Login / Signup

Free Access

Do You Love Me?

Sermon
Sermons on the Gospel Readings
Series III, Cycle B
Nikos Kazantzakis gives us a disturbing and beautiful story in his book, The Last Temptation of Christ. There is an unforgettable scene between Jesus and John. They are sitting high above the Jordan in the hollow of a rock, where they have been arguing all night long about what to do with the world. John's face is hard and decisive. From time to time his arms go up and down as though he were chopping something apart. Jesus' face, in contrast, is hesitant and tame. His eyes are full of compassion. "Isn't love enough?" Jesus asks. "No," John answers angrily. "The tree is rotten. God called me and gave me the ax, which I then placed at the roots of the tree. I did my duty. Now you do yours; take the ax and strike!" Jesus says, "If I were fire, I would burn. If I were a woodcutter, I would strike; but I am a heart, and I love."1 I think these words of Kazantzakis are an answer to a question all suffering people ask.

We know that life involves suffering. From the earliest times, human suffering has been so severe that Saint Teresa of Avila reportedly said to God, "No wonder your friends are so few, considering how you treat them." We also know that suffering can produce virtues. Facing painful problems head on can lead to emotional maturity. The pain we experience -- if it doesn't destroy us -- may cause us to grow stronger. I suspect this is why some of us are willing to take on hard things in life. We go to evening meetings that last until midnight and attend rehearsals with endless repetitions. We take on projects that may never show results, and we throw ourselves into workouts at the gym that turn us into limp noodles. We do this because we have learned that it is the hard things -- not the easy ones -- that change lives.

There are a number of quotes that are supposed to make us feel better about this. One quote says, "Those who cannot feel pain are not capable either of feeling joy." Oscar Wilde said, "Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground."2 Syncletica was a fifth-century Christian mystic. She said, "In the beginning, there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing toward God and afterward, ineffable joy." She then gives us an image for this process. "It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and in this way they obtain what they seek ... so we, too, must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work."3

The divine fire was kindled on Pentecost Day. In the fire of the Spirit that invaded the hearts of people that day, there was also an answer to the question raised by suffering. The disciples had suffered. Their leader had suffered. He died a terrible death. He shocked them by coming back from the grave. Then he left a second time. His followers were brokenhearted, wondering how they were going to live with such a crushing blow. The wind and fire and Spirit were the answer. They were a powerful demonstration of something Jesus had already said, and that day the disciples finally heard the answer. They were so filled with the Spirit, so filled with joy, that they looked like a bunch of happy drunks in the middle of a sober world. Three thousand people were baptized. But perhaps the greatest miracle of all was that a motley group of bumbling followers had turned into an inspired band of fearless leaders. They had received an answer.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."4 We see a picture of that in the Chevy Chase movie, The Invisible Man. Chase becomes invisible after an industrial accident. Afterward, he can only be seen when rain pours down on him or powdered concrete or something that falls on him from above. That's true for us, too. We don't really know the value of a person until something drops down from above. God dropped something, and it was so powerful we couldn't miss it. God grabbed our attention and showed us one more time how much he loves us. The irony is that God's answer comes in suffering. Job told us all about it. When we are suffering, pushed to the limits of our endurance, we ask questions. Perhaps it is when we are suffering that we are better equipped to listen for an answer. Job asked a lot of questions. I think Job, Jesus' disciples, and all people who suffer are raising questions that can be summed up in one great big basic question. When we cry to God out of our suffering, it is simply our way of asking God, "Do you love me?" Pentecost was God's definitive answer to that question.

In today's gospel text, there is a lot of coming and going. It sounds like Jesus is describing a great big house with a great big disorganized family, where everyone is running around bumping into each other. The Father is in Jesus and Jesus in the Father and both in us and us in them and all of us one, abiding and loving and rubbing shoulders with each other in all of the coming and going. We keep bumping into each other until, finally, we actually recognize each other as family. Family is the place where suffering gets shared. It is the place where love is always waiting. And the absolute security of that ever-present love entering into our suffering is what gives us courage to enter the world's suffering in order to change it in whatever way we can. Jesus had already answered the question, "Do you love me?" In case the disciples hadn't heard the answer clearly enough, the fire and wind of the Spirit at Pentecost proved it. They proved it forever.

James Baldwin, in his book, Another Country, tells of an incident that expresses our longing for love.

The joint, as Fats Waller would have said, was jumping. And during the last set, the saxophone player took off on a terrific solo. He was a kid from some insane place like Jersey City, or Syracuse, but somewhere along the line he had discovered that he could say it with a saxophone. He stood there, wide-legged, shivering in the rags of his twenty-odd years, and screaming through the horn, "Do you love me?" "Do you love me?" the same phrase unbearably, endlessly, and variously repeated with all the force the kid had ... the question was terrible and real ... and somewhere in the past, in gutters or gang fights ... behind marijuana or the needles ... he had received a blow from which he would never recover, and this no one wanted to believe. Do you love me? Do you love me? The men on the stand stayed with him cool and at a little distance, adding and questioning ... But each man knew that the boy was blowing for every one of them.5

Can you hear the wind of the Spirit blowing? It is the breath of God whispering, "I love you, I love you, I love you." Amen.


____________

1. Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), pp. 241-242.

2. Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 1905, in John Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1955), p. 770.

3. Syncletica in Laura Swan's The Forgotten Desert Mothers (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2001), p. 43.

4. Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), p. 20.

5. James Baldwin, Another Country (New York: Vintage Books/Random House, 1993), pp. 8-9.
UPCOMING WEEKS
In addition to the lectionary resources there are thousands of non-lectionary, scripture based resources...
Signup for FREE!
(No credit card needed.)
Easter 6
30 – Sermons
110+ – Illustrations / Stories
26 – Children's Sermons / Resources
20 – Worship Resources
25 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Ascension
25 – Sermons
160+ – Illustrations / Stories
22 – Children's Sermons / Resources
18 – Worship Resources
23 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Easter 7
30 – Sermons
160+ – Illustrations / Stories
27 – Children's Sermons / Resources
25 – Worship Resources
27 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Pentecost
29 – Sermons
140+ – Illustrations / Stories
27 – Children's Sermons / Resources
28 – Worship Resources
32 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Trinity Sunday
27 – Sermons
140+ – Illustrations / Stories
29 – Children's Sermons / Resources
29 – Worship Resources
30 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Plus thousands of non-lectionary, scripture based resources...
Signup for FREE!
(No credit card needed.)

New & Featured This Week

CSSPlus

John Jamison
They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (vv. 16-18)
John Jamison
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.  Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (vv. 50-53)

The Immediate Word

Dean Feldmeyer
Christopher Keating
Thomas Willadsen
Mary Austin
George Reed
Bethany Peerbolte
Katy Stenta
For May 16, 2021:

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Mark Ellingsen
Frank Ramirez
Bonnie Bates
Bill Thomas
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Frank Ramirez
The resurrection of Jesus takes center stage, rightfully so, in the church calendar. By contrast, Ascension Day often falls by the wayside, unless it happens to fall on a Sunday. It’s something Jesus did, but it’s not necessarily a significant event in the lives of many churches. These three texts, however, illustrate the central importance of this event, which is the capstone of the ministry of Jesus.
Mark Ellingsen
Bonnie Bates
Frank Ramirez
Bill Thomas
Acts 1:1-11
There is still a lot to be in despair about in America. Racism is not gone, as the families who lost loved ones to wanton police shootings continue to mourn. Those who lost jobs, incomes, and businesses in the pandemic continue to suffer and remain in despair. It is all so tragic, as the German-born philosopher Theodor Adono once wrote: “But he who dies in despair has lived his life in vain.” Martin Luther saw this text and its account of the ascension as a time to preach on faith and the comfort from despair that that Word brings:

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Many years ago I met a churchwarden who had grown up within a Jewish background but who had converted to Christianity quite late in life. She had had an amazing conversion experience which had affected her deeply and as a result had become an ardent Christian. She was particularly zealous about Christian mission to the Jews, wanting to convert all Jews to Christianity. When I asked whether she thought Jesus was the only way to God, she looked astonished and said yes, of course!

SermonStudio

Constance Berg
Brian could feel the heat of anger rising in his neck. His left hand curled into a fist and he hit the palm of his right hand. He felt dizzy as he looked around.

Clothes, towels, and sheets were scattered all over the living room. A glass of orange juice was empty, the contents still dribbling down the side of the coffee table. A towel landed at his feet. His one-year-old looked up at him and giggled, making Brian even more angry.
E. Carver Mcgriff
We Americans have long had a love affair with winners. Successful undertakings of nearly every sort quickly receive the admiration of those around us. As a group, we take great delight in banquets and other ceremonies at which honors are distributed. People who come in second are rarely remembered in our culture. The runner-up usually receives a brief word of recognition and then is quickly forgotten. If you happen to be a sports enthusiast, you'll remember the poor old Buffalo Bills of the NFL.
Paul E. Robinson
How many of you know what BASE jumping is? BASE jumping is the very scary sport of jumping off Buildings, Antennae, Spans, and Earth objects. If you want to do it more than once, you jump with a parachute or perhaps a hang glider. Some of you may have seen examples of this daring sport on television.

An example:
John W. Clarke
Ascension Day is a good time for the Christian community to assess where it has been and where it is going. We need to ask ourselves why we are here and exactly what is it we are supposed to be doing. Our lesson for this day provides us with much needed information on what we should be doing and what our final destination as we travel this road in ministry with Jesus is.
Erskine White
When people are confused or afraid, when they feel that things are out of control, or when they feel helpless to overcome the problems which confront them, they often resort to "pie in the sky" religion. They look for Jesus to come and fix what they can't fix for themselves. They figure that one day, as if by magic, Jesus will make everything right for them in the "sweet bye and bye."

StoryShare

Peter Andrew Smith
David O. Bales
Contents
“Not the Hour or the Day” by Peter Andrew Smith
“Closer To Heaven” by David O. Bales
“Power To Change Nature … and People” by David O. Bales
 

Not the Hour or the Day
by Peter Andrew Smith
Acts 1:1-11

“God, I know that I’m supposed to have faith and trust,” Paul said softly as he sat on the bench outside of the nursing home. “Yet a part of me wishes you would tell me when.”

Special Occasion