Yesterday and Friday two members of St. Luke's and I attended the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod Assembly (the annual meeting of our district or diocese of congregations). There were some wonderful things to celebrate, like the re-election of our Bishop, Erik Gronberg, on the first ballot. We celebrated the generosity of our members in the ELCA, who have given $2 million to support the crisis in Ukraine/ and the generosity in our Synod, whose members gave nearly $300,000 to ELCA World Hunger in 2021. You’ll hear more good news in upcoming reports.
In addition to these celebrations, we also heard again the challenge of sharing God’s love in Jesus Christ in our changing world. We saw a chart of the decline, since 2011, of average worship attendance, baptisms, and Confirmations across our Synod, which is similar across the ELCA. I am grateful that we, at St. Luke’s have been working hard to grow in mission and outreach.
With the Baptism of the precious Eleanor Jeane this morning, we have heard again the faith commitments we have all made as we affirmed our Baptism with her: to be the priesthood of all believers, to let our light shine, to share the love of Christ with others, to bring justice and peace to all, and to follow Jesus in our daily life; but how do we do it? How do we let people know about God’s love in Jesus Christ today, not just to grow the church, but so that lonely people feel loved, and people who are ashamed are freed by forgiveness, and people who are in despair can be lifted up?
In our Gospel reading, Jesus instructs Peter and all the disciples to “feed his lambs, tend his sheep and feed his sheep.” Jesus, amazingly, also demonstrates how to do this by the way he interacts with them. You have probably heard the phrase, “the devil is in the details.” But in this passage, the gospel is in the details—and in those details, we find grace and even some ideas for sharing God’s grace faithfully, as Jesus again calls Peter and the others away from their fishing nets and into mission.
The disciples could have taken their cue from Mary Magdalene and already started telling people that they have seen the risen Jesus. They have received the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ peace and the power to forgive sins, but instead of stepping out into this new resurrection reality, they stepped into a boat and went fishing. They are experts at this profession, but they totally flunk and catch nothing.
When morning dawns, Jesus shows up on the beach and calls out to them using an affectionate term, “children” “little ones” “kids.” Jesus has such love for these confused and still fearful souls, who, several days earlier, had denied and abandoned him. In this detail we have
Sharing Grace Lesson 1: We always start by asking Jesus for his love to work through us—he loves even people who have hurt him deeply and we can ask him to help us love people we cannot love on our own.
Jesus says, “Children, you have no fish have you?” Jesus enters the relationship slowly and asks a question. He engages in conversation based on their experience. Most people like to talk about themselves, and many do have not anyone to listen to them. Which brings us to
Sharing Grace Lesson 2: At church, at school, among neighbors, wherever you are: Ask people about their experiences, even if you already know them, which does in this passage. You may learn something new, you may hear where they need grace, love and forgiveness! It may be your neighbor, co-worker, someone new in a long line at the store, or young person in your own family you have not really listened to before.
Then Jesus says, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some fish.” Can you imagine doing the job you’re an expert at all night and someone comes along and tells you to try to do it differently?
Sharing Grace Lesson 3: Try something new. This was the greatest blessing of the pandemic because we all learned to try new things—new ways to worship, to do meetings, and Bible study, to use a cloth prayer cross to listen to the community. We are stronger, and more flexible for it. And we will continue to try new things. Carol Rizzo has passed out my business card as a way to invite people to church—I have 100’s of them if that’s a new thing you would like to try!
When the disciples saw the abundance of fish they caught, they recognized Jesus. Jesus shows the disciples that in their ministry moving forward, he will provide for what they need in abundance.
Sharing Grace Lesson 4: Trust in Jesus’s abundance--we will get what we need! Look at the abundance of creation itself, the water turned to wine at the wedding at Cana, the abundance of perfume that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet, the abundance of St. Luke’s Moving Forward in Faith Capital Campaign, the abundance of over 55 new members since 2018. Where do you recognize God’s abundance in your own life?
When the disciples arrive on shore they see the charcoal fire Jesus has prepared with the bread and fish on it. The only other time we have seen a charcoal fire is when Peter denied Jesus—he stood by a charcoal fire warming himself while Jesus was before the High Priest. But notice Jesus does not mention this—instead he prepares breakfast—both bread and fish—which are reminiscent of the food used to feed the 5,000—more abundance! Jesus asks Peter to get some of the fish he just caught and add it to the grill. Right at the moment when Peter would be awash in shame and guilt, Jesus asks him to bring his own gift, his own contribution—he is valued and important: the place of sin becomes the place of forgiveness; the location of failure becomes the location of restoration; the place of brokenness becomes the place of healing. The disciples all know it—it’s been on the grapevine, on the first-century version of twitter: Peter’s and everyone’s past sins are public knowledge, and Jesus says, “No, we’re not doing that—we are not rehearsing the past. This is the fire of cleansing and healing, this is the meal of restoration, and forgiveness. I am demonstrating for you what it means to feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. This is grace—a fresh start.”
Sharing Grace Lesson 5: No one is beyond redemption. You are not beyond redemption, and neither is anyone else. Everyone needs love. “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” Love them. We have become a deeply divided and hurting society in the last two years; regardless of your views on politics, ideology or vaccines, Jesus calls us. as much as possible into relationships of restoration, healing, and forgiveness where love is more important than the rightness of our position. Peter’s denial does not stop him from being the rock on which the church is built—because that’s the kind of God we serve—the past does not determine the future! And the same is true for the Apostle Paul in Acts. As we move into this stage of post-pandemic life, where might Jesus call you to participate in or facilitate a charcoal fire of restoration, forgiveness and healing of relationships?
The disciples haul in the fish they caught, and they count every one—there is 153 in all! Such detail! And there is more grace in the details—153 was the number of known number of species of fish in the ancient world.
Sharing Grace Lesson 6: The mission of Jesus’ love includes everyone—all people, all species, all nations, all tribes, all languages, all genders, orientations, and expressions-- no one is excluded. And even with 153 fish, the net did not break. God’s abundant kingdom and Jesus’ forgiving love and grace can hold us all, and so can St. Luke’s! A strong community can hold a lot of diversity.
Jesus invited the disciples to join him, “come and eat.” He did not beat them over the head with salvation, he simply invited them to join him. Then he fed them physically and spiritually by spending time with them.
Sharing Grace Lesson 7: Sharing faith is an invitation—"Come and eat,” said Jesus. “Come and cook burritos with us at our free breakfast, come and hear our awesome choir, come and roll up health kits for refugees, come and meet our youth & kids leader, Lyn; come and check out our preschool, come and have coffee with our pastor." Over 60% of people report being lonely today and would be thrilled that somebody noticed them enough to invite them to a meal, a service project, a worship service. Invite and spend time with them. Feed my lambs, tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.
Finally, Jesus asks us to love him above all else. Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? We have come full circle back to love—not just Jesus’ love for us, but our love for Jesus. That is our motivation for tending, feeding, and caring for all people. I don’t know if you have noticed this, but not all people are loveable, or even likeable! But Jesus asks us to care for them because we love him, not them!
Sharing Grace Lesson 8: You do not have to like everyone, you just need to love Jesus and he will take care of the rest. How freeing! When you love Jesus and receive his love, then it’s much easier to care for the flock he puts in your path.
Sharing Jesus’ love has been as simple as it’s always been. It’s about building a relationship of love where we ask, listen, invite, forgive, and try new things, always trusting in God’s abundance and grace which never fail us. These are gifts we are already possess, gifts the risen Jesus has already given us! People experience Jesus’s grace and love in the details of how we ask, listen, invite and love them. So St. Luke’s, let’s share more grace!
Image: Churchart.com with permission.