Sermon by Kimberly C. and Michael G.

July 5, 2015

John 21:17

“Faith that Serves”

 

 

John 21:17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?”  And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

 

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We have heard that we must have and keep faith.  Pastor Tim spoke last week about faith, as most Pastors do regularly.

He appealed to our desire to possess more faith.  Faith to overcome our doubts, strengthen us in times of trial, and support us in the darkness.  But there is also the faith to propel us forward in action.  Perhaps the important difference between these is that the first is faith that serves us, comforting and soothing, offered by God, and the second is faith that serves others, asked for by Jesus, that is meant to be the example of Christ in our world today.

Author and therapist Craig Lounsbrough put it this way, “The image of God infused in us never sees the light of day in the service of self, but it becomes the light of day in the service of others.”

It’s a powerful image, to be light in the world–this metaphor is mentioned in Mark, where Jesus says, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed?  Of course not!  A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine.”  How are we able to shine?

In the passage from John we’ve heard today, Christ speaks to Simon known as Peter, asking three times if Peter loves him, a reference to the three times that Peter denied him.  In response to Peter’s affirmation, Jesus gives three instructions–telling Peter how to demonstrate his love for Christ.

Jesus doesn’t speak of complicated rituals, or intricate altars, or complex worship.  He responds so clearly, without parable or perplexity.

Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.  Tend my flocks.  Care for my lambs.”

In another portion of John, we hear Christ refers to himself as the Shepherd, and to people as sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

Jesus does not tell Peter to care for the good sheep, or the holy lambs, or the righteous among his flock alone. He says, feed them, tend to them, care for them.

What if these instructions are literal and as simple as they appear?

When members of our congregation volunteer locally at Daily Bread, there can be no doubt that Christian love is in action. Serving others is a visible act of faith, showing the love and generosity Peter is reminded to display.

Author Brian Mclaren remarks, “To be alive is to bear the responsibility of the image of God.”  What does it mean to uphold the image of God in our homes, our neighborhoods, our community? And who are the “lambs” and the “sheep” in our lives? Are we “tending His flock” well?

We, as a church, have much to be grateful for this morning.  We meet in Fellowship in this building, listen to uplifting music, and continue to celebrate the triumph of civil rights in our Nation’s highest court.  But I believe we must not allow ourselves to be complacent.  There is still so much need.  Perhaps we are asked to turn our gratitude into action.

The United Church of Christ has a long history of social justice work and community service.  How can we contribute to that, here and now?  We can bring toiletries and food to our food pantry.  We can drop our change in the Shepherd’s Fund box.  Civil rights leader Julian Bond said, “Many are attracted to social service–the rewards are immediate, the gratification quick.  But if we have social justice, we won’t need social service.”  Are we, as individuals and as a congregation contributing to that goal?  And, importantly, are we keeping the real, immediate needs of our neighbors in mind, while we vote and work for the sweeping changes in our society?

I believe we must continue to feed His sheep, even while we try to solve the problems of our world.  When the light of our love illuminates the darkness for someone else, we carry on Peter’s work.  But it’s hard work to choose kind words when you’re wronged; to get out of bed in the night to help a neighbor; to give hard earned money to a stranger.  It’s difficult to overcome the inner, selfish voice.

In this year’s Vacation Bible School, we tasked the children with defining heroes–and we did hear about Superman and Batman–but discovered that real heroes choose to serve others despite difficulties, risk, and sacrifices.  My family certainly spends a large amount of time considering the cost of American freedom.  I’m sure many of us reflected on the sacrifices of others this weekend as we celebrated our Independence Day.  The fireworks we watch in jubilation are meant to call into mind bombs over battlefields.  The expense of our relative safety and comfort this morning is immeasurable.  Soldiers, police officers, civil servants, and untold others worked to ensure our very ability to come together this morning.  From the Battle at Lexington and Concord to the current struggles in the Middle East, countless men, women, and children have given of themselves to help others–and not just those in uniforms, but all those who line up to give blood, donate food, and write letters.  The smallest kindness can be so uplifting to the homesick, the grieving, and the hungry.  Is the image of God in those acts?  Are we able to create that image in our own mirrors?

Elsewhere in the New Testament, we see repeated examples of this message of service.

In Peter: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

In John: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

And in Hebrews, written by Paul: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”

Paul speaks directly to the heart of our purpose as a church–to encourage one another in our good works.  So let us go forward, with the desire to feed the sheep and the lambs, and to hold one another accountable, and hold each other up, while we follow Christ’s instructions together.

Amen

 

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