Summer of Love: “Loving Friends”

Posted By Beckie Sweet on Jul 7, 2024 | 0 comments

July 7, 2024 ~ Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Beckie Sweet

John 21:3-4, 10-17

PRAYER:  Jesus, you cast your net of love to all people near and far.  Let your divine Spirit fill us today as we praise you.  Open our hearts and let the loving breath of the Spirit guide us to live, grow, and lead as we build our own nets of connection and friendship.  We do all of this in your holy name.  Amen.


Our July worship series, “Summer of Love,” was developed by the staff of the Greater New Jersey Conference (UMC) for use last year.  The resources of this series include guiding scripture texts, message titles, suggested hymns, and a brief “sermon prompt.”  The prompt for this week’s “Loving Friends,” challenges my ability to be vulnerable with all of you.  It states, “Think about a non-romantic friendship that has been transformative for you.  Tell a story of a time when a friend has shown you forgiveness.”  In order to do that, I need to tell you about at least one time when I caused harm to a friend, and, needed to seek forgiveness.  YIKES!  But here we go!

In the mid-1990’s I requested a less than full time pastoral appointment during the time in which I hoped to bring new little lives into the world.  Another pastor, Anne, who had been a friend for about a decade, was doing the same thing.  She was an associate pastor at a church near where I was living, and I was serving two churches near where she was living.  We started an informal childcare cooperative where I cared for her two children two mornings each week on the site where she was serving, and she cared for my two children two afternoons each week in her home.  Thus, we saved funds while sharing time with each other’s family.  The bonds of our friendship continued to deepen during this time.

Then, Anne shared with me that she was expecting their third child.  At the beginning of her second trimester, she began to experience complications to the pregnancy which were scary, and potentially life threatening.  We cried together on the phone, and I promised to uplift Anne and the baby in my prayers.  A couple of days later, I was on the phone with another mutual close friend, and shared with him that Anne was in need of prayer, without divulging details.  He called Anne to offer support.  Anne was livid.  Although she had not articulated the desire for confidentiality, she felt it was implied by our bond of friendship.  And I should have known better.  After receiving a verbal thrashing, I apologized, but I knew the journey toward Anne giving, and me receiving, forgiveness would be a long one, which it was.  The good news:  Anne’s healthy baby was born a few months later, and a couple of years later, we rebuilt our relationship.

We all make mistakes in our friendships, as hard as that is to admit.  We’ve all, at some time, failed a friend, betrayed a friend, said harmful things to a friend, and sometimes the relationship does not recover and is not rebuilt.  We have all had difficult friendships which have required a huge emotional investment.  We have all experienced the difficulty of forming and keeping healthy relationships.


After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Peter must have been struggling with his friendship, his relationship with Jesus.  In Peter’s mind, the memories of all that transpired in Jesus’ final days must have continued to swirl around, enforcing the confusion about Peter’s identity and how he was to lead the church.  Remember that during the Last Supper in the Upper Room, Jesus foretold his betrayal by one of his closest friends.  That friend was Peter.  While standing around the charcoal fire outside of Ciaphas’ palace, he denied knowing Jesus three times.  What a betrayal of one’s loyalty to a cherished friend, teacher, mentor, even savior!  But rather than to let Peter wallow in his shame, Jesus met Peter where he was, having an unsuccessful night of fishing.  After Jesus directed Peter and those with him to an abundant catch, Jesus invites them to join him for breakfast on the beach and, asks them to contribute of their catch as well.  The fruit of their labor is still of sacred value.

Now, on the beach, Jesus and Peter have what is likely their first private conversation since the time of the betrayal.  Jesus asks Peter twice, “Do you love me?”  In Greek, where there are three words for different kinds of love, Jesus uses agape, the respectful devotion for all that comes from a genuine heart seeking only the best for others.  Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  The Greek word for love within Peter’s response is philia loving as a deeply abiding friend – a solid friendship.  Peter is hurt, and likely embarrassed that Jesus continues to press him in this way.  But the third time Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me?” he, too, uses philia – do you love me deeply as a friend?  Peter again responds affirmatively.

Jesus had already defined his relationship with the disciples in terms of friendship.  To him, that is the deepest form of agape love, for it involves utmost loyalty, collaboration, and the common mission of equipping one another for sacred service.  Peter’s restoration to renewed relationship is also restoration to a new kind of leadership.  Fishing no longer, he is called to feed Christ’s sheep, to nourish and nurture the flock with love on behalf of their savior.  This kind of love, whether it is called agape or philia, involves an inherent expectation of “doing.”  As they say, “Love is as love does.”  This is love as courage, love as risk, love as not wavering, regardless of what we are called to do.  Christ calls Peter – and us, as individuals and as a community of faith, to follow him in showing love to all that we meet.


There is power in considering how and when we have fallen short of being healthy, faithful friends to Jesus and to our neighbors.  That power comes from admitting our shortcomings in order to seek and receive forgiveness, and thus the opportunity to restore relationships.  That restoration only serves to strengthen relationships through the sharing of grace.  Another, vitally important step in that restoration process is experienced each time we share the Lord’s Supper at Christ’s table of grace.  For here, we receive tangible expressions of Christ deep and abiding love for us expressed each time we are lifted up from a low place to live into our created potential.

As you approach the Table of Grace this day, what brokenness, what relationships will you seek to restore through the transformation afforded to us by Christ’s love?  From whom have we withheld love as they sought out a professed disciple of Christ?  To whom do we need to offer forgiveness with sincere hearts and healing spirits?  These are the questions I ask you to ponder as our worship continues.

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