Grace United Methodist Church
April 18, 2010
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. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,* Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon 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.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 6He 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. 7That 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 lake. 8But 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.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus 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. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This 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.’ 16A 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.’ 17He 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. 18Very 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.’
Like many other professions, keeping up clergy credentials in the United Methodist Church requires a program of continuing education. Exactly what direction that continuing ed takes can vary according to the pastor’s needs or the churches needs, but the point is to make sure that the clergy are always “up-to-date” with the ministry needs of an ever-evolving cultural and religious atmosphere. Now, that doesn’t mean that we didn’t learn what we needed to know to lead a church in seminary or course of study. Rather, it means that to continue as fruitful and effective leaders of the church, we must seek out new opportunities to learn and grow as servants of Christ and Christ’s church.
In effect, the disciples are getting some continuing ed as they encounter Jesus on the beach on this morning some time after his resurrection. They have been working with Jesus for three years. They have heard his call and followed him. They have listened to him teach. They have watched him heal and do miracles. They have gone from village to village casting out demons and healing under Jesus’ authority. It’s not as if they don’t know what their work is about; but there is always room to learn more. And, on this early morning, as the disciples fish and dine with Jesus yet again, they have their first continuing education experience; they learn a bit more about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. With the Sea of Galilee as the backdrop, the disciples in the midst of everyday activity encounter the risen Jesus again, and have some more lessons from him.
Why had the disciples gone fishing that morning? As we all know, tragedy jars us; it interrupts our lives and takes us into an alternative reality for a time as we try and cope with the emotional and physical impact of any trauma. And the disciples had experienced a great tragedy. Only days before, their leader had been brutally crucified; and though he rose from the dead, they no doubt were exhausted and tired from the emotional roller coaster of the preceding weeks. We all know that in the face of such tragedy, sometimes the best thing to do is to try and get back to “normal.” To occupy our minds with the normal everyday tasks of our lives rather than allow ourselves to be consumed with uncertainty and grief. I suspect that this is precisely what the disciples were trying to do. They were fisherman. So, after the death and resurrection of Christ, with their leader no longer standing among them each and every day, they decided to get back to fishing. They were ready to get on with life; to do the next thing; to catch some fish. Except, it didn’t work. They knew the sea; they knew where the fish congregated. Yet though they sat all night with their nets cast, they caught nothing. Then, just as dawn was breaking and they were preparing to “pack it in,” Jesus appeared with a new command, a new lesson: “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some [fish].” It seems silly; if they weren’t able to catch fish on one side of the boat, what difference would it make to put the net on the other side of the boat. But as the disciples quickly learned, sometimes the smallest change can make the biggest difference when it comes to following Christ; if only we will listen.
There we have our first continuing education lesson from the risen Jesus. Sometimes we have to be prepared and willing to make a change; however small or silly it may seem. We can easily stand in our mind’s eye with the disciples in the boat; laboring over projects and feeling like we are getting nowhere. Perhaps even a bit stubborn in our insistence to keep doing what we have always done. Then dawn comes; our awareness is heightened, and we sense perhaps a presence not too far away – Jesus in our midst. It is then that we have to listen for his voice, and to do whatever it is he commands. And if we are willing to make even the slightest change, it could “net” amazing results! But we have to stay focused on Jesus!
That morning on the Sea of Galilea, as the disciples encounter Jesus yet again, the events of the day become a living parable about the disciples’ mission as fishers of people; a mission that is before us even today. You see, the disciples’ failure to catch any fish until they follow Jesus’ instructions symbolizes the need to depend on Jesus for their mission. And we too have to depend on Jesus as we follow his mission in the world today. We must put aside our fear and trust that when Jesus speaks to us, he is directing us in the best way. We have to truly believe in Christ’s purposes for our lives, but more importantly his purposes for this world. With Christ, there is a new “normal.” The disciples are no longer just fishers, they are fishers of people. Our day-to-day work isn’t just about the numbers or the profits or the emails; it’s about bearing constant witness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who stands not too far away, preparing a meal and inviting all to join him.
And therein lies our second lesson of the day. Even as Jesus feeds us, we are to offer people the bread of life! “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? Feed my lambs.” Three times Jesus asked this question of Peter and gave the same demand. “Feed my lambs.” There was a reason for that. Though Peter had once said that he would never “fall away” from Jesus (Matthew 26: 33); on that night of great darkness, as Jesus was awaiting trial in the temple courts, Peter did fall away; and not just once, but three times. It was three times that Peter denied his Lord, and it was three times that Christ gave him a chance to affirm his love. And each time Peter tells Jesus that he loves him, it earns not a pat on the back, but a command, new instructions; a fresh challenge; a new commission. Jesus forgave Peter and then told him it was time move on, but to a new normal; time to be a fisher of men, time to bring in a great catch, time be to a shepherd, time to care for the flock, time to feed the lambs!
We, too, are weak and broken people. We, too, have let the Lord down; probably a lot more than just three times! But what Jesus teaches us on the beach is that when we love the Lord, we are forgiven and we are called. “If we are going to do any single solitary thing as a follower of Jesus, this is what it’s built on. Somewhere, deep down inside, there is a love for Jesus, and though (goodness knows) [we’ve] let him down enough times, he wants to find that love, to give [us] as chance to express it, to heal the hurts and failures of the past, and give [us] new work to do.” What an amazing Lord we serve—who forgives us when we have turned away, who loves us even in our weakness, and who calls on us despite our many faults!
Do you remember what it was like when you first came to know Jesus fully and completely in your heart and life? I was 15, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in the sanctuary of Central United Methodist Church in downtown Knoxville. It was the place where my grandfather had been baptized; this was the sanctuary where he had worshipped when he was a child. And just a few weeks before, my grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer, cancer which would take his life a few years later. In uncertainty and despair, I prayed that night for a long time, and for a lot of things. And as I cried out to Christ, for the first time in my life, I felt certain that he was hearing me; that he was responding to me; that he was caring for me—feeding even me, weak and broken and lost, one of his lambs. I left that place with a new enthusiasm. This was a new beginning; the best kind of all! Christ was in my life and I was going to share the good news with the world! Well, as you can probably imagine, that enthusiasm eventually faded away, and has come and gone many times since. But with Christ in our lives, we are called to such enthusiasm each and every day. Christ asks us to remember that we are a forgiven people, to remember that we are a loved people, and to remember that we are a called people.
We are to look forward; we are to feed the lambs, to offer the nourishment of the risen Christ himself; to give people an opportunity to know Jesus as we know him! We are to fill our nets—or might we say pews? I don’t know if you all have been keeping up with statistics relating to Christianity in America, but if you have, then you know that Christians in America are no longer a majority. Only 40% of Americans now say that they are Christian. Across all denominations, church membership and church attendance are in decline. We may think that there are certain churches that are growing, but what we are finding now is that those growing churches are only attracting people from other churches, who are already Christians. And did you know that 85% of non-Christians say that they would attend church if they were personally invited by someone. 85%!!! Everywhere people are looking and longing, lost and without hope. There are people around us, all over the place, who are hungry but hear no invitation to breakfast. “Feed my lambs. Feed my lambs!” Jesus says. “You’re missing the mark just a bit. Cast your net over here! Feed my lambs!”
Indeed, the task before us today is amazing, but it is not impossible, especially not with Jesus standing on the shore calling out directions. There is much we can still learn from Jesus, even now, just as Peter and the other disciples learned from the risen Christ there on the Sea of Galilee. And if we open ourselves to Jesus’ constant movement in our lives, then we will surely grow more fully and completely into the disciples he would have us to be. All we have to do is listen! All we have to do is respond! And, with Christ behind us, the “catch” will surely be amazing!
 Tom Wright, John for Everyone: Part Two (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 165.