Rev. Annie Reilly was installed as a pastor at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church on Sunday, February 26, 2017.
Today we’re reading a portion of the story that happens when Jesus appears to some of the disciples after he has risen. Just after daybreak, he appears to them as they are heading out to fish. He knows they haven’t had luck, so he gives them some directions and they go out to fish. They come back to shore and see someone sitting there with a fire.
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.
John 21:10-17, Common English Bible (CEB)
This is the word of the Lord.
I know it’s a cliche, but in my thirty some years being active in the church, I have found that we church folks really DO love a pot luck. We love to gather around food, to cook for each other, to eat with each other, to spend time in fellowship swapping recipes. Or if we don’t really like to cook at all, most folks still enjoy tasting things that other people have made.
There is something about gathering around food that works for us. And it is also, fittingly, the number one gimmick we church people use to get youth to come do things. And to be honest, it usually works. Pizza really is a great evangelism tool. Along with being proof that God loves us.
I don’t know that Jesus had pizza parties or ice cream socials or spaghetti dinners, chicken barbeque’s in mind when he was talking and eating with the disciples, but here we are.
When Jesus appears to the disciples they have been having a bad day, haven’t been able to catch any fish. And after he gives them a little advice, their day improves. Their catch improves, they get to eat with Jesus on the beach, and he gives them some advice for how they ought to live as they go forward.
I find, as I often do, that the instructions of Jesus are both simple and incredibly complex, and feeding people is both simple and complex. Jesus feeds the disciples by cooking fish over a fire, he also metaphorically feeds them with his presence and his words.
It is a testament I think, to how much the world has evolved and grown, to realize that eating and feeding are no longer simple acts. At the Stillwater Church where I serve, we have a food pantry. And every week people come and pick up food to help them get through the month. I know that you all open your doors daily to serve people at a soup kitchen. Many children eat their only meals at school, making extended breaks and snow days even more of a hardship.
In 2012 in Philadelphia the mayor enacted a policy that put restrictions on feeding the homeless and hungry folks in the city. This was not the first anti-homeless ordinance and so people started to react and respond. One of the people and organizations that mobilized was Shane Claiborne and his community, “The Simple Way.” Because one of the ordinances was against sleeping in public spaces, they started to sleep in the park.
They invited homeless people to come with them and they had a worship service, served communion, and then slept under the stars. Eventually after doing this for several weeks, one night, at midnight, police were ordered to come in and arrest them for disorderly conduct.
This community continued to fight these ordinances, and my favorite story of how they fought the feeding ordinance is that they brought a Catholic priest in and he served communion, saying it was a violation of their religious freedom to not be allowed to feed people. They persisted, if you will, and the ordinance was overturned.
We don’t all have the chance to feed people in this way. We don’t all have the chance to so visibly and tangibly feed Jesus’ sheep and defy limits that those in power attempt to place on the ways we love our neighbors.
But we do each have the ability to feed Jesus’ sheep. To stop and be present and to feed, and tend, and love.
After college I spent a year serving in City Year, based on the New Hampshire seacoast. We did volunteer work with the local middle schools, helping plan service trips, big brother big sister programs, after school programs, and basically we spent much of our days and weeks hanging around the middle school.
There was much about that year that was challenging. But one of the most difficult parts was navigating a middle school lunchroom.
I have mostly good memories of junior high, but even still, I was terrified to march into that lunchroom and sit down with a bunch of kids. We had varying success hanging out with kids at lunch, but there was one kid who always wanted to sit with us. He was a little bit of a loner, he was different than the other kids, didn’t fit in very well. And so while he was almost always positive and cheerful, he had a hard time.
No matter how much I dreaded walking into that lunchroom, I did it. We all did it. And at least one of us sat with him almost everyday that year.
Sometimes tending to Jesus’ lambs is just that easy. Sitting down. Talking to someone. Giving them your time and attention, and maybe sharing some food if you’ve got it.
We are called in ways big and small, in ways political and nonpolitical, in ways tangible and ways abstract to feed our brothers, sisters, and siblings.
e.e. cummings said that “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
Reilly is coming here to work with everyone, but to minister particularly to youth, when the fight to claim who God created you to be really starts. And she will have countless opportunities to be with people, to break bread with people, to tend to Jesus’ sheep.
It may be more important than ever for us to end to each other. To support one another as we walk through a world that is trying to force us each to conform. As our political reality shifts and people from marginalized communities feel increasingly unsafe, it’s up to us who have been charged by Jesus to help them feel safe.
To extend our tables to include more people and to feed anyone who is hungry. Jesus doesn’t tell us exactly how, that’s up to us to figure out, but he does tell us, three times even, that we need to do it.
May we each have the courage to live each day as the person God created us to be. May we keep our eyes open for those who need to be tended to. May we feel God beside us and the Holy Spirit guiding us as seek to do the work that Jesus set out for us.