Howdy Partner!

 Inspired by Philippians 1:1-18

The last two weeks we read from the book of Acts, and last week’s story occurred in, Philippi. This was one of the first places that Paul started a church. And if you were here last Sunday, you know that he didn’t have a good experience there. He got annoyed by a fortune-telling woman and took her gift away only to be arrested, beaten, and thrown into jail. An earthquake led to their freedom but not before he humiliated the local authorities with his Roman citizenship. It was quite the story and truth be told, Paul was not on his best behavior. If you know anything about Paul, his head must have been the size of a watermelon because he had a ginormous ego! At Wednesday’s Bible discussion, some other words they used to describe Paul were bold and confident. 

He was certainly those things and those words are probably kinder words to use than jerk, which is what I called him last Sunday. However, in spite of the fact that he has gone down in history as being one of the greatest defenders of our faith, he simply wasn’t known for having a sweet personality. On the contrary, he could be harsh, abrasive, selfish, inconsiderate, rude, downright cold with his words, and he’d be the first one to tell you that. He’d also tell you that his deficiencies, just made Jesus look all the better, all the more gracious, so I guess in his eyes it all balanced out. Oh Paul, gotta love him. So, why do I bring this up two weeks in a row? It’s not just cuz I enjoy having a Paul bashing party! But because it’s connected to today’s reading. 

The last two weeks we got to see the young Paul in action, in all his ego’s glory. However, this letter to that same church in Philippi, comes at the end of his ministry. Scholars believe this to be one of, if not the last, letter he wrote before his death, probably at the hands of the Roman government. And it’s in fact in one of their prisons that he wrote this letter. All that is to say that this was an older, wiser, Paul, and I’d argue, it’s a Paul that has had some of his rough edges smoothed out; dare I say, a more compassionate Paul. And what caused this softer, less hardheaded side of Paul? Well, many things I’m sure. For one, just living life can do that to many of us. I’m so glad you didn’t know me 25 years ago! I resembled Saul more than I did Paul back then! 

The experiences that we go through, the heartaches, the celebrations, the pain, the joys, the losses, the gains, it all changes us, for good or ill, but I think for most of us, it all makes us better humans, and hopefully, better followers of Christ—more compassionate, more understanding, more flexible, more loving children of God. Most of us. Could that be the Paul that we get in this letter? I think so and here’s why. We’re actually gonna start at the end of the passage I just read. 

He ends this passage by writing, “Some certainly preach Christ with jealous and competitive motives, but others preach with good motives. They are motivated by love, because they know that I’m put here to give a defense of the gospel; the others preach Christ because of their selfish ambition. They are insincere, hoping to cause me more pain while I’m in prison. What do I think about this? Just this: since Christ is proclaimed in every possible way, whether from dishonest or true motives, I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad.” Hold the phone, that is not the Paul we knew last week. That is not Paul, the Jerk. This is a new improved, wiser, more loving, more flexible, Paul than we have ever seen before! Last week, he took the fortune telling ability away from someone, who, by the way, was only spreading truths. 

She was only telling people that he had come in the name of God to give a way of salvation, and yet, he took her gift because he was annoyed by her, according to the author of last week’s story. Wow, how we have grown, Paul. It happens to the best of us. It happens to the worst of us. Whether we like it or not we find ourselves on a journey, a path, always moving, never static, or at least that’s the plan. And on that journey we grow, we change, and hopefully, we soften a bit. Just take a look at our church, there was a time, not that long ago really, some of you are old enough to remember, when women couldn’t be pastors. Even here at Bethlehem! Gasp! I know, hard to believe, right! 

There was a time when victims of suicide couldn’t be buried in many church cemeteries. There was a time when changing a church’s worship from the congregation’s native language to English, was a church-splitting decision! Heck, changing the color of the carpet has been known to do the same thing! Most recently, there was a time when gay people could not become pastors, let alone a transgendered person becoming bishop! I know, hard to believe that was in the recent past of this rainbow banner flying congregation who just yesterday attended Placer county’s first annual pride celebration! How we have grown over the years. How we have matured. Because I think that’s a significant factor in growth, isn’t it? Maturing? I mean, we all grow but we don’t all mature, right! 

Or, maybe a more gracious way to say that is that we all mature at different speeds, yes? But I think there comes a time in many of our lives when we realize that certain things just don’t hold the weight they used to. Not that they don’t matter but that they don’t matter as much as you thought they did. They are no longer things you will draw a line in the sand with. When you realize the color of the carpet doesn’t really matter as much, the length of your son’s hair doesn’t matter as much, the piercings on your daughter’s beautiful face doesn’t matter as much, a person’s sexuality, the color of someone’s skin, someone’s divorce, what someone wears to worship, what genitalia a pastor has, how someone died, how someone lived, how someone believes, how someone doubts. 

As silly as some of those sound, these are all things that our immature selves have allowed to get in the way of our sharing of God’s love with people over the centuries, and some of them, not that long ago. I don’t know about you but sometimes I think, why did we care so much about that! And then I remember, oh yeah, human sinfulness. Or as our president Debbie often reminds me, “Because people suck.” Oh yeah, I keep forgetting that! Let me end now at the beginning of our passage. Paul calls us partners in ministry, and partakers of God’s grace with him. Oh, I love that line! I can handle this version of Paul any day! Partakers of God’s grace with him. If we are going to be partners, not only with each other but with people outside these four walls, then we have to make that our starting point. 

That we are just as in need of grace as anyone else, anyone else. And of all people, it’s Paul, the gentler, kinder, and lo and behold, humbler Paul, that reminds us of this. And speaking of great lines, the first and last verse of our next hymn ends with, “Above all, before all, let love be your raiment that binds into one every dissonant part.” Dissonance is often a musical term but what an appropriate term to use for following Jesus, isn’t it? What if we approached our ministry as a weeding out of as much dissonance as possible between us and God, between us and each other, and between us and the rest of the world. Thereby seeing partners in everyone, not just with Jesus, not just with the new and improved Paul, not just with each other, but seeing partners in everyone, no matter their own faith, or religion, or status, or color, or sex, or gender, or anything! Partners. Period. Amen? Amen.


Paul, the Jerk

 Inspired by Acts 16:16-39

This is one of those stories that kinda gets buried in the Revised Common Lectionary, that’s the standard place that many churches get their Sunday readings from, except for churches that have pastors like me who want to try different things, like the Narrative Lectionary that we use. And so, this story rarely, if ever, gets preached on. And this time, I kind of see why. It’s a weird story, with some highly questionable ethics at play here. When I first started preparing for this sermon, I thought to myself, what in the world am I gonna do with this story!? And maybe it’s because I don’t really like this story! I know, shameful, right! What kind of a pastor doesn’t like a Bible story? Not only is this story weird, not only does it contain some disturbing Christian ethics, but what does it even have to teach us? 

That if you’re as holy as Paul then Jesus will break you out of jail? Try telling that to the black men of the U.S. who are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white men, but let’s not get off track. Tradition has elevated Paul to near Jesus-like status over the centuries. He is given credit for much of our theology, as well as for growing this new religion by preaching and planting new churches across the then known world. And to his credit, I think he’d be mortified by the pedestal that we’ve put him on. And this story that we have before us today, is yet another example of why we should not. The story begins with a scene that sets up the main story, which is Paul’s imprisonment. There was a woman, unnamed of course, who was a slave but not just any slave, this slave had the unique ability to tell the future. 

Her owners exploited that gift to make a lot of money. She had been following Paul around, proclaiming that he was a servant of the most high God and that he was offering a way of salvation for them. None of which was a lie, right! However, she was really getting on Paul’s nerves and so he takes her gift from her. Like a televangelist he says, in the name of Jesus I cast you out of her! Scholars have debated for centuries about why Paul did this. What got under his skin so badly? And though they’ve come up with lots of reasons why, I really wasn’t interested in any of them. I am more interested in what he did next, or should I say, what he does not do. Because the ramifications of this are tremendous. 

And I don’t mean for his work, but for her life. Because now she was worthless to her owners. As if a slave could be knocked down a peg, somehow Paul has done just that for her. A slave is worth what they can do and she could no longer do what made them all that money. So now what was she to do? Notice there is no follow-up to her story. She is used here simply as a prop for the rest of the story. Does she become a Christian? I really don’t think so. I think their egos would have mentioned that if she did. There’s lots of possibilities but none of them are any good. She either died of starvation or was sold into sex slavery. There just weren’t many options for her. And for what? What good did this do and for whom? All because Paul was a little annoyed? Let’s keep moving through the story. 

So, as anyone could guess, the owners of that slave woman are majorly po’d! They drag Paul and Silas into the town square and accuse them of disturbing the peace. And without a trial, they get beat and thrown into prison. Now here is where you're tempted to say, oh, poor Paul and Silas, look at how they suffer for the cause. Ok, I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong to feel that, but just hold on a second before you go there. Next comes this dramatic scene with an earthquake breaking open their cells. The jailor, fearing for his life at the thought of losing his prisoners, is about to fall on his own sword, when Paul stops him, letting him know they are still there. Very odd that they didn’t escape, but we’ll get to that in a sec. 

Thankful, the jailor takes them into his own house, which leads to his baptism, but the story doesn’t end there. The next morning the jailor gets orders to release them but instead of them just leaving and going about their business, Paul just can’t leave well enough alone. Last week we talked about just how much privilege Paul enjoyed, well-to-do family, highly educated, Jewish elite, Roman citizen, a man, dripping with privilege, and here we get to see that on full display. And it ain't very pretty. He tells them, no! I’m not leaving. I’m a Roman citizen and have just been unjustly punished and incarcerated. So I’m staying right here and if they want me gone, the authorities can come and escort me out personally! My apologies to all named Karen but he goes full-blown Karen on them! If you don’t get that joke, it’s ok, it’s probably not worth getting anyway. 

So, what do all these scenes tell us about Paul? They tell us that Paul is still the same jerk he’s always been! The same jerk that he was way back when he first met Jesus. And having read all of Paul’s letters, I think he’d be the first one to tell you that. I love that about this story. On Wednesday night, the last question I asked our Bible discussion group was, “Why did Jesus choose someone as horrible as Paul?” And without missing a beat, Denise hits the nail on the head and says, “It gives hope for the rest of us.” This is yet another example of how Jesus doesn’t need you to be perfect, or holy, or righteous, or always on your best behavior, or whatever you wanna call it, in order for Jesus to follow you wherever life takes you, in order for you to have a working, healthy, robust relationship with Jesus. 

Now, I’d like to end by sharing, oddly enough, my favorite part of this story, which I think exemplifies this so well! If we rewind to the part when they are in prison. The author states that at midnight, just before the earthquake happened, Paul was praying and singing. And you might be thinking, well of course he was praying and singing, he was Paul, as you look up at him on that pedestal. No, forget the pedestal. This was Paul, the jerk, who used his privilege whenever it suited him, used his privilege to humiliate others out of spite, who didn’t use his privilege to help the lowly of society like that slave woman whose life and livelihood he demolished because he was in a bad mood that day, that is the Paul that is praying and singing! 

That is the Paul that the author wants you to see, because the author knows that you too will find yourselves at your own midnight hours, when you are at your lowest of lows, when the world seems to be against you, when you know that some of your plight is your own fault, when you don’t feel worthy of anyone’s help, let alone God’s, when you sit in one of the many prison cells that this life has to offer, some of them self-made, rethinking your life, your decisions. It is precisely at your midnight hour that the author wants you to remember Paul, the jerk, who, in spite of everything, knew that Jesus is always willing to hear his heart’s pleas, in the form of prayers that sounded like songs and songs that sounded like prayers, even in a cold dark prison cell. I’d like to leave you now with a well-known poem called "Sympathy" written in 1899 by Paul Laurence Dunbar. 

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
      When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
      When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
      When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals –
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
      Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
      For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
      And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting –
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
      When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, –
      When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
      But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings!

Thanks be to God. Amen.


Wolf Turned Sheep

 Inspired by Acts 9:1-19

Now we are officially done with the Gospel of John and are moving on to a couple weeks in the book of Acts. After which we will end this program year in the letter to the Philippians. The book of Acts is an interesting little book. It follows the four Gospels and gives us a glimpse into the life of the new baby religion we now know as Christianity. Like any startup company or organization, it was a bumpy ride at the beginning. And truth be told, the road never really has smoothed out for us since. It’s just the nature of our calling. Being called to follow Christ guarantees a bumpy ride because so many of Christ’s teachings go against our grain as the human animals we are. And this story from Acts that we have before us today gives us an interesting perspective into that. So let’s take a closer look. 

It centers on a man named Saul, whom the church eventually comes to know as Paul. This is his second appearance. He appeared earlier in Acts as a young man who held the coats of those who were participating in the lynching of Stephen, an early follower of Jesus. So, right out of the gate this guy was bad news, and of course, he was, right, if he was raised around people, religious extremists, who thought it was ok to murder people who thought differently in the name of their god. It’s not rocket science, is it! So, what happens when Saul comes into some power of his own, he follows right in those religious extremists’ footsteps and starts killing what he probably thought were religious cultists who were destroying his religion! That would be us Christians! It’s amazing how eerily current these old stories are. 

Saul had an interesting background. He was Jewish by birth. Came from a well-to-do family. He was well educated. He was from Tarsus, which was known for its university since the days of Alexander the Great some three hundred years prior. He was either a Pharisee, which was a religious leader of a particular branch of Judaism, or at least someone high ranking in that organization. However, he also had the curious distinction of being a Roman citizen by birth as well. Something that was very hard to come by for a non-Roman. So, all that is to say, this guy was dripping with privilege! The average person would have done anything to have just one of those privileges that I just listed. He had them all. And what did he do with them? 

He participated in the systematic, government-approved, persecution of a group of people who he believed had strayed from their religion, and to be frank, were growing in number to the point that they were becoming the competition. Jesus takes one look at this bigoted, murderous, persecutor, and in true Jesus fashion, doesn’t see a lost soul, Jesus sees potential! As if Jesus said, I’ve been looking for someone with qualifications like you, and I’ve got just the job for you! You’re gonna be our first missionary to the rest of the world, Saul! Well, I’m slightly paraphrasing. Saul was on his way to Damascus to continue persecuting the church wherever he could find them, and on the way, Jesus appears to him in a blinding light. Now, let me just pause the story there for a second and make a connection to the Gospel of John that we just finished reading. 

It's hard to not take what we just learned from John into this story. Do you remember when Jesus referred to himself as a shepherd, the great shepherd of the sheep, a shepherd who would protect the sheep at all costs, protect them from the wolves who would try to sneak in? And then, at the end of the Gospel of John, at his arrest, Jesus steps in front of his disciples, his sheep, in between them and the police there to arrest him, in protection, and gives himself up, exemplifying his status as the great shepherd of the sheep. I can’t help but see that Jesus in this story, again, as the great shepherd, stepping in front of a wolf on his way to harm Jesus’ sheep. Saying, ah, ah, ah, not this time. Only instead of killing or scaring off this wolf, like a typical shepherd would do, Jesus turns him into a sheep! You gotta love these plot twists! 

Jesus asks him, “Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?” Saul asks, “Who are you?” Jesus says, “I am Jesus, the one whom you are harassing!” And again, we have to pause here and take in another profound moment. Did you notice Jesus said, “me”? “Why are you harassing me?” Saul wasn’t harassing him! Saul was harassing Jesus’ followers. Saul was probably thinking, “Harassing you? I don’t even know who you are!” Here is another place we have to apply what we’ve learned from John. In the Gospel of John, salvation was all about relationship. That’s the lens through which Jesus saw salvation. Relationship with Jesus, the Word made flesh. That’s how important relationship was. That’s how close Jesus related to his followers. So close, you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. 

Being one with Christ meant that what you do to us, you do to Christ. On top of that, at the end of the Gospel of John, which we read last week, we got the threefold, “Feed my sheep…take care of my lambs…feed my sheep.” Meaning, it was now our turn to be Jesus for the world. Again, whatever you do to them, you do to me, Jesus says, and what you’ve been doing, Saul, just ain’t gonna do. So, Jesus sends him, now blind, to a follower by the name of Ananias in Damascus, and Saul’s assistants help him get there. Meanwhile, Jesus appears to Ananias and gives him a heads up that Paul is on his way. Ananias says, “Come again, Jesus? Saul, the murderous, bigoted, persecutor of the church? You want me to help him? You sure you got the right guy?” 

I love the back and forth these two have, highlighting just how close their relationship is, and modeling just how close our relationship with Christ can be. To Christ’s credit, Christ doesn’t get angry, but does give an assertive, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Which, on the surface, kinda sounds harsh, I know, as if Jesus is gonna punish Saul for his past behavior. However, I kinda find it a bit humorous. Because what actually happens is Jesus is just gonna give him a lot of work to do! Here he sounds all tough, like, I’ll teach him to persecute my people, and Jesus’ idea of punishment is just to give him a ton of work to do! But back to the story. 

I want you to put yourselves in the shoes of Ananias, as he is walking to the house that Saul is staying in, to help this known bigoted, murderous, persecutor of the church. What must have been going through his mind? Well, Jesus has really lost it this time! Or, what did I do to get this job? Or, am I walking to my death? Imagine the emotions he must have been going through: fear, anger, disappointment in Jesus, despair for this Jesus movement that he’s trying to protect. Imagine the transformation that has to take place inside Ananias during this long walk toward Saul. He was about to be face to face with the Osama bin Laden of his day, to help him! He finally gets there, opens the door, and this is where another profound moment happens. 

Ananias walks up to Saul, lays his hands on him, in the same way a pastor lays hands on new members joining the church, or a newly baptized baby, and calls him, “Brother.” Calls him brother. Wow! How do we even begin to process this! How in the world did he get from, have you lost your mind, Jesus!, to calling Saul brother? Well, maybe it’s just because I’ve still got John on the brain but I really think we’ve got to circle back to what John has taught us these past few months. It all boils down to relationship. If salvation is all about relationship, how we relate to God and others, then Ananias may have thought, “Well, I’ve got to start somewhere, and the only place I can think of starting with this guy is that, no matter our differences, we both call the same God Father, in their vernacular, and that makes us siblings.” 

If there was going to be a salvific moment for either of them, it was going to be through relationship. It was going to take both of them to rethink how they related to each other and their God. Can you imagine a world where we engaged with people from that starting point, especially those we disagree with, especially those whom we fear, those whom we feel have our worst interests at heart, those who we see as the enemy? Can you just imagine that? Jesus could. Which is why a call to follow Christ guarantees a bumpy ride, guarantees a whole lot of work, is guaranteed to go against our grain. Thankfully for us, when our shepherd Jesus takes one look at us, Jesus doesn’t see a lost soul, Jesus sees potential, Jesus sees the future of the church. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Right Where We Started

 Inspired by John 21

So, last week was supposed to be our last reading in the Gospel of John. And you’d think I’d be ready for that, as some of you know, this Gospel is not my favorite. But lo and behold, here we are, reading yet another chapter from this Gospel, and, of all people, it was me who wanted to do that! This chapter that I just read is the final chapter of John, and not only does it contain one of the most profound stories in the entire book, it just didn’t seem right to not read the last chapter! We set out to read through this Gospel, yeah we skipped a bit here and there, but you don’t skip the ending! Anyway, I understand, sort of, why this chapter wasn’t included in our list of readings. First, not everyone agrees that this chapter is original to John and might have been added later. And second, for lack of time, we always end each school year with readings from the early church in Acts and one of the letters. 

Understandable yes, but I just didn’t agree. So, here we are in the final chapter of John and we have one last appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the apostles, separated into three sections. And if these stories were added later, then think of them as deleted scenes; stories that didn’t make it into the final cut but are still worth our time and attention. And if you’re the kind of person that likes storylines completed, tied with a nice little bow at the end, then this chapter is for you, because that’s exactly what it does. It answers those few remaining questions that were left dangling at the end of the last chapter. Like, what happened to the disciples after the craziness of Holy Week and Easter? And, what about Peter? How awkward was it after the whole rooster debacle after Jesus reappeared? And maybe a question that isn’t so apparent but equally important, what does this all mean for us? 

Let’s start with the disciples as a whole. The chapter opens up, of all places, on the seashore. And if you think about it, that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. This is where Jesus met many of them for the first time. But it is a bit odd, isn’t it? After everything they had been through, not just during Holy Week and Easter, but the past three years with Jesus, they just went back to their ordinary lives, fishing on the sea. Tradition, as well as the rest of the Christian scriptures, have led us to believe that they all went on to become these huge pillars of the early church, missionaries, even bishops! But not this author. This author places them right back where they started. And there’s something I really love about that. 

It tells me that, in spite of the transformation that has taken place in their lives over the past three years, they are still who they were, they are still the poor, uneducated, simple fisherfolk that they were when he met them. And Jesus honors that by meeting them there, on the seashore once again. He doesn’t correct them. He doesn’t say, “What in the world are y’all doing here?” He simply meets them where they are. Oh sure, Jesus had lots of additional work for them to do, but now I wonder, if the comfort and familiarity of fishing on that sea, remained a constant in their lives, even to the end. And here’s why I think that’s important to consider. In a few moments, we will be welcoming new members to our community here at Bethlehem, ten of em’. Praise God! Yes, give yourselves a hand for being the kind of congregation that people want to join! 

One of the things that Holy Week really drives home is the transformation that Jesus creates in our lives; transforming us into the best little children of God that we were meant to be. And I’m all for that! But this first scene drives home another truth of our faith lives, that God loved us fully, just the way God found us, and there is nothing that anyone could do to make God love us more than the way God found us. On top of that, whatever you were or have become since God found you, is worthy of God’s love and attention. Whether you are a simple fisher, a teacher, a metalworker, a small business owner, a parent, a singer, self-employed, a law enforcer, whatever makes you, you, God, and God’s people, welcome and honor. As such, we don’t set out to make you into somebody you are not. And I don’t think that is said out loud enough. 

Let’s move to the next scene, which zooms in on Peter. The last time we saw Peter before the crucifixion, was in a courtyard outside the place Jesus’ trial took place. And the author wants you to remember that scene as he shares this scene. How do we know that? Because of the fire. The author writes that Jesus waited for them to get back on land and when they got to him they found him by a fire ready to cook the fish they had just caught. But it wasn’t just any fire, in the Greek the author writes that it was a charcoal fire, something that gets lost in translation. Why the need to be so specific? Because when Peter was outside in that courtyard, while Jesus was being tried and convicted, and while Peter was denying he was a follower of Jesus, three times no less, what was he standing by? A fire. And not just any kind of fire, a charcoal fire! 

So, picture it, here is Jesus, in a sense, recreating this scene for poor Peter. I mean, can you just imagine Peter, walking from the boat to where Jesus was waiting for them, he sees the glow of the fire at first, but the closer he gets he realizes this is the same kind of fire that he was standing by when he denied being a follower of Jesus, three times. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, he thinks, as he swallows hard, realizing that after knowing Jesus for three years, nothing is ever a coincidence. What must have been going through his head in that moment as he got closer and closer to Jesus? Was he about to get chewed out by Jesus for what he had done? Peter had been carrying that guilt this whole time for sure, and maybe he thought, “Eh, Jesus wasn’t even there, maybe he doesn’t even know!” But Peter knew better. 

So, they are finishing up a hearty breakfast, and just as Peter may have thought he was in the clear, Jesus asks, “Simon, do you love me?” Ugh, what a punch to the gut that must have felt like! Imagine a family member asking you that? You’d probably say, “Well of course I love you! Why would you even ask that! With feelings of hurt and anger swelling in you. But Peter just says, “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” “Feed my lambs.” Jesus says before asking him a second time, “Simon, do you love me?” A second time? Did he not hear me the first time Peter must have thought. Or, is he just pouring salt into the wound? But Peter, with all due respect, just says, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Take care of my sheep.” Jesus says, before asking him a third time! “Simon, do you love me?” 

Notice the use of Peter’s birth name, not the name that Jesus gave him, but the name—the person—who he was when Jesus met him. Not a coincidence! But now Peter is getting a little frustrated. He says, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.” “Feed my sheep.” Jesus says. Now, it doesn’t say if Peter was able to connect the dots here. I hope for his sake he was able to, at some point, to have that aha moment, where he realizes why Jesus asked him this three times. I mean, Jesus may have just conquered death and the grave but he’s not done speaking in riddles! This was Jesus' way of saying, we’re good, you and I, we’re ok. Imagine just how much Peter needed to hear that! And of course, Jesus never misses an opportunity to put people to work, with the threefold, feed my sheep, take care of my lambs, feed my sheep. 

Which is a good segue to the last, seemingly insignificant scene, and the question, what does this mean for us? After Peter and Jesus have their moment, Peter sees the disciple that Jesus loved and asks about their future. Now, this disciple has appeared many times throughout this Gospel. Never named, just described as the disciple whom Jesus loved. And I have refrained from addressing this til now, and for good reason. Scholars have debated for centuries who this mysterious disciple was. Some say it was the author, some say John, which may or may not be the same person, some say it was Lazarus. But there’s one theory that I like best, and that it is the reader of this book, you and I, all of us. So, when Peter asks, about the disciple whom Jesus loved, it’s the author’s way of not only acknowledging the reader, but also caring for our future. 

But Jesus basically tells Peter, don’t worry about it. It’s none of your business what happens to them. You do your work, and let them do theirs, Peter. Because we have the same job: to feed the sheep, to take care of the lambs, to feed the sheep. And we get to do that with everything we bring to the table, everything that makes us, us: all our experiences, all our pain, all our joy, all our skills, all our faults, with everything that makes us, us, from the day God found us, to this very second, we are called to feed Jesus’ sheep, to take care of Jesus’ lambs, to feed Jesus’ sheep—to be the hands, feet, eyes, ears, mouth of God in the world, no matter what. All because Jesus accepts us, welcomes us, loves us, just as we were, just as we are. Thanks be to God. Amen.