Is it only me, or are others of us nervous about the discussion meeting that will follow worship today? Pastor Nansi set the stage for today in her sermon last week—suggesting there are factions among us, and challenging us to reconcile with each other and to not tear apart the body of Christ. And then she wisely left town!
Every week the UCC calendar lays out the Scripture readings and gives the topic for each Sunday. Today’s topic, quite fittingly, is “The Way Forward.” Thank God we don’t have to figure this all out on our own; we can turn to Scripture and to God’s guidance to help us resolve our conflicts in a loving, compassionate way.
What I love about Emmanuel is that we really ARE a family—and family is a place where we can wound each other and heal each other, and where what we have in common is so much more important than our differences or disagreements. As a family, and as a faith community, we have adopted a simple but powerful mission statement of that we try to live out: “God is with us. And we shall love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Do we get discouraged? Yup. Do we see issues differently, based on our life experiences? Yup. Are we up for the challenges that these bring up? I sure hope so!
Before I look at today’s Scripture to see how the early apostles’ experience can help us, I really do want to thank the people who have been brave enough to raise their concerns. You have done us an immense service!
In AA, which is my main reference point for spiritual growth, it is important for individual groups to periodically stop and take a group inventory—to see if they’re still on track in terms of living out their mission or if changes are needed. Similarly, as a church, we have been challenged to take stock of ourselves at this time, and that’s what we’ll be doing after today’s worship service. For the good of our church and all of us, I hope everyone can stay for this sharing session.
Now, looking at John’s gospel, what do we learn about the apostles’ early attempts to find the way forward? We find that only eight days after the Resurrection, seven of them had gone back to their old jobs—back to the fishing they knew before Jesus called them.
And once again Jesus met them where they were. According to the text, the disciples were fishing about 100 yards from shore. And at that time in history, no one was wearing glasses to correct near-sightedness or astigmatism. So, I find it amazing that they could recognize Jesus when he was a football field away. And he wasn’t even wearing a Team Jesus jersey with his name and number in large letters.
Yet when they realized it was Jesus, they took different paths to get to him. Impetuous Peter jumped right into the lake and sprinted through the water. Others stayed put in the boat, towing the net and bringing in the 153 fishes they’d caught at Jesus’ urging. Just note that until Jesus guided them, these men had engaged in unproductive labor, fishing all night in vain.
There are so many parallels in today’s Scripture. I’m sure you can see similarities between today’s impromptu breakfast and the two other Biblical incidents where people are fed with loaves and fishes. Even more striking are the contrasts between Peter’s insistences that he loves Jesus and his earlier denials of even knowing the man.
Let’s focus on this part of the reading, because I think it holds special interest for us today. First, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and in response to Peter’s “You know I love you,” Jesus gives him guidance—instructions on what to do if Peter truly loves his Lord. And it’s not things like erecting a large monument in Jesus’ name, creating designer jewelry like WWJD bracelets, or even fasting and abstaining.
Rather, Jesus says simply, “Feed by lambs,” “Look after my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” And this means what to Peter the fisherman—or to you and me? Oh, I know, it’s the feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, etc. Could be that, but I think there’s another way of looking at this that might help us today.
Jesus does not say to Peter and the others, “Feed by lambs and look after my sheep because you are all my newly deputized shepherds.” No, instead we’ve come to know Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God. So, if Jesus is the Good Shepherd, then we are his sheep. To me it is saying that we are the sheep who need to be fed and looked after. We are actually called to minister to each other so we can bring about the Kingdom of God. This so reminds me of all the letters Paul wrote to encourage and correct the early churches!
I love my Bible, which was given me 42 years ago by a dear friend. She wrote in it, “To the Calcutta Kid,” because I was trying to figure out if I would be willing to carry out God’s will for my life if he wanted me to go to India and become another Mother Theresa. Another wise friend explained to me that whatever God wanted me to do, it wouldn’t be God’s will for me if it weren’t the best thing for me. Needless-to-say, I did not rush off to India. Calcutta is sure a long way from Dousman—which is fine with me. And I’m still trying to find God’s will for myself every day!
Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me,” and to me that means imitating Jesus in how I think, talk, and act. It’s not really that hard to figure out; asking “What is the loving thing to do?” usually shows me the next right thing to do, or, if you prefer, the way forward.
Today’s bulletin cover is so touching because of its childlike beauty. Talking about the infant Jesus, Scripture says that a little child shall lead them. Children do lead us, because they want to help. They do not question whether the person in need agrees with them philosophically, theologically, or politically. They simply offer love as they try to help. That is what we’re called to do as we come together to heal our divisions and reconcile our differences.
When Jesus says “Look after my sheep,” he is telling us that the key to being one of his followers is to care for and nourish the other sheep in our flock. If we are to continue ministering to others in need, we must first minister to ourselves and each other here at Emmanuel. And let’s remember how the Good Shepherd went in search of the one missing sheep.
Our name—Emmanuel—means, “God is with us,” and I believe he will guide us through our divisions, our questions, and our doubts if we truly seek his grace and reconciliation. Let us continue now with our worship service as we join as a family in sharing the meal given us by our Lord, through whom all things are possible.
In the name of the one who shepherds this flock and who will never let any of us go, even Jesus the Christ.
Scripture for May 5, 2019 John 21:1-17
Later on, Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. It was by the Sea of Tiberias, and it happened like this: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee. the sons of Zebedee and two more of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” They replied, “We’ll come with you.” They went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night.
It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus called out, “Have you caught anything, friends?” And when they answered, “No,” he said, “Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.” So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in. The disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” At these words “It is the Lord,” Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak around him and jumped into the water. The other disciples came on in the boat, towing the net and fish; they were only about a hundred yards from land.
As soon as they came ashore they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it. Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore, full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of there being so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, “Who are you?” They knew quite well it was the Lord. Jesus then stepped forward, took the break and gave it to them, and the same with the fish. This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples after rising from the dead.
After the meal Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know 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 replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Look after my sheep.” Then he said to him a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” and said “Lord, you know everything; you know I Love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.