Rev. Sandy Johnson
Come, Follow Me: Feed My Sheep
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, My rock and my redeemer. Amen.
This morning we finish the series on following Jesus, on answering the call to be his disciple. The goal has been to begin this new year with a new focus on intentional discipleship.
Sometimes things just happen which is nice, but we are working hard to be intentional about our faith, to be purposeful in the decisions and actions we take to bring us closer to Christ and to align ourselves more closely to God’s will for our lives.
Following Jesus is a life-long endeavor. It isn’t something that we can say one day, “Gee, I’ve finally arrived. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and now my work is done.” Hardly! A more likely exclamation would be, “I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and I offer myself in service to God and to my community in response to God’s call.” Our work is never done.
Being a disciple, we have learned, doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes and it won’t be without transformation. Fulfilling the call to discipleship will require us to do things that are new and maybe a bit scary.
It will require us to try things and fail. And get back up and try again. It will mean stepping out into the world, proclaiming your love for Jesus Christ, the Messiah and risking your reputation, your safety, maybe even your very lives. Thankfully we live in a society that values religious freedom, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t persecution.
I was online last week and did a search for our church. On the search engine there was a place to put ratings, you know to do a review. Lee Wilbur had written a beautiful review of her experience with the church and just below hers was a review from someone I have never met.
This person berated our church because everyone knew that it was wrong for a woman to lead a church. They allowed as how they would never worship with us as a result. We are never beyond criticism and judgment. I am thankful that we also live in a world where this person had every right to express their opinion. Being a disciple can be risky.
This morning we move into the final topic in this series, serving, or more specifically, quoting Jesus, “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. And feed my sheep.” This final story in the Gospel of John starts just following the breakfast Jesus had prepared for the disciples that we heard about last week.
We know that after the meal Jesus has a talk with Peter. We learned last week that this questioning by Jesus was his attempt to square things with Peter, to reestablish Peter as the foundation of the Church. As Jesus asked Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was able to erase the horrifying denials, one at a time. Three denials, three times Peter proclaimed his love for Christ.
With each proclamation, Jesus told Peter what he must do. Jesus commissioned Peter to both feed his sheep and to follow him. Both are a response to the love that Peter declared for Jesus. “To love Jesus is to know Jesus, because, as Jesus’ words to Peter make clear, to love Jesus is to shape one’s life according to Jesus’ life.
The threefold question, answer, and commission in vv. 15-17 underscore that words of love must be matched by a life of love. Peter’s love of Jesus will be evidenced when he cares for Jesus’ sheep, not apart from that care.
“The life to which Jesus summons Peter, and that, indeed, Peter lived, requires of him an act of love that matches Jesus’ act: the gift of his life. Peter models for the faith community the ultimate fidelity to Jesus’ words, because he fulfills Jesus’ core commandment, that his disciples love one another as he has loved them.
When Peter three times answers, “Yes, I love you,” he is not simply giving lip service to his love for Jesus, but is in essence pledging his life. Peter is who Jesus calls his followers to be, a disciple who puts no limits on his love, who will, like Jesus, love “to the end” (13:1). “
Jesus demonstrated his love by “providing a miraculous catch of fish and he hosted breakfast on the beach. Those who will give up their lives in love, those who struggle daily in what may seem the smallest places to bear witness to Jesus’ love—all receive Jesus’ gifts.” The gifts of God are never ending.
In this back and forth with Jesus, Peter is given his marching orders. Although all three commands are translated very similarly, there are subtle differences in what Jesus is commanding him.
“The first time Jesus says it, the Greek means literally “pasture (tend) the lambs.” The Greek word for “pasture” is in the present tense, denoting a continual action of tending, feeding and caring for animals.” We are repeatedly referred to as sheep or lambs in scripture, Psalm 95:7 says, “For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”
John 10:9 and 11 say that Jesus is both the Door of the sheepfold and our Good Shepherd. “By describing His people as lambs, Jesus may be emphasizing our nature as immature and vulnerable and in need of tending and care.
“The second time, the literal meaning is “tend My sheep” (v. 16). In this exchange, Jesus was emphasizing tending the sheep in a supervisory capacity, not only feeding but ruling over them. This expresses the full scope of pastoral oversight, both in Peter’s future and in all those who would follow him in pastoral ministry.
“The third time, the literal translation is “pasture (tend) the sheep” (v. 17). Here Jesus combines the different Greek words to make clear the job of the shepherd of the flock of God. They are to tend, care for, and provide spiritual food for God’s people, from the youngest lambs to the full-grown sheep, in continual action to nourish and care for their souls, bringing them into the fullness of spiritual maturity.”
Our calling is to tend to, care for and feed one another, spiritually, physically and emotionally. We are to think of others the way Jesus did and to love them as Jesus commanded us. We are to lift one another up, to offer support when tragedy hits, and to celebrate together the blessings of our lives in Christ.
This is not only a Pastoral job, but a job we are all called to, as the priesthood of all believers. Each of us are ministers, each of us are priests, each of us has a responsibility to tend, care for and feed one another. Peter is our role model on how that is done.
In our society today, we aren’t generally concerned about following Peter’s example all the way to his death. Although the bible doesn’t record Peter’s ultimate Martyrdom, tradition tells us that Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome.
He didn’t wish to be crucified as Jesus was because he didn’t consider himself worthy to be put to death in the same manner as the Messiah. Our scripture this morning points to the prophesy of his ultimate death.
18 Very truly, I tell you, (Jesus said) when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
“Jesus foretold the manner of Peter’s death, perhaps to prepare him for the circumstances he would face now that his Lord had been resurrected and would no longer be with him physically. Jesus reminded Peter that, in the past (“when you were younger”), Peter had a certain amount of freedom to come and go as he pleased.
The day was coming when that would no longer be the case. “When you are old” does not necessarily mean Peter would live to a ripe old age. In fact, ancient writers say that Peter was put to death about thirty-four years after Jesus’ prophecy. Peter’s precise age at that time is not known.
“The means of death for Peter—crucifixion—was also predicted by the Lord. “Stretching out” his hands could easily be interpreted as Peter dying on a cross with his arms outstretched. Some historians point to the fact that the Romans also used stocks as an instrument of torture; in the stocks, a prisoner’s hands were stretched on the crosspiece.
Whatever the manner of his execution, it is clear that Peter was at the mercy of others who in some way tied him and carried him to his death.
“In spite of the gruesome details Peter heard about his death, he must have taken comfort and joy in hearing that his death would glorify God. Peter’s love for Jesus and his desire to obey and glorify Him were evident throughout the rest of his life and ministry.
For Peter to die a martyr’s death clinging to the hope of heaven testifies to the courage, faith, patience, and perseverance of this great man of God who rejoiced to be counted worthy to die for the name of Jesus.”
I don’t imagine any of us will be martyred as Peter was. But to love God, to be faithful to Jesus, to be confident of our role as disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be willing, willing to go to the cross ourselves, knowing that Jesus loves us so very much, that he will be there through the good times and the bad, to forgive us, to cherish us, and to love us, in spite of ourselves. That is some very good news! Amen? Amen!