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.

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.

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 6:27-38: Way of Love

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

Like in the last week’s lesson, Jesus continues to turn traditional viewpoints on their head. Love enemies, bless people who want harm to come to you; pray for people who bully you, turn the other cheek. Again, we could skim this and miss how revolutionary it must have been when he first says it.

Jesus says we shouldn’t be praised for loving those who love us–that even sinners love those who love them. Anyone can love someone who loves them or do favors for those who can return the favor. But Jesus has a harder teaching–love your enemies, give without expecting something in return. Don’t judge or condemn, forgive and you will be forgiven.

This is indeed a hard teaching, but also one Jesus links to our relationship with God. The more we live this way of love, the more we can draw near to God.

Christ the King Sunday, Year B: John 18:33-37: No Earthly Kingship

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

Today’s passage happens during Jesus’s trial with Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews.

Jesus asks if it’s his own question or did other people tell him about him.

Pilate responds that he is not a Jew and it was his own people and priests who brought him to Pilate. He asks what Jesus has done wrong.

Jesus responds that his kingdom is not of this world. He says if it were, his people would fight to keep him from being handed over. But his kingdom is not earthly.

Pilate says then he is a king.

Jesus says, “You are right to say that I am a king. I was born for this: to tell people about the truth. That is why I came into the world. And everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.”late said, “So you are a king.”

Of course this is Christ the King Sunday, so we have a passage about Christ’s kingship. Jesus says his kingdom is not earthly, and he has demonstrated that many times in the Gospels. In the kingdom of God love rules instead of power and violence. In the kingdom of God the meek inherit the earth and the last shall be first. It is far different from an earthly kingdom, but it is a kingdom we should all work to emulate. May his kingdom come and his will be done. May love rule on earth as it does in heaven.

Proper 18, Year B: Mark 7:24-37: Healing

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 18, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage Jesus is trying to stay hidden (because he is so often surrounded by crowds begging for healing). A Gentile woman finds him and asks for healing for her daughter. He seems reluctant at first, telling her that the children must eat all they want before their bread is given to dogs. She replies that even dogs eat the crumbs under the table that the children don’t eat. He approves of this answer and says that her daughter is healed. It sounds harsh and I think that’s partially a cultural thing that’s hard for us to understand, but the woman seemed to have both humility and assertiveness in her response. Jesus is reluctant, yes, but he does extend his love and healing beyond his own people.

Then Jesus moves on and people bring him a man who is deaf and unable to speak clearly. Jesus leads the man away and heals him quietly. He told people not to tell anyone, but they do not stay silent and spread the word about him.

Jesus in these stories is not seeking out the crowds but his compassion is so great that he continues to heal and help people, even though that makes it hard to keep a low profile. He is continually loving and healing people. This makes me think of the healing ministry of my church that was recently expanded to include individual prayers during or after the Eucharist. It’s a lovely way to follow in the steps of Jesus.

Proper 17, Year B: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23: Rules of God vs. Rules of Men

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 17, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about his followers eating without following particular hand washing rituals. We know from previous passages that they aren’t asking this question casually but are no doubt trying to trap Jesus again. They are angry his followers aren’t following ancient tradition as they think it should be followed. (Am I the only one who wants to sing the “Tradition” song from Fiddler on the Roof every time I think of tradition?)

Jesus claps back as only Jesus can and calls them hypocrites and quotes Isaiah saying they only honor God with words and not in reality. He says they prefer man-made rules instead of God’s commands.

This reminds me of so many Christian leaders today who are vocal in our culture with rules that they think everyone should follow–such as rules regarding sexuality or gender. The hill they will choose to die on is whether or not homosexuality is a sin or whether or not women should be equal to men, rather than to care for the poor and to seek to correct injustice. They choose to follow narrow manmade rules that oppress rather than life-giving abundant rules to work for the good of all humanity.

Proper 16, Year B: John 6:56-69: A Choice

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 16, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In today’s reading, Jesus says again that he is sent from the Father and that people must  eat his flesh and drink his blood and they will live forever.

He heard his followers complain of this (admittedly weird-sounding) teaching and challenged them. He asks what will they think when they see him go up to where he came from. He tells them it is the Spirit that gives life and the body is of no value. I think this is maybe a clue that even though he has been talking of the physical (body and blood), the key is in the spirit. With this hard teaching, many followers left him and he asked the twelve apostles if they want to leave also.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe in you. We know that you are the Holy One from God.”

John 6: 68-69 (Easy-to-Read Version)

We can choose to turn away when it gets hard to understand or hard to follow Jesus, or we can choose to follow Him, whose words give eternal life. We can choose to believe and live as he would live. What do you choose?

Proper 15, Year B: John 6:51-58: Living Bread

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 15, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

Today’s passage just carries on from the previous week–Jesus expounds on being the  living bread that came down from heaven” and talk more about the bread being his body and drinking his blood. One can only imagine who weird this must have sounded at the time. It sounds a bit weird now if you step outside of a knowledge of church. The people basically wondered if he wanted them to be cannibals.

This is a very challenging passage, and I’m not sure how to explain it fully–I know it is of a piece with recent passages that all deal with the Eucharist experience. It is a mystery and a communing with God and with one another. It is difficult to explain the love and faith and beauty of such an experience. There is nothing simplistic and tidy about it.  Our Christian life is visceral and physical even as it is spiritual. God is with us. In him we live and move and have our being.

Proper 14, Year B: John 6:35, 41-51: Bread of Life

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 14, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In today’s story, people begin to complain that Jesus said he was the “the bread that comes down from heaven” but they know him as a local boy, son of Joseph. Jesus tells them to stop complaining. He goes on to talk about being sent from the Father and that anyone who believes has eternal life. He compares the bread of life to the manna sent down for the Israelites in the Old Testament.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my body. I will give my body so that the people in the world can have life.”

Those of us who participate in the weekly Eucharist are familiar with the imagery of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, but it can sound strange to people new to it, as it did to the people of that time. It can be a hard teaching–to understand and share the full and loving life Jesus calls us to, and the community we experience together in the Eucharist–a community reaching out to each other and up to a God who loves us and breaks bread with us.

Proper 13, Year B: John 6:24-35: Spiritual Bread

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 13, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

After Jesus feeds the five thousand, he leaves the people behind. Then the people go looking for him and find him on the other side of the lake. He asks why they are looking for him–if it is only because they saw miraculous signs. He tells them they liked that he fed them, but earthly food doesn’t last long. He tells them to work for the food that gives them eternal life.  The Son of Man will give you that food. He is the only one qualified by God the Father to give it to you.” 

So the people ask what God wants of them and he tells them to believe in the one God sent. Then they ask for more miracles and talk about the manna God sent the Israelites in the desert.

Again, they seem focused on miracles but also mostly on physical food. As I said about last week’s passage, Jesus does care about their physical well-being, but he also cares about their souls.

I can assure you that Moses was not the one who gave your people bread from heaven. But my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. God’s bread is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

John 6:32-33 (Easy-to-Read Version)

So the people say,  “Sir, from now on give us bread like that.” I think they still probably don’t get it.

Jesus responds that he is the bread that gives life, and those who come to him will never be hungry or thirsty. This, again, seems to be about spiritual hunger and thirst, rather than physical. And again, this passage forecasts our Eucharist, when we receive physical bread but also the spiritual bread of Christ and his grace.