Who Are You?

by Bruce Lamb

John 21:1-19

What you do matters.

It matters what one person decides to do. We make choices each and every day. We make the choice to follow God by faith or to go our own way. Jesus is teaching the disciples what it means to follow. This is the third Sunday of Easter and Jesus has risen from the dead. Easter is not just stuck two weeks ago but something we celebrate daily. Today we get to the third appearance of Jesus – The apostles have seen him not once but twice. Even Thomas has acknowledged Jesus. In today’s reading Jesus appears to them at the lakeshore.

Perhaps, all of the excitement of Easter had worn right off and the disciples hadn’t absorbed what it might mean for Jesus to be resurrected. Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel and some others were at the seaside and decided to go fishing. That’s what they knew and that’s what they did, resurrection or not, and why not? When we go through something traumatic we look for something comfortable. They are looking for something familiar and together. Here’s the thing, they were going back to do what they knew, but nothing was really the same as it was. It looked the same, yet they now knew something that could never be unlearned, something profound. They knew about the resurrection, but they decided to go fishing, but God had something else in mind.

They spent all night fishing and didn’t catch a thing. At dawn they head back to shore. As they near the shore Jesus shouts at them saying, “Good morning, did you catch anything for breakfast?” But they didn’t recognize Jesus. They answered, “no.” He tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat.

Jesus called them to cast your net to the right side of the boat. Fishing nets would’ve normally been cast to the left side of the boat, so they could be hauled in more easily led by the culturally stronger arm – the right arm. Casting to the right meant if they caught anything, they would have to work counter to their cultural and even physical norms to haul the catch in.

Hope caused them to act right where they were. Our God is the maker of abundant life and each one of us daily makes a decision to live out resurrection values like compassion, human dignity, freedom and integrity. When they did this there were so many fish they weren’t strong enough to pull them all in. 153 in all and that’s a lot of fish – an abundance of fish. Then the beloved disciple recognizes that it’s Jesus, and tells Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

It was as if scales had fallen from their eyes. The scales came off. There he was on the shore helping them fish and they shared breakfast. Risen life and manifest hope was all their with them as they shared fish with Jesus around a fire. Jesus not only provided for them, but also provided for them in abundance.

Next, we see how a three-time statement of love reverses Peter’s three-time statement of betrayal in the courtyard. God had work for Peter to do. Jesus reclaims Peter and asks him three times ‘do you love me?’ and he answers three times. ‘yes, Master, I love you.’ It is the undoing of the denial that we see in John 18. We see an obvious change in Peter, this Peter is the post-resurrection Peter that seems much more aware. Jesus meticulously invites Peter back into the fold and does it in front of all the other disciples for them to see. It’s a story of redemption. Peter is still standing their reminded of his past sin and failures but the resurrected one is always, always, always without fail their ready to resurrect us. He is calling Peter to that resurrection. The temptation is to fall into our failures. Jesus doesn’t let Peter linger in his failures but moves him forward. Jesus digs up Peter’s past to reconcile with him. Remember when you denied me? We need to reconcile. Jesus isn’t afraid of confronting our sin and denial. He isn’t afraid of bringing that up with Peter. How do you respond to it? That is the question. How do we live into the confrontation? With love and reconciliation? Dying to self and being resurrected in Christ.

In this passage Jesus brings Peter back in and creates a space for belonging here. Author Brene Brown defines belonging as the opposite of fitting in. Fitting in means you change who you are in order to be accepted. Belonging the opposite of that, it is being accepted as you are. Jesus accepts Peter as he is, where he is, but then brings him on to new places transforming him. There is this public belonging taking place. Peter is welcomed back in by Jesus and if anyone is going to give Peter a hard time for denying Jesus then they are going to have to contend with Jesus because Jesus says, ‘you are welcome here.’ Jesus explains to them what this belonging means. Jesus says if you love me feed my sheep. It’s not just belonging for the sake of belonging, but belonging for the sake of the other.

There is the purpose. We all want to know that in what we are doing there is a purpose. This is a place of belonging. The community that bears the name of Christ ought to be a place of belonging. So we can be those that tend Jesus’ flock. Our acts of justice and service are not done in a vacuum, but are done out of our love and worship for Jesus. What we do flows out of our love. Worship pushes us towards feeding the sheep. If it doesn’t then what are we doing?

The journey is not always easy. We make the choice to die to self – to importance, to greed, to pushing people out rather than bringing people in. We make a covenant with God to live these counter cultural values of “feeding my sheep.” Americans in this day in age go about commitment by asking what am I going to get out of this relationship and how will this commitment make me feel? People are entering into marriage because the person makes me feel a certain way or because what you get out of it.
With Peter, we see a progression of love. Christ asks Peter do you love me, but then hints what he is going to call Peter to do. In our covenants with God we are not going about it because of what we can get out of it or how Christ makes us feel BUT we go about it so that Christ’s image can be reflected in that world and that what you get out of it may become secondary.

In a column published this week in the New York Times columnist David Brooks looks at covenants and contracts. Brooks discusses Marcia Pally’s new book “Commonwealth and Covenant.” Pally says, “When we go out and do a deal, we make a contract. When we are situated within something it is because we have made a covenant. A contract protects interests, Pally notes, but a covenant protects relationships. A covenant exists between people who understand that they are part of one another. It involves a vow to serve the relationship that is sealed by love: Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people. People in a contract provide one another services, but people in a covenant delight in offering gifts.”

We are called to be in a covenant that is sealed by God. Our call is for Christ’s image being reflected in the world, through serving others. Not by what we can get out of it and how it makes us feel. In our culture it is not easy to live out these values. We are constantly met with opposition. We see political polarization with politicians that want to build fences rather than bridges, racial animosity with lives that are treated like they don’t matter, and bills like HB2 in North Carolina that claim not to discriminate. If HB2 is really a non-discriminatory law, as some legislators would have us to believe then it should not exclude one particular group. As Martin Luther King said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What are we called to do -Jesus says is to, “feed my lambs, shepherd my lambs and feed my sheep.” Those are the three instructions he gives Peter. This is the assignment that Jesus gives not only to Peter but to every follower of Christ. Feeding my sheep is a life of giving, not of taking.

Today “feeding my sheep” looks like taking restrictive signage off bathrooms and making them accessible for more people. Gender neutral bathrooms where all are safe and comfortable and that could be changed to be fully inclusive.

Feeding my sheep doesn’t look like the governor of a state signing a religious freedom bill that for religious reasons allows people to deny LGBT people marriage, adoption and foster care services, fire or refuse to employ them and decline to rent or sell them property” this is not politics, but this is human rights. We are called to feed ALL of God’s sheep.

“Feeding my sheep,” includes when you see something wrong you have to talk about it. There is so much inequality in the world – women’s rights, transgender rights, gender pay gap, housing and so much more. We need to remember that we are more similar than we are different. This is how we live out the resurrection here on earth in our daily lives – We all need love, acceptance and kindness. Through less tearing apart and more coming together. Or as Ellen says on her TV show: less sitting and more dancing. I couldn’t agree more. Just imagine what this would look like.

The disciples got up, went fishing and had breakfast and for the first time saw what was right in front of them all along. We are just like the disciples all those many years ago. We got up, had coffee or tea, we shared some breakfast and came to church in April 2016. Here in this space we can wake up to what has been right in front of his all along – risen life, manifest hope restoring, cleansing and calling us out of everything that has the stink of death about it. Imagine if we acted upon this truth. Just imagine.

Who are you?
Do you have a heart for God?
Does your life imitate Christ’s life? Our joys Christ’s joys? Our heartaches Christ’s heartaches? Do you feed God’s sheep even when it’s the unpopular thing to do?

This is the resurrection story we need. We will experience the truth of the resurrection beyond the empty tomb. That Jesus always shows up on the shore, will invite us to share a meal once again, because abundance really means abundance when it comes from God, because God truly does love the world and God loves you.

Friends like there was for Peter there is always that opportunity to follow again. It is always there. We have the opportunity to follow again with full commitment to Christ. No matter where we find ourselves. Let this call to follow Christ and feed all God’s people be the core of who you are. All are welcome to follow after Christ whose name is love.

Let us pray.
“O Lord, who else or what else can I desire but you? You are my Lord, Lord of my heart, mind and soul. You know me through and through. In and through you everything that is finds its origin and goal. You embrace all that exists and care for it with divine love and compassion. Why, then, do I keep expecting happiness and satisfaction outside of you? Why do I keep relating to you as one of my many relationships, instead of my only relationship, in which all other ones are grounded? Why do I keep looking for popularity, respect from others, success, acclaim, and sensual pleasures? Why, Lord, is it so hard for me to make you the only one? Why do I keep hesitating to surrender myself totally to you? Help me, O Lord, to let my old self die, to let die the thousand big and small ways in which I am still building up my false self and trying to cling to my false desires. Let me be reborn in you and see through you the world in the right way, so that all my actions, words, and thoughts can become a hymn to you. I need your loving grace to travel on this hard road that leads to the death of my old self and to a new life in and for you. I know and trust that this is the road to freedom. Lord, dispel my mistrust and help me become a trusting friend.

And all Gods people said –
Amen!

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