Sunday, April 14, 2013

Going Fishing

Me and Carine: global preachers.
Now I am an international preacher! I had the wonderful opportunity to preach for the Methodist Church in Lévêque, Ayiti (Haiti). It was so nerve-wracking, but I had the most amazing translator Carine Odilus, who ought to be a preacher herself because of the passion and emotion she put into getting my message across. Such a blessing!

Scripture: John 21:1-14 (NRSV)

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. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 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. 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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Sermon: Going Fishing
Let us pray:
Patient teacher, as you fed your disciples,
feed us with your Word this morning.
Move among us as we explore this scripture together this morning.
Give us strength and courage to hear you call us to you. Amen.

I am going fishing,” Simon Peter tells the disciples. Here we are at the end of John's gospel, Jesus has appeared to the disciples twice already, and yet the disciples are returning to their boats, to their way of living before they ever met Jesus.

Now, the disciples are only doing what is natural, even healthy, for people to do after undergoing a major trauma: they are picking up the pieces of their lives and moving on. This is what we do after we survive intense pain, yes? We stay in a period of mourning, certainly, we can't skip that part, but eventually we must keep going. When we loose a child, we can't stop feeding our other children. When we lose a house, we must seek other shelter. And when we are forced to watch as our best friend, our teacher, our Savior, is murdered, we cannot live in hiding forever. And so Simon Peter reaches back in his life to before he even met Jesus.1 He turns to the sea, to his nets, to try and make sense of his life without his Lord.

But here's the difference: he is with the other disciples. Though Simon Peter is going back to his life as it was before Jesus, he is doing so with those men he has met through his life with Jesus. Though the other disciples seem to be trying to find some kind of normalcy again, they are doing so together. They all know what one another has experienced. They all know the pain deep within one another's hearts, and they know the wonder and joy there too. And yet sometimes, sometimes it is easier to stand side by side and leave those feelings lie dormant, unacknowledged. Easier, maybe, to forget. One writer I came across preparing for this sermon says that these disciples had a case of the postresurrection blues, when the disciples had come down from their excitement of seeing the risen Lord, of touching his body, of talking with him again only to “find the world was the same as it had always been. Nothing had changed.”2

They expected liberation from Roman colonial oppression, they had expected him to become their new king before he died, and when he rose to life, that deed of power gave them hope that they weren't mistaken. And yet here we find them going fishing, getting into their boats weighed down with sorrow and confusion even after experiencing the joy of resurrection.

Do we ever feel that way? We as people who know Christ's love for us, who have felt Christ's power in one way or another, do we find ourselves weighed down with sorrow and confusion? Are we like those disciples, having glimpsed a vision of a new way of living, of resurrection power, and yet we go back to life as usual, trying to forget that vision because it is easier to forget?

Except Jesus doesn't let us forget. Jesus doesn't let us go back to life as it was before we met him. Jesus doesn't let us stay in our boats, drifting.3

Children,” he says to them, “You have no fish, have you?”

The disciples haven't caught a thing, and it isn't because Simon Peter and the rest are rusty after spending so long following Jesus instead of fishing. The writer of The Gospel of John reminds us that when we try to do things on our own, when we try to forget Jesus' difficult message of joy in the face of sorrow, freedom from oppression, and healing for all, we are just adrift in the water. So Jesus comes, and I imagine him kind of half-smiling at the disciples, at us, shaking his head.

Because we get in our boats too and try to forget, go back to the way life was before a resurrection, before healing, before love, but we end up in our boats, sweating, working hard, but with nothing to show for it. So when Jesus says, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” He is really saying, “How is that going back to normal working out for you?”4 And he knows the answer. He knows we are drifting.

But then he said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

They did. Their catch of fish is so abundant it is another miracle that their nets do not break. They cannot haul their catch in because it is too heavy. And here, in the midst of this abundance when before there was nothing, the disciples knew. “It is the Lord!” The disciple Jesus loved said to Peter.

The disciples have spent so much time at Jesus' feet, absorbing his teachings, watching his every move. They saw the consequences of his teachings, saw Jesus die. But then they saw the resurrection, saw how he broke out of death. And still, still they are confused and afraid. Is it any wonder that we are too sometimes? This story, this third appearance of the risen Christ to the disciples, reminds us though that no matter how dense we may seem when we try to go back to the way things were before, Christ comes to us to help us see anew.

On Easter morning, I got word that two of my friends, a clergy couple, had lost their newborn baby girl after only 25 hours. And so here I was, supposed to be helping lead my congregation in proclaiming the resurrection, and my heart was breaking for them, in the unfairness of it all. How could I be joyous when my friends were burying their child?

I, like the disciples, knew the risen Christ, believed in God's victory over death, and yet on that Easter morning I saw the world as unfair and painful and full of death as it had always been. But Christ's abundance, Christ's love, does not belong only in the past. It belongs here, now, in this world.5 That's what this story in John reminds us. Even though the world is often cold and cruel, Christ comes to us over and over again to remind us that we don't have to do this on our own. Christ came to my friends in the hands of the churches praying for them that Easter, in the hands of their own churches who cooked them meals and made them eat even when they didn't want to, and in the hugs of friends who came to sit beside them at the funeral. Christ did not leave those disciples alone to take up fishing as though nothing had every happened. Christ does not leave us alone to face our own pain and fear as though Christ had never risen from the dead.

Yes, this story in the Gospel of John reminds us, yes, the world is the same. It is still hard and cold, at times. But we, we are not the same.6 We know Jesus. We know his power. And even though we might not always feel it, even though it may be easier to forget it, he does not give up on us, calling us, feeding us, and empowering us to build his kingdom.7

Let us pray:

Living One, we give you thanks for this morning.
We give you thanks for the ways in which you are beside us,
loving us, not giving up on us,
just as you did not give up on the disciples.
Stay with us, God, stay beside us,
and open our eyes to the work you would have us do.
In the name of the one who defeated death, we pray. Amen.

1Amanda Rohrs-Dodge points out in her amazing sermon that, “It is interesting that John never really identifies the disciples as fishermen like the authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke do, and yet this epilogue to John’s Gospel echoes the accounts found within the synoptic gospels where Jesus calls those first disciples away from their nets, away from the sea- when he calls them to fish for people.” Ressurection Sermon, Miscellaneous and Some Meaningful Musings, 29 April 2011,
2Dennis E. Smith, “The Appearance by the Sea: John 21:1-14,” The Storyteller's Companion to the Bible: John, vol. 10, eds. Dennis E. Smith and Michael E. Williams, (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1996) 188.
3“At first, Jesus' followers seem to drift aimlessly, accomplishing little. With the appearance of Jesus, however, they suddenly have access to a superabundance of spititual power. It is a reminder that when they church taps into the power of the risen Lord, rather than drifting aimlessly, it will have access to a power beyond human measure.” Dennis E. Smith, “The Appearance by the Sea,” 187.
4See again Amanda Rohrs-Dodge's Resurrection Sermon,
5“If we have wrongly concluded that Christ's abundant generosity belongs to the past and not the present, the epilogue gives witness that the risen Christ continues to bless and feed us.” Thomas H. Troeger, Homiletical Perspective on John 21:1-19 on the Third Sunday of Easter, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) 423.
6“The world was the same--- they were the ones who were different.” Dennis E. Smith, “The Appearance by the Sea,” 189.
7“...none of this daarkness can overcome the light. For the risen Christ still calls, still feeds, and still empowers even doubters and deniers for the ministry.” Thomas E. Troeger, Homiletical Perspective on John 21:1-19 on the Third Sunday of Easter, 425.

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