You are forgiven by God in Christ and sent out to be Christ because you are trusted, and you are needed. And Christ will give you all you need to do the job.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday of Easter, year C
Texts: Acts 9:1-20; John 21:1-19
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Today’s Gospel ends in a startling moment.
To see it, look at next week, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday. Each year’s Gospel on 4 Easter is a different part of John 10. Next week we get the last section of John 10, where Jesus promises no one can snatch his sheep from his crucified and risen hands.
And earlier in the chapter Jesus speaks of hired hands, who, though supposed to care for the sheep, run away at the first sign of danger. I am the Good Shepherd, Jesus says. I never run away. I will lay down my life for my sheep.
So what is Jesus doing today, handing over care of his sheep to Peter? Three times he asks Peter if he loves him, three times he hears “yes,” and three times he says “care for my flock.”
This call to feed my lambs, tend my sheep, is a call to all who follow Christ. And it’s shocking to think what it implies. Somehow, Jesus trusts Peter, and the other disciples, and me, and you, to be good shepherds. Somehow Jesus trusts that we won’t run like hired hands when God’s sheep are in danger, but stick around, put our lives at risk. We will be Christ. We will feed and tend Christ’s sheep.
Frankly, it’s hard to understand such trust.
We have two alarming stories of Christ’s trust today.
Peter is a bumbling, self-centered clod, seemingly not terribly bright, and gifted at putting his foot in his mouth. Paul is a rigid, fundamentalist zealot for his faith who thinks nothing of watching his leadership council illegally stone someone to death for blasphemy, who seems to enjoy arresting followers of Jesus’ Way. These are the two to whom Jesus says, “I trust you. I need you.”
Peter, who just betrayed Jesus in his deepest hour of need, denying three times with cursing and swearing that he even knew him. Three times Jesus says, “If you’re telling the truth, if you love me, then shepherd my sheep.”
Paul, who in all his self-righteous anger, isn’t just persecuting Christ’s people, he’s persecuting Christ. If you hurt them, you hurt me, Christ says to him on the road. But now the risen Christ also says, “I need you to be my witness to all those people out there who aren’t Jewish. You’re not only not needed to purify Judaism; I need you to bring in people who are unacceptable to your Jewish faith. They’re mine, too. Find those sheep and bring them to me.”
It’s enough to question Christ’s commitment to be our Good Shepherd, giving these two such trust.
This is the shocking side of forgiveness and grace, to be honest.
We proclaim that God in Christ forgives sins – yours, mine, all people – and loves without our deserving it. We are declared righteous by God through Christ, made righteous by the Holy Spirit. Even Peter and Paul are forgiven and loved, despite their flaws and sin. That’s good. They’re getting a second chance in God’s forgiveness.
But do you see the Triune God’s plan Jesus reveals today? Second chances are only the beginning. In fact, your second, or third, or fourth, or God knows how many chances, are prelude to the truly surprising part: Christ trusts you to faithfully care for God’s sheep, to be Christ in the world. Forgiveness – as wonderful as it is to know – is never the ending point. You will always hear next Christ’s loving voice, “Now, I have a job for you. I know you can do it. I need you for it.”
It’s good that Peter and Paul look like terrible candidates for this job. Maybe now you can also believe that God really needs someone like you, too.
Now, Christ isn’t giving up the job of Good Shepherd.
Christ, our Good Shepherd, crucified and risen from the dead, holds you in life now and always. Gives second, and third, and fourth, and countless chances to you and to all.
And yes, needs and trusts you to serve as Christ on a difficult path. Today the wounded and risen Christ promises to show Paul “how much he must suffer for the sake of [the name of Christ.]” After his call to tend the flock, Peter is shown by the One who bears love’s scars that he will eventually die for this ministry. We know well this vulnerable love is also our calling.
But your Good Shepherd never stops feeding and guiding and caring for you, even while sending you. Jesus feeds Peter and the others with a meal of reconciliation before sending them to feed the rest of the flock. Christ heals Paul’s internal and external blindness, sends Ananias to feed Paul’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, before sending him to witness.
Your breakfast on the Galilean beach happens here, your care in Ananias’ house happens here. You are fed with Christ’s meal of forgiveness and reconciliation. Fed with God’s Word for guidance and challenge. Fed by Christ’s hands and heart in Christ’s people around you. Here your true Good Shepherd gives you all you need, fills you and heals you, before sending you out.
You are fed. You are trusted. You are needed.
That’s the grace of Christ’s Easter life that offers joy to your heart. Come to the Table again and be filled. Hear God’s Word. Let God’s people strengthen you. Receive here your millionth chance, God’s forgiveness and love that are always yours.
And then listen. Because you’re about to be sent out. There are sheep who need to be shown the way home. There are lambs who need to be fed.
In the name of Jesus. Amen