Psalm 33:20-22; John 21:1-17
The Rev. Tom Herbek
April 8, 2018
In his book, Small Graces, Kent Nerburn writes:
A meal is an act of quiet
consecration, of holy service,
made no less significant
because it is so common.
Then he describes his own home:
Her day was long. She is tired. But she has chosen to prepare a meal. If not for my wife, Louise, we would each grab such food as we could find and go our separate ways. But she will not have it this way.
“It is important for us to eat together,” she says simply, and places the food before us. Though she would not put it in these words, it is an act she reveres, a ceremony of the ordinary.
We say no prayer, though perhaps we should.
But in a quiet way, the table itself is prayer enough. It draws us into a circle, the most mythic and powerful of all human shapes. We pass the food from hand to hand, the most sacramental of all common human acts. Though it remains unspoken, even unrealized, our shared meal creates a bond among us, and, for a moment, makes us one.
There is no mystery in why Jesus chose a meal to reveal his death to those he loved, why he chose a meal to commemorate his truth. This is the moment when we are most human, when we most acknowledge the fallibility of our nature. And yet it is the time of common celebration when the taking of nourishment fills us with simple joy.
Louise sets the plates on the table. The rest of us come and take our places. Food is passed from hand to hand. The affairs of the day are discussed; grievances are aired. We laugh, argue, share stories of the day. We eat happily, filled with the elemental joy that comes with taking nourishment. It is a small moment, but it is ours.
He also describes his sense that there is holiness in the rest of each day, as well:
Our day is but a path we tread, a gentle walk among possibilities.
We dream of the touch on our shoulder that will call us to greatness, to an act that would change the world. But the touches on our shoulder call us only to the small acts of everyday life – changing diapers, changing lightbulbs, changing schedules. Far from being exalted beings, we seem to be prisoners of the ordinary, and we are haunted by the insignificance of our days.
We must learn to see with other eyes. The world contains many paths, some exalted, some mundane. It is not our task to judge the worthiness of our path; it is our task to walk our path with worthiness. We have been blinded by the bright light of heroes and saints. We must learn to trust the small light we are given, and to value the light that we can shed into the lives of those around us.
For though we may not live a holy life, we live in a world alive with holy moments. We need only take the time to bring these moments into the light.
Now go back 2,000 years. They have fished all night and caught nothing. They are tired and frustrated. Then a stranger appears on the beach at dawn, that time of day when shapes are grey and features unclear because the light is just beginning. He tells them to try the other side of the boat. They roll their eyes and raise their eyebrows, but, why not try it?
The stranger, standing by the charcoal fire on the beach, seems to know his fishing. The net is now full of fish. The sun is now getting a little higher and the stranger’s features can be made out, and now they realize who it is.
After painful experiences, we often go back to our routines, our work, and most often we do so with our minds and our hearts numb. It seems to be the only way to keep on going, to just try to put one foot in front of the other. But this is no longer routine.
They start to move the boat to shore. But Peter is overcome with excitement, and he jumps in and swims to shore ahead of the boat. The charcoal fire is lit, and the smoke is drifting in the cool morning air, and the fish are frying over the fire. And Jesus says, “Come and have breakfast.”
Imagine what it was like for the disciples to be fed by the risen Christ at dawn on the beach.
They experienced resurrection first hand. But resurrection is not just something that happened 2,000 years ago. If resurrection means anything important, then it must have meaning to us, who are rational, thoughtful people in 2018. Richard Rohr comments, in his book, Yes, and…:
In the Risen Christ, God reveals the final state of all reality. God forbids us to accept as-it-is, in favor of what-God’s-love-can-make-it. To believe in resurrection means to cross limits and transcend boundaries. Because of the promise of the resurrection of Jesus, we realistically can believe that tomorrow can be better than today. We are not bound by any past. There is a future that is created by God, and much bigger than our own efforts.
We should not just believe in some kind of survival or immortality or just “life after death”- but resurrection, an utterly new creation, a transformation into Love that is promised as something that can happen in this world and is God’s final chapter for all of history. That is why a true Christian has to be an optimist. In fact, if you are not an optimist, you haven’t got it yet.
When they finish eating, Jesus turns to Peter and asks him three times if Peter loves him. Three times Peter says he does, and three times Jesus tells him: “Feed my sheep; take care of my lambs.”
He does it three times to reflect the three times that Peter had betrayed him by saying, “I don’t know him.” Perhaps Peter thought Jesus would do the same, and say to Peter, “I don’t know you.” But instead, Jesus told Peter to get to work, to care for the people, to make a difference in their lives.
Marcus Borg, in his wonderful book, The Heart of Christianity, tells the following story:
On a recent plane trip, the woman sitting next to me said, “I’m much more interested in Buddhism and Sufism than I am in Christianity.”
When I asked why, she said, “Because they’re about a way of life, and Christianity is all about believing.” She continued, “I don’t think beliefs matter nearly as much as having a spiritual path and following a way.”
I understood her comment, even as I silently disagreed with a part of it. To begin with, Christianity is about a way of life, a path, and it has been from the very beginning. At the center of Jesus’ own teaching is the notion of a “way” or “path,” and the first name of the early Christian movement was “the Way.”
God loves us already and has from our very beginning. The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can be saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true- that God loves us already- and then beginning to live in this relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God.
These two ways of imaging the character of God lead to two very different versions of the Christian message. It can be heard as “bad news” or “good news.” The “bad news” version is that there will be a last judgment, either at the end of our lives or the end of history, and you better be ready or you’ll be in deep trouble. This is Christianity as a religion of threat, anxiety, and self-preservation.
The “good news” version is the invitation into a new life here and now, one that transforms us personally and seeks to transform life in this world. The “bad news” version is the saving of some from the devouring fire that will consume the rest. The “good news” version is a vision of transformed people and a transformed earth filled with the glory of God.
What do we do after Easter? How do we live out our faith? What can we do in response to God’s love. The call to us is the same as the call to the disciples. There are people who need to be taken care of; there is feeding and tending that needs to happen. There is work to be done. There is a huge need for caring and compassion in our world.
Peter gets a chance to repent. Jesus lets him know he is forgiven. But that’s not the end. Miracles demand that we respond. Forgiveness means that we are free to act differently, see the world differently, respond to people differently.
Now, after Easter, after breakfast, after forgiveness, it’s time to feed the sheep, to translate love and gratitude into action, to do what we can for those around us who are hurting. It may seem like a daunting task. It may seem overwhelming. It may seem like more than we are able to do.
We have to give it a try. We have to start. We have to begin to feed the sheep. But we mustn’t worry too much about what the world says we must do or how we must do it. Instead, we only need to worry about what makes us come alive.
What the world really needs from us, what God is calling us to do, is to become more alive, to feed those sheep in our own unique and special way.
“Feed my sheep,” he says to us.
In his book, Simple Truths, Kent Nerburn writes that we are called to live our life in our unique way:
And who can say which of these acts and moments will make a difference? The universe is a vast and magical membrane of meaning stretching across time and space, and it is not given us to know her secrets and her ways. Perhaps we were placed here to meet the challenge of a single moment; perhaps the touch we make will cause the touch that will change the world.
When we come to the end of our journey, and the issues that so concerned us recede from us like the day before the coming night, it will be these small touches – the child we have helped, the garden we have planted, the meal we have prepared when we were too weary to do so – that will become our legacy to the universe.
If we have played our part well, offering love where it was needed, strength and caring where it was lacking; if we have tended the earth and its creatures with a sense of humble stewardship, we will have done enough. We may pass quietly, and rest gently in the knowledge that we have left the world a little warmer, a little kinder, a little richer in love. Though our moment was brief and our part small, somewhere, in the fullness of time, our acts will bear fruit, and the earth will raise up a bit of goodness in our memory.
It is a small legacy, perhaps, but a legacy nonetheless. Somewhere, between a baby’s cry and the distant brightness of a star, the mystery was alive in us for a moment. It was our privilege to feel its presence, and to have the chance to pass it on.
When they got to shore, Jesus was waiting for them, hunched over a charcoal fire, cooking fish and bread. “Come and have breakfast,” he invited them. He fed them just what they needed. And then, after breakfast, he told them to do the same.
The Good News is: we have all been forgiven. The Good News is: we can all start again, leaving the past behind. We are not our past.
And the Good News is: there is much to be done. There are many needs to be met.
After we have been fed, have had our breakfast on the beach, have realized that we too are forgiven, then we also are called to do the same for others: to live out God’s forgiveness by feeding the sheep.