Peter said: I’m going fishing.
It’s been a week or two since the drama of the crucifixion, the overwhelming, earth-shattering, cosmos-rearranging event of the resurrection, the inexplicable appearance of the risen Jesus in that locked room, and his later encounter with Thomas.
It’s still not very clear to anybody on the ground what will happen next. Jesus had said, “as the Father sent me, so I am sending you. Breathe in the Holy Spirit.” But as far as we can tell from the text, that’s about it. There’s no strategic plan binder, no Gantt chart, no letters of agreement, no bylaws, no org chart. Just the whole world turned upside down, whatever that turns out to mean. It’s all a big mystery.
Eventually, though, somebody needs to go feed the cat. So everybody is back out in Galilee by the lake, and Peter announces, “I’m going fishing.”
I don’t know about you, but (as is often the case) I sympathize with Peter. Peter knows Jesus wants him to do something, but he isn’t sure exactly what, or how. What he does know is that he has not been entirely loyal to Jesus. He undoubtedly cannot erase his mental picture of Jesus’ face when they saw each other in the courtyard at Caiphas’ house, the night of the “trial,” just after Peter had denied even knowing Jesus three times. In all the cumulative emotion and uncertainty, Peter must be feeling a little unglued.
But he does know one thing. He knows fishing. So, he’s going fishing. Isn’t that what we do when everything is flying apart? We try to go back to the thing that used to work.
And then, once again, everything flips upside down and inside out. Out of nowhere, Jesus is there, on the beach, calling them to breakfast. And Peter really loses it -- puts his clothes ON, and jumps in the water, and somehow gets to the shore before the boat. And there he stands, dripping wet, in the presence of the risen Christ.
And right there, sitting by the charcoal pit and flipping fish, Jesus gives him the big test -- the aptitude test, the General Ordination Exam, the Minnesota Multi-phasic, the biggest test of his life. Three questions: 1. Do you love me? 2. Do you love me? 3. Do you love me?
Peter, never one to catch it the first time, keeps answering: Yes; Yes; why do you keep asking? YES!
And then Jesus gives him the strategic plan, the Gantt chart, the org chart, the letter of agreement, and the job description: 1. Feed my lambs. 2. Tend my sheep. 3. Feed my sheep.
My friends, there it is. Right there.
Do you feel like you don’t understand the catechism?
Well, do you love Jesus?
Or maybe you haven’t mastered systematic theology, systems theory, missiology, change management, and leadership development methodology?
Okay. Do you love Jesus?
Or maybe you feel like the Ash Wednesday Litany of Penitence and its vast catalog of sins of commission and of omission actually leaves out a few of your own shortcomings, and your salvation is, in your mind, a dubious proposition?
Do you love Jesus?
What do you do to show your gratitude for the unfathomable grace and goodness of God in Christ?
Feed God’s sheep.
What do you do to build up the body of Christ and bring revival in own heart, in your own congregation, in the Church?
Feed God’s sheep.
Where do you start to make things right in this world where so much is going wrong?
Feed God’s sheep.
Who are God’s sheep? You know the answer: all human beings, made in the image of God and redeemed by the love of Jesus.
What does it mean to tend and feed them? Well, we list a bunch of ways every time we reaffirm our baptismal vows. You know: from continuing in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship to respecting the dignity of every human being. The Bible, especially the New Testament, contains more than a few clues.
In the Diocese of Virginia, we are committed to feeding and tending God’s sheep through racial reconciliation and healing, care of the creation we inhabit together, and loving people enough to share the Good News of God’s grace with them. We literally feed them with gardens and food pantries and community suppers. We feed them with our work for justice and peace. We tend them with simple kindness, and with sacrificial love. That is what Jesus was teaching Peter, whose struggle to understand how faith works became the rock upon which we, the church, are built.
Jesus saw Peter floundering around in his fishing boat. He knew Peter’s troubled heart. He called him over to the barbeque pit. He reversed Peter’s triple denial with his triple questions. He answered Peter’s bewilderment with his three instructions. And just for good measure, he gave them all a dramatic, parabolic, mixed-metaphorical picture of what the haul would look like, when they went out fishing for people by feeding God’s sheep.
So -- when it’s all a big confusing enigma, and you’re tired, and you’re scared, and you just want to go back to the things that seemed to be working in the past, remember Peter’s fishing trip.
Do you love Jesus? Feed and tend God’s sheep.
And be ready for the nets to overflow and never break.
With every blessing,
Bishop Jennifer Brooke-Davidson
*This meditation was preached at Christ Church, Charlottesville, on May 1, 2022