May 15, 2022
Scripture Reading: John 10:14-18
Not ever having been a farmer, for some reason I have found myself many times in my 80 years not far from the farm. So, I don’t claim to understand farming, but I do appreciate the farm and I think I understand why Jesus made so many references to growing things and taking care of animals.
When I am on the farm, it feels spiritual in some way. It is so intimately connected to nature. I don’t know of any place where you can go that reminds me more of how connected we all are with the earth and all the things that live there. What happens in the earth, under the surface and above it, is not disconnected from us as human beings. It is easy to forget that, but we shouldn’t .
So, when Jesus was about to leave this earth and his ministry among us, he had this last encounter with his disciples and there on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he shared food with them – fish taken from the waters of the Sea and as a final word to Peter and, by extension, to us he said: Feed my lambs, Tend my sheep, and Feed my sheep! It was a final request – a calling – with a spiritual intent but using a farming metaphor.
I suspect that after having lived with Jesus’ parables for 3 years, that the disciples understood immediately that Jesus didn’t mean for them to go around offering to relieve all the shepherds of their duties! They got it! He was talking about his followers beginning to see themselves as, in some way, responsible for the care and nurture of people. They may have remembered how Jesus once looked at a crowd and said to his disciples: “They are like sheep without a shepherd!”
Now I don’t know about those followers of Jesus in the 1st Century, but we all know about people in our time and I’d venture a guess that most people don’t spend a lot of time contemplating in what ways they are responsible for anyone outside their own family.
I believe Jesus understood what we forget. That is, how linked and interdependent we all are to everything and everyone else in the world! The family is NOT just the nuclear set who live in one house. We are all family and bear responsibility for one another all over the world. Jesus wanted his disciples to never forget that. He wanted their work from this point on to be focused on FEEDING AND TENDING!
Feeding and tending the lambs and sheep. I think by now they understood that he was not just talking about supplying people with physical nutrients when they need it, but also he was asking them to look at all the other needs of lambs and sheep. And while it’s true, sheep and their young can manage to a certain extent quite well on their own, it is also true that there is a limit to what they can do without any help. Sheep are by nature quite dependent upon caring shepherds!
What people (young or not-so-young) was he talking about? What people need our help? The simple answer to that question is that we all need help in one way or the other and at one time or the other! I know, there are those among us that insist they don’t need anyone for anything, but, in truth, it just isn’t so. Like sheep, it is our nature to depend on the tender, loving care of one another from time to time. That’s why we were born into families, we tend to cluster in places where we live, we organize, make groups, have parties, and belong to this club or the other group.
The church, as an institution, is perfectly designed to be a feeding place and a tending place for lambs and sheep. But, like any other group, we can become insular – shortsighted so that we only see the people closest around us – those whom we esemble and are most like us. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is NOT ENOUGH.
When Jesus told Peter to feed MY lambs, it seems so clear to me that that he was not asking Peter to design ways to make himself and perhaps the little group of followers comfortable! When he said: feed MY lambs, he had in mind the broadest range of little ones! All of those who belong to the Heavenly father!
What is God’s sheepfold? How big is that? Does it have any limits at all? Are there any limits of race or color or nationality? Are there any limits of geography? Any limits that would keep us from having to stretch our boundaries and make us work at the business of caring? I think not!
I believe JESUS had a vision of a massive feeding station: A vision of a church – not necessarily large but one where the members have learned to be ONE and hold hands facing outward! It is the kind of church that commits itself to the broadest range of hungry, lost sheep and lambs. It is the kind of place that is determined to model the most welcoming and loving posture toward the world!
It is a place that looks to find where the people are hungry – where little ones need nurture – where the mature ones need guidance and companionship and then FEEDS AND TENDS THEM – without conditions, without boundaries, and without restrictions.
I believe that St. John’s is already that sort of place. I believe we have that heart of Jesus that reaches out to the world with compassion. We are generous people but there is no lack of people with all sorts of need just outside these walls. We are already people who feed and tend. We are not amateurs at this kind of work. We just need to be constantly on the alert to see what’s next!
Our prayer must be: “Oh Lord, which of your sheep or lambs are hurting now? Teach us how to be those who lift, encourage, feed, restore, guide, and assist. Here we are, Lord. Use us as you see fit.”