Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C: John 17:20-26: Loving in Prayer

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In this beautiful passage we see Jesus praying for his followers. It’s tricky to paraphrase so I will just quote it below:

“I pray not only for these followers but also for those who will believe in me because of their teaching.Father, I pray that all who believe in me can be one. You are in me and I am in you. I pray that they can also be one in us. Then the world will believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me. I gave them this glory so that they can be one, just as you and I are one. I will be in them, and you will be in me. So they will be completely one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you loved them just as you loved me.

“Father, I want these people you have given me to be with me in every place I am. I want them to see my glory—the glory you gave me because you loved me before the world was made. Father, you are the one who always does what is right. The world does not know you, but I know you, and these followers of mine know that you sent me. I showed them what you are like, and I will show them again. Then they will have the same love that you have for me, and I will live in them.”

John 17:20-26 (Easy-to-Read Version)

We often don’t see what Jesus prays, because the gospels will just mention him going aside somewhere to pray. But this time we get the meat of the prayer and it can be an example to us. He prays for what he desires, but because he is close to God, he desires something very pure–for his followers to know how to love and to know God more. Yes, we should be ready to ask God for what we need and want in prayer, but that prayer is better if we are abidiing in God and seeking to follow in the steps of Jesus. If we are doing that, what we desire will be closer to what God also desires in the world.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C: John 14:23-29: Following Jesus

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

Jesus says to his disciples that all who love himwill obey his teaching and his Father will love them. Anyone who does not love him will not obey his teaching. He then promises that a Helper will teach them and help them to remember all he told them. That Helper is the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father.

He says he leaves them his own peace–a different peace than the world. He says not to be troubled or afraid. He is leaving, but he will return. If they love him, they would be happy he is going back to the Father.

A lot of Christians are very focused on worshiping Jesus rather than following Jesus. I don’t know that Jesus ever said, “Worship me” but he definitely said multiple times, “Follow me.” And where does Jesus go that we must follow? He teaches a profound love for God and for others– a love that reaches out to those on the margins to pull them in and help them, no matter the cost, even at great sacrifice. In another possible reading in today’s lectionary, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, telling him to take up his mat and walk–the healing and the carrying of the mat are both in defiance of the Sabbath law, but Jesus cares about the man more than any consequence. He acts out of love. That is what we are to follow. And the Holy Spirit is given to lead us in that way of following.

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C: John 13:31-35: Love One Another

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

This week’s Gospel reading goes back to before Jesus’ death.  We’re back in the upper room where they are having the last supper. At this point in the evening, Judas has just walked out after Jesus has predicted that he would be betrayed and handed the bread to Judas to indicate he knows it is he who will betray him. I think it was probably a tense moment and the other disciples were probably confused and frightened by the way Jesus has been talking. In some gospels he’s already talked about his body and blood and death. 

Now he says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” When Jesus says the “Son of Man” he’s referring to himself. While researching this passage I read that some consider this his way of saying he was not just the Son of God, but also fully man. I also read that it may distinguish him as not just a Son of David (Jewish) but as coming for all mankind as he’s a Son of Man. 

As for the being glorified, that’s a bit complicated. I took classes in New Testament and in Theology in college, and I’m still not sure what exactly that’s about. All I can figure is he is talking about his death and resurrection (which is what the focus of this last supper has been). Then he goes on to say that he will only be with them a little longer and he says, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (again referring to his coming death and resurrection). 

At this moment it’s like he’s preparing them for that time and then comes one of my favorite scriptures, and the heart of his gospel: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  How true that is…and how sad that many Christians do not show that love to one another or especially to those who are different from them. It’s such a simple command, and yet can be so hard to fulfill.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C: John 10:22-30: Follow the Shepherd

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

Today’s story takes place in winter, during the time of Hanukkah. Jewish leaders are gathered around Jesus in the Temple area. They are demanding to know if he is the Messiah.

Jesus says that he has told them already, but they did not believe.

“I do miracles in my Father’s name. These miracles show who I am. But you do not believe, because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give my sheep eternal life. They will never die, and no one can take them out of my hand. My Father is the one who gave them to me, and he is greater than all. No one can steal my sheep out of his hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 10:25b-30 (Easy-to-Read Version)

As they asked in that time, we must ask in our time? Who is Jesus? And how do we live if we follow him? He is the Good Shepherd, who loves us and holds us and guides us. We are to follow in his footsteps, his mission to heal and liberate and reach out to the marginalized and hurting. How do we live our best lives in that mission?

Third Sunday of Easter, Year C: John 21:1-19: Feed My Sheep

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

This week I was set to preach, but got sick with food poisoning the night before. This is what I would have preached (and what was read for me by my friend Jan):

Our story begins with the disciples deciding to go fishing. You can imagine the strong emotions they have been going through since the death and resurrection of Jesus: shock, awe, trauma, then joy. They’re probably undergoing confusion and tension. It has to put them in a state of mental overload. We have all been there, even if our own experiences might not be as dramatic as theirs.

Sometimes when we are in a state of emotional upheaval like that, we want to do something comforting and familiar—like have a bowl of ice cream, read a well-loved book, or watch a movie we have watched many times before. In this case, Peter decides to go fishing—it’s what he was doing the day he met Jesus. Perhaps he thinks after all this maybe he’ll go back to a normal life.

I want you to take note of two key characters in this story. Obviously, Jesus is the main character as he’s the subject of all the Gospels, but there are two more who are very important. The first is Peter, whom I already mentioned.

The second is referred to as the Beloved Disciple. He’s called that several times in the book of John and remains anonymous. At the end of this same chapter it’s revealed that he is the source for this Gospel, so traditionally people have assumed it’s John, but no one really knows for sure. I’m going to just call him John just to simplify things, because “the Beloved Disciple” is a bit of a mouthful. (I even considered calling him the B.D.—but that’s a little silly—so John it is).

These two men have very different personalities from what we can tell. Peter is impetuous, a man of action, who often acts without thinking and can get himself in trouble. He has moments of great bravery and moments of great cowardice—as when he denies knowing Jesus three times while Jesus is being interrogated following his arrest.

John is more cautious and thoughtful. When Mary Magdalene tells them the tomb is empty, both John and Peter run to the tomb and John arrives first, but Peter is the first to go into the tomb. Then it says that John believed, but Peter did not yet believe. John seems to be the kind to have a deep understanding but he is slow to jump to action; whereas Peter leaps first and asks questions later.

That brings us back to today’s story, keeping in mind these two very different personalities. While they are out fishing, they don’t catch a thing. Jesus is standing on the beach, but they don’t recognize him. He calls out to them to cast their net to the other side of the boat. When they do, sure enough they have so many fish in the net they have trouble hauling in the catch.

At this point John says, “It is the Lord!” He has the insight and recognition—perhaps remembering the same miracle from the last time Jesus told some of these same fishermen to change where they cast their nets. But it’s Peter who takes immediate action, throwing on some clothes and jumping in the lake to swim to shore. John and the others remain in the boat and haul the nets to shore.

John recognizes Jesus first, but it’s Peter who takes immediate action. We need to learn to do both—to recognize and hear the Lord, but also to act, which is the best response of a committed faith. Both the recognition and the action—the knowing and the doing—come from a place of love.

You may notice there are a lot of parallels to previous gospel passages in this story. First there are parallels with the fishing story of how some of the disciples met Jesus, which I said might have prompted John to recognize him. Once more they are completely unsuccessful at fishing until Jesus tells them to move the nets, then suddenly their nets are full to bursting. Remember that in that instance he told them to leave their nets and he would make them fishers of people instead.

The first story is of their calling to be his disciples; this story is of their calling to be more than disciples—to carry on Jesus’ mission into the future. Last time I preached, I actually talked about Jesus declaring his mission to help the poor, to heal, to bring freedom, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus is now sending his followers (and us) to fulfill his mission. That was the beginning of his ministry and this story is the beginning of ours

Another parallel is how none of the disciples recognize the risen Christ on shore at first. This happens in multiple resurrection stories. Even now that they have already seen him post-resurrection they still do not have immediate recognition. We also may not always recognize when Jesus is at work among us.

Another parallel is how Peter quickly jumps in the water to go to Jesus—this reflects the time Peter is on a boat and sees Jesus walking on the water. He asks Jesus, “If it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Imagine the audacity that required! Then when Jesus says to come, He leaps out of the boat and begins walking toward him, until he wobbles and begins to sink. It is almost like his brain finally catches up to him. Peter was such an amazing man—a messy, impetuous human. You can imagine Jesus shaking his head at his antics, but also loving his big, reckless heart.

Finally, there are more parallels when they come to shore. Jesus cooks them breakfast and they eat together as they did on the night of the Last Supper. This time they eat together not as an ending but as a beginning. The disciples have been lost and hurting but now they will move forward with a purpose. From this moment on they continue the work Jesus started—they grow his church and spread his message.

The next parallel comes when Jesus has a talk with Peter. You may recall that after Jesus’ arrest, when he was being questioned, Peter denied knowing him three times, just as Jesus told him he would. That was the only other time in the gospel of John that a charcoal fire is mentioned, so it very deliberately refers back to that incident.

Now Jesus asks him a question three times, and please note he calls him by his original name, Simon—it was Jesus who renamed him Peter, meaning “the Rock”:
“”Simon, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.”
“Simon, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Tend my sheep.”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?” Now it says that Peter felt hurt that he kept asking.
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Peter is rehabilitated and reinstated after his three denials. He is back to being Peter, the rock on whom Jesus will build his church. However, he is not simply reinstated as a disciple; he is being given a new role. He is set a charge to love and feed those whom Jesus loves—his sheep, meaning his followers but also anyone in need. We don’t dwell here on Peter’s past but on Jesus’ grace and his call to carry on his mission.

The words “feed my sheep” refer to providing for physical needs as well as spiritual—Jesus is the model of that as he has modeled feeding people as he teaches them. He has tended to physical illness as well as spiritual needs.

Jesus was feeding and blessing people at once and he calls us to carry on that ministry post-resurrection. When we break bread together in the Eucharist, it is in that same spirit—we are fed by God and we share that moment so that we can go forth and share the love of Jesus Christ and feed others both physically and spiritually.

Earlier in John, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” To keep the commandment to feed his sheep is to love Jesus. He is calling Peter and us to action. Again, we need both the recognition and wisdom of a John and the love in action of a Peter. To love Jesus, we must know him and we must act on his behalf.

Do you ever feel that Jesus is saying to you “If you love me, feed my sheep?” The call to feed his sheep is not only for priests and other ordained servants—it’s for all of us. It is in our baptismal covenant–that we will with God’s help seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. How can we feed his sheep? What does that mean today?

This whole passage reminds us of who Jesus is and how his grace and love are not at an end but continue on with us. Cast your nets to the other side of the boat—make a change—are we living in fear and confusion or are we moving forward in faith and action in love? Go forth and feed his sheep.

Palm Sunday, Year C: Psalm 31:9-16: Hope From Despair

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Psalms.

One of my favorite readings of this Palm Sunday is the psalm I read for the 8am service at our church:

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; *
my eye is consumed with sorrow,
and also my throat and my belly.

For my life is wasted with grief,
and my years with sighing; *
my strength fails me because of affliction,
and my bones are consumed.

I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors,
a dismay to those of my acquaintance; *
when they see me in the street they avoid me.

I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; *
I am as useless as a broken pot.

For I have heard the whispering of the crowd;
fear is all around; *
they put their heads together against me;
they plot to take my life.

But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. *
I have said, “You are my God.

My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.

Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me.”

Psalm 31: 9-16

I read here that “the psalmist “begins by singing the blues.” I love that, particularly because I’ve been learning to play some blues tunes on the piano lately. Indeed, this psalm is full of heartwrenching despair with phrases like “fear is all around” and “I am as useless as a broken pot”. We’ve all had those dark nights of the soul. But the psalm ends with the uplift of hope in God’s love.