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.

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C: John 12:1-8: Embarrassing Love

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

Jesus goes to visit his friends in Bethany, Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus. During dinner as Martha serves and Lazarus eats with Jesus, Mary comes in with expensive perfume. She pours the perfumeon Jesus’ feet and wipes his feet with her hair.

Judas (yeah, that one) complained that the perfume was worth a full year’s pay–saying that it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. The text then notes that Judas didn’t really care about the poor, but cared because he was a thief. He took care of the money for Jesus’ followers and stole from it.

Jesus answers that she has saved this perfume to prepare him for burial. He says, “You will always have those who are poor with you. But you will not always have me.”

Sometimes expressions of love can be embarrassing and extreme. Sometimes like Judas we want to turn away and disdain generous displays of love. Obviously, Jesus cares for the poor–that’s evident throughout his ministry. But at this moment a display of love and caring is appropriate and welcome. He had come to this family before and been a blessing to them. Now he has come in the need to be blessed before he goes to Jerusalem, where he will be sentenced to die.

Love generously. Love Jesus extremely while you also love those in need.

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32: Forgiveness and What Does Prodigal Mean, Anyway?

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

This week’s reading is one I wrote about when I used to prepare curriculum based on the lectionary for our church school, so I’m mostly using that here.

Most of us probably know the story of the prodigal son. I wasn’t even exactly sure what the word “prodigal” meant, in spite of my familiarity with this parable. Honestly, I’m sure most of us don’t use the word much except in the context of this particular story, either. I actually just looked it up and it didn’t even mean what I thought it meant. I thought it was something like “describing someone who deserts someone or something else and then comes back” but I guess that was just the influence of this parable. The real definition is: “Spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” So much for my degree in English.

So the story is that the younger son of a rich man decides he is not satisfied with life at home and he’s ready to go out on his own. Rather than seeking his own fortune, though, he goes to his father and asks for his inheritance early. His father is sad about it, but goes ahead and gives him the money. Can you imagine the nerve of this guy? Anyway, he takes the money and runs off to live on his own. He becomes quite the playboy and squanders all his inheritance away on partying and fast living. Next thing you know, he’s down and out and far from home. He ends up taking a job feeding some guy’s pigs and realizes he’s so poor and hungry that he’d be happy to be eating what the pigs are eating. Finally he realizes he’d be better off back home, even if he’s just a servant to his father, believing that’s all he can be since he wasted away the money and love his father gave him. So he returns home and as it turns out, his father is thrilled to see him, throws a big party for him, and welcomes him home. Meanwhile his older brother, who has stayed home and worked dutifully for his father, is angry that his wasteful, loser brother is getting all this affection and attention. The father tells him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” This older brother is sort of standing in for human beings in general–we don’t always understand God’s love for others; sometimes human beings try to deny that God loves everyone unconditionally. The father stands for God, whose love is above all we can imagine and who can forgive whatever bad things we do, but he is also an example of how we should strive to be. And of course the wasteful son represents us when we have done wrong things and need forgiveness.

Third Sunday in Lent, Year C: Luke 13:1-9: Do Right

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

People ask Jesus about a horrible event that had recently occurred–Pilate had Galilean worshippers killed with the added gruesome detail that their blood mixed with the blood of animals they brought for sacrifices. Jesus asks them if they think this happened because those people killed were more sinful than other Galileans. He says they weren’t and also asks about people who’d died when a tower fell on them. He says that they were not more sinful and that the listeners should think of that and change their own lives.

Here we have an age-old religious and philosophical question–are people punished for being sinful and why do bad things happen to good people. Jesus insists that those people weren’t killed because of their sin. We all know that bad consequences can come of bad actions, but also, sometimes bad things happen for no good reason. But Jesus also says not to be obsessing about those things but to instead be right with God ourselves, regardless. Do the right thing, no matter what comes. Love God, love your neighbor.

Second Sunday in Lent, Year C: Luke 13: 31-35: Defy the Foxes

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

Some Pharisees warn Jesus that he should hide because Herod wants to kill him. He responds,

“Go tell that fox, ‘Today and tomorrow I am forcing demons out of people and finishing my work of healing. Then, the next day, the work will be finished.’ After that I must go, because all prophets should die in Jerusalem.”

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets. You stone to death the people God has sent to you. How many times I wanted to help your people. I wanted to gather them together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you did not let me. Now your home will be left completely empty. I tell you, you will not see me again until that time when you will say, ‘Welcome! God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’[b

Luke 13:32-35 (Easy-to-read version)

First, I love that Jesus calls Herod a “fox”–meaning a cunning and sneaky creature who kills other animals. Second, I like the corresponding imagery of Jesus as a hen gathering chicks under her wings for protection, though he himself is in danger as a prophet. His great desire is to serve the poor and marginalized, to protect them from the foxes of the cruel domination system of his time, but that’s exactly why he was himself in danger from that domination system. And we must follow in his footsteps. Think of the great world changers of history–people like Ghandi and the Martin Luther King, Jr.–in defiance of the powers-that-be and with love for the downtrodden, they stood up for love and justice. They faced hardship and even death itself to change the world for the better. May we have the courage to do the same.

First Sunday in Lent, Year C: Luke 4:1-13: Jesus in the Wilderness

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

In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus is fasting in the desert, where he is tempted by the devil for 40 days. Jesus of course resists every temptation–temptations for food, temptations for power, temptations to test God and make a dramatic spectacle.

This is an apt beginning to the 40 days of Lent, our own journey of sacrifice and resisting temptation–a time to prepare our hearts and grow in the love of God. Just as Jesus spent his time in prayer and preparation before beginning his ministry, we dwell in somber reflection and growth approaching Easter. Let us continue in that preparation.

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.

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 6:17-26: A New Way to See the World

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

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is with a large crowd; people from all over have come to hear him teach and to be healed. Jesus heals them and begins to preach.

This is one of those things I don’t want to paraphrase:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:20-26 (NRSV)

These are the Beatitudes. Most of us have heard them before–perhaps so often, in fact, that they have become clichéd. But consider them in the context of when Jesus first speaks them–turning expectations on their head. The poor have the kingdom? The hungry will be filled? Those who weep will laugh? It’s not how the world sees things; it’s not how we see things day-to-day, but it’s how Jesus calls us to see things and how he calls us to seek justice in the world.

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 5:1-11: Fishing for People

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

Jesus is beside Lake Galilee and a crowd is pushing to get closer to him. He escapes the scrum by getting into a boat with a fisherman named Simon. Then he teaches the people on the shore. When he’s done he asks Simon to take the boat to deep water to catch some fish. Simon protests that he caught nothing all night, but he agrees to try. Sure enough, they catch a ton of fish, so many that their nets are breaking.

Simon falls down before Jesus, saying he is a sinner. His friends James and John are also amazed by Jesus. Jesus tells Simon not to be afraid, and tells him from now on he will fish for people instead of fish. The men from that day left all they had to follow Jesus.

Here Jesus acquires some of his disciples with the help of a miraculous catch. Then he brings them along to catch people with him. I’ve done some fishing in my life and it comes with no guarantees. It involves attracting the fish in some way, hooking them, and bringing them aboard a boat or up to a dock and then to shore. It’s a combination of work and good fortune–or perhaps the good fortune can sometimes be a miracle. These men had worked all night without a catch until Jesus stepped in. The same can be true for fishing for people. We can work our little hearts out at church to attract people and evangelize and run programs, but it takes some Jesus to actually catch any hearts and bring them to God. We do our part, but we must stay in sync with God to do his work.

Please also note where Jesus begins his ministry. He doesn’t go straight to the temple in Jerusalem, the religious hot spot. He will eventually get to that, but he starts out in the countryside in smaller towns. He goes straight to the people, not to the religious leaders. His heart is for those on the margins, not for the rich and powerful.

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 4:21-30: Service to All

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

In last week’s lesson, we see Jesus proclaim that the scripture from Isaiah is coming true in the presence of the people in the synagogue in Nazareth. In this week’s lesson, we see what happens next.

People are amazed and exclaiming “Isn’t he Joseph’s son?” Jesus tells them he knows they will expect him to do the same things he did in Capernaum there in Nazareth, but he says a prophet is not accepted in his own hometown. He tells the story of Elijah, who was sent to help only to one widow in Israel among many–and how Elisha healed only one leper among many, and that a man from Syria, not Israel.

The people don’t like this and they try to force him out of town–taking him to the edge of a hill to throw him off, but he walks through the crowd and walks away.

Jesus is telling the people of his hometown not to expect preferential treatment from him–he won’t play favorites. Followers of Jesus today often also fall into the trap of expecting to be special to God to the exclusion of others, but that’s not a game Jesus plays. He serves all and wants us to also serve all. We are to welcome and serve with no preference for people who are like us.