Sermon: Feeding the Flock

29 April 2007

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)
April 29, 2007

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Feeding the Flock 

Psalm 23

John 21:1-17

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”


Out by my house, it’s fishing season again.  Now that the spring thaw has come, the boats are out all over Candlewood Lake.  Who here loves to fish?  Anyone?  My daughter does – she made her first catch when she was just 7, and it was a shark!  Much excitement!  My Uncle Jake loves it too.  He is a quiet man who has always enjoyed fishing – going out on a dark lake before dawn.  Watching the sun rise and shimmer across golden water as the birds begin to sing.  Fishermen who camp love building a warm fire on the beach and roasting that delicious first morning catch of fish for breakfast. 

Now clearly the disciples HAD to fish for a living here on the Sea of Galilee.  It was a place of work, but it must have also been a special place for Jesus and his friends – “holy ground,” as Silver Lake is for many in our church.  It was where they had shared their most personal stories, their deepest hopes for their people, their dreams for the coming of the Kingdom of God, AND a few fish stories, I’m sure.  A pastor friend of mine who’s a big trout fisherman once said he was sure this story from John must be true, because the guys took the time to count every one of those 153 fish!  It was natural that this group of friends might have gone to the lake to grieve and fish together, when they didn’t know what else to do.  Because even though the disciples had seen the risen Christ, he had left them with a blessing that implied he might not be back.

Scholars believe that the original text of John’s Gospel ended at chapter 20 with the story of doubting Thomas and the words for people like us today, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.”  Unlike the other 3 gospels, John has Jesus give no specific instruction about what the disciples should do next after they receive the Holy Spirit and leave the upper room.  Jesus just says, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”  He sends them, but unlike in Matthew and Mark, he does not send them specifically to Galilee.  Unlike in Luke, he doesn’t tell them to stay in Jerusalem.  He just sends them out.

So it’s interesting that in John, in the absence of more detailed directions, the disciples choose to follow up on the miraculous events of Easter by just going back to the their everyday life.  They go fishing.  It makes you wonder, what exactly were they thinking?  What is any of us thinking about what to do next after the resurrection?  Each Sunday is supposed to be a “little Easter” where we remember the miracle of new life in Christ.  Are we supposed to be going about “business as usual,” casting about aimlessly in the waters of life just as we did before we knew Jesus?  Or are we supposed to show our love for him, like Simon Peter, and feed his lambs, and tend and feed his sheep?  John 20 ends with the emphatic conclusion that we should “believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing” we might “have life in his name.”  OK.  But it’s as if people were asking John to finish the story:  What happens AFTER we believe?  What exactly does Jesus mean when he sends us out, as he was sent?  What does he mean when he calls us to feed his flock?

I thought this was a timely question for us to consider on this day of our first annual meeting together, with me as your new pastor – called to tend and feed this particular flock.  One of the directions we receive in our church bylaws for the annual meeting is to focus ourselves on the ministry goals ahead of us for the coming year.  How can we together hear Jesus’s call to do ministry in his name?  I think this story from John provides some insights to help us discern the direction we are called to take.

What does Jesus tell Peter to do?  Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.  No doubt we are called to feed the lambs of God’s flock – especially children and newcomers to our faith.  Visitors and families with kids can hear the Good News of God’s love and find a home here.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget Nancy Vodra’s children’s sermon today, or Malcolm’s reply.  “What do you think we’ll be talking about in Sunday School 50 years from now?”  “Jesus, and flying cars!  Amen!  Praise the Lord!”  This is the kind of story our friends and neighbors need to hear from us when we talk about our church.  We have so many great opportunities for people to find God here, perhaps for the first time, but we need to remember to share our stories and issue the invitation. 

The flock of God’s lambs is all around us – they just don’t know yet to whom they belong, who it is who loves and cares for them, or why they might want to visit us in worship.  Sometimes they come because they hunger for green pastures full of spiritual nourishment.  Sometimes it’s their desperate need to lie down beside still waters and restore their soul.  Sometimes it’s that they need courage passing through valley of the shadow of death. Sometimes it’s just that they’ve awakened to how incredibly blessed their life has been through a near-death experience, a healing, or simply the birth of a child.  Sometimes people feel surrounded by enemies, and former outcasts are led to our doors and the table of grace that Christ spreads before us in this “Open and Affirming” church.  They all need to hear from us, because we are witnesses of the risen Christ.

I know it’s hard to do.  When I was in the doctor’s office the other day, in the waiting room for my sprained ankle, I was chatting with the woman next to me.  She’d overheard that I had recently moved from California, so she asked me why.  As I told her briefly of my call to be pastor of this church, I could see it made her uneasy.  So I asked her, “So what is your faith?”  “I’m nothing,” she said.  “Well, I believe in God, but I haven’t been to church in years.”  So I apologized for invading her privacy, but she said, “No.  I was glad to hear your story.  It’s worth thinking about.”  So we sat in silence a while more, and soon she began to talk about her bad experiences in church, and her children’s dislike of the children’s programs where she had been married and they had been baptized.  I told her people were coming to our church from all kinds of different faith backgrounds, especially from some churches that, like hers, had really never fed them at all – and I invited her to come here to visit any time.  Maybe she is here today – if so, welcome! If not, I’m still glad I told her what my faith meant to me and issued the invitation.  The point is that all we can do is TRY to fish for people.  That’s all Jesus calls us to do, to share our food with them.  We cannot know whether they will choose to eat.

Look at what Jesus gives to the disciples.  They had been fishing all night, with no result.  They would have tried any and every technique they knew.  They must have been awfully discouraged by that darkest hour just before the dawn when Jesus appeared for them on the shore.  He gets their attention, asks what they might have to eat, and when they confess they have nothing to offer, he gives them exactly the help they need.  He blesses them with an abundant catch beyond what any of them could have imagined.  So, for us, even if we are exhausted beyond belief, or even if the way ahead seems dim or clouded with uncertainty, we can count on Christ to love us and show us the way.  Haven’t you been loved by Christ’s church?  Haven’t you been fed?  We can ask for help with confidence that although our own efforts may fail, God will never fail us. 

That is true grace.  We are inspired to love and feed the flock because we first were loved and fed. 

Thanks be to God for this Good News.  Amen.           

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