Reading: Gospel: John 21:15-25
Grace to you and peace in Jesus Christ, the Risen One. Amen.
Who are you holding in your heart this Mother’s Day?
It is certainly good to celebrate mothers on Mother’s Day, to celebrate the mothers in our lives, to give thanks for their loving and nurturing presence in our lives. And I also want to take time to celebrate the fact that mothering takes on many different forms, and mothering happens in many different ways. We are blessed with mothers, and grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. We celebrate expecting mothers, and all the ways in which they are preparing to bring a child into the world. And we also celebrate step-mothers, and adoptive mothers, and foster mothers. We give thanks for aunties, and godmothers and big sisters who provide nurturing care. We celebrate trans mothers and non-binary and gender-fluid parents. We hold in our hearts birth mothers who have lovingly placed their child for adoption.
And we also recognize today that for many of us, Mother’s Day comes with mixed emotions. So we remember and hold in our heart today those who have lost their mothers, and mothers who have lost their children. We hold in our heart those who never knew their mother, and those whose relationship with their mother is difficult, and those mothers whose relationship with a child is difficult. We hold in our heart those who are yearning to be mothers, and those whose desires to be a mother have gone unfulfilled. We hold in our heart women who have lost a pregnancy. We hold in our heart mothers whose children have been taken into custody. We recognize that Mother’s Day comes with mixed emotions.
Holding all these in our heart, I think that our Gospel text today has something beautiful to say to us this Mother’s Day. It isn’t about a mother per se – in fact, the three characters in the text, Jesus, Peter, and the Beloved Disciples are all men – but it is about loving and caring. Jesus asks Peter, “Peter, do you love me?” And when Peter answers, “Lord, you know I love you,” Jesus responds “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” It’s a story about loving and caring.
Jesus asks Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me?” And three times, Peter responds, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Peter is hurt that Jesus asked him this three times. But remember that just a few weeks ago, on Good Friday, we heard Peter deny Jesus three times. Three times around a charcoal fire in the High Priest’s courtyard, Peter was asked, “Are you one of his disciples?” And three times, Peter said “no.” And now, Peter is sitting with the resurrected Jesus around a different charcoal fire. And Jesus asks him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter responds three times, “Lord, you know I love you.” It’s a moment of reconciliation. A moment where Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to say what he was too afraid to say on Good Friday. A moment of forgiveness.
Then Jesus gives Peter a vocation: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Care for my flock.
I think this is beautiful. Jesus doesn’t say to Peter, “Here’s how you can show your love for me: build me a church, or go on a mission trip, or preach an amazing sermon to thousands of people!” He says, “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Care for my flock.” Jesus calls us to respond to God’s love for us, by loving and caring for others, just like the Good Shepherd cares for his sheep.
Back in the Middle Ages, the church believed that you only had a vocation if you were a priest or a monk, or a nun. If you were a teacher, or a blacksmith, or a farmer, that was fine, but that was just a secular thing. It wasn’t a calling from God. But Luther saw it differently. He saw that everyone has a call from God. Everyone has a vocation. Maybe your vocation is to be a parent, or maybe it’s to be a student, or a nurse, or a firefighter, or a vegetable gardener. The key is that a vocation isn’t something that you do for your own gain. A vocation is a gift from God, and it’s the way that we show God’s love for others. Our vocations are the unique and special ways in which God calls us to tend God’s sheep, and care for God’s flock.
If your vocation is to be a parent, then you are called to respond to God’s love by loving and caring for the child or the children in your care. They can experience God’s love by the way that you love and care for them. Now, you can only love them and care for them imperfectly, but God is still working, and through your imperfect love and care, God shows God’s perfect love and care.
And God calls all of us, whether we are parents or not, to love and care for others. Perhaps its easy to imagine if you are in a caring profession, like health care, or education, or child care. But let’s say you’re a farmer. Can you still show love and care for others through farming? Sure you can! When you treat the earth with care, and animals with care, and when you grow healthy and nutritious food for others, then your working for the health and wellbeing of others, and God can work through that to show God’s love for the world.
So the vocation that Jesus gives Peter is a vocation that Jesus gives each one of us: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Care for my flock. And when we respond to that vocation, each in our own unique and wonderful way, then God works through us: and the world experiences God’s love, and so do we.