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John 21: 1-17
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 and 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 has 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 a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to hi a 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.”
I speak in the name of the One, Holy, and Living God who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the the disciples by the sea of Tiberias.
Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. The disciples, those men who had been witness to the life and ministry, trial and death, and the post resurrection appearances of the Christ. The preceding three years had been a real mental, spiritual and emotional roller-coaster ride. In fact, the preceding three weeks had been jarring enough. No wonder the guys wanted to go fishing!
You will remember that in this evangel, in John’s gospel, the disciples would invariably be the “before” picture of those “before and after” images so popular in advertising. The disciples, the men, (no message there!) are the ones who, consistently, don’t get it. Their role is to ask the stupid questions that we, the readers might want to ask. In that way we, the readers, can stand next to the narrator feeling superior because we saw, we got it, we understood.
So here are the disciples. It is more than a week after the Risen Christ appeared to them while they cowered in the locked room. It is after he spoke the word of peace. It is after the disciples received the breath of the Holy Spirit. It is some time after he appeared in the closed room to invite Thomas to touch and see the marks in his hands and side. It is after these things. Have the disciples set off in a missionary frenzy? No, they’ve gone fishing!
If we are honest we will all recognize the impulse. When we don’t know what to do, we do that thing we know how to do. I make tea. No one drinks it but making tea is the one thing I am always able to do with some degree of competence.
Life had changed for the disciples in ways that they did not understand. Life, death, resurrection, Holy Spirit breath, what was next? They didn’t know. They couldn’t see the markers for the road ahead so they went back to what they knew. They were fishermen, they went fishing.
Except this night their expertise did not serve. Sometimes we do what we know how to do and discover that we don’t really know how to do it anymore...or it’s not needed anymore. How familiar are the tales of the new economy that has rendered so many jobs obsolete? How many of us have set out on a career path that initially made us dance with joy and found ourselves five, ten, thirty years down the line dragging ourselves to a job that has become numbingly soul-destroying? Something else is calling and we’re just too stuck or too scared to listen.
If we do dare to listen what we will hear is not a frightening harangue. We will not hear the voice of judgment and condemnation that berates us for our failings. We will hear compassionate voice of utter tenderness.
“Children, you have no fish, have you?”
Sometimes we charge ahead with our plans and schemes relying on our own skill, on our own talents, on our own resources. And we are disappointed by the results. We forget that the risen Lord is as close as a prayer, the Holy Spirit breathes in our breath. We have only to pause to ask the teacher, the Holy Spirit, our advocate and guide. Then we will know what we are to do.
“Cast your nets to the right side of the boat.”
Our skills are not wasted, just redirected or refined. When we hear and heed the direction offered by the living Christ we are called out of the paucity of our plans into the abundance of God’s grace. The night of futility ends. Our nets are laden with enough and more than enough to meet our needs.
I read the beautiful document, “Calling a Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of Long Island”. It is a lovely testament of hope. And it lays out an exhaustive - and perhaps exhausting - list of things to do. Larry, you and the leaders of this diocese may be tempted to plunge ahead with beautiful and important plans for responding to needs laid out in front of you. But notice, before Jesus charged Peter to feed his sheep, Jesus fed Peter. “Come and have breakfast”
The risen Christ spoke the word of peace to the disciples fear. He offered touch and seeing to dispel Thomas’s doubt. Now he offers abundance to the disciples paucity. He provides rest for their fatigue. He prepares food to meet their hunger. His own presence to still their need. We are here because we too are disciples. There is big work to do. But before we go we must pause in the presence. Often and again along the journey we must let the Risen Christ minister to our need.
We are called and fed, to be asked and sent.
Only after they had finished breakfast did Jesus turn to Simon Peter.
Simon son of John do you love me more than these?
Simon son of John do you love me?
Simon Peter you denied me, do you love me more than these?
Each of the gospels reports that on the night of Jesus trial Peter denied him three times. Alexander Shaia notes, in his forthcoming book, “the Hidden Power of the Gospels” that in this evangel Peter’s denial was not a betrayal. There was no bitter weeping when the cock crowed.
Peter’s denial was the expedient lie. It was the wrong thing done for the right reason. Without the first denial Peter would not have been allowed through the gate to stand in the courtyard. Without the second denial he could not have stood at that other charcoal fire to hear the course of Jesus’ trial. Without the third denial Peter might have found himself in chains before the cock crowed. Peter could not have admitted to knowing Jesus and still have been permitted to stay near him. But the fact of the lies were evidence that Peter was doing the wrong thing. It was not for him to stay near and listen. If he had not been too impulsive and proud to wait and hear he would have learned the place that his Lord wanted him to be.
In time, if we have not already done so, we too will make the wrong decisions with the right motivations. We will promise before we pray. We will find ourselves bound to a service that doesn’t serve us, or anyone else. Then we too will speak the protective lie or hide the uncomfortable truth.
On the beach, on this morning the Risen Lord does not face Peter with the voice of judgment. Instead, with his three questions he offers Peter a sacrament of healing. With each affirmation Peter is allowed to reverse the denial. Question, answer and charge are the symbols by which the relationship is reclaimed.
“Simon son of John do you love me more than these?”
“Yes Lord; You know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.”
“Simon son of John do you love me?”
“Yes Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Tend my sheep.”
“Simon son of John do you love me?”
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”
Jesus tells Simon, “Feed my lambs.”
Our church has lambs in need of feeding. The Diocese of Long Island identified the youth as its strength; youth programs as an area of opportunity; outreach to youth as a top challenge; and programs for youth as a top wish. The young and those young in their faith need the food of fellowship, word and sacrament to grow strong in the faith. Feeding the lambs is not work for the shepherd alone. The people of this Diocese know what needs to be done. It is the task of the bishop to lead, guide, and support his people in this ministry. It is the joy and privilege of the bishop to pray for his flock.
Jesus says to Peter, “Tend my sheep.”
I don’t know much about sheep. Usually, by the time I meet them, they are wrapped in cellophane in the supermarket fridge. But I did read something written by a shepherd, Phillip Keller and quoted by David Humpal about tending sheep. The metaphor is apt. I had to marvel at the evangelist’s economy with words. In one short sentence he laid out a whole job description. From what I have read I understand that tending sheep is more than merely finding good pasture. Sheep tending is demanding work. It requires that the shepherd knows his flock. He rises early to see how they have passed the night. From time to time throughout the day he will look again to ensure that all is well. The shepherd will know in an instant if something is amiss with his flock. He will know if the sheep are healthy or ill. He can tell if they have been troubled by predators or infected by parasites. He will find them shelter from the storms, ample food in the winter months and clean water all year. The metaphor is apt. “Tend my sheep” the Lord tells Peter. Tend my sheep Christ says to the bishops of the church. Know your flock. Feed those in your charge with word and sacrament. Minister to their needs. Care about their concerns. Pray with them in joy, challenge, and sorrow. Guard them against the enemies of faith. Draw back those who are drifting away(That’s why you have the hook at the end of your crozier). Show compassion to those who suffer. And defend those who have no helper.
The risen Lord charges Peter to feed his sheep.
Feeding is different from tending. For the shepherd of souls it is nourishing those who are mature in their faith from the riches of God’s grace. No one is fit for that task who does not have the mind of Christ. No one can have and sustain the mind of Christ who is not faithful in prayer and the study of Holy scripture. On airplanes we are reminded to take our own oxygen first. In this ordination service the bishop elect first promises to pray and only after that does he promise to serve.
Larry, it is not a relationship that needs to be restored but a new relationship that you enter today. It is a new vocation before God and a new covenant with the people of this diocese. These questions will be asked in other words. These commandments offered in other voices; but know that today our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ stands with his church to ask you
Larry son of Larry do you love him more than these? Then feed his lambs.
Larry son of Marie do you love him? Then tend his sheep.
Larry, beloved child of God, if you love him then feed his sheep.