April 30, 2017

Easter 3  April 30, 2017   (Psalm 8) John 21

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Today’s story, the very last in John’s gospel, is one I’ve loved for a long time… Not always necessarily for the best reasons… As an obsessive-compulsive fisherman in partial-but-not-complete-recovery-from-fish-aholicism I’ve heard this story as a classic fishing story – an encouraging word when I’ve got the fish-aren’t-biting-blues. A ‘keep fishing, never give up’ message, that I’ve sometimes heard to excess…when it was time to get off the water and go home…

Still, I think this story can be a good cross-training parable for learning to fish for people. Even when nothing’s in the nets all night, still we look for Jesus, listen to do what he says. “Cast your nets to the other side.” But this year the fishing parable hasn’t been quite working for me. (At least not yet…There’s still time…)

I’ve only been out fishing once this year. I went over to Peter’s Pond in Sandwich, more than a week ago, to conduct some research for this week’s sermon. (What better place to fish than a pond named after fisherman Peter?)

But like our gospel fishermen today, I caught nothing that day at Peter’s Pond… And instead of hearing Jesus tell me where to cast, I think I heard him letting me know this sermon’s not supposed to be so much about fishing this year. (“Sorry, dude,” I can almost hear him saying…)

Except of course… Jesus with fishermen is always a big part of the back-story of the gospel. Over in Luke’s gospel Jesus tells Peter he’ll be fishing for people, after guiding him into another catch of big fish, filling the nets of Peter and his partners, James and John, sons of Zebedee, after another long night of fishing without success. Today’s story brings some essential biblical perspective with it. And sometimes the biblical back-story is meant to be seen in the foreground. (As we remember…)

God makes humankind in the beginning and blesses us and gives us right off the bat first thing, dominion over the fish…(As Psalm 8 today reaffirms.)

And John’s gospel starts with the same words “In the beginning” as Genesis… God takes seven days to make creation. And John, like Genesis, is very into seven, the biblical number of completion. In John’s gospel Jesus does seven signs (water into wine, multiplying loaves and fishes, etc). And Jesus speaks seven “I Am” sayings (I am the good shepherd, I am the light of the world, etc)… And John sure seems to want us to be thinking of a seven day working week of New Creation… as…

John even reminds us of Adam and Eve in the garden, as we see Peter, who’s been fishing naked, not ashamed, as if back in the garden – now putting on clothes to jump in the sea, dragging nets full of big fish onto shore, re-entering the working week… And all these connections between John and Genesis are important… But…

If we linger too long in the background stories, we might miss the big hairy gorilla in the middle of the conversation between Peter and Jesus this morning – meaning that other conversation between Peter and Jesus that we overheard back on Holy Thursday – where Peter promises Jesus he will follow him always, even to the death… (And we remember – )

Peter is the chief Alpha Male guy among the first disciples. Famous for blurting out remarks, some of which are prophetically true – some of which are not. And we remember how, after telling Jesus he will follow him to the death – later that same night, standing by a charcoal fire while Jesus is on trial for his life – Peter denies three times that he even knows or has anything to do with that Jesus person.

And now on the beach, after the resurrection, back on Peter’s home fishing lake…

Jesus has lit another charcoal fire… A not-very subtle reminder for Peter… And (sometimes) for me… (Because…)

I too have been reminded by Jesus (more than three times in my life)…of my promises to follow Jesus wherever, whenever.

And I remember how I, too, have said “Yes, Lord, I love you… You know I love you Lord… You know everything, Lord, you know I love you…”

And I remember I too have heard Jesus… reminding me of my promises to love and serve him above all else… and…

I too have heard Jesus letting me know I’m not as young and free to do whatever whenever as I used to be. There was a time when I could fish anytime I wasn’t working. (Which I often did.) And it’s not like those were the good old days. And it’s not like I have a desire to go back in time… But…

Now it is true… that my wife usually tells me what to put on when I go out. (And usually she’s right, and usually I say “yes dear.”) Now our daughter tells me where I’m supposed to be going, and what I’m supposed to be doing. (And she’s always checking my calendar and usually she knows my schedule better than I do, and I say “yes, dear, thank you.”) And now our Methodist bishop sends me, and I go wherever they send…(And so far they’ve been right every time…) And now and then, sometimes –

Like Peter, I see other disciples who don’t seem to have to be reprimanded or corrected. And like Peter, I sometimes catch myself asking Jesus, “Lord, what about them?” (Like how come they don’t have to be told and reminded the way I do?) And Jesus still sometimes says, “What’s that to you? Follow me! “

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And yet of course… No two disciples are ever alike. Jesus has prayed we would all be one in him. (John 17). But unity in Christ doesn’t mean uniformity. Jesus calls us with all our diverse gifts and graces and personalities – as we clearly see in all the gospel stories… As we also see, looking around us anywhere in Christ’s church, anywhere on earth…

I may resemble Simon Peter in some of my fishing habits and personality quirks… But… I haven’t received the major league apostolic gifts for preaching, teaching and healing we see Peter demonstrating in the book of Acts. And we never know the future, but I’m unlikely to wind up a martyr for the faith, the way Peter eventually does… thirty-some years after this conversation with Jesus on the beach…

I’m also not likely to be confused with the beloved disciple who sits close by Jesus at the Last Supper – who runs faster than Peter to the empty tomb – who recognizes Jesus from a distance across the lake – and who today, is finally named author of this gospel. The beloved disciple, the church has often assumed is John, son of Zebedee…

And yet… there are some days when I think by grace I’m actually following more-or-less without being told… Because Jesus is so totally awesome… I want to follow… There are days when I feel like a beloved disciple… Able to live like a beloved disciple…  Days when I feel like I’m recognizing Jesus, even, metaphorically, from far-off, as on another side of the lake. Sometimes it feels like Jesus is confiding in me, letting me know what’s going on… Sometimes I feel very aware of his real presence… and… I’m sure… it’s not just me who feels this way…

I bet most of us can see something of ourselves in Peter some times. Something of ourselves also in the Beloved Disciple… Something of ourselves even in Jesus. For together we are the body of Christ, and Jesus has told us we live in him and he lives in us… So together we take on his nature. Together we should feel like Jesus – not alone, by ourselves (that would be delusional) but yes, like Jesus, together… Because  –

The love of Jesus is for all of us. Whether we’re looking and feeling like Peter on a bad hair, bad-fishing-day… Or whether we’re looking and feeling like John, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, or any of the beloved disciples who show love for Jesus…without always having to be told… and…

Even like St Thomas the Doubter, who we heard last week saying, first, “I won’t believe unless I put my hand in his side and touch his wounds” – then, a week later, seeing Jesus, saying – “My Lord and my God!” – like Thomas, who, remember, is called “the twin” – we too probably often have twin-like personalities that usually include great doubt… and great faith…at the same time…

And like all these gospel fishermen out on the lake…

We too are still…

All in the same boat together…

Listening together to hear Jesus remind us –

“Cast your nets to the other side.”

Be ready for new things with Jesus.

Be ready to be surprised with the joy of Jesus…

Ready for new life in Jesus Christ…

Thanks be to God.

Amen.