Near the very end of the Gospel of John, we find Jesus fixing breakfast on the beach for his fishermen disciples. And during the meal, (so much happens with Jesus during a meal), Jesus asks his first disciple, Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” And of course, Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” So Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” And just in case Peter (and maybe the rest of us) did not get what he was saying, Jesus asks again, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And again, Peter answers him saying, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And Jesus says in response, “Tend my sheep.”
As the Bridge Conference Minister for Discipleship, this scene is foundational to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus could have said in response to Peter, “Believe in me.” But he did not. He said, “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” Jesus takes this last opportunity in the flesh to provide instruction to his followers and he uses it to tell his disciples to care for his flock. This is the command of Jesus that led those planning for the birth of our new Southern New England Conference to make the first, foundational statement of our four-part mission about making disciples. “The local church exists to make disciples of Jesus” says our mission statement.
Jesus, the head of the church has commissioned us to make disciples. (Matthew 28:19) We don’t all need to believe in exactly the same things about God or Jesus to be disciples of Jesus. What we need to do, instead, is to love one another. What we need to do is care for one another. We are currently living in a time when we are being asked to create space between us to ‘flatten’ the effects of the Coronavirus and such isolation is directly opposite our usual behavior as Christians. We are called by Jesus to break down the walls that separate us for we are all children of God, part of the human flock. But it is because we care for one another that we have recommended that in-person worship be suspended. It is in answer to Jesus’ plea to ‘feed my sheep’ that we concern ourselves with the most vulnerable of our community.
We are living in a time when fewer and fewer people are seeking God in church. I could be wrong, but I think that has to do with the fact that many of us have forgotten that loving one another is what Jesus calls us to do, within the walls of the church and beyond. There are those in our society who are lonely and frightened. There are those who are sick and imprisoned. There are those of us who feel hopeless and estranged from God. This is the flock that Jesus would have us feed. These are the folks that we Christians are to serve. What would we do if we loved them? How would we reach out to them and care for them in this time of ‘social distancing?’ There is a song that gets at this active notion of discipleship. It’s called Follow Me (87 Times) by Bryan Sirchio.
Listen here on Youtube.
Link here to Crosswind Music for the complete lyrics. Follow me (87 Times) by Bryan Sirchio
The Rev. Marilyn Kendrix is Bridge Conference Minister. Kendrix, a 2013 graduate of Yale Divinity, earned that school’s Henry Hallam Tweedy Prize for exceptional promise in pastoral leadership, the highest prize conferred on a graduating student ...