Breakfast with Jesus

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 21:1-19

May 10, 2022

Main Idea:  Jesus calls us to care.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Our Scripture text for today is a story of reassurance, of abundance, and of love. It is a story about life with Jesus after Easter, which is the life to which we are invited.  It is a story about redemption, and about our call, and about getting into trouble.  Jesus calls us to care for others as Jesus cares for us.

The story opens with Peter deciding to go fishing and some of the other disciples deciding to go with him.  Even though they had seen and spoken to the risen Jesus, they felt drawn to their old life of fishing, when things felt familiar and safe.  Perhaps they thought, “Our life with Jesus was great but now it is time to return to the real world.”  So they returned to their boats.  But, they don’t catch anything…. until Jesus is standing on the beach, directing them about where to cast their nets.   Then their nets are full to almost bursting.  

When they return to the beach, Jesus greets them with breakfast!  He already has fish on the grill and bread to share and he invites them to share the meal with him.  Although Jesus was not with them in the same way as before the resurrection, still Jesus guides them and provides for them abundantly.

Sitting around the fire, Jesus speaks to Peter.  Now we remember Peter as the impetuous and impulsive leader of the group, who spoke passionately about following Jesus but who denied Jesus three times when he feared for his own safety.  Peter was so glad to see Jesus that he actually jumped out of the boat to get to him first, and he hauled in the fishnet all by himself as a way to begin to atone for his past mistakes.   When Jesus speaks to Peter, Peter is ecstatic.  Jesus says “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?  And Peter replies “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus says “Feed my lambs.”   “Okay, Peter thinks, “I can do that.”  A bit later Jesus asks “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Peter replies “Yes, of course Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus says “Tend my sheep.”.  Peter thinks, “Tending sheep is a bit more than feeding lambs but I can do it.”    A little while later Jesus asks “Simon son of John, do you love me?”   Now Peter is hurt and confused.  Why is Jesus asking the same question over and over?  He replies “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  And Jesus replies “Feed my sheep”.    

Jesus asks this question three times to mirror Peter’s three denials and to get beyond an impulsive or reflexive response. Jesus wants Peter to think about what he is saying.   With each question, Jesus pulls Peter away from his inward focus on his own shame and redemption and outward toward his call.  “If you love me, care for them,” he tells Peter three times.  “When Jesus translates Peter’s love for him into the charge “feed my sheep” he is reminding Peter of his words in 13:34-35. ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.'”(Gail O’Day. New Interpreter’s Bible Vol IX, p. 861)   

“If you love me, care for them,” This is the core of Jesus’ teaching and call to Peter and to us.  This sounds simple, yes?  And yet, as Jesus continues in this passage, and as we know from the book of Acts, Peter’s love for people in Jesus’ name will lead to problems for Peter as he repeatedly gets in trouble with the Roman and religious authorities. Just as Jesus says here,  Peter will follow in Jesus’ example by laying down his life for the Gospel. 

“If you love me, care for them,”  What does that look like for us in May of 2022?  

There are so many issues and crises facing us right now that we can feel overwhelmed and unsure of how our faith should inform our responses.  Many of the issues facing us today involve speaking truth to power in order to care for the vulnerable.  We need to know that our faith in Jesus may get us in trouble with those whose main concern is retaining power.

As Baptists we have a history of getting in trouble with those in power and our historic Baptist principles can help us to see and respond to the crises that face us.  These principles can guide us as we can show our love for Jesus through our care for those he loves.

Our Baptist understanding of Christian faith is based on 4 fragile freedoms.  The first is “Bible Freedom, which is the historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that Christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey Scripture.” (Walter Shurden, Four Fragile Freedoms, p.9)   We believe that each one of us is obligated to study and obey Scripture.  Not study and obey someone else’s interpretation of Scripture.  We are called to read and pray about what Jesus calls us to do, to trust in the promises God gives to us and to the world, and to recognize that the Bible is not a single document to be parsed or proof-texted to prove our points, but a Holy library, containing the history of God’s love for creation and the means by which we can know God’s love for us.  Reading the Bible can get us into trouble.  Reading the Bible empowers us to care for others.  

The second freedom is “Church Freedom, which is the historic Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the Lordship of Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom they perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part.” (Walter Shurden, Four Fragile Freedoms, p. 33)  This means that Baptist churches in particular, and Christianity in general,  is not a monolith.  There is no single Baptist voice or opinion. There is no single Christian voice or opinion. Our denomination is the American Baptist Churches, USA,  which recognizes that our community of churches is diverse in traditions, history, and theological perspectives.  When the wider society, or some Christians, talk about the Christian perspective, remember that, other than our love for Jesus (which unites us),  faithful Christians can be found across the theological and political spectrum. 

The third freedom is “Soul Freedom, which is the historic Baptist affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government.” (Walter Shurden, Four Fragile Freedoms, p. 23).  This is also known as Freedom of Conscience and really is the basis of the other freedoms.  Soul freedom affirms that each one of us, each person in the world can come before God with no intermediaries, no prerequisites.  Each person is free to make one’s own decisions about their lives and their faith, to affirm a faith or not.  And we trust each person to make the best choices for themselves.   Because we have a history of being persecuted for our faith, we have in our theological DNA a deep resistance to any coercion of others in matters of faith and practice. Just as love between people must be free of coercion so must people be free to love God or not.

This leads us to the fourth freedom. “Religious Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation of freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion, and freedom FROM religion, insisting that Caesar is not Christ and Christ is not Caesar.” (Walter Shurden, Four Fragile Freedoms, p. 45)  Baptists were integral  in the creation of the Bill of Rights and especially in the 1st amendment establishing the separation of church and state.  Remember the story of John Leland and his giant wheel of cheese?  Again, because of our history of being persecuted, John Leland, Roger Williams, and others knew the dangers of a State supported church. Religious freedom protects the church from undue State influence and it allows for the freedom of people to be drawn to the faith of their choosing. To be clear, religious Freedom is not the freedom to impose your religious views on someone else. If you are a shopkeeper who believes that redheads are witches, you don’t need to be best friends with them, but you cannot ban redheads from your store.   Religious freedom is actually is the opposite of that.  Religious freedom insists that one group’s religious practices and ideas should not be codified into law affecting the lives of others.

Jesus tells us “If you love me, care for them,”.  How we do this can be supported by our Baptist faith and our Baptist insistence on freedom.  We live in a perilous time when authoritarianism is on the rise and many freedoms are in danger. In Russia, it is against the law to tell the truth about what is happening in Ukraine.  In Burma, the rule of law has been perverted into whatever the ruling junta wants to do.  In Afghanistan, it is now against the law for women to leave their homes without completely covering their bodies from head to toe. Here in the United States, it is now against the law in some states to tell the truth in school about our national history.  It is now against the law in Florida to tell the truth in school about one’s identity or family structure.  This week we learned that in some states, it soon may be against the law for women to make decisions about their own health and wellbeing.  All of these laws are about control and power.  There is not just one Christian perspective on any of them.  There is not just one Baptist perspective on any of them.   We each are called to respond thoughtfully and prayerfully,  and to act as Jesus calls us to do.

We are called to love others as Jesus loves us.  And it may get us in trouble with our neighbors or the powers that be.  To be a follower of Christ is to follow him!  In easy times and in difficult ones.   As we navigate these extraordinary times, may we remember that Jesus meets us on the beach! And even cooks breakfast for us!  As we share God’s love with others, Jesus empowers and sustains us.  Thanks be to God.

Let us pray,

Guiding Christ, we thank you for your love and for your presence in our lives.  Remind us to turn to you as we wrestle with the issues of our day.  Empower us to live our faith in all that we do.  Amen.