31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 12, 2019
John 21:3-8, 15-22
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Have you ever been asked to do a job and once you actually started doing it, you were like “Hey, this not at all what I signed up for!” And are you laughing right now because you are thinking ‘happens to me all the time – at church!’
Well, it turns out that changing the job description goes all the way back to Jesus.
When Jesus first met Simon Peter, Jesus invited this fisherman to follow him and fish for people. Fish and people are quite different; however Peter clearly thought that if he could catch fish, he could catch people. So scripture tells us Peter immediately said yes and followed Jesus, learning to catch people with God’s love.
Over the next three years, Peter likely learned all of the in’s and out’s of this new “job”. Likely, he discovered that many of the talents and skills that made him a successful fisherman, also made him a successful fisher of men.
And then along came Jesus again, and this time, Jesus didn’t invite Peter to make a slight change. This time, Jesus invited Peter to make a big, big change. This time the invitation, no, it was more like an instruction was “Follow me and be a shepherd.” Follow me and be a shepherd.
If fish and people are quite different, fishermen and shepherds are worlds apart.
It’s true that both require patience. Both require persistence. Fishermen though are focused on the connection. Fishers of men ask ‘How do I connect with people and share the love of Jesus Christ?” And that connection might be only for an instant- a moment of kindness, a conversation, a sharing of faith. It might just be catch and release before the fisher of men goes on to the next catch, the next connection.
The role of shepherd is very different. The shepherd is called to care, to watch over and safeguard the flock, and as caregivers all know, this requires being in it for the long haul. You cannot feed your lambs and sheep one meal and call it a day. You cannot quickly check in on your sheep and then move on to greener pastures. Caretaking requires dedication; caretaking requires devotion; caretaking requires unconditional love.
Fishers of men plant the seeds of God’s love; Shepherds tend the garden. Fishers of men catch someone’s heart for Jesus; Shepherds faithfully walk through green pastures and dark valleys nurturing relationships with Jesus Christ. The life of a shepherd is quite different from that of a fisher of men.
And, I have a feeling that Peter was not entirely comfortable with this new “shepherding” job, not entirely willing to accept this ‘great commission’, not completely interested in the commitment caring for Jesus’ flock would require.
Peter doesn’t say no outright to Jesus; however notice that right after Jesus says “Care for my flock; follow me”, Peter turns, sees John the disciple, and says, “What about him?” Direct quote from scripture. John 21:21 “What about him?”
Understandably, whenever we are called to a ministry that scares us, to a ministry that feels overwhelming, to a commitment that feels heavy, our inclination is to create a distraction.
What about so and so over there? Have you asked them? Frankly, I don’t think they do enough around here, and while we are talking about that, let’s talk about all of the people who don’t do enough around here. And now that I’m started, let’s talk about all of the things that need to get done. I’d be glad to make you a list so you can find someone else to do them.
Directing attention to someone else, “creating” a mountain out of an anthill, even starting a wonderfully distracting and time-consuming conflict are all great avoidance techniques, supremely popular and very effective. So it’s really no surprise that Peter tries to use distraction to avoid this new ministry Jesus is calling him to.
I say tries because Jesus will not be distracted. Jesus simply says to Peter, “Don’t worry about him. Follow me.”
Don’t worry about him. Don’t worry about her. Don’t worry about that. Follow me and care for my flock.
I understand why Simon Peter tries to avoid this weighty commission. I understand why all Christians are tempted to “delegate” this calling to a committee like Diaconate or a small group like the Sunshine Ministry or even to the paid ordained minister. Often, we feel like we don’t have the right gifts or tools, and yet, Jesus calls each and every one of us to catch people and then to nurture them with Christ’s unconditional love. Jesus calls each and every one of us to fish for people and care for a piece of Jesus’ flock.
So who are the people Jesus is calling you to catch with the love of God? And what is that piece of Christ’s flock that he has entrusted to you?
I cannot answer that question for anyone but myself, however I can tell you that 272 years, Jesus entrusted this community of faith, the First Congregational Church, with the people of Bristol. This is our sea to fish and our portion of Jesus’ flock to care for.
And while we might have been shy about it in the past, even avoided our commission from Jesus to catch people with God’s love and then care for them, while we might have created distractions to keep us inward focused, bit by bit we are more faithfully saying yes to Jesus’ call to be fishers of men and shepherds of Christ’s flock.
Events like hosting Bristol’s Holidays on the Hill last December and our Christmas lights and Christmas angels on either side of the Sanctuary are a good start. Can we take one more step and create a welcome message in our front yard with banners, rainbow doors, Adirondack chairs or something else? Can we go two steps forward and participate in the Rockwell Summer Festival or Bristol Parks & Recreation Trick or Trunk event to further fulfill our calling to be fishers of men, women, teens, and children?
Could we imagine being like the United Methodist Church I attended last Sunday morning and hosting a day of service in the community? They called theirs “Living Loved”, and on Saturday, May 4th, over a hundred people, wearing their matching “Living Loved” red church t-shirts, volunteered their time in 15 different locations. They gave change to people using local Laundromats and played with children while the parents did laundry. They planted, weeded, and power washed the entry to a local elementary school. They stood on the sidewalk and offered cold water to passersby. They baked cookies and brought them to local merchants as a thank you.
Imagine all of the ways we can catch people with the love of God and then care for them with the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Look at all of the ministries we are already engaged in: Family Promise, Christmas gifts and Easter baskets, Fellowship, Women’s Guild and Men’s Fellowship, the First Fruits Garden, the Sunshine Ministry, the Men and Boys’ Fund, our Faith Guides, Music and Children’s Ministries, Meals for our Neighbors.
I am so proud of all of the ways we have expanded our caring for the people of Bristol, and I am especially proud that our newest caring ministry, a ministry that nurtures the Christian discipleship of our youth as they use their God-given gifts to care for others. I am so proud that ‘Kids Cook for a Cause’ has been honored with a grant by the Bristol Rotary Club.
I am so proud, and I know we can always do more. Look around you. Who sits in your pew? Who sits in front of or behind you? When they are not here, could you send them a note, an email, maybe even call to check on them? Look around the whole Sanctuary. Do you know everyone’s names? Their hobbies? Their gifts and talents? Who is Jesus calling you to get to know better and thus be able to care for better?
We have been called by Jesus to be fishers of people, catching all with God’s love, and we have been called by Jesus to be shepherds, faithfully caring for Jesus’ flock. Either of those callings can be pretty darn intimidating. We can do it though. We can be fishers of people and shepherds. We can catch and care. We will catch and care, because we are loved unconditionally by Jesus the Christ and because Jesus knows how much we love him.
As I was finishing this sermon, I flipped open this devotional book and I do not think it was a coincidence that as I was writing about how we can catch and care for others that I opened to this page:
Jesus + (any situation) = Going to be Just Fine
Never underestimate the power of an all-powerful God.
And I think God pretty much says it all.