Scripture: Acts 10:34-43; 1 Peter 5:1-4; John 21:15-18
Do you love me more than these?
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair at Antioch. Odd thing at face value to most of us. Why celebrate someone’s chair? A little history will help us understand.
This Feast actually celebrates the establishment of the Church at Antioch, and St. Peter’s office as bishop of that city. Bishops have a special chair they sit in which signifies their office as bishop or overseer. This day celebrates his taking leadership in that city.
St. Peter’s role in Antioch is known from historical references found in the writings of the Church Fathers such as Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Clement. Saint John Chrysostom says that Saint Peter was there for a long period. It was in the City of Antioch that Jesus’ faithful were first called Christians, followers of the Christ, the Messiah.
More than history, celebrating this Feast on this day gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ question to Peter, Do you love me more than these?
Jesus asks this question with the Apostles gathered along the Sea of Galilee (AKA the Sea of Tiberias) after Jesus’ resurrection. The question had real significance for Peter as does the fact that Jesus had to ask Peter the same question three times. This was the opportunity for Peter to repent of His denying Jesus three times.
But, more than history, and Jesus’ specific reconciliation with Peter, celebrating this Feast on this day gives us a unique opportunity to ask ourselves, Do you love me more than these?
Do I love Jesus more than anyone else? You see, we are called to outdo each other in love (Romans 12:10). We are each called to excel at love. Peter’s lesson beside the sea was that love in and of Christ Jesus was necessary for those who wished to follow Him. Service was required for those who love Jesus. Feed and care for my sheep and lambs. Giving up our self-interest is necessary as well. Not where you wish to go but be bound to Me and go where I want you to go.
It starts in forgiveness. Certainly, we have all fallen short. We have all, like Peter, denied Christ. We have all sent Him to the cross. Every time we speak with anger and judgment, every time to enter into conflict, every time we listen to voices of greed and self-interest, every prejudice in us, every thought of us against them, every time we sin, we deny Christ. We say with Peter, “I do not know him…” But thanks be to God that Jesus will not let us end up in our sin. He is generous in forgiving us for our denials of Him, in allowing us to start anew.
Next comes the welcome. As with Peter in the house of Cornelius we must also say, I see that God shows no partiality. Our hearts and our everyday reality must be one of welcome. We must open the doors of our homes to welcome. We must open our wallets to provide welcome to those in need and to level the inequality in our community, our land, and the world. We must open our parishes to everyone who seeks the Face of God.
Then, the witness of the Christian people in their ministers, their lay leaders, and their churches as a whole. Tend to the flock, oversee willingly, do not lord it over, be examples. Words are not enough, for in the rush to outdo each other in love let our actions and example speak volumes about the power of God’s love given us in Jesus Christ.
In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the commencement exercises at Antioch College. He said this:
Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is the word maladjusted. And we all want to live the well-adjusted life so that we can avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must be honest enough to say to you that there are some things in our world and in our nation to which I’m proud to be maladjusted. To which I call all men of good will to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. For you see it may well be that our world is in need of a new organization – The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women who will be as maladjusted as the Prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, cried out in words that echo across the centuries.: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yes, as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could say to the men and women of his day “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.”
Through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from this bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.
At Antioch, the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Let that be our true name. Let us not be Christ deniers wallowing in sin; let us never become adjusted to anything that denies Christ. Let us not be short in welcoming people into the family of God, and let us be examples by our leadership. On this day, let us reflect anew on Jesus’ question: Do you love me more than these? And be ready to answer Him, Yes, Lord, you know that I do.