Rev. Teri Peterson
John 21.1-19 (CEV)
28 April 2019, preaching in Laurene
Jesus later appeared to his disciples along the shore of Lake Tiberias. Simon Peter, Thomas the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, and the brothers James and John, were there, together with two other disciples. Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing!”
The others said, “We will go with you.” They went out in their boat. But they didn’t catch a thing that night.
Early the next morning Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise who he was. Jesus shouted, “Friends, have you caught anything?”
“No!” they answered.
So he told them, “Let your net down on the right side of your boat, and you will catch some fish.”
They did, and the net was so full of fish that they could not drag it up into the boat.
Jesus' favourite disciple told Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon heard that it was the Lord, he put on the clothes that he had taken off while he was working. Then he jumped into the water. The boat was only about a hundred yards from shore. So the other disciples stayed in the boat and dragged in the net full of fish.
When the disciples got out of the boat, they saw some bread and a charcoal fire with fish on it. Jesus told his disciples, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” Simon Peter got back into the boat and dragged the net to shore. In it were one hundred fifty-three large fish, but still the net did not rip.
Jesus said, “Come and eat!” But none of the disciples dared ask who he was. They knew he was the Lord. Jesus took the bread in his hands and gave some of it to his disciples. He did the same with the fish. This was the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from death.
When Jesus and his disciples had finished eating, he asked, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than the others do?”
Simon Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I do!”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus said.
Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you!”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus told him.
Jesus asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus had asked him three times if he loved him. So he told Jesus, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.”
Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep. I tell you for certain that when you were a young man, you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will hold out your hands. Then others will wrap your belt around you and lead you where you don’t want to go.”
Jesus said this to tell how Peter would die and bring honour to God. Then he said to Peter, “Follow me!”
I love to cook. I get it from my mother—she was a phenomenal cook, and a good baker too. I don’t seem to have inherited baking skills, but cooking is definitely my forte. Just like my mother, I can create something delicious out of almost any ingredients on hand, and I very rarely use a recipe. I just sort of put things together until it seems right, and I can count on one finger the number of times in the past twenty years that it’s gone horribly wrong and I had to order a pizza instead. I find cooking fun and relaxing and energising all at the same time, and it makes me happy to spend an afternoon in the kitchen, even though I mainly cook for myself.
Not so for Laurene...she will freely admit that cooking for herself isn’t her strong suit, and that if left to her own devices, she might accidentally end up with only scrambled eggs and a handful of almonds in the pantry. So the past few weekends, it’s been a little like this: I say, “I made dinner, come and eat!” And she does, without asking too many questions.
I’m not comparing myself to Jesus by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a little like this morning’s gospel story. Jesus has a few ingredients handy, and he whips up a breakfast for his disciples, who maybe don’t quite recognise him by sight, but they don’t ask too many questions, they just come and enjoy the meal he has prepared for them.
The disciples must have grown tired of hiding in their upper room in Jerusalem. It isn’t clear how much time has passed since that Easter morning, but at least a couple of weeks. We don’t know what they did with themselves, only that more than half of the original 12 decided to go back to what they knew best: fishing.
Despite the fact that everything had changed dramatically, when faced with uncertainty, they fell back on their old ways. And so the night found them rowing out into the lake, just as they had done thousands of times before.
But this time, something was different. They worked all night, crisscrossing the lake, dragging the nets, searching for the fish that would certainly be there. And yet, as the sun began to rise....nothing. They were experienced fishermen, it was the way they made their living before Jesus called them, but by morning they were exhausted and empty-handed, which they freely admitted to the stranger who shouted to them from the shore.
When they heard him say to cast their nets one more time, I bet they looked at each other and tried to decide if it was worth it. Maybe this stranger had seen something that indicated fish there? Or maybe he was just a little crazy, and they should paddle to shore and go home to their beds. Maybe they discussed it and decided one last try was worth it.
It’s only when the huge catch started to swamp the boat that John told the others that it was Jesus. They didn’t realise yet. Peter, the very one who had the idea of going back to their old lives in the first place, was so eager to go see for himself that he jumped out of the boat, leaving his friends there to struggle.
When they finally got their enormous catch to shore, there were 153 fish—some commentators say that’s the number of nations known at the time, a symbol to remind us all that the disciples were meant to fish for people, and the whole world—gentile and Jew, slave and free, male and female—would be included. But aside from those, Jesus already had bread and fish on the fire, and he said the words I imagine the disciples longed to hear after such a night: “come and have breakfast.”
And Jesus took bread, and broke it, and gave it to them. And even though they didn’t ask who he was, they recognised him. That act of hospitality, hosting them for a meal, feeding their bodies as well as their spirits, was distinctive—they would know him anywhere, when he took bread, broke it, and gave it to them. And so they shared breakfast on the beach, no questions asked, just passing around food, telling stories, building each other up in the fellowship.
After the meal, as the fire was dying down to embers, and the sun climbing higher in the sky, Jesus did have some questions. Or rather one question, for one of them.
“Peter....do you love me?”
It’s fairly unusual for scripture to record people’s emotions, so we know it must have cut deep into Peter’s heart, as John says he was sad and hurt, to be asked this question three times, to be reminded of the three times he had denied even knowing Jesus, to have his loyalty and motives questioned. Yet each time he answers with a resounding yes, and Jesus gives him a job: feed my sheep.
Coming on the heels of Jesus feeding them himself, it seems a fairly obvious leap: as you have been served, go and serve. As you have been fed, go and feed. As you have experienced hospitality, go and offer hospitality to others.
And Peter, of course, is the disciple who is often a stand-in for all of us—he is the rock on which the Church is built, the symbol of all who will follow Christ in years to come. So when Jesus asks his question and gives his charge to Peter, we ought to hear it as being given to us, the church, the Body of Christ: If you love me, do what I have done.
It isn’t the first time Jesus has said this, of course—he has told them before “love one another as I have loved you.” It’s a tall order, to show each other the same kind of love that Jesus did. This isn’t about simple words, but about actions—he gave the command to love as he loves just when he had finished washing their feet, and here he gives the instruction to feed and tend right after literally feeding them. It takes intentional effort, to show this kind of love to one another, to extend hospitality beyond what comes naturally or is written in the rules. To love the way Jesus loves means to lay down our lives for one another—and sometimes, that will be inconvenient, and sometimes it will be expensive, and sometimes it will feel completely impractical or undeserved, but that is our calling: to love with the same depth and breadth as Christ. To feed each other, and serve each other, to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, to hold each other up, and to hold each other accountable to the calling God has given us, to treat one another as sisters and brothers, as members of our own body, even.
This story of breakfast on the beach is the end of John’s gospel—and therefore the beginning of the Church. The day started with the disciples believing that this new beginning was the same as the old one had been, going back to the way they’d always done things. But that way doesn’t work anymore, if it ever really did. This isn’t a going back. Jesus is not in the business of calling us to go back to the past. This is a new beginning, with new rules, new relationships, and new expectations. This is a world of resurrection life, where everything has changed. In this new resurrection world, we have experienced God’s goodness and we want to share it with others. We have been fed, and so we turn around and feed others. We have been welcomed, and so we welcome others. We have received abundance, and so we do everything possible to offer that abundant life to others. Just as the disciples would recognise Jesus anywhere when he took bread, broke it, and gave it to them, so too the world will recognise the Body of Christ, the church, when we take bread, break it, and give it to others.
Jesus asks us: do you love me? If our answer is yes, then the call is clear: prove it, by loving one another in the same way as he has loved us.
Here at Kingswells you are embarking on a new beginning —a new partnership in ministry, and during this season of resurrection life is the perfect time to start. But remember: a new beginning is not a going back. Christ does not lead us back, only ever onward, toward the kingdom of God. As the prophet Isaiah said: do not remember the way things used to be, because God is doing a new thing. Embrace this new thing that the Holy Spirit is doing among you! When you reach out—to each other, to the community, and to your new minister—with hospitality, with food, with grace, even with just checking in to see how things are going or making an effort to get to know someone beyond the usual small talk, you may just find that life bursts forth in all its fullness, right here. If you have known the love of God, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, you’ll want to share it! And how better to love God in return than by loving God’s people, the very ones sitting next to you today? When the love of God is palpable in a community, people will be drawn to experience it themselves. So take this chance, a new start, to put love into action, to be the church, and to follow Jesus onward, wherever he may lead you all next—you can be sure he’ll feed you for the journey, and then hand you the bread and ask you to feed others too, until the whole world, all 153 fish, is in the kingdom of God together.
May it be so. Amen.