“Trinity is: Deep Relationships”
June 23 & 24 , 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and from Jesus, the Son of God who calls us friend! Amen.
I witnessed “hope” on Thursday evening. It was an amazing, transforming, experience. I had traveled with a small group of Trinity members to visit St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi. This small group had been having some conversation over the last year about how Trinity could do more…about how we could reach deeper into assisting those in need within our community. We want to get beyond treating the symptoms, into helping people with the root causes of the predicaments they find themselves in.
Don’t get me wrong…we’re good at treating the symptoms…and that’s important. We give a way (literally) tons of food…clothing…gas and grocery vouchers…we serve meals cooked here and we send weekend meals home to families who otherwise probably wouldn’t eat. This is important stuff. We will continue that work.
But how do we get at the causes? How can we accompany families as they struggle to work their way out of poverty? How can we reach out in deeper, more significant ways?
St. Andrew’s Lutheran has taken a serious crack at this. 5 1/2 years ago they opened a Community Resource Center. They provide short term housing, emergency meals and basic supplies, all while they coach people in job skills, life skills, employment, and more. They break this cycle that people struggle to get out of on their own. It’s an amazing thing. They’ve worked with 560 families those 5 ½ years, they have a 90% success rate. And I really think something like this is in our near future. But you’ll here more about that another day.
After our group toured, we were invited to join them for the weekly community meal. There, the clients of the program, and members of the congregation, the community and the staff are invited to eat together. My good friend, Mike, who is the senior pastor there, told us: “…at dinner, we have people who are middle class, rich, even millionaires, sitting down and sharing a meal with someone who is in our housing shelter program. And when they sit down, they talk about their families, about what they like to do, about the Twins, the weather…at the meal, there is common ground. It is a beautiful thing,” Mike said.
And it’s true. Our group split up and sat at different tables to share our meal with under-employed single mothers…with folks who had been homeless until just a couple of weeks ago…with people looking for work. I sat across from Rachel, a single Mom, her 3 year old son, Caden and her infant, Silas. I got to hear a part of her story.
Pastor Mike was right: It was a beautiful thing. And I discovered in that meal, that while the program with the housing, the food pantry, the family resources, all were amazing. What sits in the middle of that program…it’s heart…where I saw Jesus…was in the friendships, the relationships that were formed.
It was in the conversations at the table. It was in the little children, homeless, who were running down the hallway and high fiving the volunteers and the staff. It was in the prayer. It was in the laughter.
It was in the deep relationships.
I believe that God calls us to live in deep relationships. Our minds and our hearts are hard-wired to live in community. And Jesus shows us what this looks like.
Our Gospel lesson for today takes place after the resurrection. The disciples had gone out to do some early morning fishing. Jesus called them to shore to eat breakfast. Jesus and the disciples gathered on the beach around a charcoal fire to eat, and then a very unusual exchange took place.
Jesus asked Peter, out of the blue, “Peter, do you love me more than these?” Peter responds “Lord, you know that I love you.” Then Jesus repeats the question: “Do you love me?” Again, Peter, now puzzled, says “you know that I love you.” And then a third time, “Peter, do you love me?” And, now a bit hurt, Peter answers: “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
It’s a strange conversation. Why did Jesus repeat himself? Why, after all that they had been through together: 3 years of traveling, teaching, healing, camping, cooking…why would Jesus, (who, as Peter correctly points out, knows everything) doubt this? I think the answer lies in the very repetition.
Earlier in John’s Gospel, in chapter 18, right after Jesus has been arrested, but before he was crucified, Jesus is taken to the high priest for questioning, and the disciples Peter and John follow behind. The scriptures tell us that it was a cold night. The slaves and guards who served the high priest had made a charcoal fire, and were gathered around it to stay warm. Peter and John gain entrance and walk up to the fire to warm themselves when a woman who guarded the gate recognized Peter and said “You are one of his disciples, aren’t you?” And Peter, stricken with fear, says “No, I am not.”
Two more times, gathered around that charcoal fire, someone asks Peter if he isn’t one of the disciples, and a total of three times, Peter denies it. And in doing so, he denies his faith. He denies his Savior. He breaks faith with his friend.
So fast-forward to today’s Gospel. Again, Jesus and the disciples are gathered around a charcoal fire (a coincidence? I think not!): Why does Jesus ask Peter this question three times?
Jesus was giving Peter an opportunity…an opportunity to repent, to make amends; an opportunity to proclaim his faith rather than deny it. “Do you love me?” “Jesus, you know that I love you.” Jesus gives him three opportunities to profess fidelity and he does, wiping away, I think, the three denials.
What’s interesting to me is Jesus’ reaction. After each of the three times that Peter says “Lord, I love you,” Jesus doesn’t say “thank you,” or “great,” or even “I love you too.” No, Jesus gives Peter a command. Jesus says “Feed my sheep.” Why?
I believe that it’s because Jesus was demonstrating that their relationship was being reset, back to normal. “Peter, do you love me?” “Of course I love you.” “Then, feed my sheep; let’s get back to work.” The relationship between Jesus and Peter, broken when Peter denied Jesus, was restored.
Because this is what people who are in deep relationship do. Anyone who has been in a significant relationship can tell you that there are days the relationship is strong, and there are days it feels broken. But when we are in deep relationship, we are willing to forgive…willing to restore…willing to make it right.
The “Trinity is…” statements, that we are focusing on in this sermon series are more than simply goals. We believe they are phrases that define us. They are our identity. They are our DNA. They are what God is calling our community to be, and they are things that we work on…strive for.
Trinity Lutheran Church is…deep relationships. We are, and we strive to be a community of friends, who are working together to fulfill God’s mission in the world.
How do I know that we are a community of deep relationships? Because I see it, every day.
- When I witness the members of this last year’s Mission Jamaica team see each other in the Narthex on Sunday mornings…and they smile and hug. They have shared in something important together and they have become deep friends.
- When I see groups of friends gather in Fellowship Hall over coffee and a donut between services. And I realize that some of these folks have been sitting together on Sunday mornings, talking about life, and family for 30, 35, 40 years…or longer. They gather because of deep friendships.
- When I hear that laughter that comes down the hallway towards my office when groups of volunteers gather to prepare the monthly newsletter for mailing…or to stuff envelopes…or some other administrative task. The people that gather are friends…deep friends.
- When I watch a group of our young people load a van on one of our summer trips as a group of acquaintances, and they return home a week later and hardly want to leave each other in the parking lot. They have become good friends.
- When I see our people surround someone who has experienced a loss…and provide prayer, meals and support. That’s because of deep relationships.
Trinity is…deep relationships. It’s more than friendships. When Jesus says in Matthew 18 that wherever two or three gather, he’ll show up, that’s a promise. And today, here we sit…let me check…1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 7…yep…he’s here!
Jesus isn’t just here observing our relationships. Jesus is in the middle of them, he is the very fiber of our relationships. When we sit across from one another, Jesus promises that he’s there.
Christianity, by definition, is a community activity. When we are brought into the family of faith through the waters of Holy Baptism, God reaches out to us and by his initiative, we enter into this deep relationship that God will not break.
And as Jesus shows us, by grace God draws us back and restores the relationship when we break it. And then God says to each of us, “Feed my sheep.” “Let’s get back to it…there is work to do.”
And so we go about building deep relationships with others, because God calls us to live that way.
And so as you leave the Sanctuary this morning, I have an observation and a request.
First, when you greet a friend in the narthex, or around coffee and a donut, or for that matter, at the grocery store or in the park. Remember that it’s not just a friendship. It’s a deep relationship, initiated by God as a gift, and infused with God’s presence.
And second, remember that God calls us to create and live in deep relationship. Today when you leave the Sanctuary, please look around. And if you see someone you don’t know, go and talk to them. Introduce yourself. Begin the process of building a new friendship. I know…Lutherans can be shy. I get it! But take a chance, walk across the room, and say hi. I believe that people come to Trinity looking for a community to belong to…people want…people need deep relationships. And it’s in these relationships that we live our identity and our mission as Christ’s church.
Today, Jesus asks each of us: “Do you love me.” And boldly, we can answer, “Lord, you know that we love you.” Hear his answer: “Then feed my sheep. Let’s get back at it. There’s work to do.”