Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

“How are we to go forward?”
John 21: 1-19, April 10th 2016



It is night fall, darkness has fallen and Peter decides to go fishing. The imagery of darkness overshadows the turmoil and struggle as these men try to figure out how to move on with their lives – now that Jesus was gone. The first two sightings of the Risen Christ has not left them with clarity as to how to proceed. It seems quite apparent that Peter wanted to go back to the way it was before he met Jesus. Fishing was something he understood. Six of the other disciples decide to join him, including Thomas and Nathanial. We are told they caught nothing… all night long. As morning comes a man yells to them from shore. They don’t know it is Jesus. The man tells them to cast their nets again and mystically they catch one hundred and fifty three fish. Peter then realizes it is Jesus. This is how our story opens… another fishing story by the Sea of Galilee.

Our lesson this morning, as I am hoping that you are beginning to realize, comes to us with many and varied elements. One of the core and central and very essential elements of the lesson, however, is in the dialogue Jesus has with Peter. As we look at this conversation, it is crucial that we raise up the earlier time Peter stood by a fire, where he is questioned – cross-examined even. Do you remember the story? It was after the Last Supper with Jesus and the other disciples. 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples. /Matthew 26: 34-35/ Then, later that night, on the night of his betrayal and desertion, after Jesus had been dragged off like a common criminal and while Jesus was being questioned by the High priests; 69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a maid came up to him, and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the porch, another maid saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the cock crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. /Matthew 26: 69-75/

With this as a backdrop we find Peter again in the center of a crucial conversation with Jesus; and once again the conversation takes place in the shadow of yet another “fishing story!” Peter has set off to go fishing and is joined by the other disciples. They are having terrible luck. As Jesus comes into the narrative, they still have caught nothing. But, once again, Jesus startles them with first his very presence, but also by following his directions they catch a boat load of fish. Now, after the fish had been cooked Jesus pulls Peter aside to question him. 15When 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. /John 21:15b – 17/

When you put these two accountings together, side by side, it is hard not to see how they belong, side by side. First the triple denial and now the triple commission by Jesus to feed and tend to the needs of those that Jesus has asked Peter to care for is strongly delivered! Peter, more than likely was filled with guilt and shame for denying that he even knew Jesus, has now clearly been reprimanded. Yet, at the same time, in the mystical way of Christ, Jesus reaffirms his ministry and Peter’s role as a pastor and furthermore commissioned him to take the lead and become the rock and foundation of the church.

This is big! Profound even! Let’s stop for a moment and consider who is in this lesson we are reviewing. We are told seven disciples and only three are named: Peter, Thomas and Nathanial. Since only three are named there was probably a reason the writer of John’s gospel pulls them out of anonymity for us to see. What do we know about these three? Well, we know Peter had denied Jesus, yet is forgiven and charged to take a lead in the church. Thomas, well he was the doubter, we talked about him just last week; yet, even Thomas has come to confess Jesus as his Lord, as does Peter. What about Nathanial? When Jesus first called Phillip and Nathanial to follow him, Nathanial is quoted as saying that “nothing good can come out of Nazareth,” yet, we know Jesus was raised there. And despite his skepticism, Nathanial confesses Jesus as the Christ. /John 1: 46-49/ Soo… our writer has raised up for us a denier, a doubter and a skeptic as the key players in this – this powerful third encounter the disciples have with the Risen Christ!

Now that we have a bit more clarity about what the gospel lesson is saying to us – all that is left – is to answer the question I have put forward for us to ponder: “How are to go forward?” First, we need to accept that Peter represents us; that’s you and me, us. We need to see how even Peter is forgiven. If God has the willingness to forgive Peter, after all he did wrong, then we shall be forgiven as well. If Peter can become the rock, the very foundation of the early church, then there is just so, so much potential for what you and I can do! That of course is if we continue to invite the Living God, through the Risen Christ, into our lives. What does this mean for us? Simply that if they, Nathanial, Thomas and even Peter can be accepted and welcomed into Jesus’ following, surely, we can too!

As we begin to ponder the enormity of this lesson and it’s implication to us as followers of Christ, we need to ask ourselves “are we ready to hear this message?” Alyce M. McKenzie puts forth this thought for us to struggle with: “God (He) knows where we live. Jesus (He) stands on the shores of our lives. Christ’s living Spirit (He) stands at our front doors. And when we answer his knock, the Living God (He) has just two questions for us: ‘Do you love me?’ and, if so, ‘What are you going to do about it?'”

You and I, we have just celebrated Easter together; we have openly discussed our human doubts about the whole dialog surrounding the Risen Christ. We see ourselves in the story of Peter; we are filled with faith when we are in church or in the midst a religious event, yet, oftentimes – feeling very weak – we are forced to face the harsh realities of our own lives. We say we believe, yet, oftentimes when confronted with speaking up, or standing up for our beliefs, our confidence and our faith seems to fail us and we back down. Surely, we do this out of our timid-ness or uncertainty. It is reasonable to assume that our gospel writer set this story on the backdrop of one of the fishing stories where the presence of Jesus “mystically” brings results to the disciples fishing adventures, in order that we timid ones will be reassured that success happens when the Living God’s presence is invoked and acknowledged!

As we consider all that is being said to us in this passage, we need to be reminded that these fishing stories are meant to represent the disciples catching and bringing humankind into the following of those whom adhere to the teachings of Jesus. 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. /Matthew 1: 16-18/

The final thing we are left with in this lesson is Jesus telling Peter and all of the disciples and all of us; “Follow me.” If we are still pondering the question: ‘Where are we to go from here?’ This is the set of directions we need to pursue. If you are like me and are trying to find your way, you, like me, you need to follow the signs! The ending of our scripture lesson last week, ended with this profound statement, clarifying what the writer of John’s gospel was ultimately trying to accomplish with all of these clear signs. You remember the verses I am sure! 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. /John 20: 30-31/ Today’s whole lesson was written for us in response to the question ‘Where do we go from here?’

Some of you may be thinking: ‘isn’t this an over simplification and surely it doesn’t really tell us what to do next?’ But it does tell us what to do! It just doesn’t have the details spelled out for us! What do you think God gave you that thing called a brain for? We still have to adapt the lesson to our everyday real life situations! We still must make choices! But now that we are starting to realize that having chosen to follow the teachings of Jesus, we cannot go back to the way it was! Peter and the others, they could not go back to simply being fisherman without Jesus. No, they needed to answer the call, the commission to follow Jesus, in every way! They needed to open their hearts and their minds to the presence of the Living God, working and walking with them, every step of the way! You may not be ready to hear this, but this is what we are talking about!

“Hear now these ancient words from the Gospel According to John, chapter 21, verses 1-19.”

John 21:1-19
21After 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. 4Just 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 sea. 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. 9When 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 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.
15When 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.”

“Allow God to open your hearts to a deeper and clearer understanding of these ancient and holy words.”

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