April 9, 2013

Feed My Sheep

Filed under: Children and Families,Lectionary,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:00 am

In this week’s Gospel reading, John manages to capture every single one of the deepest emotional, spiritual, and financial anxieties that I inhabit.

And yet, as I read and re-read this passage, I find themes that are oddly comforting, that give me confidence and hope.

I am struck by how John makes a point of telling us that the disciples’ net was not torn.

When the disciples lower the net, approaching their need—in this case their need for food—from a new perspective, they encounter overwhelming abundance, an abundance that requires the combined strength of six men to manage.

And they are provided with a net that is so strong, so well sewn and soundly woven, that the weight of this catch just isn’t a problem.

John shows us a God who goes way beyond the cliché of not giving us more than we can handle. John shows us a God who proactively equips those who heed his voice with the tools and the strength to be stewards of what they receive.

In the net that is not torn, John shows us the God who blessed Bill Gates not just with the talent to generate unprecedented wealth, but with the strength to use that wealth to strive for justice and peace among all people, and further the dignity of every human being.

In the net that is not torn, John shows us the God who is at work in the life of a woman named Carol. If I told you her full name, I doubt that any of you would have ever heard of her; she doesn’t get much press. But if you were a single parent in a small town on the Ohio-Indiana border, Carol would be famous.

At some point as you adjusted to your new and frightening circumstances, Carol would have taken you by the hand, looked you in the eye, and said, “I have raised six daughters, by myself, on an income of $15,000 a year. You are going to be OK.” And then she would proceed to teach you everything she had learned about living with what she had, rather than fretting about what she did not have.

In their vastly different contexts, Bill Gates and Carol choose to respond to the world around them from the basis of what they have, finding a sense of deep joy in their practice of generosity.

The disciples model this same joy as they come ashore.

Notice how they completely abandon the practicalities of dividing the fish into fair shares, cleaning it while it’s fresh, and salting it so it will last into an uncertain future.

No, the disciples’ immediate response is to celebrate God’s bounty in the company of their beloved Jesus. They instinctively gather to bless, break, and share a common meal, offering the first fruits—or in this case, the first fish—of their morning’s labor.

This ritual of blessing, breaking, and sharing is repeated over and over again in the lives of the disciples and in the early church. It is integral to our own lives as Christians: In our Easter Vigil and with every celebration of Holy Baptism, we renew our promise to continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.

In this promise, we also commit ourselves to the risks of intimacy that make Peter so irritable this morning.


The February night was bitterly cold.

The man caught our attention simply because he didn’t fit the landscape. In a cafe full of clean, casually dressed couples, parents with small children, and little clusters of friends, the dirty, unshaven man with his arm in a sling and dried blood around a gash in his forehead didn’t make sense.

He asked if he could sit for a moment. He pulled out a chair, settled himself heavily, and asked my husband if he had any spare change.

In the silence that followed I leaned forward, “We will not give you money, but I would be happy to buy you dinner.”

He shifted uncomfortably, sighed, looked around. He put his good arm on the table, raised his head to look directly into my eyes, and in a soft, even voice, “Dear, I am an alcoholic.”

“I understand. When was the last time you ate?”

“Two days ago. But really, just some spare change.”

“We will not give you money,” I repeated. “You are hungry. I will pay for a sandwich. It’s cold. Maybe some soup.”

He held my eyes for what seemed like an eternity, then finally, “OK, just a sandwich like you’re having I guess.”

My head started swimming as I was snapped back into my surroundings. The ambient light was suddenly glaring. The background music was grating. My half-eaten dinner turned my stomach.

This was not the serene wood-between-the-worlds of C. S. Lewis. This was the hard and confusing space between the comfortably vague fundraising thermometers of our community services and the uncomfortable immediacy of discipleship.

While the voice had merely asked for some change, the eyes of Christ had asked, “Do you love me?” And they weren’t the eyes of the cleaned up risen Christ from my Art Appreciation class; it was the beaten, rejected, broken Christ whom we promise to seek and serve in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

I am still amazed that I had the presence to say, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

I still can’t believe that “buzz off” was overcome by a deeper impulse to bless, break, and share the resources at hand—in this case a sandwich, the fleece blanket that we kept in the car, and some advice on where he could meet up with truckers who might help his progress toward destination.

But thanks be to God, when we choose the way of abundance, we find that we do indeed have the strength to live out our Baptismal Covenant in all that we do, with all that we have. We find that we are in fact willing to risk intimacy for the sake of living the Good News.

Our abundance might not be as obvious as Bill Gates’. Our encounters might not be as dramatic as a homeless person plunking himself down at a restaurant table. But each of us, in our own way, encounters the question, “Do you love me?”

Jesus challenges each of us to engage our time, our talent, and our treasure as stewards of the Gospel when he says to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”



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