As a child, my family went on a yearly vacation, and that was to go camping (with many extended family members) at a state park called Carolina Hemlocks. Located on the Toe River in North Carolina, the park was a paradise for us kids : beautiful woods, rushing river water, and numerous cousins with which to play. Some folks slept in campers or in their cars and some of us slept in a gigantic tent that my uncle had made. Early morning mountain air was cool , and it was difficult to get out of your sleeping bag . However there was one thing that drew us out: the smell of breakfast being cooked on an open fire! Scrambled eggs, bacon, coffee perking in a kettle, homemade biscuits brought from home heating in a pan.
Eating breakfast together was a delight.
Our Gospel story describes an early morning breakfast by the water. But the ones who come to eat are not campers on a weekend vacation. They are Jesus' friends who have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. They are tired, and frustrated and uncertain. They have come back home to Galilee and are trying to live out each day without Jesus. What are they suppose to do? What will the future be like for them?
There have been stories of Jesus appearance after his death. Mary Magdalene saw him at the tomb. Twice he appeared to the disciples when they were gathered in a locked room in Jerusalem. Thomas saw the wound in his side. A couple on the road to Emmaus had supper with Jesus before he vanished. When the risen Christ has appeared, he is not easily recognized. He comes and goes; his presence can be surprising..
The disciples are back fishing on the lake that they know, the lake where Jesus called them to follow.
On this Galilean morning, the tired disciples in the boat see a man on the shore who asks them “how is the fishing going “and then he suggests that they fish in a different spot. The outcome of fish caught then is tremendous and that is when it is realized by the crew that it is Jesus who is speaking to them. When they all come ashore, they come with a boatload of fish and incredulous hearts. Could this really be Jesus back in Galilee?
Jesus invites them to come and eat; breakfast is ready. Fish is hot, bread is warm. Around the fire, they eat and listen and relish being with their rabbi once again. More than the enjoyment of a good breakfast is happening.
Jesus is going to replenish their hope.
At this meal, the disciples will be restored. In the past, they had all abandoned Jesus. After Jesus was arrested, Peter had denied him publicly, swearing he had never met the man. The disciples had certainly burnt bridges behind them.
Jesus as the host offers them healing hospitality. They are forgiven, they can sit down and eat a meal with him again. Their relationship with him and with each other is not over.
The good news of Easter offers us a new way of regarding one another. We don't have to dwell on others' mistakes or our own shortcomings.
We can begin to see that we are not condemned but loved.
Jesus feeds them, forgives them, and calls them to go and do likewise. Jesus speaks directly with Peter, and redirects him from failure to a new focus: the feeding of God's sheep.
God's people need care; they need nourishment for their bodies and their spirits. I use to think that Jesus' words of “ feed my sheep” were basically about spiritual matters. I now think we can also interpret Jesus' words to mean actually feeding people. Several of our ministries here at FUMC involve food and there is a reason for that. Jesus, in his ministry, cared about those who were hungry. Our Community lunches at noon give folks a warm meal, and a table of friends. The Fellowship dinners on Wednesday nights offer a place where folks can get to know one another as they enjoy their supper. The bags of fruit and cookies given out on Second Saturday are reminders to our older friends that they are not forgotten and still have a place at our table.
The meals served so lovingly after funerals are actions of compassion for those who are grieving. Many of you have also worked to end hunger through community endeavors . My grateful thanks to all of you who are part of these ministries. God's sheep are being fed.
If you have donated food to a pantry, if you have shared soup with a neighbor, if you have provided a sandwich and a listening ear, needs are being met.
The person who coordinates the food pantry for eastern Licking County is named Lil. For years, she has diligently worked with Central Ohio Food Bank and with people who come seeking help at the pantry. She has a great dedication to giving them hope. She willingly shares that her past led her to this ministry; growing up she was often hungry. She understands what they feel and that needs go beyond a bag of groceries.
Where might we find the presence of the risen Lord?
Peter Miano, a UM pastor, has said that we will recognize the Lord “wherever a helping hand finds the hurting heart”.
Today we share in Communion. Christ invites us once more to come and belong, to join together for his meal. Like the disciples by the lake, we come needing forgiveness,and needing to be restored.
We come with failings and with doubts, with differences of opinion and faith, and God saves a seat for each of us at the table. Christ feeds us and then sends us out in his name to feed others.
Because we know how empty our hearts can be, how awful it feels to mess up, how we have yearned for different outcomes, and then how we have been filled and made new by God's love, we want to share ,in may ways, that love with somebody else.
When Jesus breaks the bread, there is always plenty to share., more than enough for just you and me. Baskets of left overs.
John sang this morning about us, the body of Christ- how beautiful the hands are that reach out to others: our hands that are a reflection of Christ's hands.
Jesus' instruction to Peter by the lake was simple and one that all of us can respond to. Jesus said “Do you love? Feed my lambs.”
There are hungers of the heart and hunger for food in our community, in our world. How can you help feed God's sheep?