Easter 3, Year C
St. Paul’s, Marfa, TX
St. James, Alpine, TX
St. Stephen’s, Fort Stockton, TX
Let us pray. Gracious God – may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. Amen.
The Gospel today brings us back to Maundy Thursday, when Peter denies Jesus three times. Good ol’ Peter! I relate so much to this close friend and apostle of Jesus. If Peter can get so much so wrong and be entrusted with shepherding the initial church and given the keys of the kingdom, there is always hope for us! Often, Jesus’ questions to Peter on the beach are seen as a triple affirmation for Peter to mend his public witness after the three denials on Maundy Thursday, yet I think it goes much deeper than that. Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do you love me? Tend my sheep. Do you love me? Feed my sheep.
The context of their conversation is breakfast on the beach. Jesus made breakfast for the disciples and fed them. How about that for a Sunday brunch?! Jesus, the Son of God Incarnate, uses meals throughout his ministry to bring people together, to close the gap between ourselves and God, to close the gap between each gather. Meals matter. I read a story recently about Baby, a poor woman who works at Burger King in Washington, DC. Knowing how hard it is to make ends meet and have enough food, she gives extra large portion sizes to every customer she knows can barely afford Burger King special deals. Feed my lambs. I have been so moved by the Thanksgiving meal tradition at St. Paul’s in Marfa, born out of a feeding ministry during the Great Depression. Feed my sheep.
Just like meals with Jesus, our meals together are far more than just physical nutrition and sustenance. It is always relational. To tend the sheep is to care for each other, to love each other as our very selves. This is the power of the Thanksgiving dinner – it draws the entire community together to meet new people, connect with old friends, and to deepen our connections with God and each other. The extra food Baby hands out is the tending we are called to do, to care for one another. God is relational in God’s very self – the Holy Trinity, three Persons, one Substance, always in “communion and eternal love.” We are created for relationship with God and each other. We are called to care for one another. Tend my sheep.
Something we don’t talk about enough in church is how very weird Christian relationships are! Our relationship with God and each other is so foundational to who and how we live, sometimes we take for granted the bizarre nature of it all. It is the blessing of Scripture to call our attention continually to the weirdness of Christian relationships. For example, Jesus and Peter have a talk after breakfast, that’s not weird. How did Peter get to shore? Well first of all, Peter was fishing naked! Why? I have no idea. And then, Peter gets dressed in order to swim to shore! That’s even weirder. What comes through, though, is Peter’s unrestrained joy and desire to get to Jesus immediately. At the end of their conversation, Jesus tells Peter he can expect to by shackled and taken where he doesn’t want to go. That’s a weird thing to say – Jesus can be very weird. I’m sure there’s a lot to unpack there theologically, but for now, suffice to say it’s weird!
We also heard this morning about the conversion of St. Paul – so much weird going on there! A light from heaven flashed around and Jesus’ voice from heaven is heard, not just by Saul, but by Saul’s companions, and Saul becomes blind. That’s weird, but not the weirdest part of the story to me. Next, we enter the land of visions. Ananias has a vision of God directing him to go to Saul and lay hinds on him so that Saul can see again. Saul has a vision that a man named Ananias will lay hands on him to recover his sight. Then Ananias actually goes to Saul and Saul actually receives him and sight is restored. The entire book of Revelation is a series of visions by John of Patmos, and they are weird! All of the angels and the creatures of all world, the whole of creation, singing praise to God, and the elders falling down in worship – that is weird!
In our high tech, global society, we’re likely to scoff at talk of visions from God. And yet…what are we doing gathered together today? We are responding to God’s weird call to knit us together as the Body of Christ. We’re about to enter Holy Communion, our shared vision of the world to come. God is making us present in the ministry of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We receive the Body and Blood, and the very real presence of Christ is with us. The whole Church, throughout all times and all places, is brought together and present with one another and God in the Eucharist. The one, holy catholic and apostolic Church. It is a heart transforming, life changing encounter each and every time. And y’all, that’s weird!
It is weird and wonderful! Jesus leaves us this morning with the words, “Follow me.” We follow Jesus because we love Jesus, who first loved us, even before the creation of the singing cosmos and all that is. We are the beloved of God. We love Jesus by loving each other, feeding the lambs, tending the sheep, feeding the sheep. It is a relational, weird, and wonderful way of life.
Thanks be to God. Amen.