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.

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.

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C: Luke 1:39-45, (46-55): Hope and Trust

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

Mary travels to another town to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth feels her unborn baby leap up inside her at Mary’s voice and she is filled with the Holy Spirit.

She proclaims to Mary that she is blessed more than any other woman and that God has blessed her baby. She tells Mary that her baby jumped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. She says, “Great blessings are yours because you believed what the Lord said to you! You believed this would happen.”

This is Mary’s response–her Magnificat (song of praise.

“I praise the Lord with all my heart.
    I am very happy because God is my Savior.
I am not important,
    but he has shown his care for me, his lowly servant.
From now until the end of time,
    people will remember how much God blessed me.
Yes, the Powerful One has done great things for me.
    His name is very holy.
He always gives mercy
    to those who worship him.
He reached out his arm and showed his power.
    He scattered those who are proud and think great things about themselves.
He brought down rulers from their thrones
    and raised up the humble people.
He filled the hungry with good things,
    but he sent the rich away with nothing.
God has helped Israel—the people he chose to serve him.
    He did not forget his promise to give us his mercy.
He has done what he promised to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.”

Luke 1:46-55 (Easy-to-read version)

Mary has obviously come to terms with the big news the angel Gabriel brought her. She is young and inexperienced; she has every reason to be terrified, but she is full of hope and trust that God knows what he is doing. She knows she is blessed and she celebrates the blessing and the hope that comes with it.

Third Sunday of Advent, Year C: Luke 3:7-18: Change of Heart

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

John is baptizing huge crowds at the river. He speaks harshly to them, calling them snakes and telling them to change their hearts and lives. They ask him what they should do.

He tells them if they have two shirts, they should share with someone who has none and to share food, too.

Tax collectors come and ask what to do and he tells them not to take more taxes than they are supposed to collect. Soldiers ask what to do and he tells them not to extort people for money by force.

People begin to speculate that John was the Messiah, but he tells them he baptizes in water but someone is coming who can do much more.

I am not good enough to be the slave who unties his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Luke 3:16 (Easy-to-read version)

He continues to preach and baptize, calling on people to change and telling them the Good News.

This week of advent we see the importance of John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus, as we prepare our hearts for his arrival at Christmas. John emphasized repentance, a changing of the heart, and its evidence was in our behavior and good works. We are to share what we have and not use our privilege for evil. The emphasis is on love and caring as opposed to grasping and greed. Go and do likewise.

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 27, Year B: Mark 12:38-44: Giving All

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 27, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus is teaching. He tells the people to beware of the teachers of the law who walk around trying to look important and have the best seats at events. They want to look holy but they cheat the poor. 

He sits near the collection box in the temple and watches as people put in their money. He sees rich people put in tons of money but a poor widow puts in just two small coins.

Jesus calls his disciples to him and tells them that the widow gave more than all the rich people, because they gave out of their wealth and only what they didn’t need, but she gave all she had.

It’s so like Jesus that in a parade of people making ostentations donations, what he notices is the poor woman who quietly gives the very little she has. This carries on the lessons we’ve been learning during this season of Pentecost. To live the love of Christ, we must sacrifice and trust God with all we have. 

Proper 26, Year B: Mark 12:28-34: The Greatest Commandments

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 26, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

A teacher of the law comes to Jesus. He has heard Jesus arguing and giving good answers to the Sadducees and the Pharisees. He asks Jesus which of God’s commands is the most important.

Jesus responds, “The most important command is this: ‘People of Israel, listen! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second most important command is this: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.”

The man tells Jesus that it’s a good answer. He agrees that those commands are more important than any sacrifices they offer to God.

Jesus tells the man that he is close to God’s kingdom. 

I always think of this passage when I find Christians (or even myself) obsessing over rules of morality. This is the real key to following Jesus and to a moral life–love God and love your neighbor. What more is needed? This is what we always have to keep in mind.

Proper 25, Year B: Mark 10:46-52: Meet Needs With Love

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 25, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus arrives in Jericho, followed by a large crowd. A blind man named Bartimaeus is sitting by the road, where he often sat begging for money. When he heard Jesus was there he began to shout to him for help. Other people tell him to be quiet, but he cries out more, “Son of David, please help me!”

Jesus, of course, asks for them to call him over. Bartimaeus approaches quickly. Jesus asks what he wanted and he asks to see again.

Jesus tells him, “Go. You are healed because you believed.”  The man is immediately able to see again and he followed Jesus down the road.

Once again Jesus has a different view than others. Others are telling the man crying out for help and mercy to shut up, to leave Jesus alone and stay quiet. But Jesus notices him and wants to see him. He doesn’t care that he is merely a beggar. Another popular teacher might be seeking out the rich and famous and trying to make a few bucks off his power and popularity, but Jesus sees the saddest person there in the greatest need. And he sees that person’s belief. Then he meets that person’s needs. His eyes see what others don’t. He sees a need and he meets it with love.