We’re in the Gospel of John again this week, even though this is year C in the lectionary cycle – the year of Luke. And though I usually don’t care for harmonizing the Gospel accounts – in other words, mixing up the different details from the different Gospels – I’m going to do so a little bit at the start of my sermon here today…
Jesus is risen from the dead. That much seems clear, even to the most doubtful, fearful, questioning, resistant of the disciples. He has appeared to Mary Magdalene, and to other women in the group, as have at least a couple of angels. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to Peter, as well. He has also shown up in the upper room where the disciples were hiding on Easter night and where they were still hiding a week later. He’s eaten fish with them, according to Luke. He’s shown his wounds to Thomas, challenging him to probe them with his own fingers and hand, according to John. He’s walked to Emmaus on Easter afternoon with Cleopas and his unnamed companion, and received the invitation to stay with them for the evening meal, at which Jesus was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread – and it probably didn’t hurt their belief that he disappeared after breaking the bread! So they know that Jesus has been raised from the dead. They’ve seen and heard it for themselves, repeatedly. Paul even tells us, again in 1 Corinthians 15, that he appeared to 500 disciples at one time.
They know it’s true, so then, I find it that much more peculiar, or bizarre, even, or just down right inexplicable, that in John 21, the disciples are back up in Galilee, on the Sea of Tiberias – or Lake Tiberias as the Romans usually called what the Jews called The Sea of Galilee.
I mean, what are they doing up there?
Well, the answer to that makes the whole thing even more bizarre. They’re just living their normal life. Simon Peter, James and John, Thomas and Nathanael and two others who aren’t named, they’re all up there together, and Peter says: “I’m goin’ fishin’!” And the rest of them are all like: “Well. That sounds good. We’ll go with ya!” I mean… What?
According to John’s Gospel, on Easter night, Jesus breathed the Spirit on them – the Spirit that was supposed to remind them and make them understand everything that Jesus had taught them, so that they could be his witnesses by how they loved one another. So I honestly don’t get it. The disciples aren’t all together in one place, and they’re just going back to what they’ve known as normal life all along. They’re up in their hometown. They’re by the sea, and they’re going fishing.
Now, I’ve gotta say that, as strange as all of this is, I also find it comforting and encouraging that it’s exactly here, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, that the risen Jesus appears to them yet again. You see, just as he does with Cleopas and his friend, and with Thomas and the rest in the upper room, and with Peter and his fishing companions in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus meets them right where they are
- He doesn’t disqualify those who aren’t where they’re supposed to be
- He doesn’t reject those who aren’t doing what they ought to be doing
- He doesn’t even let the fact that Paul’s on a mission to murder Christians stop him from knocking Paul off his high horse and changing the course of his life forever!
And just as Jesus meets them right where they are, Jesus meets us right where we are, too…
In John 21, the disciples are out fishing all night, and (surprise surprise surprise!) they’ve caught nothing all night. It’s just after daybreak when Jesus shows himself to them and tells them to cast their nets on the other side. And it’s at this familiar moment – remember, Jesus had done this for them once before – it’s at this familiar moment that the beloved disciple realizes it’s Jesus, and tells Peter, who dresses himself and then swims in to shore leaving the others to drag in the nets that are filled beyond capacity. Only, when they get to shore, Jesus already has fish and bread cooking on a charcoal fire. He tells them to share some of what they’ve caught, and then invites them to “Come and have breakfast.” Then Jesus takes the bread and the fish and gives it to them.
So, check it out: Jesus not only meets them where they are, but he provides for them – a miraculous catch of fish as nourishment for the here and now.
And he meets Paul right where he is, even on the way to capture and kill Christians! Jesus reveals himself to Paul, and calls him to a changed life, and to a life of service to the Gospel of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Paul experiences firsthand the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism, and the receiving of nourishment and strength. And note what Luke says at the end of this episode in Acts 9: for several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God.
You see, Jesus meets him where he is, but he doesn’t leave him there. Paul’s life is changed forever because he’s been encountered by Jesus, called by Jesus, changed by Jesus, nourished by Jesus, and sent out to serve by Jesus.
It’s just like Jesus meeting Peter and his fishing companions on the seashore. He meets them where they are, but he doesn’t leave them there. Jesus feeds them, and then Peter, in particular, receives the forgiveness of sins and the call to a whole new way of living. Peter who had denied Jesus three times on the night of his arrest is now asked three times whether or not he loves Jesus, and each time, Peter receives the call to service:
- Peter, do you love me? Feed my lambs.
- Peter, do you love me? Tend my sheep.
- Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.
Peter’s life will never be the same, because he’s been
- encountered by Jesus
- Fed by Jesus
- Forgiven by Jesus
- Called by Jesus
- And sent out to serve by Jesus
It’s a powerful pattern that we see repeated in each of these texts, and it’s a pattern that ought to seem familiar to us as disciples of Jesus…
This weekend 5 of our younger members are coming to the Table, coming to the Lord’s Supper, for the first time. And in this experience they join with us and with believers down through the last couple of millennia in this very same pattern. These 5 young people, like each of us, step into the flow of the Spirit, into the flow of this pattern.
They have been encountered by the Risen Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in and through God’s word, as they’ve heard it read and preached in community, and as they’ve learned it together in Sunday school, and VBS and elsewhere, including in their homes, I trust.
And having been encountered by the Risen Christ, they come now to the Table of the Lord to be fed by him. Jesus is meeting them on the shore of their lives, and inviting them, as it were, to come and have breakfast – inviting them to come and be fed with his own broken body and shed blood, that they, together with all who share in this meal, might receive the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s Body broken and given for you and the blood of Christ shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.
This is the pattern of today’s readings, and the pattern we share together each time we gather. But, of course, it doesn’t stop with being encountered by the Risen Christ. It doesn’t stop with being fed by the Risen Christ. It doesn’t even stop with being forgiven by the Risen Christ, for all of this would mean nothing unless we were also sent out in the power of the Spirit and in the name of the Risen Christ Jesus to share the good news of forgiveness in his name – carrying together the great good news out into the world in the form of the Easter proclamation spread abroad with shouts of jubilation, bursting forth from our own lips and the lips of believers down through the ages: Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.