The Rector’s sermon for May 5, 2019 – TRAIT #2 – FAMILY  



Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19


Several weeks ago I told you that I planned to share with you the traits I think make this parish unique.  The first trait was LOVE.  The people of St. Francis exude a culture of love.  In the light of Jesus’ words like “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, turn the other cheek, don’t judge, don’t condemn, forgive and you will be forgiven” the people of St. Francis stand head and shoulders above other faith communities.  That’s why those who come through our doors feel at home.


Another trait that is even more prevalent here than in other parishes is a sense of FAMILY.  And you notice it too.  In those papers you filled out for me two weeks ago, a sense of family was an outstanding characteristic written by almost all of you.  And I believe the culture of family is what will keep this parish strong, particularly as the search for a new rector begins.  One of the ways to cultivate family will be if you begin to know each other better.  The Banner that was mailed this week contains four “Getting to know you” articles:  two from people who have been forever, and two brand new people who have found that spirit of God and family here and have made St. Francis their home.  Talk to those people.  Share your story with them.  Consider ways you can work together to make this church family stronger and maybe even more visible to the outside community. 


I bring this trait up today because it connects with a theme in the Gospel.  I’ve been thinking about the disciples as family, especially at this point in Scripture.  They have lived together for three years, all of them very different, which is a lot like all of you—very few originally from Florida, mostly from other places in the country and beyond. Yet you have come together—like the disciples—because of your faith in Jesus, and you work together to make this place holy ground for yourselves and those who enter.  A lot like the way the disciples lived.  But as we read today’s gospel, at least in the beginning, we find this family of disciples a little scattered, their future unknown…


Let’s put the family trait aside for a moment and move on to the Gospel.


There is a story of a pastor who took his family to Scotland on vacation. His daughter had two requests:  she wanted to play golf, and she wanted to cuddle sheep.  The pastor had no idea how he was going to fulfill either of these requests.  But early in the trip, they arrived on the Isle of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland.  When they reached the lobby of the hotel, the pastor asked the receptionist about golf.  The man at the desk said, “We have an 18-hole course on Iona.  Balls and clubs are available here in the hotel, free of charge. There are no fees for the golf course, but I have to warn you—the groundskeepers are cows…and sheep!”


He wasn’t kidding. The course was maintained by cows and sheep who grazed on it all day. They also fertilize it! So both of the pastor’s problems were solved in an instant. His daughter played a round of golf, and she got a chance to cuddle sheep.  Iona is a lovely, green and windswept island—a place where you can practice what could be called “sheep devotion.”  But Iona is definitely the exception, rather than the rule. Most places around the world are defined by “work devotion.”


Places like the Silicon Valley, for example, are known for brutally competitive workplaces that demand long hours and nonstop effort.   Apple has “a reputation as one of the most intense workplaces in the Valley.”  The founder of Tesla and SpaceX, is said to treat those who work for him “like ammunition”—they are used until “exhausted and discarded.”  Sociologists call this “work devotion.” Such a way of life for work-driven people means that they consider work to be the central part of their existence.  They believe that their identity and their sense of value is tied to their productivity.  Production is connected with self-worth. 


I’m going to guess that the gospel story we read this morning about the apostles going back to work right after they’ve seen Jesus is a form of work devotion.  They’ve seen Jesus!  But, they have no idea what they are to do next.  So they return to what they know:  fishing.  They’re exhausted, they’re stressed, they might even be confused.  And the best way for them to pump up their self worth is to return to their work devotion: fishing.  They fish all night, but catch nothing.


Then, once again out of nowhere, the risen Jesus appears on the beach, but they don’t recognize him. He recommends that they cast their net on the right side of the boat, which they surely think is a ridiculous suggestion. Left side, right side—what does it matter?  These waters contain no fish!... they’re thinking.  We don’t know why the apostles took the ‘stranger’s’ suggestion, lowering their nets over the right side of the boat.  Perhaps it was one last chance to feel they had accomplished something that day, that their work devotion meant something, that they indeed had some self worth.  And when they lower their nets, there are so many fish that they can’t haul them all in!  In that miraculous moment, Peter realizes that the stranger on the beach is Jesus, so he jumps into the sea and swims to shore.  The rest of the disciples haul in what they can, and there Jesus cooks them breakfast!  


Earlier I told you a story about about a little girl and the island of Iona and their “sheep devotion.”  Then we moved to “work devotion”.  And now we’re going back to “sheep devotion” but in a different form.  After breakfast, Jesus has an interesting interaction with Peter.  Jesus doesn’t ask Peter about his willingness to put in long hours, or whether or not he can be pushed to his limits. Jesus asks Peter:  “Do you love me?”   Peter says, “Of course I love you, Lord,” to which Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”  For Jesus, love for him is not expressed by sitting around and thinking about how great Jesus is.  Instead, love is expressed by actions that feed and care for others—people that Jesus describes as “my lambs.”  Jesus is calling the family to…sheep devotion.  But Jesus isn’t finished with Peter.  A second time he asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and Peter says to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”  And Jesus responds, “Tend my sheep.” A third time Jesus asks Peter the same question…do you love me… and Peter answers: “Yes, yes, yes, Lord, I love you!”  You can almost imagine him saying, “How many ways can I say it, Lord?!”  But Jesus had a reason for the same same question… three times.  Just a few days earlier Peter had denied Jesus three times.  So each of those answers has the effect of canceling out each one of Peter’s denials.  Isn’t Jesus amazing?!  Jesus doesn’t do anything to make him feel more guilty or ashamed than he probably already feels.  He doesn’t throw Peter’s mistakes in his face.  He doesn’t remind him of his failures.  Instead, he simply says, “Feed my sheep.” With these words, Jesus forgives Peter and puts him back on the right path, establishes Peter in a place where he is again able to lead the apostles.  He leads Peter back to the all important task of sheep devotion.


Sheep devotion is meant to be our norm as much as it was for Peter and the other apostles, if we seek to follow Jesus today.  We are challenged to show our love for Jesus by caring for his people.  And before we explore this assignment, notice that Scripture never insists that we do this work all by ourselves.  He doesn’t demand long hours and nonstop effort.  He doesn’t treat his sheep like ammunition, until they are exhausted and discarded.  No, Jesus meets his disciples where they are and nourishes them to do the same.   When the family is functioning in the light of Christ, it’s a natural thing to bring others into the family where all his sheep can be nourished with the Word and Sacrament.  Jesus promises, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of you,” and he says to his followers, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus always meets this family of God and nourishes it, and he gives you all the tools you need to share that love and care for others.


You are family.  Just about everyone who enters this house of worship for the first time says something about feeling welcomed like they’d never felt before in any other house of worship.  That’s what families do:  welcome others who want to become part of that family.  You care for each other in many ways and you extend that care to the strangers who come to worship with us


This family is entering a new phase of life, a transition that can be exciting.  Someone once said “change is inevitable; growth is optional.”  How true that is!  This year and the next you will have the opportunity to grow this family in the way the Lord will lead.  You don’t have to know what that will look like; you just have to trust that God has a plan to keep and grow this family.  All you have to do is pray for guidance, support each other, and remember that you are…the family of God.


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