Monday, April 15, 2013

Sermon on John 21_1-14, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, "The Lord's Catch"

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. We’re never really told why Peter and the six other disciples decided to go out fishing that night, sometime after Jesus’ first two resurrection appearances to them, and before they received the special outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. But the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias) was an old, familiar place, filled with memories of their lives as fishermen, and then, when Jesus came teaching and calling, their lives as disciples. Were Peter and the disciples restless—searching for guidance on what to do now, after the stunning events of Easter, and seeing Jesus risen from the dead? Were they retreating from the task that Jesus had set before them, to go and proclaim repentance and forgiveness in His name to all nations? Uncertain? Retreating into a familiar, comfortable routine? We certainly know the reasons why we do that sort of thing. Or were they simply passing the time until the gift of the Holy Spirit would come, and they could begin their work?
Whatever it was, the Sea of Galilee and that old fishing boat must have been a peaceful place to sit and ponder quietly, or perhaps talk about what the resurrection of Jesus meant for their lives now. The gentle rocking of the boat and the soft lapping of the waves near the shores where Jesus had taught and performed so many miracles. The starry sky above, and the hidden fish below the waters. No luck there. Wasn’t the first time they’d fished all night and the nets came up empty. As dawn broke, an unknown figure on the shore called out to them, asking if they’d caught anything. Hearing their “no” He urges them to cast the nets on the right side of the boat, and they will catch some fish. With nothing to lose, they obey, and suddenly all this starts to seem remarkably familiar, as they catch such a haul of fish that they can’t lift it into the boat! “It is the Lord!” With flashes of déjà vu, Jesus gives Himself away with a “trademark” or “signature action.” In an instant, they must have remembered the day when Jesus came out in their fishing boat, a carpenter with a lesson to teach some seasoned old fishermen.
Some three years had passed since that day, when Jesus entered the boat after a long night of fruitless fishing, and against all fisherman’s wisdom, took them in the daylight out to the deep water to make one last attempt to let down their nets. That first time, with breaking nets and nearly sinking boats, they were brought to their knees in fear and amazement at Jesus. Peter had said in fear, “Away from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And Jesus had replied not to be afraid, for He was going to make them “fishers of men.” So much had changed in those three years. Peter was no longer fearful of Jesus’ approach, like a child caught in deep trouble, afraid to approach their parent—but now he jumps out of the boat and can’t wait even those last 100 yards to get to shore! And dripping wet, like a fisherman out of water, Peter is now so ever-glad to be in Jesus’ net. Perhaps with the unresolved twinges of guilt from denying Jesus still lurking below the surface, Peter nevertheless rushes to Jesus, eager to be in his Lord’s presence, and to receive the Lord’s direction. And if later on, you read the full chapter of John 21, you’ll see the beautiful beachside reconciliation that Jesus gave Peter—restoring him threefold as apostle.
But for now it is enough to be with the risen Lord again, and the other disciples have arrived. And again, the Lord, now the glorified and Risen Lord Jesus, is in the position of servant—cooking them breakfast, ready to serve His tired disciples a hot breakfast. And bring some of what you’ve caught. “Come and have breakfast.” You can tell the disciples are still having trouble sorting this all out. Even though Jesus was plainly before them, they dared not ask Him, “who are you?” But notice their uncertainty and confusion wasn’t external—there was no denying Jesus was there with them, but their lingering doubt was internal—inside them. Even now, at this third appearance of Jesus, it all seemed so miraculous and incredible, that they were still coming to grips with Jesus’ resurrection. There was nothing they could question about the fact that this same Jesus had died on the cross for them, but was now alive. But like all of us, their hearts were slow in accepting the promise and grasping the joy of the resurrection.
Even today, for many who doubt or don’t believe, it’s not that they’ve so thoroughly studied God’s Word, and the evidence for the resurrection, or for God’s existence, that they just can’t believe. Instead, the doubt and uncertainty lies inside. This is why as Lutherans, we’re always eager to urge Christians and everyone, in fact, to find the certainty of faith and of God, not inside ourselves, in a mystical hidden feeling that might come and go with our most recent meal, but in the grounded and external Word of God, and the person of Jesus Christ. Like the disciples accepted what was certain and real before their eyes, before trusting their misgivings and doubts. Faith finds certainty, not inside us—we who’re filled with so much sin and uncertainty—but faith finds its certainty outside us, in Jesus Christ and His Word.
But what did this remarkable fishing trip that capped off their life of “old, familiar ways” teach them, or how did it provide them guidance for the “ventures bold and new” to which Jesus had called them? Jesus’ time with them was growing short—soon they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Soon they would set out, some also in boats, across greater seas, to become “fishers of men” from Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Years from now, Peter would die for the gospel, probably in Rome, across the Great Sea. What did this catch of 153 fish mean for them? No number games, I promise! It taught them that this was “The Lord’s Catch.” It was His command and guidance that brought that load of fish into their net. He had supplied the fish, even as called it what “you have just caught.” It wasn’t their long night of laboring by their efforts, or fishermen’s expertise that brought in those fish. The Lord had prepared and planned it for them. He was the One to equip and send them as fishers of men.
What did that mean for His Great Commission that they go out to all the world, making disciples by baptizing and teaching? It meant that even as fishers of men, this would still and always be “The Lord’s Catch.” By Jesus’ command and guidance, by His supply, He will provide “the catch.” As Christians who eagerly want to share the good news of Jesus with others, we sometimes grow discouraged, that after long nights of fishing by our own efforts, casting our nets here and there, we come up empty. We look at empty chairs or pews with discouragement, wondering where’s the catch, tempted to search for some secret bait, some special solution. But we must always be reminded, that just as for the disciples, so also for us, it will always be the Lord’s Catch. Not as an excuse to get lazy or fall asleep in the boat, or to give up casting the nets, but to remind us that God supplies the catch where and when He wills.
Scripture is full of these reminders, that the growth of the kingdom of God depends on God, not us. John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” In every case, God draws people to faith in Him. In 2 Corinthians, Paul describes how God in Christ uses us to spread the fragrance of knowledge of Him everywhere, and how we’re not sufficient to claim anything comes from us, but that our sufficiency is from God (2 Cor. 2:14-3:6). In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul tells that he planted and Apollos (another missionary) watered, but God gave the growth, and that “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
So what matters, is that we don’t take credit for anything, or think that our own efforts can bring success apart from what Christ has given and blessed. Because Christ will give and supply the catch, and all credit and glory belongs to Him. What matters is that we go faithfully into the mission field with Christ’s unchanging Word and bring the Good News to all. And that mission field is all around us, everywhere that the seed has not yet been sown, along all the ways “where hope has nearly died”—within the lives of those around us, be they family, friends, neighbors or strangers, who are hurting and lost for the want of the forgiveness, hope and life that we have in Jesus Christ. And that He equips us with His Spirit for this task.
Because like sinners who are hesitant to approach the Lord Jesus, like Peter who underwent the transformation from being a simple fisherman, terrified of Jesus’ power, to leaping into the water fully clothed, to swim ashore and be in Jesus’ presence—we too can run to Jesus and find His open and forgiving arms, receiving all who come to Him. We can come to Jesus and confess our sins, cast down the sin and unresolved guilt, the lurking uncertainties, we can take to Him our fear and our failure, and find His restoration and forgiveness. And we find in Him The Servant’s Love, the Love of Him who came not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many. We find in Him the forgiving love that restores Peter, restores sinners like us, that places us gladly in His service. We find the One who catches us up in His great gospel net, and binds us in heart and will to Him.
While we cannot meet Him for breakfast, we can still come into His presence and dine at His table. We can rush to His church, where we find forgiveness, grace and mercy. We can come to the place where He has promised He will be—in His very Word, spoken to us that we might believe and have life. That we may come to the waters of Baptism, that He has made holy, and where He gives us His name to join us to His death and resurrection. He calls us to His table, where His sacrificed and risen body and blood are given for the forgiveness of our sins. Yes, we can come to Jesus, where He has promised to be present for us, for our life and for the forgiveness of sins. We don’t have to remain aimless, uncertain, fearful, restless, anxious or discouraged. We don’t have to live bound by fear and timidity, or searching inside us for vague and elusive inner guidance—we can live boldly in the confidence that Christ has won a new life over sin and death for us. We can live with the knowledge that just as we are His disciples, His catch, so also our work in discipling others will always be “The Lord’s Catch.” We can find in His living scriptures the very life and peace He brings for us. Yes, we can live in the presence of our Lord, who has surely promised us, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      What reasons might the disciples have had for going back to an old, familiar activity?
2.      As the episode unfolds, what “trademark” or “signature action” gave Jesus away, before they first recognized Him and came ashore? Luke 5:1-11. What commission had He given them on that day when He first called them to be His disciples?
3.      How would this sort of déjà vu episode give them encouragement as they were preparing to set out on the Great Commission Jesus prepared them for? (cf. Matthew 28:16-20. Did the Great Commission happen close to this fishing scene in Galilee??)
4.      How does the call of discipleship and the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, call us to “forsake old, familiar ways for ventures bold and new” and “send us on ways where faith transcends timidity”? (LSB 856 “O Christ, Who Called the Twelve”) How can we venture boldly for Christ?
5.      How does the fact that the great haul of fish was “The Lord’s Catch”—not theirs, assure us that the Lord will also provide the “catch” when we go out as “fishers of men?” Matthew 13:47-50; 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 3:5; John 6:44; 1 Corinthians 3:5-9
6.      Read the first lesson for today, Acts 9:1-22. How was Saul (later Paul), an unexpected “big catch” in God’s fishing net? How did Ananias first react? What would Paul become? Acts 9:15-16. How does this again illustrate God’s power?
7.      How, like Peter, should we have the same exuberance and eagerness to seek out the presence of Jesus? And where has He promised His presence among us? Matthew 28:20; 26:26-29

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