John 21: 15-19
Most of us are familiar with the Broadway musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Let me refresh your memory in case you’re not. This is a story about a deeply devout middle-aged Jewish man, Tevye, and his wife Golde. They live in Russia in the early 1900’s when the czar’s still ruled with an iron grip. Their lives are hard, but filled with simple joys of a poor farmer. Their greatest problem is that they have only daughters, four of them. Finding suitable matches for them is a major theme in this musical. But this is complicated by societal changes and the emerging desire of Tevye’s daughters to follow their hearts and not the wishes of their parents.
The marriage of Tevye and Golde had been arranged, and romantic love had not in which a matchmaker suggests suitable husbands based on wealth and good health – not romance — and the Papa made the final decision. Tevye wonders about this trend he is observing in his family. So he asks Golde this provocative, but basic, question, “Golde, Do you love me?”
Startled, Golde asks, “Do I what?”
Tevye repeats that emotion-filled question, “Do you love me?”
Golde suggests that perhaps stress is getting to Tevye–that he ought to go inside and lie down.
“Maybe it’s indigestion,” she says.
Tevye says, “Golde, I’m asking you a question . . . Do you love me?
Golde says, “You’re a fool.”
Tevye says, “I know . . . But do you love me?”
Golde answers him in this way:
“Do I love you? For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow. After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?”
Tevye will not let the matter drop. He reminds her that the day they first met was their wedding day. And he was scared, but that his father and mother said they would learn to love each other. And now he was asking, “Golde, Do you love me?”
Golde says, “I’m your wife.”
Tevye: “I know . . . But do you love me?” (1)
Finally, Golde answers, “Yes, I love you.”
This scene is as touching as it is humorous. Those of us who have been married for many years can relate to it.
This is also a question that is at the heart of Christian discipleship. Beside the Sea of Galilee Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Perhaps this asking of the question three times symbolizes once for each time Simon Peter denied him on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. “Simon, do you love me?”
This is the same question he asks of each of us today. When Jesus says in today’s lesson, “If anyone would come after me . . .” Or, as it is translated in other texts, “If anyone would be my disciple . . ,” the implication of the statement is “Do you love me?” Do you love me enough to walk in my footsteps? Do you love me enough to be known as one of my followers? So I ask as directly as I can this morning, “Do WE love Jesus?”
When it comes down to it, this is the most critical question anyone can ask. It is also the most critical question one can answer. Jesus Christ speaks of taking up a cross daily and following him,. That is what people who truly love him do. They walk as he walked; they talk as he talked and they are like him in the world. So today I ask: do we love Him?
Do we those he loved. Jesus loved – and he loves everyone. But a lot of damage has been done through the centuries by people who bear Jesus’ name but do not have his heart. They say they are Christian yet their attitude toward others is cold, demanding, sometimes even cruel. Remember when Rev. Pat Robertson of the 700 Club fame proclaimed that Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Haiti’s earthquake were an exhibition of God’s judgment over sinners. Would a follower of Jesus, who was compassion made visible, have said this?
Do we have his courage? How many of us live lives of least resistance. We never want to offend, never to ruffle feathers, never rock the boat. We can get through that way, never taking a stand, never stating our convictions, neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm in all things. Jesus said about such people, “I will spit you out of my mouth.”
Jeffrey Wigand was a Brown & Williamson, the tobacco company senior executive who made headlines several years ago when he exposed illegal and unethical practices by his employer. Overnight, he lost his $500,000 plus-per-year job. He became the target of death threats. He faced tremendous pressure from former friends and colleagues to recant his story, documented in movie the “The Insider.”
Today, Wigand is still receives an occasional threats. He is a high school science teacher and earns about one-tenth of his former salary. He says he’s happier now than ever in his whole life. In an interview with Time magazine, he commented, “I felt dirty before [as a cigarette executive]. Now I feel good . . . I don’t need the cars and fancy clothes and things that consumed me once. My enjoyment comes when some kid comes up to me and says, ‘I’m never gonna smoke.”’
It takes courage to offend those in power. Jesus had that kind of courage. Yet how many of us Christians are pleased that Jesus died on a cross for us to take away any fear of consequences for truthful action? How many of us would rather avoid taking up the cross that is ours to carry? Crosses are painful. Crosses are dirty. Crosses clash with our personal image that we are trying to build with our associates and friends.
Those who believe Jesus existed way back then and want to keep him there refuse to take up his cross as they meet the challenges of today. Those who love him, know that cross carrying is a necessary part of following him.
Do we love him? Do we have his heart? Do we have his courage? Do we have his faith in God?
Hundreds of thousands of people are serving Christ around the world in full-time Christian service, some at a considerable sacrifice. Just a quick look at the web site for the United Church of Christ’s Board for World Missions and Board for Homeland Missions will prove that there are hundreds who do serve in horrible and dangerous conditions around the world to bring the word and the actions of Jesus Christ to many thousands. When asked why they would be willing to give up a comfortable living to serve Christ in far less desirable circumstances, they will tell you that it is not a sacrifice. In fact it is difficult not to take their crosses and follow Christ. If we share Jesus’ faith, God will provide the strength that is required to accomplish great things in his name.
In “Fiddler of the Roof,” Tevye asks his wife Golde, “Do you love me?” She answers that she does. Then together they sing, “It may not change a thing you know . . . But even so . . . After twenty-five years . . . It’s nice to know.”
How long have you loved Jesus Christ? Five years? Twenty years? Fifty years? It’s never too late to start. You need is His heart—-His courage—-His faith in his Father?
And after all these years – isn’t that nice to know?