Feed & Tend: The Demands of Discipleship

Text- John 21: 15-19

Let’s recap:
On Trinity Sunday, I mentioned discipleship as our participation in the Trinity’s dance.
Last Sunday, I shared the unpleasant realities of discipleship.

This Sunday, our texts are easier to embrace but perhaps not easier to live.

Can you imagine this conversation between Christ and Peter? I can.

Christ asks, “Peter, how much do you love me?”
Peter replies, “I love you a lot.”

“Ok, Peter, prove it.”
“Anything, Lord, just name it.”

“Peter, feed and tend my lambs and sheep?”
“But, Lord, what lambs and sheep? You are not a shepherd.”

“Metaphor, metaphor, metaphor. Remember, Peter, I am the Good Shepherd. The people are my lambs and my sheep.”
Peter, embracing his name by being as dense as a rock, “Of course, who all are your people?” 

Christ, now shaking his head, “Peter, all people. In fact, feed and tend to the entire creation.”

In the Greek, Christ is speaking commands. I can almost envision Christ with the “command hand” telling Peter and the other disciples, “FEED and TEND my people”. Here, Christ is actually commanding discipleship.

Perhaps, there is a more modern understanding. Have you read, or heard of, Gary Chapman’s The 5 Languages of Love? In these books, Chapman argues that there are 5 basic “languages” for experiencing and expressing love. These “languages” have multiple dialects, but the languages are:
Words of Affirmation
Quality Time
Acts of Service
Giving Gifts
Physical Touch

We can agree that Christ was the ultimate model of all these languages because the Triune God is love. Our passage today, however, Christ seems to be saying “if you love me, prove it. Prove it by speaking in acts of service. These acts are feeding, tending, and caring for those and that which I love… my people, all people, all of creation”.

Unfortunately, this is where these commands of Christ (e.g., demands of discipleship) enter into a contentious relationship with Lutheran theology. The Lutheran battle-cry of the Protestant Reformation was “Justified by Grace Alone”; while, the Vatican held justification by grace and good works/merits.

This text expresses a necessity to “do” good works. So, I must pause and be careful how I proceed, in order that I do not preach “good works” instead of the grace.

We are saved by grace alone! However, it is similar to puppy-love or the earliest days of a relationship. There is a deeply ingrained desire, not obligation, to say nice things, to spend time with that person, or to do acts of service for that person.  These acts are rooted in the “high” of new love.

Likewise, these “good works” are a response to the grace already received and experienced, not pre-requites to salvation. Our discipleship is muddled with non-obligated acts of service, because as the Book of James states faith without works is died. In essence, our faith and discipleship are similar to our human relationships. If the ‘love’ language is not spoken, then the relationship will cease to exist as defined. If the ‘love’ language is spoken, then the relationship will deepen. If we do not speak discipleship, our faith and discipleship will seemingly cease to exist; however if we speak the language of discipleship, then our discipleship will deepen.

Earlier, I noted that this is the festival of Peter and Paul. These two men were disciples. Although they often disagreed, these men always sought to share the gospel and to speak the language of discipleship fulfilling its demands. (Well, almost always, Paul did require a little conversion experience first.) These two disciples would accept the most unpleasant reality of discipleship at the time, martyrdom (the reason for “red” today).

Although I have only been at Gloria Dei a brief time, I have noticed that you accept the demands of discipleship. There is a sign-up sheet to prepare the monthly meal for the Community House. There is a close-knit relationship with the Emergency Shelter for Domestic Violence and our building houses their support meetings. Our building and volunteers are used for FISH (an United Way Agency providing immediate aide to those in need). These are literal examples of feeding and tending to people in their time and place of need.

That is discipleship. We are sent to be Christ’s presence in our world of need by feeding and tending his people. We are sent to serve those in our midst, our word, and the entire creation. These are the demands of discipleship… to feed, to tend, to love.

I pray that that we all, as individuals and a community, (continue to) actively respond to these demands of discipleship. Amen.

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