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  • Writer's pictureRev. Nick Reed

The First Church Potluck

John 21:1-19

Have you ever found yourself in a rut or overwhelmed emotionally, spiritually, physically. That is how I always pictured Peter as today’s gospel reading unfolds. Fresh off a whirlwind of a few days where he shared a meal with Christ in an upper room, and then later that same night denied Christ three times. He witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross, and then experienced the shock and awe of finding an empty tomb.

Then right before today’s scripture reading we hear the story when a risen Jesus Christ comes through a locked door and commissions Peter and rest of the disciples to go into the world and love the world. So what does Peter do in response to this emotional, physical, and spiritual roller coaster…instead of going out into the world and proclaiming the Good News he goes to his friends and says, “I am going fishing.”

That is a bold move. But I get it and maybe you do too. Countless times I have found myself trying to find other things to fill the spiritual or emotional void that has been created by a broken and fearful world. Fishing was Peter’s trade, and it was what he knew best. If this ministry thing did not work out, he could always go fishing. So that is what he did, and his friends decided to join him.

What Peter soon would learn as he sought to seek other things to tend to his spiritual and emotional void was where ever you go in life, the Lord will be with you. Similar to Mary’s story a chapter earlier, it was at daybreak when the light was first coming into the day that Peter would realize the light of Christ will always be present to fill the void of spiritual and emotional darkness. Christ appears to Peter and his friends, but like Mary they did not recognize him at first. Then when Jesus guides them towards an extraordinary abundance of fish they realize they are encountering their risen Christ.

They quickly find themselves to the shore, Peter the same one who was wanting to get away, is the fastest to the shore to talk to Jesus.

I love the setting for this last lesson of discipleship by our risen Savior. My New Testament professor in Seminary called it “The Great Fish Fry”. However because Jesus brought the bread and the disciples brought the fish I have always liked to call it the first Church Potluck.

While the meal is special, the lesson drives home a point that Jesus has been preaching and teaching all throughout the gospels. Love one another.

Jesus said to Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

This message is not new to the disciples. Days earlier while gathered with Christ for their last meal together before his arrest, Jesus commanded them to “love one another as he has loved them”. On the shore of the Sea while they ate the church’s first ever potluck they would once again be reminded of their mission from here on out…go out into the world and love God by loving others.

Peter’s own faith journey is a reminder to all of Christ’s followers that this mission to love and tend to God’s sheep or God’s children is not always easy. There will be good days and their will be challenging days. The Good News of today’s gospel story is actually deeper than hearing a lesson on our mission to love God’s creation. The Good News of today’s gospel story is that while we live out our calling to fulfill our mission to go out into the world and love God’s creation, our risen Christ will be guiding us and nurturing us along the way.

As Christians we believe we experience Christ’s presence in our midst everyday. Of course as a church we experience this in a variety of ways. Every time we celebrate the sacraments of communion and baptism we acknowledge Christ’s presence in our life. In baptism we believe that “we are made one with Christ, with one another, and with the church in every time and ever place.” As we gather around the Lord’s table we believe the Spirit unites us with Christ and gives a foretaste of God’s heavenly banquet.

We also believe that Christ is present in our relationships with one another after all Jesus proclaims in the gospel of Matthew “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Our fellowship with one another matters because it a moment together that reminds us that Christ is present with us in our relationships guiding us and nurturing us in our mission to love God’s creation.

That is why this story of the church’s first potluck holds significance to Christ’s followers. Meals together and fellowship together in Christ’s name will always remind us that Christ is present in our life.

This would be the first of many church potlucks. The early church had them all the time. In fact, the sacrament of communion in the early church was not just bread and a cup or fancy silver trays passed around, but when the early church celebrated communion together everyone brought food as their gift of offering to God.

They would bring bread, fish, wine, fruit, or whatever was recently harvested and they would gather around the table and share their gift of food and have a feast celebrating Christ’s love for the world that is present in their lives in that very moment. As they found physical and spiritual nourishment in this special meal together, they would be reminded of that very first church potluck when Christ told his followers that their mission and purpose is to feed and care for the physical and spiritual nourishment of others through acts of love.

That is the beauty of the church potluck. We bring what we have, our food and our gift of presence and physically feed each other and spiritually feed each other. I mean who doesn’t love a Church Potluck.

Some people prepare and bring their favorite dish to share, and some bring whatever they can find. You get to share a meal together with people you care about, and it is an excuse to eat the most random abundant assortment of food that usually is not paired with one another. You can look down at your plate and have a gourmet dish someone made from scratch, the spiciest chili you ever tasted, and chicken from one of Auburn’s finest chicken finger establishments. So much unique and genuine food surrounds you reminding you that you are surrounded by people who are even more unique and genuine. Like that first church potluck there is such an abundance of food that usually you have to get strategic and go to dessert table later when there is more room on your plate.

While the meal will fill you up, what makes it even more special is sitting across from someone you haven’t seen in a while and hearing about the joys and concerns of their life. In that conversation about life, work, and faith Christ is present providing you spiritual and emotional nourishment.

One of the many joys these last few months has been having more and more fellowship events at the church where we can gather together in Christ’s name and be spiritually fed as we surround one another in each other’s presence. As reawaken ourselves as a church in a post covid world, please know as a church we are planning more and more ways to gather together in Christ’s name. There will be more potlucks in our future, and this summer we hope to kickoff our divine dinner small groups. Even this fall we are hoping to begin a mid week fellowship gathering. The details of our fellowship gatherings might look different than it did a few years ago, but the purpose has not changed one bit. We will gather together in Christ’s name and celebrate that our risen Christ is always in our midst.

For the last few years we all have longed for those moments when we could gather with others. We realized more than ever that our fellowship together is powerful source of our physical, emotional, and spiritual nourishment, especially in times when we find ourselves like Peter in an emotional and spiritual void. That is why I always have been drawn to today’s story. Peter was obviously struggling and wanted to disconnect from the mission Christ called him to do because he was overwhelmed and just wanted to get away from it all. Yet his friends joined him. While they could have wanted to join his fishing expedition for the same reason as Peter, to simply just get away; I like to believe they knew he was in a rough place and wanted to surround him with support not with their words, but with their presence.

Then together just after day break they were given a clearer explanation of what they were experiencing in this moment. Christ reminded them all that fellowship in his name will always be the nourishment they need as they navigate the darkness of a broken and fearful world. When they are spiritually broken and lost like Peter, their fellowship with one another will be how they experience Christ’s light in their own darkness.

In our own good days and challenging days, may we remember the Good News that Christ’s light is present with us always guiding us and nurturing us in our calling to love God’s creation. Alleluia Amen!

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