Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday of Easter
April 14, 2013
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17
And so we come again to the story of fishing at night, breakfast on the beach, and the resurrected Jesus’ rather odd conversation with Simon Peter about love and its works and ways. This is familiar ground for preachers and congregations alike. The passage involves a “fish tale” and resurrection appearance account. Peter and the disciples are trying to get back to “business as usual.”
“I am going fishing,” announces Simon Peter in verse three. Fishing was something Peter knew well; after all it had been his livelihood before Jesus called him to spend three years following, learning, and doing the work of ministry in this odd, new way. “Business as usual” must have sounded mighty good in light of all that the disciples had seen and experienced. Going fishing was familiar work that could be done by rote, by muscle memory, and by heritage. It was bound up in their way of being and living–both custom and customary for Galilean men of the first century–and he didn’t have to ask twice to persuade the other disciples to join him.
Fishing, like discipleship, is risky business. There are no guarantees of immediate success. The work involves mundane, rote activities that result in long nights and unfulfilled hopes. Yet maybe for the disciples there was comfort in simply being out in the boat, doing something they knew and could understand. Empty nets were part and parcel of this way of life and livelihood. There will be, however, no business as usual, no return to the ordinary, and no easy way out of the new reality into which they (and we) have been baptized. As followers of The Way in the 21st century, we may wish to get back to business as usual, forgetting our call to follow Jesus in all circumstances.
We get tied up in the tangled nets of adiaphora. We look at our empty buildings and shrinking congregations and wonder what in the world is going on. Where did we go wrong? What happened to the days when people flocked to worship and spent hours each week in church-related activities? The idea that we live in a “post-Christiandom” age is certainly somewhat akin to the reality of watching your movement die–quite literally–with its leader on an insurrectionist’s rough-hewn cross. Business as usual sounds pretty good in the shadows of these events both then and now.
Yet Jesus calls us to something different. Instead of a shore breakfast, we gather for Holy Communion. Instead of doing things the way we always have done them as “church,” Jesus calls us to cast our nets on the other side of the boat, to take some risk and follow him into this new reality and a new way of being God’s people in the world.
Just as Jesus asked Simon Peter three times “Do you love me,” so Jesus asks us to respond in love by loving others–by tending and feeding God’s people. He does not give us a step-by-step manual to sure success, but asks only if we love him. With our response of yes, Jesus calls us to concrete action. Love’s action is not always glamorous, or successful, or even fun. It can be repetitive, disappointing, and unrecognized. We are called into love’s ordinary and everyday ways. We are called to practice love’s “austere and lonely” offices for the sake of the gospel. Here again the words of Jesus: “Do you love me?” Answer with your hands, your feet, and your heart, indeed with every fiber of your being. Amen.
Yes, it is springtime in the northern hemisphere, but I commend to you the poem “Those Winter Sundays” by 20th century American poet Robert Hayden (1913-1980). In this short meditation, Hayden calls to mind the “austere and lonely offices” of love in the underappreciated, everyday work of his father, who banks the family’s fires and polishes his son’s good shoes–even on his day of rest. Consider reading the poem as part of your worship or in connection with your sermon. Another possibility is to weave the lines of this poem into a call/response reading of Psalm 30:
L: I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
P: Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, –
L: O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
P: then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze.
L: Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
P: No one ever thanked him.
L: As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
P: I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
L: By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
P: When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
L: Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”
P: Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well.
L: You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
P: What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?
All: O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever
The story of Saul’s conversion and call offers rich opportunity for discussion with youth. You might find some willing volunteers within the congregation to join you for a conversation about Christian calling. Some Christians have known the call of God for as long as they can remember–perhaps from the time of their baptism. Other Christians experience the call of God in a more dramatic, life-changing way. Use this opportunity to discuss the many and varied ways God calls God’s people to the same purpose and to the same universal Body of Christ.
Children have an amazing capacity to melt into puddles of tears and wailings, and then almost immediately be transformed into dazzling dervishes of bright smiles and joyous laughter. They are still in touch with the immediacy of the moment and emotionally connected. Consider lifting up two passages from Psalm 30: verse 5b (Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.) and verses 11-12 (You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.) You may find the Easy To Read Version helpful with children.
Talk with them about how God is able to turn our frowns to smiles, our tears to joy, and our sadness to laughter. In turn, we praise God all the time. If you do not already use this simple call-and-response in your context, consider teaching it to the children and the congregation:
L: God is good all the time!
P: All the time God is good!
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