“Feed My Sheep”

John 21:1-6, 12-17, May 1st, 2022

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


Communion

“Hear now these words from the gospel according to John, chapter twenty-one, verses one thru six, and twelve thru seventeen.”

John 21:1-6, 12-17

1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 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.”

“Having listen with our ears let us now open our hearts bringing this lesson into our lives today.”

“Feed My Sheep”

In the gospel according to Luke, chapter twenty-two, we hear this accounting of The Disciple Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus, starting at verse fifty-six. Then a servant-girl, seeing him (Seeing Peter) in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” 59Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” 60But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. We know that Jesus, having been arrested was flogged and given a mock trial and was executed by crucifixion. Today’s scripture lesson from John’s gospel speaks to us of the third time in which Jesus appears to the Disciples after he rose from the tomb on Easter morning.

Alyce M. McKenzie, an ordained Methodist Pastor, speaks directly to the core of this, our lesson for today. “He knows where we live. He stands on the shores of our lives. He stands at our front doors. And when we answer his knock, he has just two questions for us: ‘Do you love me?’ and, if so, ‘What are you going to do about it?'” Provoking questions which move us past Simon Peters shameful denial of Jesus. Her words assume we understand fully that Jesus’ three questions at the water’s edge exonerate him, absolving, forgiving Peter his denial and reinstates him in the leadership position which Christ Jesus had prepared him for. Pastor McKenzie moves us past all that and gets down to business. We are challenged by her words. Can we say with conviction that we respond to Jesus’ question with an affirmative Yes! Just as Peter was able to do. And then pushes us to put some thought into the question and our answer, then asking us how we shall respond! As we begin to ponder the answer, which we believe is expected of us, let us take a moment to consider its implications.

Here we are sitting in a sanctuary that this congregation owns outright! Small congregations, like ourselves know what this means. Recognizing the agony of having a devastating mortgage from conception. Struggling to make the budget match the inflow of donations and perhaps a few fund raisers. Those that are able feel that great sigh of relief when the mortgage is paid off! Can I hear an “Amen!” The day the Church Board was able to announce the scheduled, symbolic, burning of the mortgage; what a day that was! “Amen!” The details are but history now. Every church, of every denomination, which has had the privilege to do the same knows that sense of release! Alleluia! Then what? Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” If Jesus was standing here with us today, I dare say we all would answer yes! In our scripture, three times, Jesus asked of Peter the same: “Do you love me. Three times he says yes! Then how does Jesus respond? “Feed my Lambs.” “Tend my Sheep.” “Feed my Sheep.” Symbolically Simon Peter was pardoned for having rejected and denied Jesus three times when Jesus was arrested. Passing this question to us seeks the same, yet a deeper probing of our commitment to accepting the love, grace, and mercy of God into our personal lives and ultimately into our hearts. 

History tells us many have struggled with how to serve God. History tells us many are those who have answered well and served well. Yet, there are surely volumes of names of those who stumbled and fell as they strived to do the same. Was it for lack of trying? Or was it a lack of support from others to accomplish some modest goals. Or perhaps the focus got tangled up too heavily into the material world and not enough into the spiritual, world. There are as many answers to these thoughts as there are stories that could be told. Yet, let me quote a couple sentences from the Book by Pastor Winston Matafwali, recently dedicated, with the help of a couple of his loving supporters. The book is Pastor Winston’s story. “One Shoe in Africa” its title, easily purchased, online, via Amazon. Twice he has spoken to this congregation. And twice we sent him home with a meaningful donation, which he has used wisely. He speaks of himself as “becoming somebody who mattered to God.” Crippled at age two, by Polio, and a wheelchair which became a luxury that he went without, for a long time.

Winston’s words jump off the pages in his short but powerful book. “Therefore, learn to get your share of God’s grace by asking for it in faith. He will answer.” Winston leads off on page eighty-four by explaining what is assumed by many, that which is misunderstood by legions. “If you only believe that God exits, you are missing out on knowing Him. He is a rewarder of all those who earnestly seek him.” Winston’s simple yet powerful methodology of speaking weaves his own story into a powerful testimony of faith, which has led him to do miraculous work with seemingly very little. His church, attached to his home, has chairs which we helped purchase. The five acres of land he was able to get through a government land grant, is in full use. Seeds purchased with funds from supportive churches such as our own. The produce given to the truly hungry. Pastor Winston seems to live in poverty yet speaks like a man who literally has everything his heart desires! Blessed by faith and a commitment to serve God and the needs of others. Winston is surrounded by his loving family and his faith filled church members. All of whom he speaks of as grateful, wonderful folk.

I personally remember the first time I met Winston. Smiling from ear to ear sitting in his wheelchair. We shared many things that first day, and it wasn’t until I needed to help him get in and out of my car that I remembered he was wheelchair dependent. Then that first Sunday he preached for us. He preached like a strong evangelical pastor! His wheelchair got smaller and smaller as his voice, powered by the Living Spirit of God Almighty, resounded throughout the sanctuary! What a humbling privilege to listen to him. Years later when he heard me preach, he said to me on our way to where he was staying: “Pastor Tim” he said, “you are a better preacher now.” Inferring of course that it was a needed improvement. Perhaps, one day, we can have him as our guest once again. Airfare is the big challenge. Kitwe Zambia, the heart of Africa, is a long way from Palm Bay Florida!

The struggles of the people Winston work(s) to serve, are different and ‘perhaps’ more basic than most of us here today. Yet, we each struggle from our human condition. This is something we all share. I remember Pastor Winston’s words as he spoke to our ‘all-white’ congregation in Sebastian. He was seeking to find common ground between us, himself, and his poor community which he was ‘called’ to serve. He was setting the platform of his sermon out for us to hear. He said quite plainly, “The one thing I am sure we all have in common, black, white, rich, or poor, we are all born naked!” You could have heard a pin drop as his next words took us into a spellbinding sermon about our common “equality” in the eyes of Mother Nature and God. His book about his life and ministry has a ‘rhythm’ to it, like a piece of poetry, which you can not miss. His humble faithfulness to God and his willingness to give his all, his very life for the sake of another, as he teaches Gods love; and the need to serve the needs of all God’s children!

Three times – the Gospel of John speaks of Jesus appearing to the Disciples. Three times – Peter denied knowing Jesus when he became fearful of ‘being’ arrested as Jesus had been. Three times – the Risen Christ forgave Peter, while charging him to tend and feed his lambs, his sheep. Can we ask ourselves how ‘many’ times we have turned to God, asking for forgiveness for something? Has our faith in the testimonies, within the scriptures, has our faith in the gift of forgiveness for others – grown dim? Do we still believe in God’s forgiveness ‘being’ extended to ourselves? If we have grown complacent and do not see our denial, our turned backs, as the Spirit of God urges us to again ‘pick-up’ the mantel of ministry; and once again strive to serve the people of God – may God forgive us! When I think of Winston, in his wheelchair, moving around in the dirt to pull weeds and clear away the brush, making way for the growing plants as they began to bear fruit, I am humbled. Have I done enough? Have we ‘been’ led to do more, even in our fatigue? Even when we count those who watch our service live and those who visit our website to hear the sermon and the scripture reading each Sunday, we are still a small church. Historically, most churches go through life cycles. When churches grow everyone rejoices. When we reach that bump in the road, as did Peter on that night of Jesus’ betrayal and execution, will we reject and disagree, even as history records the truth?

Let us pray, as we partake of Holy Communion today, let us ask God Almighty, to reinvigorate us once again with the Spirit of New Hope, the Spirit of Truth. If Pastor Winston were here with us today, what would he say to us? “Do not give up faith!” Faith can do the impossible! None of us know the future. Yet, we do know that our donations to the local food pantry will feed hungry families and give new hope to those who have seen hope slip through their fingers. Let us at least do all that we can!

Amen.

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