Last week, we heard the Gospel about Honest Thomas. Right? I renamed Thomas, Honest Thomas, because I appreciate and can relate to Thomas’ pain and questioning, and I really appreciate his honesty. Rev. Matthew David encouraged us to be honest with our hurts and trauma and seek Jesus’ love, despite our hurt and perhaps because of our pain.
In this week’s Gospel Jesus forgives Simon Peter and encourages him to feed his sheep. Easter Season is the time we celebrate and affirm that resurrection is real. We praise God for the resurrection of Jesus—that God did not allow death to have the final word in Jesus’ life. We praise God that God continues to create resurrection in our world and in our lives—that death and loss are not the final word in our lives—not just in the world to come, but in our lives, right here, right now. In the Gospel reading for today, Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together fishing in the Sea of Galilee (John 21:2). Join me and try to imagine how sad and lonely and hurt the disciples must have felt since Jesus’ death on the cross; their friend, their leader, the man who healed many and cast out demons, died on the cross. The grieving disciples had returned to their previous fishing vocation and head back to shore with empty nets.
And there stands Jesus. He tells them to go back out and try again and he gives them instructions as to the next step. He tells them to put the nets out on the right side of the boat. And they follow his instructions (verse 4-6). The amazing thing to me is that the disciples did not know who Jesus was at first, but they followed his instructions and went back out. I wonder was it their desperation for a catch, a love of fishing, a desire for success, a sense of the specialness of the man calling them to return to their task, or something else? Whatever it was, they ventured back out and found huge success. Their nets were overflowing. They catch 153 fish (verse 11). Why 153? Such an odd, interesting number.
They then have breakfast with the man they now recognize as Jesus. They are reminded who they are and what they were originally called to be. They are challenged to get back in the boat and try again — in more ways than one. Following the call of Jesus means putting our nets back into the sea even though we are tired and feel unsuccessful. Anyone feel a little tired and a little discouraged after the COVID pandemic?
The second part of this passage is related to Peter and his relationship to Jesus. Recall that Peter denied Jesus three times before Jesus’ crucifixion (18:17, 25-27). In our Gospel reading today, Jesus reinstates Peter into the fold by asking him three times to take care of his sheep (verse 15-17). Jesus asks Peter “if he loves him” three times—mirroring how Peter denied Jesus three times before he was killed on the cross.
Jesus forgives Peter and entrusts him to feed his sheep, care, and nurture others. Jesus’ loving confrontation of Peter wasn’t about shaming Peter but reclaiming him. Almost unbelievable, right?
My understanding of authentic faith is based on love and grace. Imagine how much more meaningful our relationship with God can be when it is rooted in love rather than fear and shame. Feelings of guilt are appropriate when we have done something wrong, but I believe feelings of shame are never what God wants us to experience. Jesus sets this amazing example as he forgave Peter. Jesus will forgive us. Jesus calls us to forgive others, forgive ourselves and believe in God’s love for each one of us. Forgiven, we can become Easter people who care for others and feed and nourish ourselves and others.
Jesus is our chief shepherd, caring for all his followers. Jesus invited Peter and all his disciples to take part in caring for others. In this text “feed my sheep” means more than just give them food; it’s referring to the work of a shepherd. They are called to nurture others, care for the church, feed believers and the lost with spiritual food, protect those in the church and go out and seek the lost “sheep” that are still out in the world. Jesus says, “Feed my sheep” three times. I was really struck with these words as I meditated on this Gospel from John. Recently, my husband and I took our son and daughter in law to Fragga Farms, out in Banks Oregon. We fed baby goats. It was so much fun. I was intrigued by how aggressively these baby goats ate. Even the littlest one, named Duchess, who walked on only 3 legs, aggressively consumed the bottle of warm goat’s milk, in minutes.
We humans are fed from the moment we are born. And yet we humans need so much more than physical food. I was reminded of this on Maundy Thursday. I went to St Peter and Paul in SE Portland to assist with washing feet of the unhoused. It was cold and raining. The organizers had hot coffee and tea and several different kinds of fancy sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies, and all the equipment to wash feet, right there in the sanctuary. A few brave souls came along in the rain and cold. They did not want their feet washed. Some wanted a warm cup of coffee. A couple took a sandwich to go. But they all wanted conversation, someone to listen. People need to feel connection and to be heard. Feed my sheep is about so much more than just food. I am reminded of this particularly when I visit someone who is ill. Often, they do not want communion, but really need someone to listen and hear their concerns. Feed my sheep means so much more than just food.
Currently after 2 years of COVID Pandemic, we know that people need loving care and nurturing. At Grace Memorial Finding Your Way Fair last week, there was a lot of discussion about different ways to serve and become involved in this community. Humans need a sense of belonging. The COVID pandemic has further isolated many. I attended the Oregon Diocese Clergy Conference this week at the Oregon Gardens. The most valuable part was the intimate conversations that I had with clergy throughout our diocese. There was so much conversation about change and being adaptive and what tools, we need to build community. We talked about the need for listening, compassion, curiosity, patience, and practice. We talked a lot about building community by using peoples’ strengths, thinking in terms of abundance, instead of scarcity. Bishop Akiyama even mentioned Grace Memorial and Grace Commons as an example for many of how to be in community. There are so many ways to feed the sheep and nurture and care for others in our church and in our community.
I will conclude with a couple questions for us to ponder over the next week-
How can we at Grace Memorial become the Easter People who care for others? How will you feed the sheep? How are you being called to nurture and care for another in new ways?