Sermon from June 28: Come and Have Breakfast

Come and Have Breakfast
Pentecost IV (O. T. 13); June 28, 2020
John 21:1-19

Next weekend, many of you will enjoy grilling out in celebration of Independence Day. Today’s story is the story of a group of friends having a grill-out. The Lord Jesus, recently returned from death, grills fish and bread by the lakeside, and invites his friends to join him. When I was asked to preach from this story, you asked me to preach on the phrase, “Feed my sheep.” The phrase in the story that always moves me is, “Come and have breakfast.” The two are intimately related, and so I will touch on both.

After breakfast, Jesus and Peter walk off alone, just the two of them, and talk. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times Peter says that he does. Many suggest this is to make up for the three times Peter said, “I don’t know him!” Perhaps. And each time Peter assures Jesus of his love, Jesus gives him a command: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.

They all come to the same thing: Feed my sheep. The flock is mine, says Jesus. When you see the people out there, lost, frightened, sinful, self-assured, whatever, remember they are mine. I died for them. I was raised to life for them. I pray for them. They belong to me. That’s easy to remember when you’re talking about church people singing a hymn, but let’s think more broadly. It’s harder, isn’t it, when the “sheep” are protestors who are demanding something that bothers you, or in a way that bothers you, or when you don’t understand it? Remember, says Jesus: they are my sheep. I died for them. I was raised to life for them. I pray for them. They belong to me. It’s harder, isn’t it, when it’s a crowd of white supremacists, carrying their hate placards, wearing their hoods, waving their Confederate battle flags? I died for them. I was raised to life for them. I pray for them. They belong to me.

Feed my sheep. The question you raised is about force-feeding and, of course, you’re right: you cannot force someone to accept truth. If you are trying to give a witness to Jesus Christ to someone who does not believe, if you are trying to educate someone who is overtly racist, if you are trying to tell the truths about our history, you cannot compel someone to swallow it. I have found, however, that we mainline Protestant Christians are rarely guilty of trying to force-feed someone. We are more likely to be guilty of failing to profess any convictions at all. We don’t “push” our Christian faith; rather, people are unlikely to realize that we’re disciples of Jesus. We may not be overtly racist, but we fail to be sufficiently anti-racist either.

That is, when it comes to feeding Jesus’ sheep, the question is: what do you have to offer? When someone is hungry, you offer them soup. When someone is lonely, you offer company. When someone needs a connection with the eternal, do you have fish and bread on the grill?

Come and have breakfast. You can’t possibly feed Jesus’ sheep if you don’t have anything to eat. I really don’t want to turn this sermon into a harangue about what you should be doing for your spiritual life, but I do want to invite you to eat more than you are now. And I want to figure out what I need to do to make that easier for you. Peter and his friends brought fish, but Jesus had the fire going and did the cooking. As your Pastor, I want to invite you to come and have breakfast, so that you will be nourished and can feed Jesus’ sheep.

I know that you need to feast on the Word. I’ve done a little polling – not a lot, but some – and have discovered that very few have a disciplined prayer life that includes daily prayer and Bible reading. Rather than scold you about that, I need to apologize that I and my predecessors have not taught you how to do that. How can I expect you to prepare that meal if I’ve never taught you to cook? I’m speaking figuratively, of course. How can you feed Jesus’ sheep the Word of life if your pastors have never taught you to cook? I must consider that.

I know also that you need to feast on a vibrant sacramental life. We do what we can every Sunday to remind you of your baptism. Those of you who use the Presbyterian Church’s order for morning prayer every day say a prayer of thanksgiving for baptism every day. When we remind ourselves of our baptism then we remember that we are Jesus’ sheep, that he died for us, was raised to life for us, prays for us; we belong to him. And we need to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper often enough to remember that we live only because our life comes from God, that our spirits depend on the Spirit of God. Our ancestor in the faith, John Calvin, thought that God’s people should receive the bread and wine every day; every Sunday at minimum. He was right; if we’re going to have anything to feed Jesus’ sheep, then we need to come and have breakfast with Jesus.

There is so much more, beloved. So much more. Jesus’ invitation to breakfast and command to feed his sheep is as wide and various as the number of sheep that Peter and his friends brought on shore (153, in case you’ve forgotten). I think of the joy in the presence of the Lord that moved King David to dance. I think of the struggle of the Preacher that led him to wonder if there is anything lasting we can do before God in his book Ecclesiastes. I think of the opportunity before Queen Esther to save the people of God. There is so much truth, so much wisdom, so much to enjoy for breakfast and then to offer to Jesus’ sheep.

And at this moment in our nation’s story and our nation’s life, we need to feast on the truth of our history. Some of it is sweet as maple syrup and some of it bitter as horseradish, but if we are to feed Jesus’ sheep we must feast on it all. Today I am thinking of Chief Standing Bear, and the truths of our history that we feast on in his name.[1] He was a chief of the Ponca, who were relocated to Oklahoma from their homeland in Nebraska. After his son died there, he returned to Nebraska to bury him, and of course ran afoul of the laws of the white people. His famous trial was a test of habeus corpus; namely, who had a right to such a writ. The law said that any person or party had the legal right to apply for a writ of habeus corpus, so the court had to decide: was a Native American a person?

The lawyer arguing for Standing Bear concluded his argument by saying that it is a libel upon the missionaries who sacrificed so much to bring the Gospel of Christ to the Natives to then turn and say that those Natives are not human beings, with the rights of human beings. But the most stirring words were those Standing Bear himself addressed to the judge:

“That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be of the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.”

With those words, Chief Standing Bear offered the food of truth to the court which did, I am glad to say, took it and ate it. The judge’s decision frequently refers to the Christian intention of government and rights given by God in declaring, on May 12, 1879, the full rights of Native Americans before the law.

I did not know anything of that story before I come to Nebraska. We were taught American history as something that started with white people building cities on the east coast and steadily moving west to settle an empty land. It is similar to the story people tell about the founding of the State of Israel, a land without a people for a people without a land, as had been said, except that there were people there, and we don’t tell the story of the burning of their homes and their being forced to live in refugee camps for, so far, seventy-two years. And many of you wish I had not brought that up. If we are going to feed Jesus’ sheep, we must not be afraid to breakfast on the truth ourselves.

I am grateful to be alive in a time when we are struggling to come to terms with the truths of our history, to be freed from the chains of ignorance. “Come and have breakfast,” says Jesus: eat and drink of the Word of God, of the Sacraments, and of the many other facets of life that it would be too easy to avoid. But life is a meal with many courses, much to learn, many things to eat and drink. Come and have breakfast, and then go, feed Jesus’ sheep.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska


[1] I recorded this sermon on the shore of Standing Bear Lake. Material about his story is drawn from Joe Starita, “I Am a Man:” Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008). The quotation is on p. 151.