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.

Proper 28, Year B: Mark 13:1-8: Trust in God

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 28, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus exits the temple and one of the disciples points out how large the stones and buildings are. Jesus assures him that not one stone will be left on another and the temple will all be thrown down.

Later on the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John, and Andrew ask him what will be the sign that these things are about to happen. Jesus says that many will come in his name and claim to be him and lead people astray. He says, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” 

As we’ve learned in his previous encounters with the temple, Jesus has mixed reactions to the temple. He calls it his father’s house, but overturns the tables of the money changers. He admires the poor widow giving her all to the temple treasury, but criticizes the ostentatious giving of the rich at the same time. He accepts it as the house of God, but rejects the domination system it represents and how it fails to live up to the ideals of God–that it should benefit the poor more than the rich and powerful. So he tells his followers it will be thrown down (and it will be, perhaps before Mark is written–I think there’s some dispute among scholars on the exact date). 

Then some of his followers seek more details. This passage is apocalyptic literature–something that is hard to understand (it’s not about zombies or nuclear destruction like the apocalyptic stories of our own time). There is a sermon on this passage that I find helpful on the Episcopal Digital Network and it includes this:

Apocalyptic literature uses certain vocabulary and imagery, in this case earthquakes, wars, famines, etc., to convey a larger truth. Jesus is telling us to beware and persevere in times of hardship and trial, because no power can prevail against the power of Almighty God.

I think that’s the key lesson to take from this week’s passage. Hard times are going to come but we must trust in God.

Proper 22, Year B: Mark 10:2-16: Love Rules

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 22, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Again Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus with weird questions. They ask him about divorce and he asks them what Moses commanded. They answer that Moses allowed divorce. Jesus says that Moses made that command because they didn’t accept God’s teaching.

Later his disciples ask Jesus about divorce and he tells them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman has sinned against his wife. He is guilty of adultery. And the woman who divorces her husband and marries another man is also guilty of adultery.” What’s really interesting here is that he includes the idea of a woman divorcing her husband. That may not read like much in today’s world and in a more open-minded church, but that was significant for the time–no teacher at that time would bother with a view for women in that way.

People are bringing children to Jesus so that he could bless them, but his disciples are trying to prevent it. Again, they are thinking of their current social beliefs–children were of even less importance than women. Jesus told them to let the children come to him and he said that God’s kingdom belongs tho people who are like little children. He opened his arms to hold the children, laid hands on them, and blessed them.

Time and time again, the people of his time (and ours) fail to see his radical love for what it is. It’s not constrained by the rules of their kingdom but it is open with the rules of God’s kingdom, sometimes hard to understand, but always on the side of love and inclusion.

Proper 21, Year B: Mark 9:38-50: Stay Salty

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 21, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus’ disciples are upset that a man was using the name of Jesus to exorcise demons. Jesus told them to let him be–if he is not against them he is with them.

The disciples were offended because this guy was not part of their group. They don’t like someone working in the name of Jesus who is not like them. How much this reminds me of certain churches who think they are the only ones who really know Jesus and that they can’t work with other churches! Jesus, though, is not trying to exclude people. He welcomes anyone, as we should.

The next part is hard to paraphrase, so I will just put it here:

“If one of these little children believes in me, and someone causes that child to sin, it will be very bad for that person. It would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck and be drowned in the sea. If your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to lose part of your body and have eternal life than to have two hands and go to hell. There the fire never stops. If your foot makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to lose part of your body and have eternal life than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. If your eye makes you sin, take it out. It is better for you to have only one eye and enter God’s kingdom than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. The worms that eat the people in hell never die. The fire there is never stopped.

“Everyone will be salted with fire.

“Salt is good. But if it loses its salty taste, you can’t make it good again. So, don’t lose that good quality of salt you have. And live in peace with each other.”

Mark 9: 42-50 (Easy-to-Read Version)

This passage strikes me as poetic, full of hyperbole–drowning, cutting off body parts, fire, etc. It can be hard to understand, especially for someone like me who is trying to get beyond the literalism I grew up with. I read in the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible that “Priests salted some sacrifices as well as cooked them”. So perhaps this is a call-back to previous passages about sacrifice and service. We are to offer ourselves to God, wholly committed and salty. We don’t have to be part of a certain group (listen up, disciples and those like them) or act a certain way–we gotta stay salty. And we are to live in peace with each other–not excluding others.

Proper 20, Year B: Mark 9:30-37: Serve Others

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 20, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Galilee, but they are avoiding people because Jesus wants to teach the disciples privately. He tells them that the Son of Man will be handed over to the authorities and will be killed, but he will rise again. The disciples are confused, but afraid to ask more.

They arrive at a house and Jesus asks the others why he heard them arguing on the way. They didn’t want to answer, because they were arguing about which of them was the greatest. Oh brother, this is one of those points reading scripture when I just shake my head at the disciples being dumb.

Jesus knows what their nonsense was about. He tells them that whoever wants to be the greatest must make themselves the least and be a servant. Jesus loves to flip the script on his not-always-bright followers–and on us–we are not always bright either.

Then Jesus brings a small child in front of the followers. He tells them that anyone who accepts children in his name accepts him and anyone who accepts him accepts the one who sent him.

As in previous passages, the challenge is passed on to us–the paradox of the least being the greatest. Our command is to serve others and not to exalt ourselves.

 

Proper 19, Year B: Mark 8:27-38: “Who Do You Say That I Am?”

 

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 19, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage Jesus and his followers are traveling around and he asks them who people say that he is. They respond with various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah returned, one of the prophets. He then asks who they say he is and Peter says, “You are the Messiah.”

He tells them not to tell anyone and explains that he will suffer many things–that he will not be accepted by the leaders and that he will be killed and rise again after three days.

Peter takes him aside and criticizes him (like a friend might criticize another for being negative, I suppose). But Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get away from me, Satan! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.”

Jesus tells the crowd they have to stop thinking only of themselves. He tells them to save the life they have, they must lose it. They must take up the cross to follow him. “It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost. You could never pay enough to buy back your life.”

This whole passage very much puts the focus on Jesus as Messiah. But it also puts the focus on our response to the Messiah. Who do we say that Jesus is? Do we live as though we know Jesus is the Messiah? Do we take up our cross to follow him?
We are to deny ourselves and sacrifice in following  him. I don’t think this means that we are called to hate ourselves but that we are called to love others and to be unselfish in our love. What does this mean in your community? Who is your neighbor?

Proper 9, Year B: Mark 6:1-13: Ministry of the Twelve Disciples

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 9, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus goes back to his hometown with his followers. He teaches in the Sabbath and people are amazed by him, questioning how he got such wisdom and power to do miracles. They know him as the local carpenter, so they can’t accept him as more than that.

Jesus says that “People everywhere give honor to a prophet, except in his own town, with his own people, or in his home.” He isn’t able to do miracles there other than a few healings, because his local people lack faith.

Then he calls his disciples together and sends them out in groups of two to minister. He tells them to take nothing but a stick for walking–not even spare clothes. They are to rely on others for any needs, but if a town refuses to accept them or to listen, they are to leave and “shake the dust off your feet as a warning to them.”

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says that Proper hospitality included offering water for guests to wash their feet; here the travelers’ feet remain conspicuously unwashed.” Shaking the dust off their feet was significant symbolism and a kind of rebuke.

So they headed out to talk to people and call on them to repent and change. They cast out demons and anointed people with oil and healed them.

Here we see Jesus making a major change in his ministry. Prior to this he has been traveling all over and preaching and healing, with his own entourage in tow. Now he sends his disciples out without him to extend his ministry to more places at once. In previous weeks we’ve read about the kingdom of God and how quickly it grows–this is how Jesus began to encourage its growth.

Proper 7, Year B: Mark 4:35-41: Expanding the Table

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 7, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus asks his disciples to come with him across the lake in the evening. They left a big crowd behind and got in a boat with Jesus. There were also other boats accompanying them. While they were out on the lake, a huge wind came up and the waves were coming into the boat so that it was getting swamped. Jesus was inside the boat, asleep. His disciples woke him, telling him they feared they would drown.

Jesus stood up and commanded the wind and water to be still. The wind stopped and the lake calmed.

He turned to his friends and asked why they were so afraid and why they didn’t have faith.

They were amazed at such a man who could command the wind and waves.

 

I’ve read some commentaries on this and find it compelling that when Jesus takes his disciples across the lake, it means he’s taking them toward the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people. The Christians in Mark’s time are figuring out how the Gospel changes when Gentiles come to it–many Jewish Christians were still following Jewish dietary laws and insisting on circumcision, but obviously that changed over time as more Gentiles came to faith. So they head out across the lake and when a storm comes up, they are afraid. They maybe fear how Jesus brings his love and truth to the world, and not only to those like themselves. Jesus was always expanding the table (I love this analogy in A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz).

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 1:29-39: Jesus Heals and Prays

Bible.

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Today’s passage follows right after last week’s story. Jesus leaves the synagogue with his followers. They went to the home of Simon and Andrew, where Simon’s mother-in-law was ill in bed with a bad fever. They told Jesus about her, so he went to her bed, took her hand, and helped her stand up. At that moment she was healed and the fever left her.

Then, that night, people came to the house, bringing many sick people to be healed. They also brought the demon-possessed. Mark says everyone in the town gathered at the door. Jesus healed the sick and forced the demons out. The passage also says, “he would not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was.”

The next morning he got up very early and left the house in the dark to be alone and pray. Some of his followers came to find him and said, “Everyone is looking for you!”

He tells them it is time to move on to share God’s message with other people in other towns. “That is why I came.” So he traveled all over Galilee, speaking in the synagogues and healing.

The takeaway from this passage is much like last week and other Epiphany readings. Jesus is unique as a teacher and healer. He draws crowds wherever he goes and does wondrous things. Also, he is doing the work that characterizes the rest of his ministry–teaching, healing, casting out demons. He also takes time to go off alone and pray. He makes that time, even though people are constantly seeking him out. His time with God is a priority. Again, I see this also as a lesson for us–our ministry is also to help others, but not to neglect our own spirituality in the process. Love others, love God (like Matthew 22:36-40).

The Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-36

Florence -  Transfiguration of the Lord

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for The Transfiguration by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s all about Jesus’s transfiguration—suddenly appearing amazing—glowing brightly and then being joined miraculously by Moses and Elijah—ancient forefathers of the Jewish people.

Jesus climbs a mountain with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John.  While they were watching, Jesus changed before their eyes.  The Bible says, “His face became bright like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.  Then two men were there, talking with him. They were Moses and Elijah.”

Peter (always quick to speech and action, not always thinking so hard about it first) said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you want, I will put three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Peter was ready to worship the three of them right there and then.  But then they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son. He is the one I have chosen. Obey him.”

In Matthew’s version of this story, Peter James, and John were freaked out at this experience (as one might expect).  They fell to the ground in fear, but Jesus came and touched them and told them not to be afraid.  When they looked up they saw that Jesus was alone and he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen.

In this version it just says that they didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time.

This can be a bit of a confusing lesson; there’s a lot of weird, miraculous stuff happening here, but I won’t overexplain it.  A quote on the Worshiping With Children website (one of my favorites when I was teaching church school) says, “this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.”  I like that and it seems like good advice.  What you mainly need to know is that Moses and Elijah are ancient fathers of the Jewish people.  Maybe it would be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing in front of you (well, that’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but it might help). Just imagine! Your teacher, whom you revere but do not yet fully understand, is not only glowing, but is joined by ancient wise fathers of your people. It would be both beautiful and terrifying.

Dwell on that image today and dwell on the awesomeness of God. Meditate upon the mystery.