Sunday, May 5, 2019

Feed my sheep

John 21:1-19



Some time after Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room a week after his resurrection, he appears again, in Galilee. The disciples are trying to return to normal, or as normal as they can be without Jesus. Peter, not sure what he should do now, says, “I’m goin’ fishin’. Who’s with me?”  

At least seven disciples get in Peter’s fishing boat and head out to fish. The fish they are hoping to catch are mostly active at night, so it’s not unusual that they are out all night. But, after hours of fishing, their nets are empty. How disappointing! As they near the shore, a stranger calls out, “Try lowering your nets on the other side.”


Can’t you just hear the comments? “Don’t you know ANYTHING about fish?!” “The water is the same on both sides!” “Face it, man. There are no fish tonight!” But, the disciples decide to try anyway. And they haul in so much fish the net is close to tearing.


Suddenly, they realized the stranger was Jesus. Peter, impulsive Peter, jumps into the water and heads to shore. This, of course, leaves the other six to pull in the fish.


When they get to shore, Jesus already has fish cooking over a small fire. When breakfast is over, Jesus talks with Peter. Three times he asks him, “Do you love me?” and three times, Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” And three times, Jesus charges Peter to “Feed my sheep.”


Often those who talk about this part of the story have focused on the different Greek words for love that are used, assuming there is significance in the difference. But, they are mostly interchangeable.


There has also been a focus on the three-fold repetition, with the assumption that the repetition refers to the number of times Peter denied Jesus, and therefore he needs a three-fold forgiveness. However, Jesus doesn’t talk about forgiveness with Peter.


These interpretations may be helpful, but I see something different. What I see is a three-fold charge, a commissioning for ministry. There are similar stories in Matthew and in Luke. Luke even includes a story about Jesus eating fish.

·         In Luke, Jesus says to the disciples “Repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed to all nations. You are witnesses of these things.”

·         In Matthew, Jesus says to the disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  

·         In John, Jesus says: “Peter, do you love me? Then, feed my sheep.” 

Sometimes, what we want to say is so important that we repeat it. I think that is what Jesus is doing here. I believe that this story, this conversation, is about putting Peter in charge of what happens next: telling others about Jesus’ love for them.


In John chapter 10, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, sent to gather in the lost sheep of Israel; sent to protect them, to care for them so well they know his voice and respond only to him. In this story, when Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep, he is putting Peter and the disciples in charge of carrying on the mission to the sheep.


We are the descendants of those first disciples, and we are charged with continuing the mission to the sheep. It is we who are now sent by Jesus to feed his sheep.


·         If we love Jesus, we will feed his sheep: Those things we collect make a difference in the lives of needy folks. People get food and toiletries and some basic supplies for moving out of the shelter.

·         If we love Jesus, we will feed his sheep. Some folks have everything they need – and are aware that they still are missing something. They are missing Jesus. We need to recognize that the only way other sheep will know about Jesus is if we tell them.

·         If we love Jesus, we will feed his sheep. If the people of St Matthew’s Lutheran Church want to grow, in faith as well as in size, we will need to learn how to feed the folks who are not here yet. What is it that they are hungry for? How do we need to change, adapt, to make them feel welcome and included?

·         If we love Jesus, we will feed his sheep. We have been fed at his table, nourished by his Spirit, and encouraged to follow wherever he leads us. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, you are always the right age to feed Jesus’ sheep.


A story:

Becky rode the bus every day to work. She saw many of the same riders each day as they traveled across town to their various workplaces. People noticed she was always smiling. And they noticed she always talked with people around her. “How are your children?” “Is your father getting better?” “Did you find that lamp you were looking for?” She knew the folks on the bus and fed them by showing how she cared about them.


One day, George asked Becky why she was always so cheerful. She replied that she believed in Jesus and Jesus had told her to feed his sheep. Talking to people is how she chose to do that.


George said, “I admire what you do. You never push Jesus at us, you just love and care for and about us. Maybe I should learn more about your Jesus.” Becky replied, “I worship at the Lutheran Church by the bus stop. If you want to join me, I’ll save you a seat.” It turns out that Becky’s pew was rarely empty. She loved Jesus and fed his sheep by caring about others, gently sharing him, and inviting others to come to know him, too.


There are many ways to feed Jesus’ sheep. We collect and donate food and other necessities. We plan and lead worship. We teach Bible study. We sign worship for deaf people. We are generous in our offering. We tell people they are doing a good job. We pay attention to those around us. We bring casseroles and chili when there is a family crisis. We offer to drive those who can’t get to the doctor. We forgive those who have hurt us. We sing in worship, even if it is off-key and out-of-tempo.


Jesus says to us: Do you love me?

And we respond: Yes, Lord, I love you.

And Jesus challenges us: Then feed my sheep.

And we promise: Yes, Lord. I will feed your sheep.