May 1, 2022 Sanctuary Worship

May 1st  |  Jerusha Van Camp |  John 21:1-19

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   There is not a more fitting Scripture for me to preach on today than this one. For we, beloved church family, are certainly being taken down a path where we do not want to go. We are travelling a journey of grief that we could not have anticipated. For many of us, this is not our first rodeo, we have experienced other losses, other disappointments, and we will again. Outside of our own circumstances, we look around and we bear witness to the distressing news of the atrocities of war in Ukraine, the displacement of families from around the world, rising costs of everyday goods, systemic poverty, the destruction of our planet, the ravages of a pandemic, and the list goes on and on.

   In our Scripture lesson, Jesus is warning Simon Peter that the road ahead will be a difficult one. No one is exempt, not then, and not now. Our lives often take us down a path that we do not want to go, a path where we will encounter the uncomfortable, the painful, and the realization of all that we lack. We cannot avoid what is to come. Life is a journey that we must pass through, not over, or under, but through. And for those of us who have been following Christ for a decade or two or ten, we know that following in the way of Christ is not an easy path, but it is one that we do not travel alone.

   The first thing today’s Scripture lesson tells us about God is that God will show up when we least expect it. Think about it, Jesus had died and rose again. If the disciples thought Jesus’ death was disconcerting, his resurrection must have been even more so. Death was something they knew. Death was familiar, but resurrection was antithetical to the natural order of life.  Simon Peter is relaxed, comfortable, and probably zoned out when hears his friends say, “It is the Lord!” and he jumps up and scrambles to make himself presentable and then he jumps into the sea!! He didn’t stay to help pull in the net. He just got to the shore as fast as he could. God showed up unexpectedly and Simon Peter was there for it.

   God shows up when we need God the most. The disciples had experienced the most tumultuous end to their community of faith as they had known it. They were experiencing a myriad of fears, uncertainty, confusion, doubt, and certainly exhaustion.

   After Pastor Kevin died, I was in shock. My brain was in a fog. My tears were always on the verge of falling if they were not already falling. I was disoriented. I was shaken, and God showed up. God showed up in the love of this congregation and the mutual sharing of our grief. God showed up in the grace extended to me by my seminary professors and my friends. God showed up for this church in Rabbi Gary, in Rob Henson, in the Session, in the Deacons, in the Presbytery and in our prayers. God showed up when we needed God the most. 

   As the disciples make their way back to shore, with their 153 fish, Jesus was there waiting for them, cooking some fish and baking some bread over a fire. Jesus was there, on the beach, making breakfast! It was a reunion as they sat around the fire and ate. Their bellies were fed and their hearts were encouraged in loving fellowship with Jesus and each other.

   God provides for us here today as we fellowship together in the communal reading of God’s word, in the prayers that we pray, in the songs that we sing, in the affirmation of our faith, and as we give thanks our shared life and common destiny in Christ through the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This communion, this fellowship, here, is the abundance of our God.

   The emphasis of verses 15-17 in today’s Scripture lesson is very important. Jesus asks the same question three times to stress to Simon Peter that he really wants him to get this, to understand this, to hear what he is saying. Jesus presses Simon Peter to the point that Simon Peter is hurt that Jesus doesn’t seem to believe in his love, his honesty, or in his loyalty to Jesus. Jesus says to Simon Peter, “Do you love me more than your friends?” Jesus askes Simon Peter again, “Do you love me?” Simon Peter says, “yes”, and again Jesus says, Do.you.love.me? Simon Peter says YES! Then if you love me Jesus says, feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.

   God has a plan for this world and mission for the church. God’s plans are to bring God’s kingdom into reality here and now above all other kingdoms, systems, and rule. Jesus is telling Simon Peter, I am the Good Shepherd, and the sheep are my people.  Please take care of them, tend them, feed them, if you love me, you will do this.

   In the same way that God cares for us, God calls us to care for others. God calls us to tend and feed God’s sheep. When I think of God’s mission in the world, I often first think about the people outside of these walls, and yes, God calls us to share God’s love with those who are not a part of the community of faith, but today I want us to focus on what Jesus is telling Simon Peter. Jesus is telling him to take care of the people of God. God not only calls us out to share the good news of the love and freedom of God to the world but to each other here within our community of faith. God shows up in and through us; God provides abundantly, in and through us.

   In a world where defiant individualism is praised and the rights of the individual pursued over the common good of all, God’s kingdom calls us to a life of self-giving and sacrificial community. Where the desire for power and wealth is marketed as the “American dream”, God calls us to humility and to share our abundance with others. In a world where LGBTQ people are prohibited from speaking about their lives and their families, where they are stripped of their rights to the same opportunities as their cis-gendered siblings, we are called to create welcoming and safe spaces where lives are valued and precious to us because they are valued by and precious to God. In a world where people of color are actively prevented from sharing a seat at the table and denied their civil liberties, we are called to cry out against injustice. In this world where people are valued based on their superficial appearance, as Christians we know that we more than our bodies and are valuable because we are children of God.  I could keep going…

   Living into God’s kingdom takes us down a path that we do not want to go. A path where our egos, our selfish ambition, where our privilege and our pride must be crucified with Christ. Just as much as God’s kingdom is counter to the kingdoms of this world, so is God’s blessing. Surely, you won’t get a blessing from the world when you fight for social justice, or stand with the oppressed, or live simply and modestly, but where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom: freedom to live in the fullness of God's love, God's grace, God's peace, God's provision, and freedom to live into our most authentic selves without fear. And that, my friends, is the blessing and the abundance of our God.

   These gifts are invisible to those whose lives have not yet been transformed by the love of God, and they cannot be valued in terms of commodities and capitalism. Though no one is going to pat us on the back for doing what is right, it is God’s way of living that we are to pursue.

   We are called to be a friend. We are called to welcome the stranger. We are called to help when we can, however we can, wherever we can. Whether that means we take a turn loving on the babies of the church in the nursery and teaching Sunday School, or help provide Sunday refreshments, or put up the Christmas decorations, or clean up after an event, we are called to show up for each other just as God has shown up for us.

   In this season of grief and change, God may show up in unexpected ways. We can be sure that God will show up when we need God the most. God is with us. We can be sure that God is at work providing abundantly. In this season of our lives, God is nurturing us. In this season of this church, God is caring for us, and feeding us through God’s word and through the Sacraments that we share, but God is also caring for us through the love and fellowship that we share with each other. And as God cares for us, let us care for one another. Let us follow the path that Jesus pioneered for us and let us feed and care for all his sheep. Amen.