Easter 3: Feed my sheep

"Feed My Lambs"
"Feed My Lambs" by withrow, on Flickr
Acts 9:10-16
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."

John 21:1-19
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."

Some of my favorite summertime memories as a child are traveling up to Door County, Wisconsin each summer. We stayed in a small cabin on Whitefish Bay, right on the water. A highlight of these trips were the nights when we cooked dinner on the beach over a campfire. We’d set up a picnic table with hot dogs to roast, or we would assemble tinfoil dinners to bundle up and cook in the coals. And after dinner, always, s’mores for dessert. There was nothing better than eating there by the fire, with sand under our bare feet, with no extra lights besides the fire and the moon, and no extra sounds but the waves and our family conversation. There was always an intimacy around that fire, and a simplicity.

And this is where the heart of our gospel story begins today.

The resurrected Jesus comes to the edge of the water to join his disciples for breakfast. He stands on the shore and gives them a little fishing advice, and then he cooks their catch over the campfire. They eat and talk together in the pale light of morning, warmed by the fire and by their friendship. After the stress of Jesus’ arrest and the tragedy of his death, and the baffling mystery of his resurrection, on this morning, there is finally time and space to relax and decompress. There’s nothing left to prove. Jesus simply feeds his disciples with loaves and fishes, hangs out with them, shows his love for them by taking care of them and feeding them and eating with them.

This meal of bread and fish on the beach is a post-resurrection Eucharist, another meal where Jesus gives himself to and for others. It is a sign for the disciples, and for us, that Jesus nourishes us in body and in spirit. Every Eucharistic meal that we share reminds us that we are never far from Jesus’ presence. We eat and we drink to remember that we are never outside the scope of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

But this meal is also something bigger than fellowship and forgiveness. It is also a commissioning. The breakfast on the beach and our shared Eucharistic meal are intended nourish us to go forward into the world to share in Jesus’ mission and ministry.

When Jesus and the disciples finish eating their campfire breakfast, Jesus turns to Peter and asks,

“Do you love me?”
“Yes,” Peter says.
“Then feed my lambs.”

Jesus asks a second time, “Do you love me?”
“Yes,” Peter says.
“Then tend my sheep.”

And then a third time. “Peter, do you love me?”
And Peter feels frustrated and hurt. “Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep.”

Peter, the disciple who has always been so eager to please, can’t understand why Jesus won’t believe him when he says he loves him. He doesn’t understand that Jesus is asking of him something deeper and bigger than merely devotion. Jesus is trying to tell Peter that loving him is a matter of action. That the true way to love Jesus is to serve others, following his example.

Remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples before his arrest? At that meal, he got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed his disciples’ feet. He then went on to tell them that they should wash one another’s feet, and that this is how all people would know that they were his disciples, if they loved one another in this way.

To love Jesus is to serve. To love Jesus is to act.

Do you love me? Wash each others’ feet.
Do you love me? Feed my sheep.

This is how we most deeply love the savior who first loved us. Not by shutting ourselves away in personal prayer and devotion, though those things are certainly important. But loving Jesus is primarily a public act. To love Jesus is to go out into the world, doing acts of mercy and service in his name.

Sometimes those acts of mercy and service are, quite literally, acts of feeding. Like our food pantry. Or our community meal, which has been so successful that we’ve now started doing it twice a month. Or serving Meals on Wheels. Or dropping off dinners for a new mom or a grieving family.

And sometimes these acts of mercy and service take on a whole other range of forms, from showing kindness to a stranger to offering a helping hand to a neighbor, from watching a friends’ children so they can have a night off to standing up for somebody who is being bullied or insulted.

And sometimes, our love for Jesus calls us to do really hard things, like loving our enemies, and blessing those who curse us.

Ananias knows something about this.

In our first reading today, Saul has been blinded along the road. He stumbles into the city, refusing to eat or drink. The Lord speaks to a man in the city named Ananias, saying “Ananias, disciple, you are the one whom I have chosen to find Saul, and to lay hands on him, and to heal him.”

Ananias, however, knows who Saul is – a dangerous man with who persecutes the faithful – and he tries to talk God out of the task. Ananias has a really legitimate reason for resisting God’s call. But God will have none of it.

“Do it anyway,” God says, in so many words.

This is the hardest part about loving Jesus. Because if loving Jesus means feeding his sheep, then loving Jesus means feeding even the sheep that we don’t like or can’t understand. It means serving those who we think are undeserving. It means showing love to those who have made mistakes, even huge, unforgivable mistakes. It means demonstrating the wideness of God’s mercy even to the criminal, the unethical, and the delinquent.

Because Jesus loved us even when we weren’t very likable. He served us though we were undeserving. He showed love to all of us despite our mistakes, even our huge, unforgivable mistakes. He stretched out his arms on the cross to demonstrate the wideness of God’s mercy for all.

Jesus even showed up on the beach to feed breakfast to a flock of disciples who had deserted him, denied him, fled in panic, locked themselves away in fear, forgot everything Jesus had taught them and empowered them to do. He fed them and cared for them and called them friends.

Likewise Jesus feeds us here at this table, at our own “breakfast on the beach.” He serves us bread and wine, and words of grace and forgiveness. He tells us that he loves us and the whole world that God has created. He calls us friends and commissions us as disciples.

And from this meal, he sends us out with very simple instructions:

“Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Show love and do mercy. Follow me.”

May this meal and God’s grace give us the strength to go into all the world, showing love, even as we have been loved.

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