Believe in Resurrection: Feed My Sheep

John 21:1-19

Jesus appears again to the disciples

21 Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. This is how it happened: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together.3 Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”

They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus.

5 Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

6 He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.

9 When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.” 11 Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus and Peter

15 When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” 19 He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”


Thoughts on the passage:

There are two reasons I am United Methodist.  The first reason is simple, it’s a family thing.  With my mother being a United Methodist pastor and being raised in a United Methodist congregation my whole life there has really never been anything else for me.  The other reason I am a United Methodist is John Wesley, our founder.  John Wesley viewed the Christian life as being focused on two things, personal piety and social holiness.  In other words, we believe that faith, without works is dead.  Our faith is lived out in our personal lives, but also in how we work to make the world a better place.

Not all churches and denominations practice that.  Some tend to focus more on the social holiness, what can we do to make the world better.  This can be seen in efforts by some to make the United States a “Christian nation” and instill Christian values into society.  It can be seen on the other end of the political spectrum by an effort feed the poor, care for the sick, and fully embrace the command in Matthew 25 to care for the least, lost and left out.  Other churches focus instead on salvation as the end all, be all, of the church.  Your point of salvation, be it through baptism (as with the Catholics) or a confession of faith (with many evangelicals) is the real focus.  One way or another these churches tend to either focus on the question of are you saved or on the idea of saving the world, but usually the one occurs at the expense of the other.

United Methodists believe there is meant to be a balance.  John Wesley gathered people into small groups, called classes, so that we might hold each other accountable and help each other in our personal faith journeys.  At the same time, he encouraged, or really required, that a part of the life of faith was caring for others.  This meant visiting people in prison, caring for widows and orphans, or visiting the sick.  Wesley was concerned with saving souls and saving the world.

What does all of this have to do with our passage today?  When I hear this story about the disciples fishing, it feels like a group of people who are not really living into the resurrection.  I am not sure if they are just not grasping it fully, or if it almost feels like an “ok, we are saved, so now what” kind of response.  They all believe that Christ is risen and their response is to go fishing.  This is one of those times we need to step outside our culture for a bit.  Fishing in Minnesota can be almost a sacred act.  Fishing as we know it is not a bad thing for the disciples to do.  Fishing in our context allows us time to think, relax, and reflect, all good things for the disciples to be doing.  Fishing in the 1st century however was really just work.  In fact, for the disciples this is simply going back to doing what they knew how to do to make a living.  The disciples have heard that Christ is risen and now they are going on with life.

A phrase I really like is “saved from what and saved for what.”  The disciples know what they are saved from.  They have seen the resurrected Christ and are hopefully starting to understand what God is doing to take away their sins.  What I do not think they grasp is saved for what.  For this reason, Jesus approaches them.  He goes up to Peter and asks him three times if Peter loves him.  Each time Peter says “yes” and each time Jesus gives a similar command, “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.”  Peter has been saved from his failings by the Grace of God.  Now Jesus is telling him what he is being saved for.

We all know the expression “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  John Wesley understood this adage quite well.  His intense focus (and it was intense) on personal piety was all about teaching people to fish.  He understood that to achieve the kind of world that God wants, it was going to require a lot of personal transformation.  In order to take care of God’s sheep, Wesley would need to reach out and teach others.  The amazing thing is that it worked.  There are some scholars who even credited the rise of the middle class to the work of Methodists.  The reason was this, Methodists reached out to people on the margins, gave them education, taught them how to use money, helped them break away from destructive things like hard alcohol, and encouraged them to be industrious.  All of this helped them to better themselves, but also in turn bettered those around them.

Jesus is calling to us today as well.  “Feed my sheep.”  It is a simple enough command and yet it can be so hard to keep doing.  Still as I look around the world I am reminded over and over of the need for it still today.  Hundreds died in South America after an earthquake.  Hundreds of refugees died crossing the Mediterranean as they fled war and violence.  Hundreds die every week in the United States because of homicides.  In an average year over one million children are homeless at some point in time.  These are the sheep Jesus is talking about.

What can we do to help?  We need to live lives of resurrection.  We need to believe in God’s resurrecting power.  We need to believe that God can take people like us, sinners like us, broken people like us, mere fishermen like us, and call us to do something more.  We need to believe that our lives can be made better and through us the lives of others can be made better too.  The same scholars who credit United Methodists for helping to build the middle class will also point out that once we reach the middle class as a church we stopped growing.  Suddenly, we lost the emphasis on personal piety and social holiness.  We reached a point of comfort and we stopped.  We believed in our own salvation and we experienced it each day in the comfort of our own home and we stopped.  Like Peter we went back to the rest of our lives.  We went back to the way things were.

Jesus is calling to us.  Jesus is asking us to do something more.  We are called to feed Christ’s sheep.  If we are really going to embrace this idea of resurrection it means that we are saved from our sins and our mistakes, praise God!  It also means that we are saved for something.  We are saved to do Christ’s work in the world.  That can start with Family Promise and caring for homeless families.  It can start with Community Meal and offering food and hospitality to our community.  It can start with milk for the Food Shelf, helping at Simpson shelter, and all these other great things we do.  It cannot end there though.  We can never just sit back and say we have done enough it is back to fishing.  If we love Christ, if we believe in the power of resurrection, we need to share it with the whole world

Questions to Ponder:

What do you think God calls you to do as a ministry in your life?

What are you saved from and what are you saved for?

Who is someone you know lives their life with passion and feeds Christ’s sheep?