After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,* Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 6He 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. 7That 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 lake. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards* off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus 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. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. <!– 15 –>
15 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.’ 16A 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.’ 17He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he 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. 18Very 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.’ 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
There is so much happening in this story this morning. It’s like the grand finale, when the author throws in every metaphor and miracle, in one, big triumphant, final message. There is a fishing expedition, boat, which symbolizes the church. There are fish, lots and lots of fish, some in nets, some cooked. There are sheep and unbreakable nets and even a foreshadowing of a death that is still to come. Every line is symbolic and packed with meaning. It takes place after the resurrection, in a familiar setting. The disciples have returned to their routine to what they know best. It’s their grief therapy, and so they go to the familiar feeling of their hands on the nets and the waves rocking their boat and in that familiar spot, they see a man standing, looking at them, on the side of the shore, he just appeared there, out of nowhere and he tells them to cast their net on the other side. Now they have no reason to trust this guy on the shore. They are skilled fisherman, they are independent minded, but something in them tells them to listen to this voice and they do and pull their net down into the water and 152 fish, a bounty submerges the net and they heave the net in, and at this miraculous moment, Peter has a moment like Mary did in the garden and he goes from not recognizing him to recognizing him in a flash and he’s so excited he puts his clothes on to jump in the water, which is crazy, but he jumps in and does a fifty yard sprint to the shore, while the boat and the 153 fish follow behind him.
Jesus does this over and over again in the resurrection stories, doesn’t he? He is constantly mistaken for an everyday person. This is not a coincidence. He’s a gardner, a fisherman, a traveler on the road. This is important because, people who knew him and should have recognized him, don’t, because he looks like everyone else – he could be anyone else and that’s the whole point. He’s universally present.
So Peter makes it the shore and Jesus is there and so is charcoal fire. Another symbol. The last time Peter saw a charcoal fire, things did not go well. You have to wonder if Peter had a flash back to the last time he was by a fire like this one. Did he feel a twinge of pain, remembering that the last time he was a fire, he lied and denied knowing Jesus? Did he feel guilt going up the back of his neck? Could he look Jesus in the eye? If he did, it doesn’t say. But that fire wasn’t there by accident. Jesus could stand there and ask for an explanation, or let him know how hurt he was, instead Jesus doesn’t dish out shame or blame, he dishes out breakfast. The smell of charcoaled fish and bread warms against the sea salt air inviting the disciples in around the fire. He feeds them. He tends to them. He forgives them. Isn’t that beautiful? But the story doesn’t end there.
They gather around the fire and a dialogue begins where Jesus asks Peter the same question three times. Now Peter represents the church, you know. Which means Peter represents you and me and all of us. Peter is the stand-in for all of us. Peter gets a second chance and Jesus gives him that. He asks Peter if he loves him, not because Jesus needs to hear it, but Peter needs to say it. He needs to know he can start again with his relationship with Jesus, that even though he fell far short the first time and acted out of fear, this time he can act out of faith, he can be redeemed and respond to Jesus’ call.
Now before we get to the second part of this story, let’s just stop and reflect here on the universal truths. Point number one, only you can believe Jesus is actively working in your life. No one can convince you that Jesus is in front of you. How many times have we walked by Jesus, mistaking him for the gardener, or another fisherman, or the mechanic that changes your oil. Our first response is to doubt, to not even notice. If you don’t have faith, no matter what is front of you, it doesn’t matter because you wont be able to see him, you won’t see the miracle. But if you have faith, you see him in ordinary people, like fisherman and gardeners and the baggers at the grocery store, and the travelers at the airport and the children on the playground. You don’t need to wait for the second coming to see him. He’s made his presence known in the kindness of strangers, in the helpers and the healers. In the truth tellers and the prophets. That’s the first big message in this packed story.
Point number two, Jesus forgives and provides room for forgiveness. – Always. Rita Snowden wrote:
“You ask me what forgiveness means; it is the wonder of being trusted again by God in the place where I disgraced him.”
Jesus gives Peter a gift, and that gift is the opportunity to redeem himself, to put himself right with Jesus to get his relationship back on track. Now remember again, Peter represents us, He’s the church, He’s everyone. So I ask you, when was the last time you told Jesus you loved him and that you would follow him? Love is always a selfless act. Even loving Jesus.
Now we haven’t even gotten to the second part of the story, where Jesus commissions Peter and the disciple to go out and be a disciple. Remember those nets full of 153 fish? If that seems like a rather specific number, its’ because it is. The Israelites believed that during this time in history that there were 153 nations on the earth. These fish represent the whole world. Every single nation has been caught in that net. Everybody is worthy. Everyone is included. Jesus knows them and captures them all. They may not see him, just like the disciples didn’t at first, but he sees them. Our job is not to question if anyone is worthy of seeing him, our job is tend and feed and to be Christ to others, regardless if they ever see him or not. Eventually, the scales may come off, and they will see.
Our job, and this is the third point, is to practice resurrection. Remember that the disciples thought that after Jesus died, that that was it for them, that that was the end of the story. Best get back to business. And so when the resurrected Jesus comes to them and gives them instructions on how to be a disciple after he’s gone, he’s asking them to practice their faith. And specifically to practice resurrection. We think of the resurrection as one time event. Something God did a long time ago… but I want to suggest to you that God has never stopped the miracle of resurrection. We do that by as Wendell Berry writes, “by being joyful though you have considered all of the facts.” If you remember one thing about this sermon today, remember that sentence. – Be joyful even though you have considered all of the facts.
In the resurrection Jesus proclaims, “I am not done! There is more , and this more will change everything you think you understand about life and how the world works.”
I don’t know about you, but I can get pessimistic pretty quickly these days about lots of things. This week I went to a presbytery meeting where we closed another church in our presbytery and a pastor told me that his two small churches each have one or two years left. Both are worshipping about 18 on a given Sunday. In a couple of weeks you will be getting a letter from me with some actuarial numbers based on the age of our congregation and giving projects, and yall we are just like every mainline church out there. We are in a lot better shape than most and the reality is we are a Mainline Church in 2019 and we are who we are. – Those are the facts and we can’t pretend it isn’t so. We aren’t immune to death. But we aren’t immune to life either. We practice resurrection by believing that God shows up in unexpected ways through unexpected people, that God gives direction if we but only listen, that God casts a net that doesn’t exclude any nation or kind of person, that God feeds and tends, forgives and redeems. Theoligan Jergenn Moltmann writes, that in the Christian life, faith has the priority, but hope has the primacy.
We practice resurrection by living our lives with two gifts in our hands faith and hope. Without faith’s knowledge of Christ, hope becomes a utopia and remains hanging in the air. But without hope, faith falls to pieces, becomes a fainthearted and ultimately a dead faith. It is through faith that man finds the path of true life, but it is only hope that keeps him on that path. Thus it is that faith in Christ gives hope its assurance. Thus it is that hope gives faith in Christ its breadth and leads it into life. – Theology of Hope
Ooh that’s heavy. This is what I think he means: it is by faith that we know that we find our purpose, it is by hope that we live out our purpose. It is by faith that we come here and worship God, it is by hope that we take that worship into the world. It is by faith that say yes to serving, loving, caring, giving, it is by hope that we see the fruits of our service, love, care and gifts. We practice resurrection by holding two gifts in our hands. They are gifts left to us by the one whose hands were nailed that we might have the faith to live into hope.
Jesus stood at the lake shore watching them as they worked in vein to catch fish. They hadn’t seen him yet, so he just watched them, his disciples, his church, working so hard in vein to catch fish.
As he watched them, he loved them, if only the changed what they were doing a little bit, if only they changed their perspective, and tried the other side of the boat, oh what a catch they would find. He stood there, and his heart of was full of love.
This is the good news of Jesus Christ. Let us trust him, recognize him, love him and rise and be on our way.