Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter May 5, 2019
The Gospel lesson is a perfect fit for the opening of the fishing season because we heard Peter say “I’m going fishing”. Where was he going fishing, the Sea of Tiberius, another name for the Sea of Galilee? This is quite a change of setting for Jesus’ disciples. They are back home. In earlier texts for Easter the disciples were in the city of Jerusalem. If you remember the risen Savior Jesus appeared before them when they were locked away somewhere, hiding from hostile authorities. Jesus spoke words they needed to hear, “Peace be with you.” He then breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus commissioned them to be the church: the people of God blessed with his peace and equipped with the Holy Spirit to share the gift of the gospel, the forgiveness of sins. Now the work of the church is not to say ‘your sins are forgiven’; the mission of the church is telling from whom comes this forgiveness. The church is to tell others about Jesus and speak about his cross and resurrection. Jesus obediently went to the cross to serve as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins. Jesus is risen from the dead so he is not a long-dead founder of a religion. Jesus is alive and present to draw people to him so they have faith, trust in the Savior who gives forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
But in our gospel lesson we find seven of Jesus’ disciples fishing not for people, they are fishing for fish. This was not fishing as recreation. This was fishing as a business. We know some of the first disciples were in the fishing trade, centered in the town of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Some interpreters have wondered if the disciples of Jesus had become discouraged. They had seen the risen Lord Jesus, but now they thought he was gone. The enthusiasm for the mission of proclaiming forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name had lagged. So the fishermen disciples decided to go back to their original profession. By itself there is nothing wrong with that. In my practical mind they had to earn a living. There was yet an institutional church to pay their wages. But there was the lure of fishing, their former profession becoming a priority over Jesus’ call.
As we heard they fished all night and they caught nothing. Meanwhile, as day was breaking Jesus stood on the beach and called out to the disciples, “Children, you have no fish, have you”. The disciples did not know it was Jesus. This man was just a stranger on the shore poking his nose in their business. Jesus told them to recast their net at his direction and you heard the result: a catch of fish so large and heavy it was impossible to haul the net into the boat. Now the disciples minds began to click: they remembered how Jesus commanded water to become wine at a wedding, 180 gallons of the finest wine: the gift of abundance. They remembered how Jesus fed a crowd of thousands from just a child’s lunch of a few fish and loaves, and there were 12 baskets of left-overs, abundance. Abundant wine, abundance bread, abundant fish, all pointing to Jesus and his promise of abundant life. So now they shouted “It is the Lord.” Naked Peter put on some clothes and then jumped into the sea; he left boat and fish behind to get to Jesus ASAP. In a nice down home scene Jesus was like a camp cook, grilling fish and bread over a charcoal fire. You can almost smell the fish cooking. Jesus was making breakfast. Jesus called for more fish for he had a hungry crew of fishermen to feed. Peter helped to haul the net full of big fish to shore. Jesus gave the invitation, “Come and have breakfast”. Jesus served them.
If Jesus was disappointed with his disciples fishing for fish instead of people, we do not hear it. Jesus was on the beach not complaining but cooking. All were invited to eat breakfast, and Jesus the perfect host served them. I think that simple scene points us to Holy Communion. Jesus knows we can be discouraged about the church and its future. We hear of decline all the time. People are busy doing many things: working, recreating or even sleeping. Now none of these things are sinful, but they draw people away from church and most of all a true and faithful commitment to he mission of the church. So the church can be hooked with negative thinking, disappointment, demise, and even death. But in Holy Communion Jesus says, “Come”. He feeds a discouraged church with his very life: abundant forgiveness, abundant grace, abundant love, abundant life, ABUNDANCE! Jesus stood in the midst of disciples behind locked doors; Jesus appeared before Thomas who said he could not believe; Jesus was down at the beach ready to help and feed disciples who fished all night and caught nothing; Jesus comes to us in our situations of fear, doubt, and worry about the future. He does that because he is risen from the dead and our Lord. He does so because he died for us to take away sin, to remove all that restricts his love from reaching our troubled hearts. In the Psalm today we heard a wonderful testimony of a person, helpless and in trouble calling out to the Lord for help. Then listen to God’s response with the use of active verbs: the Lord lifted me up and not allowed enemies to triumph over me; the Lord restored me to health, the Lord brought me up from the dead when I was sinking down; the Lord turned my wailing into dancing, taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
The risen Lord and Savior will not allow the powers of sin and death to triumph over us. The Lord will indeed restore our faith and our calling to follow him. The gospel lesson spoke of a beautiful scene of restoration. After serving breakfast Jesus called out to Simon Peter: Simon Peter, do you love me more than these? Peter answered in the affirmative. Jesus then said, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter said yes. Jesus told him, “Tend my sheep.” And yet a third time Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” Simon felt hurt as if he feared Jesus did not believe him. So Peter said, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.’ Jesus said again, “Feed my sheep.” The three-fold question about love must have haunted Peter, reminding him of his three-fold denial of Jesus as the time of Jesus’ arrest. Peter’s denial was a serious blow to discipleship: how could he, and how can we be faithful if we run away from every serious challenge, or to be faithful when it is not comfortable. Jesus certainly forgave Peter, and Jesus certainly forgives us during our moments of denial. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The book of Revelation has given us a song to forever sing, “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.”
The call to follow Jesus may sound like admiration for him, but Jesus asked Peter, and asks us to love him. Do we love him more than our cell-phones; do we love him more than our work; do we love him more than sports? To love Jesus means action: feed and tend the sheep, encourage and build-up one another. And this is what we are doing in so many ways. This emphasis on ‘love’ is so vital today when the news is full of the sadness of shootings in places of worship: churches, mosques, and synagogues. We then hear of manifestos left on web sites by perpetrators of violence described as ‘hate-filled diatribes’. I was having breakfast in a local café, and I overheard two older gentlemen talk about the recent synagogue shooting. One man said “what got into that person’s head to do such a terrible thing?” His friend said “I’m glad I live up here, hidden away in the Northwoods”. Even in the North woods we cannot hide, we are called by Jesus to feed and tend his lambs, which means among others things, to counter hate in speech and action. One Jewish rabbi said “The sure antidote to violence is conversation. If we have hateful thoughts about immigrants, Jews, Moslems, or anyone, it is high time to find them and talk and listen, hear their stories. Don’t listen to hate=filled cable news commentators or radio shock-jocks. Listen to Jesus, to love him means to feed and tend his flock.
In the gospel reading did you catch the detail of the catch: 153 large fish and the net was not torn. In ancient times the number of 153 was felt by some to represent all the species of fish. The net that the church is to cast in the world means there is room enough for all, and the net will not be torn. For the net Jesus gives to the church is nothing other than his love for the world, a love impossible to break.