A sermon on John 21:1-19
I grew up listening to the late great radio broadcaster, Paul Harvey, every day at noon. I would come home from grade school for lunch and there was his uplifting voice delivering the day’s news – sometimes good, often not so good as this was the 70’s and we were in the middle of a severe economic and energy crisis. Nevertheless, he always ended his broadcast with – the rest of the story – a story about life and ordinary people living it.
That’s how I heard today’s Gospel story – picking up from last week’s climatic closing:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John 20: 30-31
Today’s story opens with three descriptive words: After these things… Can you imagine the emotional exhaustion all those things brought on? It’s been a busy time in the lives of the disciples: Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden outside the tomb, and then twice to the disciples in a house in Jerusalem, showing them his wounds, giving them the Holy Spirit, and commissioning them out into the world to proclaim, forgive, and heal: As God has sent me, so I send you and all that great stuff!
When we heard those closing words from John at the end of last week’s Gospel lesson it sounded like we were done. Done with the resurrection stories! But guess what – Happy Third Sunday of Easter!!
John and Jesus will just not let them or us go! John is like me – he loves his words!!
So now – just as Paul Harvey did so well drawing us into what I thought was the best and most important part of his program – we have the rest of the story…
And it is one of my favorites! We get a taste of what life in Jesus’ name is all about.
After all those things had happened, we have before us a restless and still uncertain but earnest Peter, a dark night on the sea, no fish and lots of fish, a charcoal fire on the beach at dawn, questions, answers, and Jesus! The scene is a vivid one, and it is one that makes my senses come alive. The salty sea air, the smell and warmth of a charcoal fire on a brisk dawn morning, the taste of fresh caught fish cooked on an open flame – it just makes me sigh.
But this is no ordinary morning coffee among friends and Jesus.
We are not certain of the amount of time that has passed since that final scene at the house in Jerusalem, but Peter has gone back to fishing and Jesus is still at work.
Perhaps you too have gone back to fishing? Maybe you hooked a few during the Mack Days fishing competition? Maybe you’ve endured a few rough goes on the water – be it a sudden spring storm or nothing at all to show for your efforts.
The disciples have returned home to where it all began. They’ve gone back to fishing – back to their old ways and former lives. They’ve traveled about 80 miles from the place of Jesus’ resurrection to their boats and the familiar waters of the Sea of Tiberias and given themselves to their old routine of fishing. Where the pieces of life fit together and make sense.
Now, I don’t know a dab about fishing. I’ve never baited a hook, cast a line, jigged a rod, or waited hours for a bite. But I do know well how it feels to be like Peter and gone-a-fishin’.
After the dramatic and traumatic events the disciples lived through the last three years and especially during the last three weeks of their lives with Jesus – who can blame them for seeking the security of their lives in the before-times. The time before Jesus.
They are back to doing what they know and do best – fishing off their home shores – except they are not having much success.
Isn’t that what we all want to do after a dramatic or traumatic experience or when life gets complicated and challenging and we can’t see our way forward? Sometimes even after the wonderful and exciting events of our lives – who doesn’t catch themselves saying – well, I’m glad that’s over with – now I can get back to normal. Even after the ordinary out of ordinary times we breathe sighs of relief! Maybe after Lent concluded and the celebrations surrounding Easter were done – you murmured quietly “now I can get back to business as usual – have my Wednesday nights back and not feel so adamant about attending worship on Sunday.”??? The pandemic inspired much pining for the before-times. Many of us are now searching for a new sense of purpose and deeper meaning in our lives.
When life gets difficult, when we become lost, confused, and afraid, when the changes of life are not what we wanted or think we deserve we tend to run away or seek refuge, comfort. We try to go back to the way it was before – to something safe, something familiar. Even when we do not want to go backwards – backwards always seems easier than moving forward into uncertainty and fleeing humans naturally favor the path of least resistance.
After a long dark night on the sea the disciple’s net is empty and sagging and I imagine their spirits were too. Because no matter how close to home they are, no matter how familiar their daily routines are once again, their lives are not the same. How could they be? They have spent three years in relationship with Jesus – it was life changing – and then it was over – in the most dreadful of ways!
They are fishing for answers to the piercing questions that sound painfully familiar in our own dark nights adrift at sea: What just happened here? Who was Jesus? Where is he? What have I done? Who am I? What now? Where am I going? What will happen to me? Are you even there, God?
What once gave them purpose and meaning doesn’t do it for them anymore. They are adrift on the water, directionless. Is this what life in His name feels like?
Peter may have left Jerusalem, but he can’t leave behind three years of discipleship, the miracles he witnessed next to Jesus, the love he learned to show, the life of abundance instead of scarcity he experienced. He cannot forget the last supper, the arrest, the charcoal fire, the denials, that crowing rooster that haunts his dreams. He cannot unsee the cross or the empty tomb; he cannot un-feel the fear in the house with the doors locked tight or ignore the echoes of “Peace be with you.”
In times like these I used to go for really long runs – sometimes really really long runs! Unfortunately, I’m paying for all those mindful marathons now (ha).
What do you do? What do you do when you are searching for meaning, a way forward, a place in life? Answers? Peace?
We have all spent time asking the same questions as Peter. Often in the context of the failures, losses, and sorrows of our lives or when our life just doesn’t have much life in it. When our sense of the way things should be is no longer. When we come face to face with our life in this world and our identity and purpose no longer feel so certain.
We can leave the places and even the people of our life behind, but we can never escape ourselves or our life. Wherever you go, there you are and all that went on before comes with you. The good news is – so does Jesus.
Perhaps you’ve sensed the power of new life, the promise of the risen Jesus, even the helpful contributions you might make as you returned once again this year – especially this year – to the Easter story — but you are afraid or too painfully aware of your own shortcomings – you suspect you are disqualified, or unqualified, or in any case incapable of answering God’s call on your life – His call to live in His name.
Or maybe, as theologian & writer Henri Nouwen shared regarding searching times like these “it seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”
It is in these moments when we come face to face and heart to heart with Jesus. We may not recognize Him at first – just like the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus calling to them from the shore at first.
Have you sensed something pulling you forward – perhaps in a direction you are not certain you want to go? Where the security and comfort you are accustomed to may not be as certain? Have you listened for Jesus to answer when you realize you “have no fish” in your current state of being, doing what you’ve always done? Do you find it easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own your life than to love life? Easier to just live your life rather than live your life in His name?
“Children you have no fish, have you,” Jesus calls out to the disciples and us – calling us out of the dark and empty nights, the pain of our past or current circumstances – out from the running away and the fishing on the wrong side of the boat.
“Cast your net to the right side of the boat,” He says. Run to me. Love me. Follow me.
Jesus calls us – His children – to move from our errant thinking into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.
When we drift about aimlessly or find ourselves lost in regret or guilt, Jesus, knowing all there is to know about us, calls us ashore and fills our nets with abundant grace; by the fire He warms and unites us with His presence, at the dawn of a new day He restores us to Him, to one another and to ourselves; He feeds us for the Good Way ahead; and He loves us three times over by teaching us how to live.
To our questions and self-doubts and professions of love for Him, Jesus meets us where we are and gives purpose to our life sending us out to feed and tend His sheep: to be leaders in love – yes even you (!), to look out for others – yes you(!), and devote ourselves to finding and building His community. Jesus provides for our most basic human need – a sense of purpose and with that a belief that what each of us does matters. Even when we fall short of our aspirations, disappoint, or transgress- which we will do time and again – Jesus keeps calling us to Him and sending us forward with purpose, meaning and a sense of belonging to something greater than our own cause.
Calling us to live in a way that may not be familiar and not always easy but most certainly transformed. Resurrected living, you might call it.
Run to Me. Love me. Follow Me, “ Jesus says, “Live as resurrected people. I’m giving you a new life in my name.”