created a new reality and new relationships. But his message had also provoked opposition, most of all from the powerful. It had led to conspiracy, power-games, politicization of religion, wilful ignorance, and violation of moral and legal responsibilities and principles.

Even Jesus’ friends, his closest friends, had broken their relationships through betrayal and denial of him: “I do not know this man!”

BUT: The miracle, the best day had appeared in their lives. The third day he had appeared to them, risen from the death, out of the empty tomb! First he had appeared to Mary Magdalene, who had met him outside the tomb, and who had come to them and said: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:11-19)  Later the same day he had come through closed doors and said “peace be with you!” He had come without revenge, without repercussions, with his wounds and said “Peace be with you!” This is the deepest love. Not denying the truth about had happened, not hiding the wounds, but shown them as the signs of love. This is Christ’s love, that moves, reconciles and unites. He told them “as the Father sent me, I send you”.  The movement was outwards, out of the closed room, out in the world. To share this love.

One was not present, Thomas the Twin. Jesus had to come again, 8 days later, to let Thomas feel with his finger the reality, the wounds of Jesus. “Do not be faithless, but believing!” Jesus said to him. (John 20:24-29)

The terrible days had become happy days.

Now they also had become ordinary days. Back home at Tiberias. And Peter told the others: “I am going fishing”. And they went with him. There seems to be something missing in the story about Jesus meeting the disciples after the resurrection. What about Peter, who had denied Jesus three times? How could that be reconciled?

Jesus met them were they were, in their boats, at the shore. Back to the ordinary lives. A disappointing day. No fish. But a man on the shore asked them to cast the net on the other side of the boat. And thy could not haul it in, so much fish they got. Peter discovered, understood, first who it was, and sprang into the sea to get to meet him. He needed a new beginning, a reconciliation. It comes from Jesus: Bring fish, and come and have breakfast! He gave them bread and fish. The fellowship was restored. (John 20:1-14)

But there was something more to be said. The loving host, the risen Lord, the honest teacher and leader asks Peter: “Do you love me?”

This is a tough question to hear. Maybe one of the toughest questions we can ask one another. The question itself contains a doubt that it is so, and perhaps even reasons to believe that it is not the case. The relationship that raises the question is perhaps a broken one. Still, the question also reveals a hope that love can be affirmed, even manifested in such a way that the question will not have to be repeated.

Jesus’ love across all broken relationships, all barriers, all fear and hopelessness, could not be expressed in a stronger way. Love is always about relationships, and love is about the future: Where are we going from here? To get there, the past had to be clarified, and Jesus had done it. Completely. His love for Peter and the failing disciples was without reservation. Still, Peter also had to clarify and answer the question: Do you love me? No wonder that it was tough to answer. Three times Jesus asked. It had to be a moment of truth in his mind.

This is the defining question to all leaders in the church. Do you love me? The question comes from Jesus. Do we love Jesus?

What does that mean – to love Jesus? We should pay attention here: Jesus immediately directs the attention to all on whose behalf he is asking. Affirming love leads immediately to the task: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Love for God must be shown in responsibility and care for those in need, all those whom God cares for.

I hear Jesus’ question in what we face in our time.

Children and young people are posing the same question in a new way. Do you love me? Do you care for our future? Do you care for more than yourself? Do you love us? Do you love me? Do you take care of the creation in which we shall live? The WCC has a programme called Churches’ Commitment to Children. This has become a significant common effort in many churches to give children protection against violence and injustice in their homes, schools, cities – and in their churches. This week we celebrate the 30 years of the international UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). This is a remarkable joint document that needs to be implemented every day. Children – and women – are the first and most vulnerable victims of war, among refugees, of any other catastrophe.

Do you love me? Do you make peace so that we can live in the land, peacefully, with justice and joy? Together the churches here in South Korea and your partners in North Korea continue to make efforts for peace, together with the wider ecumenical fellowship in the World Council of Churches. We are committed to stand with you, to work, pray and walk with you for peace in the Korean peninsula, for the sake of all who live here and around you.

Today we hear this question as it pertains to this greatest concern of our time, climate change or global warming. Will we fulfil the promises from Paris - or maybe just mouth the intentions - to halt global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius? The destructive changes in our environment, water, soil, air  - all that defines the parameters of “nature” – raise questions of calling and conscience for us, to us, and even about us.

We talk about achieving just peace with creation. We discuss climate justice, asking who is responsible for the problem and the solutions. We ponder what it means to hope, in face of these challenges. We plan for a just and sustainable way of living, locally and globally. We give children and youth to have agency in how the churches address the global warming.

All this and much more raises many questions, and many answers are required from our churches as communities, as institutions, from leaders, indeed from all of us.  Again and again, from our pulpits, in our liturgies, in our meetings, as we work and walk together in faith.

Today I am struck anew by Jesus’ question, as I have been many times before at critical points in my life, when making decisions about my life and future. Do you love me? The question immediately shifts our attention to the tasks of our lives, whether we are in our families, in the schools, pastors in the churches, caring for lambs, leaders or actors in organizations or businesses or government, or something totally different. Peter had to answer in an honest way. To follow Jesus is always about being honest, just, and caring for the others and not our own interests first. It is always about whether and how we respect and love each other in response to divine love.

Do you love me? Do you respond to the love of the creator, who has given you life and all that nurtures and protects your life? Do you respond to being forgiven and accepted by God, even when we know very well our shortcomings and our failures? All of us have our sins. Also the leaders of the teams.

Do you love me? The question also comes from all those with whom Jesus identified. All those in the margins, all those who are less empowered and privileged. The WCC has said that we are on a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace together, seeking just peace in all the world. We are pursuing our mission work from and with the margins.

This question of our love for God is the great commandment. But the principle guideline for life is the double commandment: You shall love God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. Because the neighbour is “as one of us.” We are all as one of us.

We still have the ability to hear this question. My dear sisters and brothers: This is our time. To say that “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity” – as the theme of the next Assembly of the WCc in 2021. To be sent by Jesus, sometimes like Peter, to where we do not know or do not want. But sent by him with the word of love.

This is our time: To be loved by Jesus Christ. To love one another.

God so loved the world that he gave his only son. What do we give him back? Let us follow him, Every day.

Amen.