If you’ve heard my call story, bear with me here a minute while I share the condensed version. When I graduated from college, I didn’t know I was going to be a pastor. When I married Chris, I didn’t know I was going to be a pastor. When we moved to Texas, I didn’t know I was going to be a pastor. But, when I finally stopped to listen to God, I realized God was calling me into ministry. And I was terrified and relieved at the same time. I was terrified because I felt like the most un-prepared, under qualified, unlikely Pastor type person in the history of pastors. But at the same time, I was relieved because I finally figured out what God had created me for: I had a purpose. And that felt amazing. And with that purpose came an immense amount of love. Seminary was difficult. I know it’s supposed to be hard, not everyone is cut out for this. In the midst of my seminary education, I was diagnosed with a learning disorder and battled ADHD. But not once did I regret answering God’s call.
In my dark moments, I always want to hear 2 things: I am loved and I have a purpose. And really, isn’t that what we all desire to hear? It’s amazing to hear “you have worth” and “I love you.” There are some who know what their purpose is from a very young age, like my Chris. And then, there are others, like me, who take longer to figure it out. And without a purpose, we can feel lost, forgotten, abandoned, or, even worse, not even worthy of the air we breathe. And strangely, not having love has the ability to make us feel the same way. I also think that part of our call as disciples is to 1) accept that God does love us and God does have a plan for us and to 2) help others to understand the same thing (also known as evangelism).
Let us first recall that this story is being told after the resurrection. This will be the third and final time (at least in the Gospel of John) that Jesus appears to his disciples. The disciples have returned to their original vocation or job: fishing. They had fished all night and caught nothing. Then someone from the shore called to them recommending new fishing techniques. Can you imagine? The disciples are doing something that, for them, they could do in their sleep. It’s something they are good at, or at least they were. But, they had caught nothing. So a voice comes from the shore. “Try the other side of the boat!” I’d be annoyed; who is this guy?!? They did and were surprised by the abundance. Upon returning to the shore, they realize that the advice giver is the risen Lord. Then, they have breakfast on the beach because that’s what Jesus does: he feeds us.
There are a lot of parallels between this story and one that happens right before Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter is our main character in question. Before the crucifixion remember, Peter huddled around a fire and denied Jesus three times even though he said he’d never deny Jesus. Now it’s after the crucifixion, Peter has seen Jesus two, now three times. Nothing has been said about Peter’s denial. As they are huddled over a fire once more, Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves him. Not once. Not twice. But three times. Peter felt hurt. I’m sure the hurt comes from a few places: hurt that Jesus has to ask him three times. And hurt from realizing what Jesus is doing and Peter’s own shame from denying Jesus. In some ways, I can understand why Peter would be hurt. If someone asked me if I loved them three times in a row, I would wonder what I’m doing or not doing to make myself clear.
But, in Christ’s words and actions, a lot happens. I think we first get a reminder of not only the disciples total and complete reliance on God, but ours as well. The disciples, who remember were seasoned fishermen, hadn’t caught anything ALL NIGHT. It was only when they took direction from Christ that they were successful, hauling in 153 fish. They gather again and are reminded of who Jesus is by what Jesus does: he feeds them. And then we get this questioning of Peter three times. In this, Christ is reminding Peter that he is loved (despite his earlier denial and rejection of Jesus) and that Peter has a job to do, and it’s not fishing. Jesus said to Peter, “do you love me more than these? … Do you love me?”… and one final time “Do you love me?” And with each answer, Peter gets a purpose.
“Feed my lambs, tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep” is now Peter’s purpose. In many ways, it’s ours too. I love that we get this scripture on a day when we are blessing the seeds and soil that will literally feed other people. We are feeding God’s sheep just as was directed to Peter. I have said before that God created us to be in community with one another. We need one another to encourage us, challenge us, lift us up, and support us. If we take our call to make disciples of all nations seriously (as we should) then we should also embrace the call to feed and tend to God’s sheep.
It’s not easy work; it’s thankless work, really. And sadly, many times, we get in our own way. We’ve often heard that we should “take care of our own” first. Guess what, we’re all God’s own. As you know, we can’t earn our salvation. God will not be judging us on how many people we helped. But, we will be judged on whether or not we did help. It’s easy to turn a blind eye and say “that’s not our problem.” But the problems of the world, no matter if they’re down the street or around the world, are our problems. Despite the temptation to do so, we cannot fall into the desire to “qualify” everyone that needs help. Are they legal? Are the registered? Are they American? Are they white? Are they Christian? Are they one of us? Do they speak English? The only question we should ask is “are they created by God?” And if the answer is yes, our call is to take care of them. And the answer is always yes.
We all belong to God and God has given us a job: take care of one another. Everyone longs to be loved and everyone longs for a purpose. We can give people that when we share the love of Christ and encourage all people to be who God has created them to be. Loving people, especially those who no one else wants to love involves risk. Hating people and denying people involves a greater risk including our salvation.
We also do this, of course, when we participate in Food’s Resource Bank. We are helping people to remember that they are loved and they do have a purpose. Belonging to God’s family is the most important identifier we have. We don’t have a say in who belongs and who doesn’t. Because the truth is, none of us belong. It’s by God’s grace alone that we are kept in God’s grip. Next time the opportunity arises claim God’s love and purpose for your life by sharing God’s love and purpose for someone else’s life, instead of giving God excuses, try asking God “how soon can I get started?”