Jesus said, Feed my Sheep.
A year ago in May, several of us from St. Michael’s joined others in our diocese for a pilgrimage on the Way of St. Cuthbert in Scotland. We hiked 100 kilometers from Melrose to Lindisfarne, remembering Cuthbert, a monk who become the Prior of both Melrose Abbey and Lindisfarne Abbey, and later a bishop. He is known for his holiness and humility, and the way he peacefully brought together Christians from the Celtic tradition and Christians from the Roman tradition once the Synod of Whitby declared that the Roman rites should prevail back in 664.
Cuthbert started off, however, as a shepherd. In fact, when he was a young man, probably about 16 years old, he had a vision while he was shepherding his master’s sheep. On the night of August 31, 651, looking out into the sky towards the sea, he saw a vision of angels carrying off a soul into heaven. He later learned that St. Aiden, the bishop of Lindisfarne, had died at that very hour. That vision is presumed to be Cuthbert’s call into Christian Ministry. Certainly, Cuthbert wasn’t the first shepherd follow God’s call.
All over scripture, we see the image of the Shepherd as one doing God’s will and leading God’s people. King David started off as a shepherd, and he wrote the 23rd psalm – “The Lord is My Shepherd,” which we will hear next week. Throughout the Old Testament, we see God desiring that the kings of Judah and Israel should be like Shepherds to their people. At Jesus’ birth, it was the lowly Shepherds in the fields who became the first evangelists telling of Jesus’ birth. And of course, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd.
Often times, pastors of churches are equated with Shepherds. In fact, that’s exactly what the word Pastor means… Shepherd. The Pastor, the shepherd, cares for her flock, and leads them to pastures where they might be nourished.
So, I thought I’d take advantage of these last two Sundays before my sabbatical to talk to you, pastor to flock, and to unfold what the Scripture is telling us these two Sundays, where “Sheep” are a prevalent theme.
As most of you regular worshippers know by now, next Sunday will be the last Sunday I am with you before I take a 14 week sabbatical. Those 14 weeks come from the two weeks each year that the church has given to me, so that, now that I’m in my seventh year, I can take a special “Sabbath” time. And as much as I’ll miss you, I look forward to the rest and refocusing, and the chance to immerse myself in my doctoral thesis writing. I hope you’ll come to the potluck brunch after the (10:30) service today for us to celebrate being one flock together. There, I’ll also share briefly about my sabbatical plans, and the plans for St. Michael’s. Also, I’ll highlight where we are on some of the major aspects of our strategic plan, and let you ask any questions. So come on… even if you didn’t bring a dish to share. There’s always plenty. If you can’t come, be sure to pick up the little flyer that says, “While the Pastor’s away, her flock will play!” which has some of the highlights as well.
Although I must admit, when we came up with that title, I couldn’t help but remember the words of my own priest, Sara Chandler, at my home church of Margaret’s in Woodbridge, Virginia. Sara famously said, “Best I can tell from the bible, there is only one Shepherd, and that’s Jesus. So, I’m not really the shepherd. I think my role is more like the Sheepdog that barks at the wolves that might attack, and then bites at the heels of the sheep to keep them moving in the right direction!”
Be that as it may, let’s turn back to our scripture for this morning.
Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs, Tend my Sheep, Feed my sheep.”
Even so, our Gospel passage today seems to be a lot more about fishing than it does about shepherding.
This resurrection appearance of Jesus on the beach cooking breakfast is a beautiful story, chock full of meaning on many different levels, with allusions all over the place to earlier passages of scripture. But at its core, it is a call narrative, recalling the Call of the disciples at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
You may remember the story from the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus was teaching by the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asked Simon Peter, who was cleaning his nets by the shore, to take him out into the water so that he could teach, and the hillside around the lake would become a natural amphitheater. After Jesus finished teaching the crowds, he told Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
And of course, lo and behold, when Simon and his fishing buddings let down their nets, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. Simon Peter then kneels at Jesus’ feet, in awe, and out of fear of being unworthy to be in such a holy presence says, “Go away from me Lord, For I am a sinful man.”
Jesus in effect says to Simon, “Don’t be afraid, from now on, you won’t just be fishermen, you will be fishers of men.” So Simon Peter leaves his nets, and he and his companions become Jesus’ disciples, indeed, gathering people into the nets of the Good News of God.
But here we are, after the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, his death and resurrection, and the disciples seem to be reverting a bit. As we heard last week, Jesus appeared Easter Evening to all the disciples and then the very next week when Thomas was with them. He had breathed the Holy Spirit on them, and commissioned them, saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” But they haven’t really gone anywhere yet. Maybe without Jesus giving them day to day instruction, they had settled into a sense of inertia. Or fear of the future. Easier to get back to what they know.
Peter says to his friends, “I’m going fishing.” And they all reply, “We’ll come too.”
But they spend the night on the boat, and catch nothing. Then, a stranger on the beach says, “Put your nets down on the other side of the boat” and when they did, the catch was so great, they could scarcely pull it in.
They know immediately that it was the Lord, and even though they aren’t that far from shore, Peter jumps in the water to get to Jesus as soon as he can.
Jesus is there, on the beach, cooking them breakfast, the Fish and Bread reminding them of the feeding of the 5000.
Then Jesus both reinstates and recommissions Peter. There by the charcoal fire, like the charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard where Peter had denied Jesus three times, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. And Peter affirms three times, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you.”
So here we finally get to the sheep.
Feed my lambs. Tend my Sheep. Feed my Sheep. These are the words of mission Jesus gives Peter every time he says he loves him.
You say you love me, then feed my sheep.
Jesus’ call to Peter is Jesus’ call to us as well.
We are all part of Jesus’ flock, and we are called to care for one another. To tend to the flock, and to feed the sheep. This commissioning by Jesus can be taken both metaphorically, and literally. There are many ways that we are called to tend to and feed members of the flock spiritually – by engaging together in scripture study, for example, and spending time together in fellowship.
But Jesus is also asking us to literally feed those among us who need feeding. Many of you know that St. Michael’s has long been involved in several feeding ministries. They are anchors of our outreach ministry. But we need more people to be involved in Feeding Jesus’ lambs. We have had a food panty on the lower level of the Parish House for decades, and although we no longer open hours to serve the hungry, we use that food pantry for people in crisis situations and to supply food for our other feeding programs.
Some of you volunteer to be part of a rotating team to make and serve food for Friends of the Homeless, and others of you have help us provide our twice monthly grocery support to low-income elderly residents at Monarch Woods. Each month. St. Michael’s provides hundreds of meals to people who otherwise would be hungry, or have to make the decision between buying needed medication and buying groceries. St. Michael’s makes a huge difference in the lives of so many.
But while we do have some help, the majority of the leadership and responsibility for planning, the ongoing weekly food bank shopping, hauling and shelving groceries, government reporting, coordinating volunteers, and acquiring food and supplies not available at Feedmore fall to just a two people, who are struggling to keep up.
We’ve just adjusted our Friends of the Homeless commitment from one Wednesday a month to a Tuesday every other month. But we need a several volunteers, and I imagine those people are here at church today, who can commit to helping Feed Jesus’ Sheep on a regular basis. We need two or three people who take on significant responsibility for oversight for portions of our various feeding programs. We need a few people who can consistently volunteer to make the twice monthly trip to the food bank and handle transporting the cases of can goods and frozen items back to our pantry.
If you work during the day, you could volunteer to make a large casserole every other month – recipe and cooking tray provided – so that one of our teams could consistent volunteers to make the casseroles for Friends of the Homeless and bring them to church for the teams to heat and serve. Or You could be responsible for the record keeping and online reporting. Or you could figure out what other items we will need that we couldn’t get at the food bank and do or coordinate the Sam’s Club shopping when it works in your schedule.
[I’ve put a volunteer interest form out in the Narthex, and you can contact Shirley Wiley, our vestry person in charge of outreach, if you are interested.]
I’ve just highlighted our actual feeding ministries this morning, but Jesus’ call to Peter to “Feed my Sheep” goes way beyond literally feeding the hungry.
Jesus calls each of us, over and over, each new day, to cast our nets into the waters of the world. It’s easy to fall into a rut of our regular routine and day jobs and forget that we have each been commissioned by Jesus to go into the world, and share the Good news, in word and deed. We are called to fish for people, to look around and let down our nets on the other side of our boats. We are called to make our love of Jesus tangible by tending his sheep and feeding his lambs, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
You don’t need me to be around to make that happen. You just need to listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice. Amen.