Here is the invitation every Sunday:
First, to walk through the front door of the church with a few items of food in your hand. This is food you selected, on purpose, in the midst of your week. As you purchased food for yourself, you intentionally added food for others as a spiritual and ethical practice. On Sunday, you walk into the church and put in a small basket — a few items of food to feed people you don’t know, asserting your connection to those beyond yourself, loving your neighbor as yourself. This is the beginning of your worship.
And then, on a Sunday, to walk down this aisle into a place that has been set apart as a place for worship. On most Sundays we face the lectern holding the Bible and the altar – Word and Sacrament – central signs of God’s presence and our connection to God. In Advent and Lent, we face one another, a reminder that God is present in each of us and calls us to acknowledge the sacred in one another and rebuild broken relationships with one another. In Easter season, we add the font in our sight-line. Alongside the Bible and the table, the font is the sign of God’s love in Christ, through which we were adopted into the body of Christ. Scripture, table, font, and one another: Here we are fed by the Body of Christ so that we might be the Body of Christ in the world.
And then, on a Sunday, you are invited to hear stories about people who lived over 2000 years ago, who had an experience of God so important that they wanted to pass it on, so that millions of people through the centuries would be inspired by those stories, shaped by them, those stories would be the lens through which they came to understand their own story.
Also, on a Sunday, you are invited to rise over and over and sit and stand, and sit and stand, and sit and stand, and to walk up here and to go over there, and to shake hands and to put money in a plate, and, through all of this physical movement, to offer your whole being to a God whom you cannot see but who you believe has called you in your whole being to honor him. Some people walk in procession, carrying crosses or the gospel book, symbolizing the intentional arrival of the whole assembly, and their ongoing pilgrimage following Christ. Worship here is not an intellectual enterprise, but a whole-body, whole-heart exercise.
And in the middle of it all, every Sunday, you are invited to share the peace of Christ – extending your hand and a few words (not a lot of words, just a few words) to those near you. A simple handshake and yet a reminder of your commitment that you stand as an equal to this person, a sign that you are ready to stand with them at the table of Christ. This exchange of peace is not an intermission, not causing the presider to yell to restore order, which is awkward, but rather a short period of liturgical action to symbolize your ethical and theological conviction that we are one, all of equal dignity, equality covered in God’s grace.
And then the invitation is to move forward with your hands outstretched to receive a small piece of bread – bread so small it has little caloric or culinary value, but which is a sign to you of abundance greater than you can ask or imagine, and of love so great that it gave itself for you. You say yes to it with your body.
Through all of this movement – the invitation underneath the invitation is to cast your net to the other side.
At a moment in your journey when it looks like the nets are empty; at a moment in the life of the world when it looks like there are nothing but empty nets sadly banked on the beach; at a time when loud voice are telling you that all that matters is what can be seen and measured; when the charts – be they medical charts or bank statements, test scores or actuarial life expectancy charts — Look like empty nets. You are invited to cast your net to the other side.
You do that alongside disciples who ate fish with Jesus on a beach long ago. Alongside Peter, who on the night when Jesus was arrested, three times stood next to a charcoal fire and was asked whether he knew Jesus and three times denied it, and who now stands next to a charcoal fire and is asked by Jesus himself three times, Do you love me, and three times says yes. And to be commissioned with the same commission that your savior gives you today: Feed my sheep.
That’s what all of this is about. All this liturgy. All this standing and sitting and walking up and down an aisle, all the chants and gestures passed down to us through the centuries, all the passing of the peace – this is all about feeding the sheep, just as you, a sheep in the household of God have been fed.
Here we are formed for mission. We do liturgy – which means the work of the people – and which, in the Christian tradition, is basically a riff on practices passed down through Judaism. Liturgy is not here to entertain us. It is not a performance we attend. It’s not about what we like or don’t like. It’s about letting God the potter rework us. Coming in each Sunday, as we do, from a world where it is so easy to be deformed, so easy to be deflated and so easy to become disconnected from the truth of our belovedness and our vocation as justice-doers, peace-makers, sheep-feeders.
Our work of the people here forms us for our work out there. Deacon Ken often dismisses us saying, “Our worship is now ended; our service now begins.” That doesn’t mean the two are disconnected or that one is more important than the other. They overlap, they inform one another. Christ calls us to both.
Notice that a central element of today’s gospel in which the risen Lord meets the disciples on the shore is fish. This story often read as a story about evangelism – hauling people in for Christ, harkening back to Jesus commissioning the disciples saying “I will make you fish for people.” But in the story itself, there’s no indication in the story that it’s about that. Jesus doesn’t say here, “I will make you fish for people.” Instead he eats fish. He hands them out to his friends. Sometimes a fish is just a fish. It’s about food: spiritual and physical food.
And it’s about an abundance of food. Nets full of what is needed. John gives us the surprising detail that there were 153 fish in the net. 153? Scholars explain that this simply means there were lots – an abundance.
Jesus 1st miracle in John – producing an abundance of wine after everybody thought the wine had run out. His last miracle is to produce an abundance of fish when everybody thought no fish were around. We who would follow Christ are called to be especially present to those times and places where there appears to be an ending, and to live with a vision of what cannot be seen yet.
This liturgy is your work – Not just mine or Ken’s or Linda’s, not just the work of people who write prayer books. You bring it alive; your live into it week by week. Just as an athlete isn’t trained for the Olympics in one training session or a young scholar isn’t prepared for the bar exam by taking one class, our formation happens over time, just as our understanding of who God is and who we are is formed in time.
So the invitation is to a life of coming and going through these doors out into the world, where there are always sheep to be fed.
I end with a benediction offered 2000 years ago by the apostle Paul whose conversion from one who slaughtered sheep to one who fed them we heard about in our first reading today:
May the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, … equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.