What do you do when you don’t know what to do? A sermon for Rachel Held Evan

this is the sermon I preached on Sunday with some tweaks to make it more specific to the church on the internet. 

What do you do when you are waiting? What do you do when you are waiting for God to do something? What do you do when you thought God was going to do one thing, then God does something else? 

Today’s lectionary reading is in John chapter 21. This chapter in John was added much later than the other chapters. A few generations after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and he still hadn’t come back. This was not what anyone was expecting. Not only had Jesus not returned, but the Romans were becoming increasingly violent against both Christians and Jews.

What do you do when you are waiting for the promise of the risen Lord? This chapter is situated much like the scenes everyone waits for at the end of a Marvel movie. The resurrection story is wrapped up in chapter 20. But….now what?

But then, but then they remembered this story, this story of the in between time, the time when Jesus was sort of popping up whenever, when the Holy Spirit hadn’t gotten there yet. It was a confusing time. Yes, Jesus was resurrected but what did it mean? God, where are you? Isn’t it time yet?

Which bring us to our text.

John 21:1-19

1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Here is the question the disciples are wrestling with and I admit I  too am wrestling with. The Unite Methodist Church is in a bit of a public pickle, and I will be writing my paperwork for ordination this summer. The timing isn’t great. And this weekend a colleague of mine, a friend, a mentor, and a giant in the Christian writing world unexpectedly died at 37 years old, right smack in the middle of Easter.

What now? When is God going to do something?

It is a few weeks after Jesus’ last appearance and the disciples don’t know what to do with themselves. They can’t imagine going on without their friend to lead them, even though they have seen he is not dead….he still isn’t with them. They miss Jesus. They are grieving. 

So they go back to what they know, how they lived before Jesus interrupted their lives. They go fishing. In the middle of the night, I imagine because they are too sad and disrupted to sleep. In fact Peter is such a mess he cannot even bother to get dressed. Him being naked was a detail they omitted on the Sunday school felt board, but as a grown up I am grateful for it here. Peter was such a disaster, completely stricken with no idea how to proceed. And if all of that isn’t enough the old way isn’t working. They have fished all night and come up empty handed.

But then Jesus appeared. They were not doing the things they had been told. They were not going forward with the work. They were not grieving gracefully. Peter especially was showing all the disaster we are so often taught to tuck away before we come to God. And Jesus comes anyway.

He comes and invites them to fish on the other side. And so many fish are caught they can’t even pull in the nets. 153 according to John, and so many of them are big! Fish that really should be reserved for the rich, fish sold off instead of eaten because there were only so many and this is how the poor survived.

But when they get to the shore Jesus invites them into the feast. He already has a fire waiting for them, even more fish on that fire, and he breaks bread with them just like he did before. They are not in the right mental state for a feast, this is not a reward for being faithful. This is a feast anyway, a feast about who God is, about what resurrection means, not about who deserves what or only those who are ready (I know I keep talking about how Peter wasn’t even dressed, but seriously….he wasn’t ready and got invited anyway).

And at this feast Jesus shows the one who is the least ready the way forward, the one who completely denied him just a few weeks earlier. Peter, Jesus says, feed my sheep. Tend my Sheep. If you love me, you have to love my sheep.

Jesus doesn’t shame a single person for their grief, or confusion. There is no rebuking of their anger and lost feelings. There is simply an invitation into a new way. You can be sad, you can grieve but there is a way out of the wallowing and into the work. This is how you love Jesus, even when Jesus is not physically there to love, you feed his sheep.

This past week, as Rachel Held Evans sat quietly in a comma, I wrote a paper about her. When I picked my topic a few months ago, it was simply because why people leave the evangelical church was too large, and I needed a moment– an artifact to pinpoint a particular turn, and when I tweeted about that moment Rachel said, oh yeah! I wrote one of those. So unbeknownst to her I spent the last weeks of my seminary career reflecting on her voice as a way to write about the faith journey of so many of us. It was a fitting way to end my MDiv, I don’t know that I would have ever become a pastor without her work. It felt very strange, writing a paper about a woman I admired so much as she was not well. But I thought of how the example she set was to do the work, even when it was hard, even when it was emotional, to do the hard thing because it was the next thing to do.

Rachel died Saturday, and there are so very many of us grieving. We don’t know what to do or where to go. We don’t know how to go on. We are sad and can’t sleep and some of us are having trouble even getting ourselves dressed in the morning. I confess, that though we were more colleagues than friends, I am one of those people. But Jesus has always invited us out of the wallowing and into the work, and Rachel was so good at showing us how to do that.

The work is feasting. The work is a larger table with more people invited and massive amounts of fish, the good stuff for everyone not just the people who can afford it, who have the proper degrees and the right words, but for everyone.

The work is loving God and loving Jesus and you do that by feeding His sheep, by attending to those on the margins, by paying attention to the hurt of others, by taking what you have and offering it to others and throwing up the doors just as wide as you can get them and letting everyone else in.

And I believe that the work Jesus calls us to, the work Rachel did so well, is going to be different for all of us, and that my friends is such good news. Because inviting others to come along, remembering those on the margins and making more space, that work isn’t easy, but it is not complicated either, it is doable, and it is are turn to do that work.


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