August 28, 2022 ~ 12th Sunday after Pentecost
Discipleship by the Sea ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
Oh, summer is almost over! And, what a summer this has been!
I was feeling nostalgic yesterday and thinking about the summers of my childhood. Ah, those were the days of freedom! My siblings and I would rise in the morning, and, having done our chores, we could set out for the day. We could go almost anywhere and do almost anything, as long as we were home for supper. We didn’t have to leave an itinerary, or check in on our cell phones to let anyone know where we were (because cell phones had not yet been invented!). We could go fishing, boating, biking with friends, swimming, looking for turtles in the swamp, playing games at the pavilion in the state park, or just hang out. That all changed when I turned 16 and got a “regular job.” My summer-time freedom vanished, never to return.
There are always life events that change us…forever. We realize at some point that life will never return to the way it once was. Those life events may be work-related, involving a relocation, or involve meeting a new friend, getting married, divorced, or becoming widowed. The birth or adoption of a child has a life-long impact, as does the death of a loved one. Accidents, war, peace, natural disasters, like fires or floods ~ these are crises that reshape the earth and reshape lives and livelihoods. Disease and healing, conflict and betrayal change us, individually, and as a world community. So does LOVE! … being loved, giving and receiving love.
Do you remember how easy it was to board an airplane before 9-11? And although we are still in the midst of Covid-19, we have already added the term “pre-pandemic” to our vocabulary and story-telling. Certain life events change us forever.
We meet up with Jesus’ disciples in today’s scripture text still trying to figure out what the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, meant to them, and how it would shape their future. They had already heard about and experienced a couple of appearances of the resurrected Jesus. They were, let’s say, cautiously optimistic, but without a plan.
Peter, the impetuous one who could not sit still, or keep a comment to himself, announces that he is going fishing. You might remember that Peter, Andrew, James, and John earned their living at fishing before they left everything to follow Jesus. You might also remember that the disciples were in the same vicinity when Jesus met and called them. We don’t know if they were going fishing because that activity was familiar and comforting, or if they were hungry, or if they needed to earn a living in order to support themselves and perhaps their families. But we do know that they fished all night and caught nothing. As much as I love fishing, doing so for long hours without positive results can be discouraging!
The gospel story continues with an unidentifiable person on the beach inquiring about their lack of a catch, and then telling them to change their procedure. These professional fishers, probably in desperation, did just as the person suggested. And voila, the sudden catch was amazing! That was when it dawned on the disciples, it was Jesus, their Jesus, on the shore, and he was preparing breakfast. Peter, still the impetuous one, jumped into the lake and swam to get closer to Jesus. His previous life is being radically transformed. His life of failed catches is becoming a new experience of abundance. And the meal he was about to share with Jesus and his comrades would be vastly different from the Last Supper they had shared with Jesus before his crucifixion. This, this, will be the first breakfast preparing them all for new adventures in Christian ministry.
But, the disciples still did not have a plan! At least, they didn’t know that they had one. Jesus was actually modeling a plan for ministry right before them, and would show them how this is done. First, Jesus doesn’t need the disciples’ fish. He was already cooking while their nets were still empty. But when they follow his commands, he invites them to add their fish to the food he has already prepared. Jesus used what they brought, and added it to the work he was already doing in their lives. Jesus invited them to share in the feast, adding their gifts, and multiplying whatever they had to offer.
Second, when the expert fishers had come up empty using their own methods, Jesus gave them a simple command to change the way they did things, and they were suddenly blessed with abundance.
Then, Jesus pulled Peter aside after breakfast and asked him three times, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter said, “Yes,” and the guilt of denying Jesus three times in the courtyard of the high priest was erased. All was forgiven. But Jesus was not JUST offering Peter grace, he was giving Peter a mission. In essence, Jesus was saying, if you LOVE me, feed my lambs, tend my sheep, tend my lambs. When one LOVES Christ, that one has the privilege and responsibility of satisfying the physical and spiritual hunger of others with abundance. So many times, sharing a meal together creates a sustainable setting for the uniting of hearts, minds, and souls, building a bridge of LOVE. Whether it is a Last Supper or a first breakfast, a community meal or a preschool snack, a potluck dinner or a celebration reception, we show our love for Christ by the hospitality and sustenance we share.
This breakfast on the beach with Jesus, this feeding of the body and nurture of the soul, changed the lives of Peter and the other disciples in such a way that they went forth with confidence to witness for Jesus Christ, and build the Church as the family of faith.
When we look around, we can all see that this pandemic has caused immense change: in our world, our travels, our culture, our community, and our church. That is a story we will be telling for generations.
Will we, as followers of Jesus, tell with as much frequency, personal connection, and passion, the story about the difference that the LOVE of Jesus Christ has made in our lives? Will we reiterate the times when we thought we were lost, hopeless, and spiritually starving, and then Jesus provided an abundant feast through the working of the Holy Spirit, the ministry of the Church, or the witness of a disciple?
When Peter was asked by Jesus, “Do you love me?” his affirmation, sincere as it may have been, needed expression in MORE than words. So, each time Peter confessed his love, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus underscores that love overflows in ministry to the world. That must be our plan for ministry as we embrace the adventures that Jesus has placed before us. As we feed the sheep of the world, LOVE is put into action. Go forth, loving Christ, to FEED! Amen.