Year C; 3 Easter; 5.5.2019
Three of our Middle Schoolers have signed up to go on the Diocese of Maine hiking and camping trip in the White Mountains this summer. I’m excited about this because as a former youth leader I know that being outdoors together in God’s creation, hiking, sharing food and sleeping draw us nearer to God’s creation and to each other on a trip like that. I am sure that worship will be part of that trip.
The trip has got me to thinking about my days as a youth minister in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The youth, our leaders and I took a camping trip every year. One year, we set up camp near a lake in the woods. On Sunday morning, the youngsters found two branches in the woods, brought them to the picnic table which was a make-shift altar, and lashed them together to make a cross. Others gathered flowers. We decorated the picnic table. There was definitely the feel of God’s presence when we worshipped and shared the Eucharist outdoors.
The next year, we went to the camp and conference center by the Atlantic Ocean where we celebrated the Eucharist at sunrise over the ocean at the camp’s outdoor chapel. The altar was a large stone. The third year, we drove to the mountains of North Carolina and shared the Eucharist outside our log cabin. Every single time we gathered, we were moved by the feeling that God was with us. We had the sense that God was hearing our prayers and that Jesus was present to us in the breaking of the bread during Eucharist.
In John’s gospel today we get a similar feeling, though it took the fishermen disciples some time to figure it out. The resurrected Jesus was on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius making hot charcoals. Peter, the night before, had decided to resume his professional trade of fishing. What else was he to do now that Jesus seemed gone? The disciples went with him. They fished all night and caught nothing.
As day was breaking the resurrected Jesus, sitting on the shore next to the hot coals, saw them and called out to them. He needed fish to roast on the coals for the breakfast he was preparing for them. And so, he called out to them, “Lower your nets to the right of the boat!” They did and the result was a beautiful, heavy catch of fish. Then, Peter at once recognized him, threw on some clothes, jumped out of the boat and swam to him.
This is the third resurrection appearance of Jesus in John’s gospel. It is an intimate scene, involving food – grilled fish and bread, how yummy is that? The action of Jesus breaking bread and sharing it on the shore with his friends is surely a Eucharistic feast.
Most of the disciples were tradesmen. They had gone back to making their living on the water that night. It had been a challenging and exhilarating three years with Jesus. They grew closer to God. They learned how to love and serve and pray and trust in God’s goodness.
And they had seen Jesus die and feared for their lives. They were astonished when their risen friend returned. They saw his wounds. But what next? Maybe it wasall over. Did they really believe that he would send his Advocate, his Spirit to always be with them to guide them?
And now, he was on the shore sharing food with him. It was a way to strengthen them, their faith and their courage. But it was mostly a feast to remind them to take God’s love to the world. Jesus looks at Peter and asks, “Peter, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, you know I do.” “Then, feed my sheep.” Three times he says this. Peter’s feelings got a little hurt to have to pledge his love three whole times.
Yes, it was a way to restore Peter after he had denied Jesus three whole times. But Jesus could ask every one of us this question because LOVE is the bottom line of all Jesus means to his followers. To love him and to love others. Jesus is the Way of Love.
Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry never fails to talk about God’s love. “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” He says this so often that I have memorized it. Imagine you are sitting next to Jesus. He looks at you and asks you, “Carolyn, do you love me more than these?”
Well, in my usual over-thinking way, I’d want to know what he meant by “these.” I’d have to think about all the “these – es” I tend to “love” and cling to. My cookbooks, my dog, my pride, my reputation, my need to control my environment and those in it – you get it.
What is your answer? Fill in the blank, “________, do you love me more than these?” Do you have any “these-es?” What about distractions such as those you absolutely DO NOT LOVE at all. Maybe you say, “Jesus, I love you more than these. But to be honest, I hate so-and-so more than I love you.”
During the Season of Lent, many of us learned a saying that Dorothy Day lived by. Dorothy Day was a prolific writer, teaching the followers of the “Catholic Worker” to love even the lowliest. Listen to her remarkable and yet very, very difficult gospel statement on love. “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
Her love of God is directly connected to the person she loves the least – or should I say, “the person she hates the most.” She measured her love of God by those she loved the least. And that propelled her to choose to love every single day.
Dorothy Day went to Mass daily. It strengthened her for her difficult Christian journey. She writes more on love, “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.”
Here we are gathered today as companions in a beautifully restored place of worship. We have invited guests, our contractors, their families and workers to join us, so that we may thank them. We may not know them, but we all are invited to the Table where we become companions and friends. Christ’s love is revealed to us in the breaking of the bread and then we are to go, go, go, go into the world to love and serve him…”