24.4.2016 - kázání Billa Hathawaye na Jana 21*15-19 anglicky
It is a curious passage in the Bible. Is it a resurrection appearance story or a call/commissioning one? Since it is both, it raises all kinds of intriguing questions about the risen Lord, what it means to follow this risen One and what it means to follow in The Way (as the early church was called).
Let me retell this part of John 21. First, note that this is an epilogue, an addition to the gospel. John originally ended in chapter 20, even with the obvious concluding lines:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have in his name.
Fine ending. But then our ancestors added chapter 21 for reasons we can only speculate. Possibly they needed to put Peter in a prominent position, what with the emerging hierarchy of the church. Or, maybe – a reason I’d like to claim – they wanted to explain just what it means to believe. Possibly to believe is more akin to ‘belove” – an action more than a verbal affirmation; something that engages the whole person not must he mind.
The story is told that the risen Lord visited the disciples one morning while they were fishing. Why they were fishing after having seen the miracle of the risen One seems a bit odd. But, then again, something so utterly odd as a resurrection might well prompt folk to return to something very normal and predictable. So, the disciples went fishing.
Jesus appears and they meet on shore for breakfast. Nice touch: most of life’s most important events include a meal. Then Jesus questions Peter. “Do you love me?” It is a wonderful question. He didn’t ask, “do you recognize me” …. or “believe in me” …. but, “do you love me?” And, as we read, the question- answer- response is repeated three times. “Love me?” “Yes, Lord.” “Then feed my lambs … tend my sheep …. feed my sheep.” Three times – one would guess, one each for the times that Peter had denied Jesus on the night of his arrest. Feed my sheep.
It is fascinating what was not said. Jesus did not say, “honor me,” or “worship me” or “believe in me;” he said, “Feed my sheep.” I can’t help but think that this is Jesus’ way of saying what it means to honor, worship and believe – to serve, to feed.
Needless to say, the question before the church and those of us who claim the name “Christian” is to figure out what it means to feed sheep today. We all struggle with this. I have a sense that for your church during the Nazi and Communist eras, the main job was to stay alive. And, at great cost and great care, you did just that. Your witness continues to inspire Christians around the planet. But times have changed and you have been re-discovering what it means to “feed sheep.” In the United States we Protestants are always trying to answer that question. One of our great struggles is that we live in a society driven by entertainment. We even have a third rate entertainer running for President this year, a startling reality that has put our nation in cultural and political chaos. Within this culture of entertainment some churches seek to entertain adults and children, putting on a big show and shrinking the gospel to a feel good, self serving, self help formula. Discipleship, let alone social justice, can get lost in all the noise. We have lots of our own questions and struggles to be faithful and that is one of them. But Jesus said, “feed my sheep.” He did not say, entertain them, patronize them or coddle them. He said, “feed them.”
My wife, Alison, has traveled her 64 years with a particular quote from Albert Schweitzer, that great Christian scholar and medical missionary of the first half of the last century. The sentence sums up her sense of perspective of faith and the world. It goes like this:
I don’t know what your destiny will be but one thing I know for sure – the only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.
Jesus put it this way: feed my sheep. It is the bottom line of faith and, curiously, it is the basis of joy -- servants -- servant leaders who are focused and determined … like a Schweitzer or others whom you can name.
Peter was called to feed the sheep in response to the risen Lord. And this raises a curious observation about praise and honor. It is possible to praise God in a way that keeps God at a distance. It is the kind of worship that is another challenge in the American context of enthusiastically praising Jesus but not all that interested in joining his work. Like some other kind of hero, we applaud the heroic figure but expect the hero to save the day, as if we had nothing to do.
A thoughtful musician and speaker within our Presbyterian Church is a man by the name of David LaMotte. He playfully chides American audiences by challenging our epic stories of the hero – the outsider who rides into town to save the day (as in old cowboy movies). From this perspective on life, when in trouble the task of the hopeful one is to wait then applaud the hero. But life doesn’t work that way. In reality, change happens when strong leaders are part of a movement that engages many actors. So, in the States many can name Vaclav Havel and here in the Czech Republic many know the name of Martin Luther King. But change happened because of a movement – of thoughtful, faithful men and women taking their part alongside the leaders.
Dorothy Day, one of the great Christians in the States in the early 20th Century knew well of the pitfalls of hero worship. “Don’t call me a saint,” she once said, “I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” Heroes and saints are easy to dismiss because they are not like us; they are different. I can imagine Jesus saying something like the words of Dorothy Day. In fact, when he could have said, “honor me” or “worship me” or “applaud me” he said, “Feed my sheep.”
So, who are the sheep? That is for each of us to figure out. Back home in Annapolis the “sheep” include members and friends who struggle within the vagaries of life: illness, depression, the stress of raising children in a fast paced, consumerist driven society and that unavoidable reality of getting old in a society that so worships the young. The “sheep” include the homeless and the growing number of those left out of race of wealth and success. (Income disparity is a growing crisis in the States.) In our city, the “sheep” includes young children, mostly from poverty, who have trouble reading and writing. And, most recently, the sheep we are to feed includes a Muslim refugee family of five new to the United States and sponsored by our congregation.
We visiting Americans cannot tell you about your sheep and who you need to feed. But you know who that might be. We are here to stand with you and pray with you in your sheep feeding.
We gather in worship to thank God and praise God and to enjoy the gifts of life lived out within the presence of the holy, the beautiful, the divine. Yes, we have every reason to say, “thank you Lord” and “praise to you, O Lord.” But then we are reminded by Jesus. So, you love me …… don’t just applaud me …. feed my sheep.