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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
May 01 2022
Grace and peace to you from our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week – we started to learn how the rest of the resurrection story unfolds. And as part of that, we heard the story of Thomas, a disciple whose story is often misunderstood. Today’s reading continues the story. And for that, we start with Peter.
Of all the disciples, Peter is my favorite because he’s the most human. He makes mistakes, he has knee-jerk reactions, he puts his foot in it more than once. And even with all of that, he still follows Jesus – faithfully.
Thinking about him that way, it’s easy to interpret the conversation between he and Jesus in today’s reading as a reinstatement of Peter’s discipleship, or as an attempt to reconcile their relationship. Basically, it’s easy to see this as the moment when Jesus forgives Peter.
But nowhere in this story does Jesus say the words, “I forgive you.” Because Peter didn’t do anything that needed forgiving. What he denied on the night Jesus was arrested was his identity as one of the disciples, not Jesus.
So really, the one who needs to forgive Peter is Peter himself. But more than that, Peter needs to accept who Jesus needs him to be now. And so do the others. Because what the disciples knew about following Jesus had changed.
Being one of Jesus’ disciples was easy for Peter and the others when Jesus was physically with them. They mostly observed while Jesus did the heavy lifting. But things have changed, and Jesus’ ministry was entirely in their hands now.
In a lot of ways, it was easier for them to return to fishing, because even on the days they caught nothing, it was a profession that they knew how to do.
But instead of letting them do that, Jesus reminds them of who they are; he tells the disciples to fish from the other side of the boat and calls them back to their purpose, which is his mission – to love one another as he loved them, and to share that love with the world.
So, in a manner of speaking, this is a restart or a reset for all of them. The disciples had to reconcile themselves to a life they weren’t expecting and familiarize themselves with a world they didn’t understand.
They had to find their place and their identity as they continued Jesus’ ministry so that they could listen to the people and to one another in new ways. So that they could pay attention to who was around them and fish for people.
What Jesus did that day was call them into their identity as his disciples.
In the first year of the pandemic, for a lot of people – myself included – the stories in the Bible came to life in ways that they never had before. And it changed how we view them. As we continue to transition out of the pandemic (hopefully!), I’m noticing that again especially as I read the post-resurrection stories. Because this time we’re in is a type of resurrection.
Like many congregations, we aren’t who we were before Covid. We’ve changed as individuals and as a community. Our core identity and mission haven’t changed. We are still people who live into the daily renewal of our baptism.
We are still a community of believers that is growing together in Christ to love and serve all people. But our identity within it, the way we live into it, has changed.
One of the first articles I read about how Covid affected the church commented that, in terms of technology, it cannonballed us into the 21st century. Online worship and education began as ways to help us gather together, and now they’re a permanent part of our ministry.
But Covid made us examine other practices, too. Like gathering for worship, handshakes, hugs, singing, passing the offering plate, baptisms, and Communion. All of the things we took for granted. It helped make us more aware of people’s comfort levels around their health and safety concerns.
And as we transition out of it, we’re discovering that it’s a time of reset and restarting for us. We’re asking questions about what we carry forward – not just from our Covid practices, but from what we did and who we were before.
In some ways, it would be easier to just go back to the way things were before – to fish from the left side of the boat, so to speak – because it’s what we know. It’s comfortable. It’s easier than facing new possibilities and forging a new path; it’s easier than living into a new identity.
But Jesus calls us into our identity as it is now. And discovering what that is and who we are, is part of the process of being his disciples. The daily renewal of our baptism, our growing together in Christ, is an ongoing and lifelong journey that pushes us to wonder what it means to be resurrection people.
And I don’t mean for us to get so caught up in what the details of that could be that we start to overthink it and become paralyzed and do nothing.
In his questions to Peter on the beach that morning, Jesus laid out the next steps in the disciples’ journey as his followers. Feed his lambs. Tend his sheep. Feed his sheep. That’s it. He’d already taught them everything they needed to know. They just needed to go do it.
And those are our next steps, too. They are rooted in the love we have for one another and that Jesus has for us, making them a permanent part of our identity. And we know that feeding and tending can happen in a million different ways.
Praying for one another. Listening to each other. Noticing who’s here, and also who isn’t. Checking in with people. Participating in the ministries that serve our community. Asking the tough questions about the inequalities and inequities in our society, and admitting that we may not know what those questions are. Advocating for people to help their voices be heard. And sometimes it even means feeding others with actual food.
What it comes down to is that feeding Jesus’ lambs and tending his sheep is up close and personal ministry that makes us look at things differently. It doesn’t always produce immediate or tangible results, and it doesn’t always have a clear direction. Sometimes it takes us places we never thought we’d go, and that we’d rather not go to.
But as we do it, we discover that it takes us on a path that shapes who we are as Jesus’ disciples. We live into the renewal that it brings into our own lives, the lives of others, and the life of our congregation. And as a congregation, we continue growing together in Christ; we join with one another and participate in the journey that helps us discover who we are and who Jesus calls us to be.
In this time of reset and restarting, in this time of resurrection, may we discover what it means to be resurrection people and the identity that Jesus calls us into. Alleluia! Amen.
 Spirituality of Conflict, commentary for Third Sunday of Easter 2022.