Gospel: John 21:1-19
1st Reading: Acts 9:1-20
2nd Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
Last weekend I went to visit my sister and her family. She has two boys who are 3 and 6. Sometime on Saturday I called my younger nephew, “Pumpkin.” He is such a sweet boy and still talks with that baby voice. “Why you call me pumpkin, aunt Aimee?” “Because I love you and you’re a sweetheart,” I replied. “Oh,” he said. Pet names have always been part of my vocabulary. When we were little our mom called us pumpkin, too, or puddin’. When I was pregnant we referred to our fetus as “Peanut.” When I was growing up I was “Aimee Lou,” since my middle name is Louise. That’s Pastor Aimee Lou, to you! I used to hate being called that because it reminded me of a country bumpkin, but now I feel all warm inside when my uncles or my mom call me that.
My niece and nephew called their grandma and grandpa, “Grandma Honey” and “Grandpa Kiddo” for precisely the pet names they called their grandkids. These pet names “Honey” and “Kiddo” were bestowed on the grandkids and then the grandkids bestowed them back upon their grandparents with grandma and grandpa names attached.
There is something about pet names that conveys a kind of close relationship. Peter knew that. His given name was Simon. But Jesus gave him the name Peter. His new life as a disciple, as someone close to Jesus meant he needed a new name, a pet name to convey that closeness. The other disciples didn’t get new names, but Peter did.
And Paul did, too. On the road to Damascus, Saul, who had been persecuting the Christians, found himself talking to God, blinded, and thrown from his horse. God gives him a new name to distinguish his old life from his new identity and a new closeness to God. Saul got the name Paul.
When Jesus appears to Paul and the other disciples in the Gospel for this morning, he doesn’t call Peter by that pet name. He goes back to calling him Simon. I wonder how Peter heard that. He had just denied Jesus three times. Now Jesus calls him Simon three times and asks if he loves him. Is Peter waiting for that scolding? Is he waiting to hear how disappointed Jesus is in him? Does he long to be called that close pet name again? How does he feel when Jesus asks him this question, “Do you love me?” Has Peter lain awake at night reliving those denials and imagining it had gone differently?
Now Jesus is using his more distant name. Did that scare him? Could he ever have imagined that Jesus would put him in charge of seeing that his lambs were cared for and fed after the way he had abandoned his Savior in his time of need? Jesus gives him that assignment three times. Jesus gives him a chance to say how much he loves him three times. And Jesus shows him that he still trusts him by putting him in charge of his vulnerable lambs.
In today’s scripture, we hear Jesus referring to his people as “my lambs.” I think of this as a kind of old-fashioned pet name, and maybe even more old-fashioned than I thought, if Jesus is even using it. Lambs, like pumpkin and puddin’ indicates a softness. Like peanut, it indicates a smallness. Like all these it indicates a sweetness. He calls his people his lambs partly because he is the shepherd. And it is partly because of how vulnerable they are. Lambs are helpless. Without their shepherd they can’t find food or water, they are easy prey for wolves and other predators, they don’t know where to go. So who are Jesus’ lambs? Certainly there are people who have trouble getting their most basic needs met. Babies and children are certainly lambs. Some elderly or differently-abled people might meet that criteria. In Jesus’ time, widows and lepers would have fallen into this category. It is the people who fall through the cracks.
But aren’t we all lambs in some way? We are all somewhere on the lamb spectrum. All sin and fall short of the glory of God. All are broken and vulnerable in some way. Even Peter, who is definitely one of the privileged—close to Jesus, able bodied, making his own living as a fisherman, able to swim and be active, even having a chance to walk on water. Yet even he found himself shaking and stuttering in Jesus’ presence, unable to catch those fish he had spent his life trying to catch, found naked in the boat and putting on his clothes to jump in the water, getting it all backward. This guy, who was Jesus right hand man, found himself a lamb, needing forgiveness, needing encouragement, needing direction, needing his shepherd. And each of us find ourselves more or less lambs in life’s journey, Jesus calling us by our pet names to come to his table, his pasture to feed and have new life.
And though we are helpless lambs, Jesus little pumpkins, we all have areas of strength, too. That’s really the lesson we’ve learned from serving at the pantry. Those who come have something of value to contribute. Some bring their own shopping bags. Some help others carry their bags up the stairs. Some provide transportation to others. Some provide encouragement and community. Some come and volunteer at the pantry. It turns out we are all not just vulnerable, but also capable with something important to do.
Jesus gives Peter the responsibility to feed his sheep, but he isn’t going to just shovel feed at them. Jesus is making sure that this feeding will come out of his love for Jesus. There are times we find ourselves at the pantry or other volunteer opportunities, frustrated and grouchy. But usually someone stops and remembers why we’re doing what we do—it is because of our love for Jesus, and it just makes it easier to keep going with a friendly smile and the same generous spirit that Jesus shared with us. That’s when it really becomes life-giving for both the volunteers and the clients. And many times it is the smiles and appreciation of the clients that make us remember Jesus’ love in the first place.
Another thing Jesus does is to be an example of feeding. There is a barbecue breakfast on the beach that morning. Providing food is one step. But eating together is even more what it is about. I see that when we provide samples. I love it when the kids approach the sample table over and over again, asking please, appreciating a taste of something special and delicious. It is a way of modeling simple recipes and encouraging people to cook. We also find ourselves bound closer together when we share food at our coffee hours. Everyone knows that when you ask someone to do something for you over a beer it is so hard to say no, because you’ve got that connection. And that’s why we gather, week after week, around the meal of Jesus’ remembrance, reconnecting ourselves to him, reconnecting with each other and with Christians of all times and places, because this is about being fed with food, and even more important, with relationship and connection—communion, union-together. This is an empowering meal. Like other meals it gives our bodies nutrition. But more than that it gives us the power to go out and use our gifts to proclaim, one, two, three times and more that we love Jesus and we love his precious lambs and show our willingness to follow him and to feed his sheep.
We all have been a part of feeding those sheep and doing what we could for Jesus’ lambs. Today, is a day that the council and your congregation would like to thank you for all you do in this community. Today we are doing the reverse offering. We, as your council, would like to thank you for all you. So please as the plates are passed, receive a small offering of our gratitude. And I am going to name some of the ways you give your time and talents and as I call an activity in which you participate I invite you to stand and be recognized.
If you are on the Christian Education Committee, helped with a Super Saturday or helped with Bible School
If you help with Backpack buddies or King’s Cupboard
If you serve on the property team, helped with a church cleanup day or helped maintain the building or grounds
If you serve on the Finance team, Mission Endowment Board, Stewardship Action Core, or have helped with an audit
If you have brought food for coffee hour or for a memorial service or baby shower
If you have made a prayer shawl or participated in Sewing for Others
If you help with the website or changing the church sign
If you serve on the council, mutual ministry team, or MACG core team
If you sing in the choir, have participated in the chime choir, or provide music during the summer
If you help on Sunday morning as an usher, greeter, reader, acolyte, communion assistant, offering counter, or assisting minister
If you serve on altar guild getting communion ready preparing the sanctuary for the different seasons of the church year or make communion bread.
If you have sent a card to someone who was ill or grieving or if you called a first-time visitor to welcome them.
If you provided flowers or the children’s message on a Sunday morning
If you have held this congregation in your prayers
We thank God for all of you, your faithfulness and all you do. You all help make this a place of vital ministry, that makes a difference to us and the community. Thank you so much.