Speaking at his Farewell Eucharist as Bishop of Monmouth held at St Mary’s Priory, The Rt Revd Richard Pain asked the congregation “Why are you attending church or involved in some community work or outreach? The core motive of service is grounded in love.”
“What I like about some scenes of St. John’s gospel is how you feel that you are sort of listening in on a very intimate conversation. And you know it’s ok because you are supposed to be listening in because it includes you as well. So Jesus and Peter talking about the next step in Peter’s ministry is really personal and yet it is for all of us and we also know the outcome. Jesus challenges Peter and we know Peter will come good. He will clearly show that he loves Jesus, even to death. Both Jesus and Peter die for love.
“The scene is particularly associated with clerical ministry but is appropriate for all Christians. As Christians we need to ensure that our motives are right. Why are you attending church or involved in some community work or outreach? The core motive of service is grounded in love.
“As I reach the end of this particular path of ministry as your Bishop I am reminded that when I have served well it is by living in love and when I failed, which I definitely have, it is when I am motivated by all the things that diminish love. But this is not just a personal reflection, it applies to all of us in the church. When the church fails it does so when it no longer has that conversation with Jesus, where he asks everyday- do you love me? The conversation is at the essence of relationship with God and with each other and ourselves.
“So, let’s move it up a step. When has anyone felt ostracised, unwelcome or not listened to when they have experienced genuine love? Of course not. All our mission programs, all our community projects won’t mean a thing unless they are grounded in love. But, and this is the key observation, when they are grounded in Christ’s love. You see Jesus did not challenge Peter to be a nice chap and get along with everyone, like a salesman. He didn’t say just love, he made it deeply personal, love me.
I’ve spent my whole Christian life trying to fathom out what he means. Remember where this conversation is being recorded. In John’s gospel and John always sees the wider view. The universal cosmic view. It is Jesus Christ, the son of God who asks, not just a rabbi. And the answer will have universal significance for from it the catholic, the global church will germinate and take root.
“Richard Rohr, in his new book The Universal Christ makes the important note that our faith has not only liberated us personally, it allows us to participate in God’s restoration of a broken world. Feed my sheep. Nourish my sheep. Faith at its essential core, is accepting that you are accepted. We cannot deeply know ourselves without also knowing the one who made us and we cannot fully accept ourselves without accepting God’s radical acceptance of every part of us.
“But none of this really makes any sense until you realise that this love of God is the DNA of the universe. Which can make us all relax! We don’t have to defend, put boundaries up or judge through our survival mechanism. For our deeply personal God is also the God in all things and is the flow of the universe. Jesus the Christ. Now this is not just sentimental talking. To be loved by Jesus enlarges our heart capacity. To be loved by the Christ enlarges our mental capacity for we need both a Jesus and a Christ to get the full picture. A fully transformative God for both the individual and history needs to be experienced as personal and universal.
“And this is what we gather from this encounter with Jesus and Peter and it sets up the relationship of the church with God and the world. It is clear that Peter is chosen as the chief apostle because he’s most like us. He’s human, he makes mistakes, he thinks he is better and stronger than he really is and he lets Jesus and his friends down all the time. Sounds familiar? It certainly sounds like my ministry!
“So the question Jesus asks Peter is a learning curve. Do you love me? Then be like me and do the Father’s work. And what is that? Jesus came to show us how to be human much more than to be spiritual and the process is still in its early stages! (ff Richard Rohr). Our spirituality is to help us imaginatively, creatively and honestly to become human. Spirituality is like the first cup in the morning that makes a human being again.
“So as I finish as your Bishop I ask you to continue the mission to be people in Christ. To see Christ in others and also to see their humanity in Christ. Our mission is simply to accept others as Christ accepted Peter, Paul , Richard and you. And then in acceptance to allow others to become themselves in Christ, to trust, accompany and help. And then we can say, yes Lord, I love you.
“May God bless us all.”