April 30, 2014: Rev. Anna Fulmer
Today’s Scripture begins in darkness. Peter, probably sick of waiting, of being holed up, announces to two other disciples he is going fishing. Fishing was Peter’s original job–before Jesus called him to be a fisher of people. And so the other disciples decide they are going too. They go to fish, but that whole night, they don’t catch a thing. I kind of wonder, why in the world would they go fishing at night? But according to my fishing experts, sometimes night is the best time for fishing. Yet they don’t catch a thing. On that water, it was dark for miles and miles. This story begins in the dark, with a sorry night of fishing. But it doesn’t end that way. So let’s read our Scripture from John 21:
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood out 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 100 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, 153 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 to 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 had 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.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Everything that I have learned about fishing, I have learned from our youth group. You see, I didn’t grow-up fishing. I have played more rounds of the card game, “Go Fish” than actually gone fishing. And so my first year here, I made a critical error–I thought you couldn’t fish at Montreat. When our youth arrived to Montreat, and discovered that I was wrong and you could–I was in deep water. So last year, our second year of Montreat, a few of our guys brought fishing poles. With any free time, I knew where the guys of our group would be: fishing. At first, I worried about their obsession. Why in the world would they want to go fish at Montreat, when the fishing is certainly better in Mobile than Montreat? There were only two fishing poles and six guys. And honestly, was this a good use of their time–to sit and fish? Only two could actually be fishing at a time.
But I watched. And what amazed me was how fishing connected these group of guys together. Even the ones who had never fished before sat and waited for a fish to tug. Yet, I kept wondering–what’s the point? Even when they caught a fish, most of the time, they threw it back. But soon, I realized fishing isn’t just about catching and keeping a fish. They explained to me that they fish for excitement and peace. It’s really about anticipation–the hope of what might come. But there’s also a bunch of waiting, and in waiting peace and patience.
No wonder Jesus called a bunch of fishermen. No wonder Peter goes back to fishing. He probably needed some time to think–after denying his friend three times and watching him suffer and die. He probably needed an easy catch–something to lift his spirits after such loss and darkness. And he probably wanted to remember his friend. He and Jesus had spent some time on a boat–after Jesus fed 5000 people with bread and fish, the disciples get on a boat where during a storm they see Jesus walking on water.
In this season after Easter, I am sure we have also gone back to business as usual. We are back to work, back to school, back on our usual exercise routine, back making lunches, wiping noses, back to yard-work and bills. We have gone back to fishing–the things we are used to, the routines we know best. And sometimes these tasks seem endless, fruitless. We fish all night without catching a single thing. And yet, even in those routines, even in the dark, even when we come up empty after hours of endless work, Christ comes. Christ comes at daybreak, with the light peeking in and changes everything.
Christ doesn’t appear in the boat. He yells from shore some advice–”try the right side.” At first, the disciples don’t realize it’s him. After hours of fruitless labor, I would be prone to say (especially to a stranger), “We have already tried. If you think you know so well, they come over here and prove it.” I am just prideful enough to think if I can’t do it, then no one can, and what the use of trying one more time. But the disciples don’t. Maybe they’ve learned to listen–even to a stranger. They’ve learned other voices can be wise; it might even be God’s voice. They are open. They are willing. So they listen. They cast their net in, on the right side and they find an abundance.
So maybe this text is saying to us this day: get out. Go fishing. But be open. Listen to other voices–even when you are tired, even when you think you have done everything you can. Because Christ meets us where we are, even in the dark, out on a boat. But there’s more.
As soon as they pull up the nets, the beloved disciple tells Peter, “It is the Lord!”–sometimes it takes another person to help us recognize Christ in our midst. And Peter, he puts on his clothes and jumps into the sea. This probably seems strange to think about–a little counterintuitive. But let’s compare Peter with other people who were concerned about nakedness in the Bible, Adam and Eve. After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness and probably, ashamed of their sin–doing something they weren’t supposed to, so they hide from God. And eventually God lovingly sews them clothes to wear. Peter, is also ashamed of his sin, of denying Jesus. And so symbolically and physically, Peter puts on his clothes–he’s aware of what he has done. He has fallen short. But instead of hiding from Jesus, he jumps right into the sea and swims on over. Peter’s shame and sin does not prevent him from going to Jesus–he is eager to see his friend, to be reunited. Peter shows his love by taking the plunge.
I think Peter too, like our youth, went fishing to find some peace and have a little joy and excitement. He goes hoping to have a little joy instead of grief. And he gets that–and more. They go fishing and get the catch of their lives–an overabundance, 153 fish. But even, better they catch a glimpse of Christ. When they arrive on the shore, Jesus has a fire with fish and bread waiting on them. Jesus feeds them, and his words remind them and us of the feeding of the 5000 and the last supper–both stories of abundance. After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter, three questions. “Simon, do you love me?” Peter says, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you! Three times Jesus asks. And each time, Jesus commands Peter, “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” By the third time, Peter is hurt. He wonders, why Jesus doesn’t believe him. But his answer I think becomes more vulnerable and true–it’s a confession–”Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
I wonder if Jesus keeps grilling Peter because he doesn’t want Peter just to say that he loves Jesus. He wants Peter to actually do something. Peter has said words before, and then not followed through. We know Peter had said, “I would never deny you!” and then gone on and denied. For Jesus, I don’t think love is just about saying, “I love you.” He wants Peter to show his love, to start tending and feeding Christ’s flock. He wants Peter to leave his boat and follow him.
What I find amazing though is that before Christ commands Peter to feed and tend, Christ feeds and cares for Peter. Christ doesn’t call him to do something that Jesus does not do himself. Today, there is so much good news in one passage: first, go fish: we know that Jesus meets us where we are; second, our Messiah, our Lord is one of abundance—Christ can fill our empty nest until they are bursting with hope, third—Christ doesn’t just fill us with abundance, Christ wants to be with us, share in meal with us. Yet Christ also challenges us here at this table too. Do we love Christ? If our answer is yes, then that means it cannot be by word alone. Christ asks us to “Feed his sheep and tend his lambs.” It is because we are filled and cared for here at this table, that we are called to do this same. So I today Christ asks you and me, each one of us: “Do you love me?” Yes? Then “Follow me.” Amen.