The Beloved and Loving Flock

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

February 14, 2021

Video of entire service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/467941254583232

Scripture: John 21:15-17

photo of a shepherd leading a flock of sheep

Simon Peter is not special. I repeat…Simon Peter is not special.

That’s the most interesting thing I learned from commentator Gail O’Day as I studied this week’s scripture. Dr. O’Day reminded us not to mash up our gospel readings – that we should understand what the authors are trying to say in the context of each particular gospel. See, Peter, in the Gospel of Matthew is super special. He is the rock on which Jesus will build his church. He is the foundation. This is how he becomes the the first pope, the most important dude, the shepherd extraordinaire above all shepherds.

Not so here in the Gospel of John. Here in John, Peter is just one of the disciples. Here, Peter is the every-disciple, and the instructions Jesus gives him are not just to the special leaders of the church. They are not just instructions for popes or bishops or even pastors. They are instructions for all of us.

This scene tells us two things about being disciples. Being a disciple means we love Jesus, and loving Jesus means we feed (or tend) the sheep. I’m going to say that again. Being a disciple means we love Jesus, and loving Jesus means we feed the sheep.

If you really love me, says Jesus here, feed my sheep. This love, perhaps unlike the Valentine’s Day version of the word, is not simply a feeling. It is an action. We show our love for Jesus, our love for God by feeding the sheep. We are both members of the beloved flock and shepherds. All of us.

So, what does feeding the sheep mean? I think we can learn that by looking at the shepherd tradition that we’ve been exploring these last six weeks. We will recall that shepherd-leaders in Jesus’ Jewish tradition did a number of things. They protected the people, they provided for the people, and they especially took care of the weak sheep, the most vulnerable members of society. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, also gives us a model for our own sheep-tending. He taught his followers, invited them into relationship, and ultimately he sacrificed for them. He literally laid down his life for others. 

Faithful Christians for generations have looked at this scripture and wondered if it meant all disciples must be martyrs. In fact, the next line in the scripture references the kind of death by which Peter must die. One might argue that since Peter himself is a martyr for the faith, sometimes that literal sacrifice is required. We see people like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Archbishop Oscar Romero or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and we see disciples who died because their faith caused them to confront the powers of evil, injustice, and oppression that we talk about in our baptismal vows. They confronted racism here in the United States, poverty and political violence in El Salvador, Nazism in World War II-era Germany. Sometimes, Christians are called to make the ultimate sacrifice.

However, if you simply read the rest of this 21st chapter of John, there is the example of the Beloved Disciple. The text says explicitly that he does not die for the faith, and he is just as much of a disciple as Peter. His particular role is writing all of this down and sharing the good news of God’s love with all the world. Indeed, there are many ways in which we can faithfully show our love for Jesus – big ways and small ways – but we are all called, in some way, to feed Jesus’ sheep.

I think, in this Hanscom Park community, we are all sheep and shepherds. You may know this already, but I find it delightful that the Spanish word for shepherd is literally “pastor.” In Spanish, whether you are talking about a clergyperson or a literal shepherd out there with the sheep, you are using the exact same word: el pastor or, in my case as a woman, la pastora. I often think of how, even though I am in the official pastora in our little church, I often find myself being fed, being encouraged, being shown the face of Christ, by you.   

I learn about and receive Jesus’ love from you all the time. I learn as I watch all the ways you feed his sheep. I see your dedication to our children’s ministry and our youth ministry. I see how you make sure that all the new visitors are included in invitations to Sunday School when we were able to get together, or on the mailing list of virtual Creative Night during these coronatimes. I saw faithful shepherds from our congregation attend the Nebraska Legislative briefing yesterday to learn more about social justice – about how we can do God’s work of caring for the most vulnerable. 

I see our lay leaders being fantastic shepherds through this pandemic, making critical decisions together about the coronavirus. I see all of us stepping out in faith to start this new ministry for New Americans. I see volunteers in the music ministry and AV team, inviting us to grow deeper in love with God through worship. I see so many of you giving of your financial resources to support all of it – and I know that giving of one’s hard-earned money is one of the most difficult, sacrificial spiritual practices. I see it, and I am inspired. I am fed by it.

Now, I know it might seem small, but I want you to know that you also feed my spirit so much when you simply volunteer to pray out loud during a Zoom meeting. You may not be risking your life when you do that, but it’s a risk. It’s scary to pray in front of each other. I remember! It was scary for me when I first started doing it. But when I hear your prayers for our church, for its members and for our community, especially those neighbors who are the most vulnerable….it is like taking a drink from still waters and lying down in green pasture. Faithful shepherds, your prayers restore my soul.

We are both members of the beloved flock, resting in those green pastures, and we are shepherds leading others into those moments where we taste salvation. As we welcome Barb and Fran today, I am filled with so much hope and joy because I know you will become part of the beautiful work of receiving and sharing God’s love as well.

Being a part of the flock is a gift. Being a shepherd is a gift, and it belongs to all of us.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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