Continuing through the season of Easter and another resurrection appearance...
SERMON 'Gone fishin'
Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations
of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer, amen.
If you had to choose, what would be your ‘go-to’ verse, passage, or story, from Scripture –
what’s your favourite,
or most comforting,
or most challenging,
or, even ...just the one you can actually remember the best?
I have a wee assortment, and in among them is the passage from John that we heard read earlier.
Here, in glorious print, we have before us a beach barbecue,
which makes this particular Aussie and barbie fan a very happy camper indeed.
There are other reasons I’m quite fond of this story, apart from justifying
the ruining of perfectly good cuts of meat on open coals so that
on the outside, they’re burnt to a cinder, while on the inside, they’re so rare, they’re still mooing.
Like Peter, I grew up on the water,
got to know my way around a boat,
understood the local tides, and where the rocks and sandbanks were;
knew the most likely places to catch fish...
and spent many an hour trying to catch them –
I speak the language of fish.
and now following a calling, I’m learning about sheep and lambs,
a whole different language indeed.
The story of the disciples and their out of the ordinary fishing trip echoes another story,
this, in the Gospel of Luke, in chapter 5: it’s the calling of the first disciples.
As with the story in John, so, in Luke, Jesus is on the Galilean seashore,
however, in this earlier story, he’s surrounded by crowds
who’ve heard of his reputation for healing and teaching.
There’s actually such a crowd, that he decides it would be easier if he hopped into
one of the nearby boats, and continued teaching from there:
a wise move, as water carries sound very well.
Having finished teaching, he asks Simon, the fisherman,
to put out into deep water
and let down the nets...
to go fishing.
As with the story in John, Simon and his colleagues have been
out fishing all night – with not much to show for their labours.
Nevertheless, having told Jesus as much, the boat is launched, as is the other boat on the shore.
Amazingly, after a fruitless night’s work, here, in the light of day,
the nets grow heavier, and heavier –
so heavy that they threaten to sink both boats as the catch is pulled in.
Simon, recognising that something extraordinary has happened because of Jesus, reacts:
kneels at Jesus’ feet and calls him ‘Lord’ and begs him... to go away:
‘I am a sinful man,’ says Simon, who will later be renamed ‘Peter.’
In response to Peter, and to the other fishermen, who are astonished,
Jesus says: ‘don’t be afraid’
and offers them an enticing challenge:
‘from now on, you will catch people.’
It’s a challenge,
a call to follow...
and they do.
They leave everything, and follow him.
And here, in John’s gospel, it’s like we have a bookend to that first story:
we have Simon-Peter recognising the extraordinariness of Jesus –
he leaps out of the boat fully clothed...
and, there’s also an echo of the earlier calling of the disciples.
Once again, a night of work that produces nothing
turns into a morning where,
at the bidding of a man standing on the seashore, nets are filled to overflowing –
teeming with an abundant harvest from the sea.
Once again, a calling and a conversation:
‘Come and have breakfast,’ says Jesus.
And so, these fishy disciples are nourished physically, just as they are, spiritually,
in the act of seeing and being with Jesus once more.
After eating, there are other echoes:
echoes of that earlier conversation with Peter by that same seashore –
but now, Peter is much more aware of who Jesus is.
However, ...there are two much more recent conversations that also hang in the air;
a conversation around a table, in the week of the Passover ...
‘I will never deny you,’ says the impetuous Peter.
‘Yes, you will – this very night – three times before the cock crows,’ says Jesus.
And in the early hours of the morning, just before daylight,
a conversation in a courtyard with a serving girl by the burning embers of a fire:
‘I tell you, I do not know this man.’
The sound of crowing in the background ends that conversation.
On the seashore, by the burning embers where a meal has been cooked, and eaten,
the now- resurrected Jesus turns to Peter,
gives him the opportunity to come back,
to repent, if you like, of the denial
but also to pick up his calling –
when he was still named ‘Simon’:
‘Simon, do you love me?’
‘Simon, do you truly love me?’
‘Simon, do you love me?’
Three times, the answer is ‘yes.’
Each time, an instruction is given:
‘Feed my lambs,’
‘Take care of my sheep,’
‘Feed my sheep...’
and then, ‘Follow me!’
The circle is complete:
Simon is restored,
is recommissioned to follow once more.
Just as Jesus had initially sent out the disciples on a training test mission,
now, with these words,
with the news of resurrection
and the message of the kingdom to share,
it’s time for the real work of mission to begin.
Thinking, with the crucifixion, that they’d lost everything,
in the light of the resurrection,
they realise that, in Jesus, they have everything.
Once again, they leave their nets and follow;
fear and grief now replaced with hope and faith.
In the light of resurrection,
Peter, and the rest of the disciples move into a different way of thinking – of seeing:
they see, not endings, but beginnings.
Looking through resurrection eyes,
they see nets full –
such a metaphor for God’s abundance;
they see promises fulfilled,
and possibilities of a broken world
They see God’s unlimited grace and mercy:
always, always, the invitation to follow, no matter how many times they’ve looked away,
no matter what it is they may have done –
God’s hand of friendship, always offered:
for, if there’s room enough in the kingdom for 3 times denier Peter,
there’s more than enough room...
And still, Jesus calls.
Calls us to change our way of seeing;
to maybe even consider changing our way of doing things –
to cast our particular nets on the side we might not normally choose to;
to be open to possibility.
One of my favourite Australian writers is a chap called Bill Loader.
I love his reflection on this story in John:
The blame forgotten,
Peter leapt into the sea.
Where tears once drowned hope
and denials became despair and self loathing,
now eyes had seen that figure on the shore,
that body once strung across the stained wood of execution.
A revived fishing business,
the dull depression of remembered cowardice,
of failed courage,
bad dreams of abandonment,
a deep sea of pain,
now splashed with new hope.
Peter would make it to the shore.
He is risen.
Peter is risen from the dead.
Three times denied.
Three times invited to love again
by him who three times prayed his own despair
and, three times mocked 'mid three crosses,
in three days rose to resurrect Peter.
Peter made it to the shore.
Others made it to the shore.
They ate together,
a fellowship of grace and rehabilitation,
of forgiveness and hope,
a symbol of the persistence of divine love,
...also for you and me....
Jesus calls us:
like Peter, we’re not perfect.
And that’s fine.
Don’t let the flaws we have, hold us back from following,
from casting our nets into the sea of God’s mercy, grace, and limitless love.
We are God’s walking, talking miracles:
God invites us on the journey of faith,
not because we’re perfect, but because He loves us,
sees us for who we truly are underneath all the stuff we hide behind, or get caught up in.
Nothing separates us from the renewing, forgiving love of God,
and nothing in our past or present stops God from calling us to be his.
We may be flawed, but we are beloved,
called as we are,
to show a flawed and beloved world
what the resurrection means,
what resurrection brings –
joy, and love.
Each one of us stands on our own particular version of that seashore in Galilee:
it may look a little like a field or a barn,
or the top of the Lowthers,
or along the Clyde;
perhaps, oddly, it may look a little like our back yard, or our neighbourhood, or place of work.
But, wherever it is, Jesus is there, asking us:
‘Do you love me?’
Calling us to:
feed his lambs,
tend his sheep,
feed his sheep...
to go into his world,
see through resurrection’s eyes
and share God’s amazing love.
For the first disciples, hope came in the morning.
Hope comes still.
In a world that seems to be lurching further and further into madness,
where hope seems hard to find,
we are the ones who see with resurrection’s eyes;
we are the ones who know
the One who is the hope of the world –
the One who stood by the Galilean seashore
and showed fishermen who’d lost all hope,
that all was not lost.
We are the ones who are called
by that One – Jesus –
to follow in his footsteps,
to walk in the path trod by fishermen, now hope-filled...
We will, at times, be called to go into strange and dark places,
but it is those places that most need the light that hope brings.
We will be called into places, face situations, that surprise us –
but with resurrection’s eyes,
we understand the One who, through defeating death, is the God of surprises.
And, as we are called,
so, we will be nourished on the way,
finding the One we follow
in the midst of the community of believers;
strengthened in the bread and wine of communion.
Sometimes – possibly, quite a few times – we’ll mess up.
When we do, remember Simon, called Peter.
Remember a beach,
And, having remembered,
pick up your net,
cast it out onto the sea...
and remember the One
who loves you abundantly,
and who feeds you,
who never leaves, nor forsakes you...
and who calls you to be his own,
for the world’s sake.
for your names are written in heaven. Amen.