Feed My Sheep
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

April 10, 2016
Third Sunday of Easter

John 21:1-19

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

The public face of Christianity is not pretty. Actually, it is beautiful, in the way that only makeup trailers for television and movies can make people look. It is one of the reasons that the church is viewed by so many as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst.

When Christianity in America is aligned so strongly with politics; when preachers on television defend God’s call for them to own private jets; when individual prosperity and individual salvation are presented as the goals of faith, and in that order; when the commonly held view of Christians is that we are mean, vindictive, discriminatory, and yet hold ourselves to be holier than others, with plenty of examples available to be cited, we have some problems.

Now we know lots of churches and lots of Christians who are feeding and clothing the poor, fighting for justice and practicing a life-giving compassion. But these don’t make the news.

These views are held by so many that an entire generation avoids church unless someone is hatched, matched or dispatched. But otherwise, what good is the church?

Our argument against such a view is not an argument, but a witness. If we are to offer something other than this public view, we need to start with seeing how Jesus would do it.

Jesus has shown up to the disciples twice since the resurrection, and yet still Simon Peter says, “I am going fishing.” As if to say, “This is overwhelming. I’m going back to what I did before I was named Peter, before I was called in and sent out.” And the others go with him.

They fish all night long. Nothing.

But just after dawn, Jesus is on the shore. They do not know it is him. Like the other appearances of Jesus after the resurrection, and even though they have already seen him, they do not recognize him. Not until he speaks; not until he acts.

“Little ones, you do not have any fish, do you?”
“No. We’ve caught nothing.”
“Try on the right side of the boat.”

They cast their nets on the right side of the boat, and there are so many fish in them, 153 large fish, so that they cannot haul the net into the boat, but drag it behind them when they come in to shore.

And with such an abundance, they know that it is Jesus.

Sounds like the parables doesn’t it? Faith cannot simply be a new habit added to an old way of living. You cannot sew a new patch on to an old cloak, or carry new wine in an old wine skin, or haul in the abundance of the fish that are there when Jesus is there in an old boat with old nets. [This is not a pastoral mandate to buy a new fishing boat!]

And when they get to the shore, Jesus already has a fire going, and already has bread and fish, because it is Jesus. And where Jesus is, people get fed. On Wednesday nights down at the Eagles. On Easter Sunday after worship downstairs in the Bess Fulton Room. At the table of Communion. Friends over coffee, talking about important things. Where Jesus is, people are fed.

This is Jesus’ third appearance after the resurrection.

And three times, he asks Peter “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He does not use the name that he gave him, Peter, the rock on which the church would be founded. Jesus calls him by his old name, his pre-following name, his “ain’t met Jesus yet” name.

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”

And Peter, getting more distraught each time.

“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Before the crucifixion, Peter denied Jesus three times. Not just denied him, but did so after saying he would willingly lay down his life for Jesus. And when Peter denies Jesus, there is a particular language used that we can easily miss when Peter says, “I am not.” In the Greek that John’s Gospel is written in, he says, “Not I am.”

John is the Gospel of the “I Am” statements. Seven times Jesus describes himself with “I Am” statements, which both describe who he is and also deliberately echo the name by which God addresses God’s self to Moses:

“I am the bread of life…”
“I am the light of the world…”
“I am the door of the sheep…”
“I am the good shepherd…”
“I am the resurrection, and the life…”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life…”
“I am the true vine…”

And in his fear and desperation, Peter does not just say “I am not his disciple,” but denies all that Jesus stands for.

Three times, Peter denied Jesus. And three times Jesus asks Simon, son of John, if he loves Jesus. Three times falling away. Three times, starting over.

And each time Peter says, “Lord, you know that I love you!” Jesus responds with a command: “Take care of my sheep.”

For what is the role of a disciple of Jesus Christ but to feed and tend the lambs and sheep? To take care of the people who wander life without hope or recourse, the ones who have given up on the institutions and the leaders because they have proved themselves to be false so many times, the least of these in our midst, of whom Jesus says, “you want to care for me, then care for these.”

And after three times of telling Peter to tend and feed Jesus’ lambs and sheep, Jesus tells Peter what he told him that first time: “Follow me.”

Simon, son of John, a fisherman who could catch no fish without Jesus, who had become Peter, the rock on which the church would be founded, who denied Jesus three times, has been redeemed three times and once again told to follow Jesus.

Three times, Jesus questions Peter’s love for him. Three times Peter affirms his love.

For every sin, there is a grace;
for every falling down, there is a raising up;
for every failing, there is forgiveness;
for every time of being lost, there is a redemption;
for every despair, there is a hope.

This is the faith that sees us through the dark nights of the soul and the anxious times in which we live. This is the faith that, when we really live it, offers love and forgiveness, redemption and hope to those around us. This is the faith that moves us to care for the least of these in our midst, and to be a people of compassion in the midst of all the anger and pain of our day.

This is the kind of faith that can change the world, not just try to look good for public view. Which is the point, isn’t it?

Thanks be to God.