Sunday, April 18, 2010

What's next? Breakfast and more

Today's sermon is based on Revelation 5:11-14 and John 21:1-19 .


Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!



What’s next?

That must have been going through the minds of the disciples in the days after Jesus’ death as he kept popping up here and there, on roads and in closed rooms.

What’s next?

We hear today about the third time he came to them. This time, Jesus cooked them breakfast.
It was over this meal he told them what he wanted them to do next: “Feed my sheep.”

And in case they didn’t get it, he told them three times:

“Feed my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep.”

“If you love me, feed my sheep.”

Today, in the Gospel of John, the story continues as the disciples go back to work doing what they know best – fishing.

And when Jesus comes, it is perhaps the most profound of their encounters with him because this time Jesus tells them that growing in faith, loving God – being utterly devoted to him – takes one more thing they still have not done:

“Feed my sheep.”

In the last two weeks, I’ve been talking in this pulpit about the nature of a life of faith. Two Sundays ago, on Easter Sunday, I talked about how faith is based on things hoped for and not seen, and listening for the living God who is right here among us, who loves us especially when we feel we have little or no faith at all.

Last week I talked about how doubt is a tool of faith by compelling us to ask the hard questions of life and death. By bringing our faith and doubts together in community, we can deepen our faith in all its dimensions, and find the fullness of faith that none of us can find alone.

Today I want to talk about the third leg to a life of faith, for without this crucial dimension, faith can become self-absorbed, self-indulgent and hollow. You might call this Part III of the sermon I began on Easter.

This third leg is the most fraught with peril, and maybe that is why it comes last. This third leg is action: “Feed my
sheep.”

Without action in our faith, we will stop breathing.

As it happens, today in this church we are marking Earth Day, an annual observance that began when I was in high school to bring attention to our stewardship of the earth, and to prod us to be less wasteful, less polluting, more respectful of all the other living things with whom we share this planet.

But I am mindful that Earth Day, even with its noble goals, has its own peril: It can come off as a political bludgeon that alienates more than persuades.

Or conversely, as a West Coast friend of mine put it, Earth Day can seem like we are ticking off a box that says “look, we are doing the green thing” in church, and then we go back to life as usual.

I do not propose to do either.

I’d like instead to propose that we observe Earth Day as something larger. I’d like to propose that we our relationship with all of Creation as central to the meaning of Easter and what Jesus is getting at over breakfast:

Feed my sheep.

Go forth and feed the world, Jesus tells Peter: Feed those who are hungry, give them shelter. Go to places scared by hurricane, earthquake, disease, neglect, pollution, warfare, corruption, poverty, ignorance.

Feed my sheep.

Make our world whole, bring new life, become the hands and feet of grace wherever you go. Make Easter alive in the dead places. Feed my sheep.

To fully walk in faith is about putting feet to our prayers and the longings of our heart. That kind of faith can pull us outside ourselves and connect us to each other and to all of creation in ways we have not dreamed.

Yet many things get in our way. Much political rhetoric is now being spent on the issue of global warming, or climate change. Some of you have done extraordinary work researching this crisis, but not everyone is convinced that it is really happening. The problem, I would submit, is the language politics has eclipsed not only the language of science, but the language of faith.

So I would like to suggest that we take up the language of God’s healing grace and extend it to the good earth. Salvation is not just about humanity, but, in the words of the hymn, about “all creatures of our God and King.”

Or, as the book of Revelation puts it: “Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea” is singing to God.

So what can we do to join this chorus of all Creation?

We can start with a few simple things: turning off lights, recycling cans, bottles, paper, cardboard. We can use fewer resources by not buying more than we need, driving fewer miles, and eating food grown closer to where we live. Later this morning we will hear a few more ideas to reduce our footprint.

But even if we do all that, it will not be enough. Inevitably, we will end up in the realm of public policy because the solutions are larger and more complicated than anything any of us can do as individuals, or even as a single nation.

The rising ocean that is inundating an island in the South Pacific is related to a mining disaster in West Virginia and to the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap in Canada, and all because of our addiction to fossil fuels. The crisis is literally global in size.

We look to governments not because we think they hold the solution to every problem, but precisely for the opposite reason. We have to live with governments in our age, so we don’t trust governments to get it right without us.

As faithful people, we need to find a way to set aside partisan differences, and shallow slogans, to support smart public policies that are good for the earth.

Where we differ, we need to model, as people of faith, ways to listen to our differences with respect and openness, and acknowledge none of us have all of the answers. Maybe our greatest contribution might be modeling how to do just that.

All this takes hard work, creativity and the courage. In our walk of faith, Jesus is invites us to be part of his loving, graceful, redeeming work in this world. He is inviting us to a walk of faith that brings healing and wholeness to that which is broken, not just in our souls, but everywhere on this planet.

If you love me, feed my sheep.

Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!

Paintings:
Top: "Resurrection breakfast" by Kristin Serafini (American, contemporary);
Bottom: "Jesus eats breakfast with his disciples," by James Jacques Tissot (French), 1836-1902.
Photograph: Earthrise from the moon, from the mission of Apollo 8, Christmas Eve 1968.

1 comment:

Mary Carolyn said...

What a profound and challenging series of sermons! You have inspired me to step out in faith and do something I have been very reluctant to do. . . speak out for what I believe to be true about some of us. What (or who) we are is determined by God; what we do about it is determined by each one of us. PTL!
Blessings,
Mary Carolyn