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Agape My Sheep

3C Easter

1 May 2022

Anyone here ever needed forgiveness? I suppose there are folk who never do wrong in life; I have never met one and doubt I ever will. Not even St. Frances or Mother Teresa lived a life that did not at some point put them in need of forgiveness. I have met folk who would never consider themselves in need of forgiveness; there are far too many of those folk.

I remember when I was a young child I would get in fights and, being large for my age, would usually come out as the victor. My parents were not as impressed with my pugilistic skills as I was and so I would need to find forgiveness from my parents as well as the person I had fought. Now there were times I was defending myself and was not the instigator, but if I hurt someone I had to apologize and ask forgiveness. Fortunately for me, and perhaps the other kids, I realized this was not the way to settle an argument nor even the best way to defend myself and I outgrew my predilection for using fists to decide who was right and wrong.

I have also hurt people in other ways, in thought, word and deed as the prayerbook states so well. My guess is that each one of you, in looking at your life, would confess to the same.

Saul and Peter both stood in need of forgiveness by Jesus in a very big way, yet both for distinctly different reasons. Saul was a bit like me; he felt he was right, was doing the right thing, and caused physical harm, and in his case even death, to followers of Jesus. Peter knew he had wronged Jesus and what he had done he had done so from fear.

Jesus never says to either man, “Look, you were wrong and what you did was wrong, but I forgive you.” Amazing. Yet forgiveness and compassion for the sinner was at the core of Jesus’ message to both men. And a charge was issued to both of them.

Jesus talks to Saul of persecution. No accusation of murder and no name calling. Rather, a call to action. Irresistible grace. Saul becomes Paul.

Peter has seen the risen Jesus in the room with the other disciples; he has in fact seen him twice. But still he hasn’t figured it out. Peter was not the brightest candle on the cake; that is what makes Peter so much more likable; he, like us, is chosen not because of what he is not (a great intellect) but rather for what he is: a sincere and devoted follower who knows he has made mistakes. Why would someone who is naked put on their clothes to jump into the lake and swim to shore when he could have stayed with the others in the boat, or swam to shore naked and waited for the boat and dry clothes to arrive? This is what endears Peter to me. If Jesus could work with him, then I hope he can work with me.

I love that no one was willing to open up and just say, “Jesus, good to see you.” Everyone knew but no one wanted to break the spell. Then Jesus asks Peter to confess his love not once, but three times. Yet the love is diverted; feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. Agape; that self-giving love. It is not the love of passion or even the love of friendship, but the love that demands we give and by our giving, love grows and the dream of God is realized.

Saul is forgiven; Peter is forgiven, yet not once is the word “forgive” uttered by Jesus.

It took both men more than a little time to grasp the mission that was entrusted to them. Saul, now Paul, spent perhaps ten years in Palestine and Arabia maturing his faith and his mission. Peter, such a bumble head in the Gospels, seems to have understood what was being asked of him and never looked back to his old self.

What about us? What is being said to us this Eastertide as we ingest these words? Look at the psalm selected for today:

Psalm 130 rejoices in God rescuing the psalmist. The Message reads:

I give you all the credit, God— you got me out of that mess, you didn’t let my foes gloat.

2-3 God, my God, I yelled for help and you put me together. God, you pulled me out of the grave, gave me another chance at life when I was down-and-out.

Peter was down and out and knew it; Saul did not.

God works with each one of us in our own way, yet there is an over riding message: feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. Agape my lambs, agape my sheep.

This is not about reciting the correct words in the correct order; Easter is telling us that the world has been made right. Or rather the great restoration of creation as it was meant to be: whole and in harmony, has begun. The problem and the solution is that the job of setting things right has been given to us. Jesus died in order that sin and death might die and now he is giving us the role of co-creators in completing that task. We are the ones who are tasked with feeding and tending. Frankly it seems at times to be more a daunting task than a cause for rejoicing. That’s why I don’t stop with the crucifixion; the resurrection should cause the greatest joy ever known.

Why do we break bread together and share wine? I am not here to tell you there is one reason and one reason only for the Eucharist. This is the way we know Jesus; this is the way we know that we are all heirs to the kingdom. And I do mean all. Jesus’ meal on the shore was a radical form of fellowship between those who denied and doubted and the one who had been denied and doubted!! For us it serves as a reminder we are all one in Christ.

We are transformed by the love of Christ. Because once we know and feel that love in our core, we set out in the world as new people, to share that love. And it is amazing; there is no limit on the love and on the community that is created.

Feed and tend to one another; but look as far as you dare, for there you will find other lambs and other sheep and we are called to extend agape to all of them.

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