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John 21:1-19

Meg Peery McLaughlin
April 25, 2021
John 21:1-19


After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon 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.” 16 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.” 17 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. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”



This story has it all.
Charcoal fire for the cold skin,
cook smoke for the nose,
Jesus for the eyes and ears,
fish and bread for the mouth.
It is a big scene, this breakfast on the beach with Jesus,
and thus, it is odd to me that it begins with quite the understatement.

John starts by saying, “after these things Jesus showed himself to his disciples”
After these things.
The things are an empty tomb,
a tearful Mary seeing angels,
a call to get back to work,
the risen Jesus apparating into a locked house,
to breathe peace and show his wounds[1].

“These things” included a charcoal fire, too.
This same Peter had huddled in front of a charcoal fire to keep warm alongside the police on that Thursday night when Jesus was arrested.
It was in front of that low flame that Peter denied knowing Jesus at all. Three times.

It is to Peter that Jesus speaks in this story,
after they eat,
Jesus says “Simon son of John,
You know it’s something serious when someone uses your whole name.

But what comes next is unexpected. Jesus does not call out Peter’s spectacular failure or ask for an apology.  Scholar Frances Taylor Gench points out that Jesus doesn’t say “Where were you on the worst day of my life?” or “How can I be sure you won’t deny me again?”

His question, instead, is “do you love me?

NT Wright describes this scene between Jesus and Peter as one of the most stunning interchanges in the whole Bible, perhaps in all literature.

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.”

A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you”
“Tend my sheep.”

“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”

When I was a teenager we had an acronym for conversations that were seeking to define the status of relationships. It was called a DTR. Define the Relationship. I asked around for people to give me the new version of such a term. Heard about getting out of the friendzone and having a “what are we” conversation.  Jesus asks: Do you love me? I still like to say that these two had a DTR. Jesus was seeking to define their relationship.

And if I understand the text, what Jesus does is to offer the possibility of a new stage in that relationship;  an open future, one in which Peter is not only forgiven,
but given a fresh challenge, a work to do–indeed, a share in Jesus’ own work[2].
Peter is to feed sheep and tend lambs.

Feeding sheep and tending lambs—that right there is a blueprint for ministry.

For isn’t there enough hunger in the world right now?
Hunger for bread and justice.

And isn’t there much that needs tending?
Tending to stories and sorrows and systems.

You don’t even have to be paying attention all that closely to notice
that God’s beloved are bleating and begging.
It is a mess. We are a mess. There is so much work to do.

But here’s the thing. I think if we jump to that right away,
we are missing something huge in this last word from John.

Until we define the relationship, we cannot do the work of Jesus.

Because Jesus doesn’t just want his sheep to be fed;
he wants his sheep to be fed by someone who loves him.”[i]

Ministry that matters,
ministry that changes the world,
is ministry that is grounded in a love for Jesus Christ.

Consider the alternatives:

We could feed sheep because we really love ourselves
and want to pat ourselves on our shepherd-ly backs,
but then the sheep surely know that their only purpose is to make us feel better.

We could feed sheep because we love Jesus’ sheep,
they look cuddly and cute,
but what happens when the sheep act like sheep
and start to wander away and mess themselves,
and our love for them wanes? The feeding is much harder.

The only ministry that is sustainable,
is ministry that is deeply rooted in a love for Jesus.

Perhaps this will seem like a tangent to you,
but I need to confess something that I’ve been struggling with of late.

And that is a self-righteousness
that is rooted in being politically correct,
or being woke, or being right- whatever you may call it—

Doing the “right thing” for the sake of belonging,
or for the sake of our social media feeds.
Some call this virtue-signaling.
And I fear it is little bit like feeding the sheep and tending the lambs,
for the sake of how that will make the shepherds look.
And friends, that won’t last.

But UPC, I think you are a different kind of shepherd.

You formed a racial equity team,
and a mental health taskforce,
you did the work to be an earth care congregation,
and start a service learning center
you partner with IFC, Habitat
and have friends in Haiti and among local Refugee
You empower young people and are mindful of accessibility and inclusivity

not because you want to be able to pat yourself on the back
and definitely not because any of that is easy
but because you love the one who seeks out lost sheep,
and binds up broken hearts, and upends power to care for the powerless,
because you are in a relationship with the one whose love is for every inch of creation.

Church, we may not always know where the church is headed,
but we know who we are hitched to,
and since we know him,
we know it will always involve feeding the hungry,
and satisfying those hungering for justice and love.

With Jesus, all you have to do is follow the bread.

When the disciples get off the boat,
they see that Jesus has already made the fire,
and on it is bread and fish.

Jesus says to them,
“Bring some of the fish you have caught.”

It makes you wonder why they couldn’t just eat what was already there.
But, ya’ll know that’s never Jesus style,
he’s always asking for what you already have on you—

The disciples cannot eat just what was on the fire already
because the scene isn’t complete without what they bring.
This is a relationship.

We are grown up partners with the Risen Christ, commissioned by him to go on feeding the flock.

But first, the questions.
For those on that beach, and for us now,

“University Presbyterian Church, daughter of Bob and Vance,
son of all the saints who have served at 209 E Franklin Street, do you love me”  Yes, Lord, you know that we love you.  Then “feed my sheep.”

“University Presbyterian Church, collectors of compost, champions of children, curators of hard conversations, do you love me?”  Yes Lord, you know that we love you.”  Then “tend my sheep.”

“University Presbyterian Church, painters of steeples, listeners of stories, friends of the poor, do you love me?”  “Lord, you know everything – you know that we love you.”

Then “feed my sheep” and “follow me.”

Here we go.


[1] Rev. Becca Messman from her Well Paper

[2] Raymond E. Brown, “The Johannine World for Preachers,” Interpretation 43 (January 1989): 65.

[i] Mark Allan Powell, Loving Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 178.

Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor


Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111


Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.