Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 10, 2016

2016.04.10 “Gone Fishing” – John 21:1 – 19

Central United Methodist Church
Gone Fishing
John 21:1 – 19
The 3rd Sunday of Easter
April 10th, 2016


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.

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.” 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. 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.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me. – John 21: 1 – 19, the New Revised Standard Version


What is there not to like about today’s story from the Gospel of John? As we sit here shivering in a Chicago spring, wishing the snow which keeps trying to cover the daffodils would go away for good, we are invited to breakfast on the beach over a roaring fire with Jesus and his disciples. When we accept Jesus’ invitation – as they did – what we find is that we too are called to follow Jesus into an unknown future, where not only we are fed, but so are our brothers and sisters.

If you remember last Sunday, John, chapter 20 ended quite nicely.  It’s as if the curtain goes down, and the narrator comes out on stage and says:

“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, NRSV)

Back Camera

Not bad. But just when you think the lights are about to come up, like a preacher who doesn’t know when to quit, John adds, “Just one more story.” Maybe it’s because somebody realized that while they dealt with Thomas, they didn’t exonerate Peter. I mean, wasn’t Peter’s denial of Jesus worse than Thomas’ doubting Jesus? Like this cartoon with Thomas saying to the other disciples: “All I’m saying is we don’t call Peter “Denying Peter” or Mark “Ran Away Naked Mark,” so why should I be saddled with “Doubting Thomas?” To which the others say, “We see your point Thomas. But really, it’s time to move on.”

Whether they felt it was time to move on or whether they needed a little R & R after all that had happened, Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”  And the others said: “We’re going with you.”

I get it, don’t you? When life gets overwhelming, it’s always a comfort to default to what we know best, in their case fishing. And so they did. Hopped in the car and zipped back to Galilee, 90 miles away. Old clothes, familiar setting, smell of the air, water lapping against the boat; no crowds of people; I get it, don’t you? During this election year, we may all have the overwhelming impulse to go fishing and not come back.

So there they are, fishing all night. You’d think – after all that had happened – John would tell us what they talked about, which definitely wasn’t the fish they were catching, because they didn’t catch any. In reading the Gospels, have you ever noticed that Jesus’ disciples were some of the worst fishermen in history; because in the Gospels, without Jesus help, they never catch a single fish? It makes you wonder how good they will be at fishing for people, when they’re not even good at fishing for fish?

They fish all night, and don’t catch a thing. When they pull their net up, it’s like that scene from Forrest Gump: in their net is a license plate, an old toilet seat, a few cans, but no fish.

Then comes a voice from the shore, a voice that sounds familiar, though in the early morning light they don’t recognize who it belongs to. “Throw your net on the other side!” Does it seem to you as it seems to me, that there were a lot of shore-bound fishing advisors in those days? Were people always yelling advice to them because they were such rotten fishermen, or was it just Jesus? Still, since Luke tells us this had happened before, what does it say about them that they don’t recognize him? And what kind of person is this resurrected Jesus, that no one recognizes him – even in “deja vu” situations like this?

With more obedience and humility than I can imagine, they do what the stranger recommends, and – as before – the net overflows with fish, 153 to be exact. By now, you’d think they’d get it. But only John does, who exclaims: “It’s the Master.”

According to the story, Peter evidently liked fishing naked (or at least in his Speedo). While today this would likely be problematic for a future Pope of the Catholic Church (could we see Pope Francis doing this?), then it wasn’t. Peter puts his clothes on, and jumps into the water; another Forrest Gump moment. Guess it’s better to show up before Jesus dressed, even if soaking wet. Perhaps we should keep this in mind as we prepare for the Last Judgment.

MyPic2Have I told you I researched this scene thoroughly? When we were in Israel in 2013, we stayed at Hotel Nof Ginosar on the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Kinneret as it’s now called. I still had jet lag and was waking up early, so one morning as the sun was coming up I put on my swimsuit and walked the short distance to the harbor. I didn’t want to take a boat on the Sea of Galilee, I wanted to see and feel what it looked like in the Sea of Galilee, like Peter did. As I dove in, under the water, I thought: “A little green, but basically just like every other lake I’ve ever swam in.” I swam out to a little dock, where there was a young Irish woman who had the same idea. We agreed it was a thrill to swim in this water we’d heard about all our lives.

One way or another, Jesus’ disciples get to shore, to find Jesus cooking a breakfast of bread and fish over a fire. And here’s the strangest thing of all: even though by now they know its Jesus, nobody says anything! Is this a guy thing or what? (Maybe if we don’t say anything, he won’t remind us that we ran away and left him!)

Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, and gives it to them. He does the same with the fish. Sound familiar? Maybe we’re doing communion wrong; maybe we should be using not bread and wine, but bread and fish, as in fact the early Syrian Church did.

Finally – just when we are beginning to wonder if there is a point to this story, the point appears: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” These what? These fish? These boats? These disciples? “Simon, do you really, really love me?” “Simon, son of John, do you really, really, really, love me?” Peter grows increasingly irritated with each question, perhaps forgetting the last time he was around a fire like this, he had denied Jesus three times. Three times he’s asked, and three times he says, “Yes, Master, you know that I do.” With each affirmation, Jesus’ response is the same: “Feed my sheep.” Given the context, it would have made sense not to change the metaphor and stick with “fishing for people” rather than “feeding my sheep” but this is Jesus talking, so we’ll let it slide.

OK, you say, that may be the point of this story for Peter, but what is it for us?

The risen    Christ comes to us where we are, amidst the scenes of our ordinary lives. He also comes to us as we are, needy, overwhelmed, even spiritually naked, as Simon Peter was. He comes to us not with rebuke, but with forgiveness, grace, and re-commissioning – as many times as it takes – for the tasks to which he has called us. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we fail often. Like them, without his help, we do a lot of fishing, without much to show for it. Like them – casting their nets on the left side rather than the right side – we keep doing what we’ve always done exactly as we always done it; except now getting the same results, which is nothing.

On the other hand, when we accept Jesus’ gracious invitation, he takes what we bring – bread and fish in abundance, ourselves and our gifts – blesses them, and offers them back to us, in his service. Eventually – as we become wiser – we discover that it isn’t about us, but about others, our companions along the way, our congregation, our community. Jesus message to Peter was not “You are forgiven,” but “Feed my sheep.” Forgiveness was implied; but “Feed my sheep” was imperative. If Peter was to be the Rock on whom the Church would be built, as the leader he had to set the example of caring for others. With the very last words of John’s Gospel, Jesus is saying, not just to Peter, but to all of us: “Follow me, by living a life for others, whatever it entails and wherever it shall lead.” In Peter’s case, it would get his body buried under St. Peter’s in Rome; in our case, we’re still waiting to see where it leads. But the invitation is the same: “Follow me.”

I end this sermon where I always end it, with one of my favorite quotes, which I never get tired of hearing or quoting. It is from Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965), who as an organist was one of the foremost interpreters of Johann Sebastian Bach; who as a theologian wrote one of the theological classics of his time, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, who then trained as a physician and went off to Africa as a missionary. In The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Schweitzer wrote:

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and set us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.” (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1906, p. 40.).




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: