"Feed My Sheep"
We’re two weeks past Easter Sunday. But for a lot of folk, Easter already seems long ago and far away. For some, great joy and hope have given way to the routine of daily life: family responsibilities…health issues…work concerns. In the midst of it all, what does the Resurrection mean? What difference does it make? Has it changed anything?
In the last chapter of John, we hear how, after the Resurrection, the disciples’ lives don’t seem to have changed.
The disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus. But he’d been crucified and buried. They’re grieving…frustrated…confused. They don’t know what the Resurrection means.
True, they know that Jesus was raised from the dead. But what does that mean? What difference does it make?
So, they go back to something familiar—what they’d been doing before Jesus came into their lives. They go fishing. They fish all night. But they don’t catch anything.
Yet, as the disciples return to the way things used to be, the risen Jesus seeks them out once again. He comes to them in their ordinary lives, and he blesses them. He appears on the beach—but the disciples don’t recognize him at first. He calls out to them, “You don’t have any fish, do you?”
“Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you’ll find some.”
The catch is so great that they can’t haul it in, because there are so many fish. Then John recognizes Jesus, and says, “It’s the Lord!”
Once he recognizes the Lord, Peter leaps into the water and swims toward Jesus. Jesus knows how deeply Simon Peter needs to be forgiven for the three times he denied his relationship with Jesus on that awful night before Jesus was crucified. Jesus says, three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Peter responds with an affirmation of his love, saying, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Three times. “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”
Then Jesus tells Peter that one day he will stretch out his hands and someone will take him where he does not wish to go. Feeding lambs and tending sheep can cost us. It’s work that will link our lives to pain and suffering. It will lead us many places we don’t want to go. If we love Jesus, our relationship with him will change us.
In today’s gospel lesson we hear Peter getting a new chance. It’s a couple of weeks after Easter, but it’s another daybreak like Easter morning. Two weeks after that first Easter morning Peter experiences Jesus’ resurrection power in a quiet way over breakfast, after a hard night’s work.
Three years before, Peter was called away from life as he had known it—an ordinary life of a fisherman. Now again, in an ordinary place and meal, Jesus calls him to “follow” and to be filled more and more with Jesus every day.
Peter’s encounter with the Risen Christ helped to transform him from someone who was afraid to admit he even knew Jesus—into an apostle who was empowered to jump out of his familiar boat and walk bravely into the world with resurrection power and hope.
Eastertide challenges us to live out our identity and calling as if we truly believe that Jesus has overcome sin and death. It challenges us to live as if we trust in his gift of abundant, eternal life. It’s about following Jesus, embodying Jesus’ love… and being led to places where we are to feed Jesus’ sheep.
“Do you love me?” Jesus asks us.
Then feed my lambs.
Jesus calls his disciples to follow him. Yet we know all too well that the compelling call of human need often feels like it is taking us to places we don’t want to go. Our ability and willingness to go there will be a testimony to the clarity and passion of our Christian discipleship. Our ability and willingness to follow Jesus is a sign of how we have changed…of how we are being transformed.
The first disciples huddled behind locked doors, or went back to their old familiar routines. They struggled with fear about how Jesus calls his followers to go places where they don’t want to go.
When I get impatient with myself for my lack of courage, or my reluctance to go some of the places Jesus might call me to go in his name, I find comfort and hope in the conviction that God isn’t finished with me yet. God isn’t finished with any of us yet.
Part of the good news is that we are in a continuing, evolving relationship with our Lord and Savior, who promises that he will not leave us alone. He will be with us, to help and to guide us…to provide for our needs…and to comfort and care for us. The One who commands us to embody his love and light in the world promises us that we will be given the power we need through the Holy Spirit.
Again and again, Christ reaches out in love to restore us. Again and again, Jesus asks us, “Do you love me?”
Do you love me? Jesus asks.
Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.
Littlefield has a long history of working to alleviate hunger, in a variety of ways. But lately we’ve been considering how we might do more. A team has been exploring the needs in our neighborhood and how we might address them. One of the possibilities is to send food home for the weekends with the children of McDonald School who are most food insecure. We have been exploring options, talking with the leaders of the local Blessings in a Backpack program, and talking with staff and leaders of McDonald School.
The needs are great. There are more than 16 million children in the United States who live in food insecure homes. Poor nutrition can result in a weaker immune system, lower IQ, shorter attention spans, and lower academic achievement.
Children are fed during the school week by federal government programs, but hunger doesn’t take weekends off. That’s why the Blessings in a Backpack program has been bringing together private sector funding and public partnership to “feed the future of America, one school at a time,” in 47 states and the District of Columbia.
Several west Dearborn schools have been served in recent years by Blessings in a Backpack, and Salina Elementary has been added more recently. But we have east Dearborn schools with very high poverty rates. The principal of McDonald School told me that around 91 percent of their students are in the poverty range, with a smaller number at great risk for hunger.
The “old-timers” and those who know Littlefield’s history know about the congregation’s history with McDonald School. For the first 10 years or so of Littlefield’s history, the congregation didn’t have a building. For much of that time, Littlefield worshipped at what was then “the new McDonald School.” Some members of the congregation were involved in the Parent Teachers’ Organization and helped out in various ways.
When Littlefield used to do the holiday food box project, which was a huge operation, with many partners, we had volunteers and participation from McDonald School, as well as Fordson High School and other organizations. And, as some of you know, Littlefield Church is designated as a safe place in McDonald School’s emergency evacuation plan. The children are taught that, if they ever need to be evacuated from school, they are to “run to the church.”
I hope you’ll all be praying for discernment, for us to show our love in action in a new way and carry out Christ’s command to “feed my lambs.” This has the potential of caring for our young neighbors in need, but also of deepening our relationship with McDonald School, with those who work together in the Blessings in a Backpack program, and possibly with other organizations with whom we could partner.
Just as Jesus met with his first disciples at dawn on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus comes to us. The dawn is breaking on new chances… the new life Jesus promises us. Jesus continues to come to us to teach us… and to lead us to places where we’d never have thought to go.
The gospel reminds us that God can make a way where there is no way, bringing abundance where there is emptiness, and joy where there is only sorrow. Jesus’ resurrection gives us the promise of life after death, and the assurance of God’s healing and restoration in this life.
Today, in this time and place, as long ago, Jesus does many signs in the presence of his disciples. We have the witness of the gospel, which was written “so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God…and that through believing, we may have life in his name.”
Jesus meets us where we work… or where we despair… or where we question. Whether we’re still feeling “up” from Easter or feeling let down, Jesus keeps coming to us…and calls us to himself and to his new life. He challenges us with a task to do—caring for his people.
Do you love me? Then feed my sheep. Tend my lambs.
As individuals and as a congregation, we often fall short of being the loving, compassionate, generous, welcoming people God created us to be. We don’t always follow through. Sometimes we even fall away for a while and go back to whatever felt familiar before we recognized the Risen Christ.
But Jesus doesn’t give up on us. After each time we fail…or forget… or are overcome by our fears, Jesus comes to us again and invites us to try again, providing encouragement and nourishment, and calls us to put our love into action, caring for the world God loves.
If you love me, show it through your actions. “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus comes to us today, this morning, starting again, Easter-fresh, saying, “Follow me.”
Thanks be to God! Alleluia!
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
April 30, 2017