Lord Jesus Christ, transform your church. Help us to know your voice, your presence, to have the courage to trust in you even when we think we know a better way. Help us throw doubt “to the other side,” that we might be filled with You. Help us, dear Lord, to build your church; release us from whatever may hold us back. May our story with you be a love story in which we tend your sheep, and feed them, and know you in bread and wine. In your gracious name, Amen.
It sounds like this prayer could have been written yesterday. In fact, I wrote and spoke this prayer with you three years ago. We are still filled with doubt, with concern about our “fishing abilities”, are filled with hunger to be fed by Jesus. At the same time, we are surrounded by good news. “Good news” sounds strange right now, I know. In a world filled with bombings and violence and hate-filled rhetoric, when many are starving for spiritual nourishment – we are surrounded by good news?
Yes, we are surrounded by good news. The good news started when God created (if not before). God is still creating. The good news started with the making of humankind in God’s image. We are still being created in that way. The good news started in Isaac being saved in a thicket, with the Israelite’s being brought out of slavery; and most especially in the birth, life, and resurrection of Jesus our Lord. We begin again in every moment and every day from the context of being part of the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. Part of resurrection life with Jesus the Christ.
Jesus will call us, as he called the disciples. Jesus will call us, make us “fishers of people,” as many times as it takes for us to answer “yes.” How many times was Peter called? We might say that Peter was called in Jesus’ transfiguration on that mountaintop; or just before Jesus said “get behind me Satan,” or when Jesus washed Peter’s feet. Peter was called to a deeper and enduring life with Jesus and Peter recognized Jesus in all of those moments. And then Peter betrayed Jesus, denied knowing him, not once but three times.
After the crucifixion …
After his resurrection …
Jesus’ response to Peter’s denials and the many tragedies of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion was … forgiveness. Jesus said: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” while he died on the cross. And in Jesus’ resurrection life he appeared to his disciples in that upper room and said: “Peace be with you.” Forgiveness. Peace.
Now the disciples have returned to their prior work, fishing, and this night it is not working. They have spent all night on the water and have not brought in a single fish. Those who have made their lives pulling fish out of the water sit all night and harvest nothing. Then they listen to Jesus: “Try the other side.” Listen to Jesus. Harvest. Bring in so many fish (153!) that the nets would usually break. With Jesus, the net holds. St. Peter’s in Henrietta is looking for those 153 fish, aren’t we? Jesus asks Peter in the boat and maybe St. Peter’s in Henrietta: “Do you love me?” Peter’s new life begins again in affirming Jesus three times. And however it is that Peter loves Jesus (we’ve talked about that before and we can study that again at another time), Jesus gives Peter a job to do.
Before the task is the belonging. No matter how many times we recognize or do not recognize or even deny our Lord Jesus, we belong to Jesus. We belong. Jesus never denies us or leaves us. We belong to Jesus. More than a symbol of belonging, this community of Jesus-followers called St. Peter’s Episcopal Church belongs to Jesus, is part of the Jesus movement in our towns, counties – in the world – today. Today! We belong.
Jesus says to Peter and to St. Peter’s: “Feed my sheep.” That’s our job: to feed Jesus’ sheep. “My” means all the sheep that need to be fed. We are called to feed the world, starting right here, spiritually and with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We feed bodies through “Full Tummys.” We nourish souls through friendship, prayer, study, food, presence, laughter, sorrow, lawn care, opening our doors … how else? (Get some replies from the congregation.) These are the places in which Jesus appears and feeds us today. In here. On the beach. At school. At the food pantry. At bible study. Sunday School. Christian Ed. And in our hearts. We are nourished here ant sent out to feed the world, one person at a time. That’s all. One person. One friend. One stranger. One person in whom we might see a glimpse of Jesus.
The disciples, fishermen, “even though” they “knew better,” listened to Jesus, and did what they had done before in a new way, with a new perspective. We have that same opportunity every day. There are disappointments along the way. We “almost” had a renter last week. We “almost” received another grant. We have at times “almost” welcomed a new family. Be sure: St. Peter’s is not done fishing or praying or growing. The “almost” will happen again when we keep our eyes and ears and plans centered on Jesus. The “almost” will become “we have:” welcomed, rented, transformed. We are not a story of failure. The Christian story , of which we are a part, is a resurrections story, one that looks for a few days like failure and then bursts into the wildest, most unimaginable new life. We are a story and a people of second (and third and infinite) chances, of joy and abundance: joy in the risen Lord and abundance in the life that God longs to give us. We resurrection people.
Back to that task to which we are called: fishing.
Think for a minute about your vacation plans for this summer. You might have thought about them, dreamed about them, begun planning for them. Think about those plans.
What are your plans for Jesus this summer? Your “build up the body of Christ plans? How, wherever we might find ourselves on vacation or at work or school or … you tell me: how is listening to and being fed by Jesus a part of those plans. Envision those plans … make those plans. How will we respond to Jesus’ question: “Peter, do you love me?”
Listen to Jesus. Listen hard. Who would you like to know the belonging and the feeding that Jesus gives? Invite that person to your campsite for coffee. Invite someone else to a study; come yourself and be fed with the Word. Invite someone to a diocesan talk, workshop, ball game, or to your house for a meal. Invite someone to meet the risen Lord. He’s not hard to find – he is right alongside of us, fishing, cooking, in full sight wherever we are.
St. Peter’s, do you love Jesus?
Feed God’s sheep.