"Fed in Body and Soul"
Third Sunday of Easter
St. John 21:1-19
April 22, 2007
(first sermon at St. Peter Lutheran Church, Cambria, New York)
IN NOMINE JESU
Christ is risen! CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
There is one common trait of all members of God's creation: they all need to be fed, whether that member of creation is a person, an animal, or a plant. Whatever the creature is, God feeds it. He provides for His creation, for He is the Creator. He creates, nurtures, and sustains His creatures by giving them what they need for their very lives. We too are His creatures, the crown of His creation, as He has given mankind dominion over what He has created, as we read in Genesis 1. We know that, on the basis of Scripture, we may confess boldly Martin Luther's explanation to the First Article of the Apostles' Creed:
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason, and all my senses, and still takes care of them.
He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, cattle, and all my goods. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.
He defends me against all danger and guards me and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
This is most certainly true.
In our text we behold the risen Lord appearing to seven of His disciples. Where the other four were is irrelevant to the text or the Holy Spirit's purpose in inspiring the blessed Apostle and Evangelist St. John to include this event in his book. The risen Lord came to them while they were fishing—and fishing in futility forever, it felt to them. By His coming to them, they were able to catch more fish than they could have ever imagined—153 fish, to be exact. When they came to shore, they were hungry, the Lord fed them breakfast, and they were satisfied. They knew it was the Lord, no doubt from their seeing Him in His body, but also from His feeding them the bread and fish, just as He fed the 5,000 and the 4,000 and as He fed them His body and blood when He instituted His Supper, the night we observed 17 days ago, the night in which He was betrayed, the night Peter denied Him three times.
It may be more accurate for us to say that six of the disciples were present, as was Peter. Here we mention Peter outside of the disciples, as Holy Scripture does in the blessed Evangelist St. Mark's account of the Lord's resurrection. The angel said to the women, "But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you" (Mk. 16:7). The angel did not count Peter among the disciples. Simon, son of Jonah, lost his discipleship, for he had denied the Lord three times when the Lord was on trial. He even took an oath in denying his Lord. Peter became his own god and sought to save his own skin. He forfeited his privilege of being considered one of the Twelve—or now, Eleven. He was helpless. He was outside of God's grace, for he had left himself to his own devices. On account of his grievous sin, he could not come to the Lord. Peter left himself hungering for redemption.
But all was not lost for Simon Peter, for the Lord came to him. Peter needed to be fed, and the Lord fed him, feeding him with the Gospel. The Lord forgave Peter of his sin. The Lord asked Peter three times if he loved the Lord, one time for each denial. Each time Peter confessed his love for the Lord. Following each confession, the Lord gave Peter the charge: feed My lambs, tend My sheep, feed My sheep. Peter was hungry for forgiveness, and the Lord fed him with exactly what Peter needed, the same forgiveness of sins that the Lord won on the cross on Good Friday, an event we remembered 16 days ago, an event with effects still valid and powerful today. It is this act of grace that led the forefathers of this congregation to name her in honor of the blessed Apostle St. Peter. On the basis of Scripture, we believe, teach, and confess the words of the Lutheran Confessions, especially today as we hear: "Our Confession approves honors to the saints. For here a threefold honor is to be approved. …The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace truly superabounds over sin, [as we hear in] Rom. 5, 20" (Ap XXI, 4-5), and in this verse the blessed Apostle St. Paul writes, "Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more." The Lord's grace truly abounded for Peter, as the Lord first fed his body and then his soul.
Our Lord does the same for us. He moves from the lesser to the greater, from feeding our bodies to feeding our souls. He makes known to us that He exists as the Creator, as we behold the wonders of nature all around us, and we get to behold one of the greatest wonders when we travel not much more than half an hour and witness the beauty of Niagara Falls. We look in the rivers, streams, and lakes, and we find fish. We drive by a dairy, and we come upon cows, ready to give the milk we use in our drinking and cooking. As we go by a farm, we see all sorts of animals that may one day grace our table as the main course. As we get into the summer months we see endless rows of corn and wheat, staples for our diets. These are all sources of the food with which God feeds our bodies. We have this natural knowledge of God, for He makes known to us through nature that He is the creator of all the living, that He is the one who provides food for our bodies. For this food, including the dinner we will be eating here today after Sunday school and Bible study, thanks be to God!
What we lack is the revealed knowledge of God, and we need this to be revealed to us constantly, for in this revealed knowledge our heavenly Father tells us that our sins are forgiven for the sake of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need to always be fed these words of life, eternal life, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. God has made His Law known to us, for He has written it on our hearts, but, as we are sinners and children of sinners, we do not have written on our hearts His Gospel, for the Gospel us alien to us who are steeped in sin and stink with its stench. As sinners, we lack a proper First-Commandment relationship with God, as we do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The Lord asked Peter if he loved Him. The love of which the Lord asked Peter is the kind of love that is self-sacrificing and self-giving. Peter could not respond in kind. The Greek words John uses for love are different, denoting different kinds of love. The love Peter spoke of in response was only a brotherly love. Peter still lacked the love of his Lord that he needed to have. We lack this proper love for God as well. When times are good, we give ourselves credit. When we are in the direst of need, we fall away from Him, not wanting to bother Him, or thinking we can get ourselves out of our predicaments. Instead, we peter out, and we crumble. We are fallen creatures before our very Creator, and we cannot but cry out as we did at the beginning of Matins this morning: "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise. Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord."
The Lord has come to rescue His people. He has come to redeem us. He has come to feed us on His Word. We confess, as Luther writes in his explanation to the Second Article:
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
This is most certainly true, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for Christ has come into our world as one of us, taking on human flesh and blood. Christ, who knew no sin, became our sin at His baptism and took our sins upon Himself to the cross, where He bled and died to take away our sins. There on the cross the Good Shepherd laid down His life for us, His sheep. There on the altar of the cross, on the temple of Golgotha, Christ our High Priest made the ultimate sacrifice for us by sacrificing Himself in our place, Christ the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, who has mercy upon us and grants us His peace, that peace which the world cannot give, the peace that far surpasses all understanding. In Christ's peace is the forgiveness of sins, the forgiveness He won on the cross for you and for me and gives to us through His Word and Sacraments. Today, as we pray Matins, our Lord comes to us. He appears to us. Just as He came to His disciples hidden in resurrected human flesh, He appears to us hidden in His Word, the means by which He reveals Himself and, therefore, His Gospel to us. He feeds our souls with His words of Holy Absolution; that is to say, God has forgiven us for Christ's sake.
These are words we need to hear continually, and we do through the daily confession and forgiveness of sins, which is the everyday extension of our Baptism, when our Triune God first fed our souls with His thrice-holy Name. Our souls need to be fed continually, for without these words of divine love, our faith shrivels and dies. Therefore, it is imperative that I remind you that the ministry here at St. Peter Lutheran Church is not going away, even though Pastor Knowles has been called to serve our nation at this time of war. Although Pastor Knowles will soon be apart from us, the Lord remains near you, and He remains with you, as I have been asked to continue in the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments until, Lord willing, Pastor Knowles returns from his tour of duty, when he will resume the ministry here to which he has been called. The preacher in the pulpit may be different for the time being, but the preachment is unchanging and timeless, for the Word is still of the Lord. He still gives the Word and Sacraments their power. You will still receive His gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. The charge the Lord gave a restored Peter he has given Pastor Knowles, and, for a time, to me: feed My lambs; tend My sheep; feed My sheep. Know this, fellow redeemed: the Lord has fed you His Name at Baptism and continues to feed you on His forgiveness, the forgiveness Pastor Knowles has spoken to you and I will soon speak. He tends to you through the reading and preaching of His Word that continues today and each Lord's Day. He continues to feed you with His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Yes, the ministry continues here. It has nothing to do with who Pastor Knowles or Pastor Schlamann is. It has everything to do with the fact that this is Christ's church and that He has given men to tend to and feed His bride, the Church, in every time and in every place, proclaiming the unchanging Christ and His unchanging Gospel. God grant this, and the safe return of Pastor Knowles, in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
Christ is risen! CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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