To care for others
is to recognise their humanity
and be responsive to their presence;
it is in the service of Christ
that we find ourselves
I wonder what it means to you to be part of a caring community?
Caring for one another is not an optional extra in a community that gathers in God’s name, it is at the very heart of what it means to follow Christ…
‘The first commandment is this:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength,
the second is this, “Love your neighbour as yourself”
There is no other commandment greater than these…’
And “who is my neighbour?”
It is right that we look beyond the church: that we care for those amongst whom we live and work; that we open our eyes and our hearts to those who are often forgotten in this country and overseas. But it is also right that we care for those with whom we worship, that we take the needs of this community seriously.
Just take a moment. Look around. I wonder which parts of this body you can identify – where are the eyes, who notices what’s going on? where are the feet and the hands? who gets on with making things happen? where is the mouth? who speaks with the voice of this church? what about the head? the heart? but we are all part of this body so which part are you?
Each part of the body needs caring for. It’s easy to forget the toes, but without them we lose our balance. It’s easy to ignore the appendix, but we know all about it when it isn’t well…
Everyone here is vital for this community to thrive. We don’t all have the same role, we don’t all have the same gifts or personality We don’t all need to be visible, but we need to connect, to work well together.
Caring for each other isn’t always easy. It isn’t easy to notice who’s been missing from church for a few weeks. It isn’t easy to care for someone who’s made us feel uncomfortable. It isn’t easy to speak to someone for the first time…
But today, in this Service, we’re going to affirm the quality of care that does take place here.
There are informal networks of support that flourish between Sundays, phone calls, hand-written cards, emails, visits…
Every now and then we need to take notice, to appreciate the hidden caring that sustains us…
And we also need to pay attention to the gaps.
How do we care for those who aren’t linked into these networks? How do we reach out to those whose names we don’t know? How do we ensure that we don’t assume that someone is being well looked after when they might be feeling isolated and alone?
There have been several different approaches to pastoral care here at St Mark’s over the years and we’re ready to start again.
This morning we are publicly recognising that Briony and Susan have said they will help. We are not commissioning them to do the pastoral care – that would not only be impossible but it would also be unhealthy for us. We are all called to care for each other.
Briony and Susan have agreed to take on a co-ordinating role, to notice what is already happening and encourage others to join in.
Caring for each other involves mutual respect. There’s a reciprocity involved in our wellbeing – who says whether I am the carer or the one who needs caring for?
“Wellbeing must be about naming oneself, not being named by others; naming our limitations as we understand them, not as others do.” Alison Webster, Wellbeing.
I suggest that we can only truly care for another when we know that we need to receive care too,
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
I believe that this morning’s Gospel reading teaches us something of the reciprocity of caring.
Remember for a moment that this encounter takes place after Peter has denied knowing Jesus. His fear made him reject his friend who then went to his trial and was executed.
Peter returned to what he did before he met Jesus, to that which he knew he could do: fishing.
When he hears that it is the Lord on the beach, is it any wonder that he leaps from the boat and swims for shore?
Well, yes, I find that quite surprising.
Shame often holds us back from renewing contact with someone we feel we have let down.
Often when we try to care for someone things get awkward. We might feel that we haven’t done enough or that we’ve done too much…
But here Peter shows us that he has learned from his fear – he let it define him once, he won’t do that again…
The conversation that follows acknowledges Peter’s denial and transforms it…
‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ (agape)
(Peter) said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ (philos)
A second time (Jesus) said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ (agape)
He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ (philos)
Jesus asks Peter whether he loves him (agape), the highest form of love – do you love as God loves?
Each time Peter replies with the word for love, philos
Yes, Lord, you know that I love you, as friends love each other.
(Jesus) said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ (philos)
Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ (philos)
This time Jesus also uses the word philos
Peter, do you love me as friends love each other?
I wonder what you think John is communicating here. It isn’t that we have Jesus asking more and more of Peter, it could be argued that Jesus lowers his expectations to meet Peter’s offer. “Do you love me unconditionally?” “OK, do you love me as friends love one another?”
But it is possible the John didn’t intend any hierarchy in the nature of love but is instead affirming the quality of love that is shared between friends.
This isn’t a test. Jesus isn’t setting Peter up to fail, he is showing him that he is the right person in the right place to spread God’s love.
Jesus accepts what Peter can offer. He affirms that friendship is also of God and is the kind of love that God can use. Peter denied Jesus but Jesus needs him to spread the message of love. Through this conversation Jesus restores Peter’s humanity and calls him to care for others:
“feed my lambs” “tend my sheep” “feed my sheep”
If Peter, the fisherman, is being called to care for others then the work of caring can be given to those who have let others down, who question their own abilities, who don’t quite get it… The call to care for others is given to all those who know their own need of God. The gift of caring is given so that together, all broken, all wounded, all longing for healing, we may glimpse God in our midst.
The words we heard from Ephesians are a prayer. A prayer that we may know, beyond our understanding, what it means to love and be loved. As we listen to the choir may this become our prayer, may we acknowledge our limitations but not be defined by them.
May we know God’s love so deep within us that we are compelled to love others.