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 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 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?

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B: Mark 8:31-38: The Path of Death

Ash wednesday cross, crucifix made of ash

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

We really see the themes of Lent in today’s passage. Jesus is teaching his followers that he will suffer and will not be accepted by elite leaders and priests. He tells them he will die. But Peter doesn’t like this teaching and basically scolds Jesus for saying such things. Jesus responds, “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.”  Ouch. Peter is one of his most devoted followers, but even he does not understand–perhaps cannot understand until after Easter.

Then Jesus goes to call his followers to him and tells them:

Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me and for the Good News will save it. 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.

Mark 8: 34b-37 (Easy-to-Read Version)

So we continue to observe Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, discovery, and heart preparation. We must be willing to carry the cross–meaning to give up ourselves and follow Jesus. What is getting in the way of our service to God and to others?

I like this thought from Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of Mark by Marcus J. Borg:

The way of the cross is about life and death; to avoid it in order to save one’s life is to lose one’s life, and to embrace it is to save one’s life. The path of death is the path of life.

I love a good paradox and I love to let it speak for itself. Dwell on this paradox.

 

Last Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 9:2-9: Transfiguration

Bruges - Transfiguration of the Lord  in st. Jacobs church

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

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday—it’s all about Jesus’s transfiguration—suddenly appearing sort of more than human—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, “Jesus was changed.His clothes became shining white—whiter than anyone on earth could make them. Then two men were there talking with Jesus. They were Elijah and Moses.

Peter (always quick to speech and action, not always thinking so hard about it first) said to Jesus, “Teacher, it is good that we are here. We 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, the one I love. Obey him!”

Imagine how surprised they were at all this. When they looked again, they saw that Jesus was alone. As they went down the mountain, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they saw until “after the Son of Man rises from death.”

There’s a lot of weird, miraculous stuff happening here, but I won’t attempt to explain it much.  A quote on the Worshiping With Children website says, “this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.”  I like that and it seems like good advice.  The most I can say is imagine if George Washington and Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing in front of you (well, that’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but it might help) and your friend and teacher was glowing from within in a miraculous way. How would you react? How would you think God was at work?

Continuing the theme of Epiphany, this passage highlights the authority and unique preeminence of Jesus. Mark wants us to know Jesus is not like other teachers. And the same voice that called out at his baptism calls out again to single him out as the Son of God.

 

Proper 17, Year A: Matthew 16:21-26: Lose Yourself

Saint Peter Painting

St. Peter – Source: iStockphoto.com

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

Jesus tells his disciples that he has to go to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and be killed, then he will rise from the dead. Wow, can you imagine how that came across?  How do you think you would have reacted to that? Well, we know Peter’s reaction: “God save you from those sufferings, Lord! That will never happen to you!” 

Jesus rebukes him harshly, “Get away from me, Satan! You are not helping me! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.” (These quotes are from the Easy-to-Read version here.) Ouch, he called him Satan! I don’t think Jesus was implying Peter was literally possessed by Satan or anything, but more that he is speaking against God and what God wants at this moment. Remember that just last week we read about Peter being called the Rock on which the church will be built. What a change to this story! It happens to all of us–faithful and loving one time, failing and wrong another time. Meanwhile he just wants Jesus to not die, which doesn’t seem so awful to our human eyes. It seems Peter understand Jesus was the Messiah, but not all that might mean. 

Jesus goes on to say the following:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Matthew 16:24-26 (NRSV)

I love it when Jesus speaks in paradoxes. Maybe that’s weird of me. Lose your life to save it. Amazing. What does this mean to you? What are you giving of yourself today? How are you following Jesus?

Proper 16, Year A: Matthew 16:13-20: The Rock

Rome - Mosaic from st. Peters cathedral

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

Our next passage comes after the disciples have been traveling around with Jesus, watching him heal and teach and work miracles. At this point, they’ve spent a lot of time with him.

Then he asks them, “Who do people say I am?”

They answer that people think he’s one of various prophets or John the Baptist. Then he asks, “And who do you say I am?”

This moment is key. They should have an idea at this point that he’s not an everyday teacher.

And now it’s Peter who answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus tells him he is blessed, that no one had to teach him that, but that his Father in heaven taught him. He says, So I tell you, you are Peter. And I will build my church on this rock.” 

He says the power of death will not defeat the church and that he gives Peter the keys to God’s kingdom. Imagine! The keys to the kingdom! And it’s true, the church went on in the hands of Peter and other followers after Christ’s death and ascension. They drove it forward from there. They took up the mantle of leading the future of Christianity and spread the gospel around the known world (and it’s gone around even more of the world since). This seems like a significant moment. They have seen all that Jesus is and what he is teaching; they must recognize his power and vision and carry it on.

We also must recognize his power and vision and carry on his truth into our current world. We can be a rock of the church as well–we can carry on the work of healing in the world that Jesus began.

 

Proper 14, Year A: Matthew 14:22-33: Do Not Be Afraid

Jesus Walks on Water

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

 

This is a well-known story, but try to consider it anew.

Jesus sends his disciples out on a boat. He instructs them to go to the other side of the lake and tells them he would join them later.  Then he sent the crowds he’d been teaching (this is right after the feeding of the 5,000) away so he could go up into the hills to pray.  This is not a part of the story people usually focus on, but I like this idea of going into the hills to pray. We go to a lake house in Maine almost every summer, and I can really feel the presence of God on the hill overlooking the lake where the house is perched. It’s a beautiful place to pray. He spends enough time alone in prayer that the boat has gone far from shore. The boat was having trouble in choppy waves on a windy night. Early in the morning, Jesus goes to the boat by walking upon the water. Understandably, his disciples freak the heck out when they see him–screaming that it’s a ghost.

Jesus calls out to them not to be afraid and Peter responds, “Lord, if that is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus says, “Come, Peter.”

I love this simple command.

So Peter gets out and walks on the water to Jesus, but then he gets afraid seeing the wind and the waves and starts to sink. He calls out to Jesus to save him. Jesus saves, as we say, and he does save Peter. He says, “Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?”

After they are back in the boat, the wind stops and his followers worship him and say, “You really are the Son of God.”

There are a lot of ways to read this story, and many have become Christian clichés about “stepping out of the boat,” “stepping out in faith,” “walking on water,” “keeping your eyes on Jesus,” etc. It can be used for good or ill (such as encouraging people to take harmful risks or give money they can ill afford to give to already rich televangelists, etc. But I like to keep it fairly simple on this blog. What is the heart of the story to you? For me today, I’m drawn back to the image of Jesus, praying alone in the hills overlooking the lake, then going down to help his friends in the wind-tossed waves. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” he says.  There’s a lot to be afraid of, but we must go out and do good in this world. Do not be afraid.

 

 

The Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-36

Florence -  Transfiguration of the Lord

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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.

Day of Pentecost, Year A: Happy Birthday to the Church: Acts 2:1-21

Venice - Descent of the Holy Ghost by Titian

Venice – Descent of the Holy Ghost by Titian – Source: iStockphoto.com/sedmak

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Day of Pentecost, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the First Lesson reading from the book of Acts.

This week I think I will again explore the story in the book of Acts rather than sticking to the Gospel as I often prefer to do. They are both referring to Pentecost (here’s a nice little succinct link about Pentecost if you want to know more), which is celebrated this Sunday.  The John passage is about when Jesus comes to his disciples after his resurrection and promises them the Holy Spirit will come to them.

The Acts passage is a bit more of a story to tell, though it can still be a bit confusing at first. It’s actually a bit of an exciting story with roaring winds and tongues of fire and miracles. On the day of Pentecost, (which was a Jewish holy day) all Jesus’ followers were gathered in one place, probably to celebrate the day because they were still all Jewish and all following Jewish customs as well as following Jesus. (This was after Jesus had been taken up to Heaven and the apostles had chosen a replacement for Judas, who had betrayed Jesus. The replacement’s name was Matthias, just so you know.) While they were in this house together, a violent wind blew down from heaven and filled the house. Then they saw tongues of fire settle on each of them. Try to visualize this miracle; like little bright flames like you see on a candle above their heads.  That was a visible sign of the miracle that followed. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.

It seems that they went outside among the crowds of people visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost and began to speak to them, and the people were amazed that they all heard their own languages from these Galileans. And picture the apostles; they were not all a bunch of rabbis or well-educated men. They were fishermen and the like, for the most part. So this bunch of working class dudes come out and are all speaking in languages everyone can understand, though the crowds are from all over the place and speak many different languages. They asked one another, “What does this mean?” And this part is a little funny—some of them think they’re drunk. I suppose that would explain this group of people coming out and speaking all at once but not the fact that everyone can understand in his or her own language.

Then Peter speaks up and addresses the crowds and tells them, they’re not drunk, it’s only 9 in the morning! (Look at Peter, remember this is after Jesus reinstated him by saying “Feed my sheep”.  This is him as a leader of the new church, strong and fearless, never denying his Christ again!)  He quotes them a scripture from the book of Joel, a promise that God would pour out his Spirit and his servants will prophesy and there will be wonders. The point is he basically goes on from there to tell them all about Jesus and his teachings and called on them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

One important point is that Pentecost is seen as the birth of the church. Before they were all kind of hanging out; Jesus had died, risen, and then ascended into heaven again, and they were just sort of waiting and praying. Then after the miracle of Pentecost happens and Peter makes his great sermon, they go on to have more miracles and spread the word of God and the love of Jesus everywhere. Pentecost was the moment when the Holy Spirit came upon them and the church really began. Now the church is not just one little group, not just our local church, but a worldwide family. We can carry the love of God out from our own churches into the larger world as they did on that day.