The disciples have finally left the locked room where they’ve been hiding. It’s been several weeks since Easter and they aren’t exactly getting out there and preaching the word of God. They are afraid of persecution and you can’t blame them, can you? They are feeling discouraged and tired, so they just go back to what they know, fishing.... But they’re not catching anything. It is night time and maybe they are just relieved to be outside and feeling safe.
Please try to imagine this with me: We’re standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the dark just before dawn. It’s quiet. Calm. We hear the sound of small waves lapping on the shore, water slapping a small boat. A few gulls cawing overhead. Cool sand on our bare feet. Splash. Quiet talk of men in a boat. There is a glimpse of morning light rising by the eastern shore of the sea.
The fishermen hear a shout from the beach--some man asking, “Children, not catching anything?” The men see someone standing on the shore who tells them to cast their net again, this time on the right side of the boat and when they do their net is filled! Full as it is, the net is not breaking. One of the men announces; “It is the Lord!” Simon see his best friend there and is so overjoyed he leaps into the water and splashes wildly to shore as fast as he can. Jesus is standing next to a small fire where he is cooking fish and bread. Smells delicious! Then, like the good friend that he is, he says: “Come have some breakfast.” Oh, I like this guy! He asks a lot of us but first he feeds us.
They eat. They are happy and full and so pleased to be back in the presence of their friend. Remember that not too long ago, Simon Peter denied Christ three times. He must feel sad and embarrassed about that. Well, Jesus takes him aside and gives him three opportunities to redeem himself:
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon answers quickly, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus answers, “Then feed my lambs.” Again he asks; “Simon, do you love me? Simon answers, “YES” “Then act on it! Tend my sheep.” And yet, AGAIN he asks Simon, “Do you love me?” Now this time Simon is a bit annoyed. “How many times do I have to tell you? You know everything so you must know that I love you!” Jesus answers, “Feed my sheep.”
If Jesus were to stand before us today asking us the same question, what would we answer? “People of St. Marks; do you love me?” Of course, we do. Then get to work! With each question, Jesus gives us a task: “Great. You say you love me. Now get to work. Feed my lambs, tend my sheep. Reach out and take care of the needy. You love me? Then you need to love your neighbor. You need to take care of others. It is not enough to just love me. Take action.” Love is as love does. Jesus asks us, not just to love him but to use that love to change the world.
“Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep”. Jesus doesn’t choose his metaphors lightly. He’s talking to people who know what’s involved in the care of sheep. They know that it is hard, dirty work. They know that sometimes sheep kick you or even head butt you! Lambs can require bottle feeding, sheep become stressed and fight over food. Shearing is labor-intensive, filthy and exhausting work. Oh, and often, while tending those sheep, you step in what they leave behind. Tending sheep is not for the fainthearted!
And yet, Jesus calls us to this difficult ministry of tending to his flock, and that includes the needy, the disposed, the outcasts, the people living on a muddy riverbank. Father Greg Boyle, who has worked with gangs in L.A for thirty years, says, “The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place—with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.”
Jesus calls us to work in the real world, in messy places with people who are societal outcasts. I see comments on Facebook about those without homes in Aberdeen and my heart breaks to read how coldly so many people view their neighbors. Here at St. Marks, we work to feed hungry people at the Chaplains dinner every month. We work hard on Pancake Day so that we can share over $1000 of the proceeds with foodbanks in Raymond and Montesano. We give money to help needy children in our schools. These are just some of the ways we strive to answer Christ’s call to love him by serving all of his flock.
Let’s get back to Simon Peter and Jesus. They’ve cleared things up. Simon loves Jesus. Jesus forgives him his sins. Simon understands that he needs to take care of the flock. Now Jesus gives him the bad news. He tells him that from here on in, someone else will be leading him around and taking him where he does not wish to go. He’s letting Simon know that it’s not going to be an easy path, following him. But he asks anyway: “Will you come and follow me?” These words are familiar to Simon as they are the very first words he ever heard from Jesus.
We try to follow Jesus. We trust that the path he sets is the best one. But you should be careful who you follow. Here’s a story about following that doesn’t work out so well: A lady was lost in her car in a bad snow storm. She remembered her dad had told her, ‘If you ever get stuck in a snow storm, wait for a snow plow and follow it’. Soon a snow plow came by and she started to follow it. She followed that plow for about 45 minutes. Finally, the driver of the snow plow got out, stomped over to her and asked what she was doing. She shared what her dad had told her. The driver nodded, and said, “OK then, I'm through plowing the Wal-Mart lot, now you can follow me over to the K-mart.”
Please join me in prayer: Help us to follow you, Jesus. Open our hearts to your power moving around us and between us and within us, until your glory is revealed in our love of both friend and enemy, in communities transformed by justice and compassion and in the healing of all that is broken. Amen.