Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Be Fed and Feed Others

The following is a sermon preached on the Feast of Charles Simeon, 12 November 2014. The lessons appointed for this day can be found here.

Audio can be heard here.

“When they had finished breakfast…”

It had been long night, and morning was slow to arrive. Peter, unable to think of anything except the strange and tragic and perhaps wonderful events of the previous days, said to his companions, “I’m going fishing,” and they replied, “We will go with you.” They labored in the boat all night, but, as is so often the case when our minds are weighed down with distraction, their efforts were fruitless. They caught nothing, and, as the dawn was breaking they began to head back to shore.

As they approached, they saw a man on the beach. He looked out at them and said, “Children, do you have any fish?” After they told him of their unsuccessful night, he invited them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. When they did, they pulled up more fish than they could bring into the boat—153 of them. When the disciple whom Jesus loved put the pieces together, he declared to Peter, “It is the Lord,” and, upon hearing that wonderful news, Peter grabbed his clothes and jumped into the sea, swimming as fast as he could to embrace the man he loved.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus looked at Simon Peter and asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” The question caught him off guard, and it startled the other disciples, too. Other than Peter, in a tearful confession days earlier, no one had mentioned the scandalous denial. In the only response he could give, Peter looked at Jesus and said, “Yes, Lord: you know that I love you,” and Jesus replied, “Feed my lambs.” A second time, Jesus looked deeply into Peter’s eyes and asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Searching deep within, Peter uttered from his heart, “Yes, Lord: you know that I love you,” to which Jesus responded, “Tend my sheep.” Then, in brutal fashion, fully confronting Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus, the master asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Cut to the quick and hurt by the question and the accusation that came with it, Peter cried back, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And, finally, Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep.”

When they had finished eating breakfast… This painful yet cleansing exchange took place after a meal—after Jesus had beckoned his disciples to sit down with him and eat the morning meal. And their breakfast followed an exhausting and frustrating night, an unsuccessful fishing trip reflective of their floundering relationship with Jesus. All of their heartache and grief and doubt and worry came with them into that boat, and, out of that place of emptiness, Jesus called them to eat. He fed them. And then he brought Peter’s now-unwavering love into focus, and finally commanded him to feed others.

We are broken. We are fed. We are called to feed others.

Today is the feast of Charles Simeon. Like all undergraduates at the University of Cambridge in the eighteenth century, Simeon was required to attend church on a regular basis and to take Communion at least once a year. That created a crisis of conscience for young Simeon. He was what we would now call an agnostic, and he felt a real personal dishonesty in having to eat the Lord’s Supper without manifesting any real faith in Jesus. So what did he do? As he wrote, “Conscience told me that, if I must go, I must repent and turn to God.” The experience transformed his life. He sought ordination and remained in Cambridge as a clergyman who spent his entire career nurturing undergraduates and inviting them to be fed by faith in Jesus.

We are broken. We are hungry. We are hurting. And we need to be fed before our lives can take shape. How are you being fed? What gives you sustenance? What fills you up to satisfaction? How might God nourish you from weakness into strength, from brokenness into wholeness, from disarray into calmness? In what ways has he already invited you to sit down with him and eat? And will you answer his call to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, and feed his sheep?

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