Gone fishing

Meeting for worship - April 29, 2020

Good morning, Friends!

I hope you’re all doing well today. I saw someone from our meeting who came here on Friday to buy a couple of pies from the Circle. The Circle made apple pies and chicken pies earlier this year, and we still have a few in the freezer.

This person said to me, “You know, I live all by myself. I get along all right. But I’m just sick of my own cooking. And I can’t even fire the cook!”

I reckoned we were going to finish up the gospel of John today. We’ve been reading from John ever since the beginning of the year. But I took a closer look at it, and there’s a lot of material here in chapter 21. I believe it would be better for us to take two weeks to finish it.

One of the questions that pops up all through the gospel of John is, “Who wrote it?” John is the last of the four gospels to be written, probably 60 to 80 years after the Resurrection.

There’s an interesting character we meet, who only appears in John. This person is identified as “the disciple who Jesus loved”, but there’s never any name given.

The “disciple who Jesus loved” turns up at the Last Supper, and is so close that he’s leaning right up against Jesus. At the Crucifixion, Jesus looks down from the cross and sees his mother standing there, and he says to her, “Woman, here is your son.” And then Jesus turns and says to the beloved disciple, “Here is your mother.” And he took care of Jesus’ mother, for the rest of his life.

The “disciple Jesus loved” is the one who races Peter to the empty tomb on Easter morning. He was probably one of the first two disciples to follow Jesus. He was there, with Peter, when Jesus was arrested, and he was there, with Peter, when Peter denied Jesus three times.

He’s here again today. We don’t know the beloved disciple’s name. Some say it was John, who wrote the gospel many years later. Some say it was Andrew, Peter’s brother, who is mentioned very early on. We don’t know.

But he was an eyewitness to everything that happened. And he’s here again today. It’s a few weeks after Easter, and here’s what he says.

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It’s the Lord,” Peter wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish – 153 – but even with so many the net wasn’t torn.

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

John 21:1-14

I love this story. It makes the point that Jesus wasn’t just alive in their memories or alive in their hearts. He was really and truly alive. He showed up many times, and he sat down and ate breakfast with them.

I know a lot of you are feeling cooped up and closed in right now. It feels incredible that Jesus could be there, outside in the fresh air. Wouldn’t that be nice?

And I hope you all noticed that Jesus met his disciples on the beach. People here in North Carolina love going to the beach. And the idea that you could actually meet Jesus there, in your favorite place, is almost too much!

And fresh fish, on the hot coals – Jesus liked fresh fish, and it seems that Jesus liked barbecue. This is just getting better and better! Jesus must have been from North Carolina!

Let’s back up the story a little bit, because we’re in danger of missing some details.

It says they had gone out in the boat, and they were out all night and caught nothing. This sounds kind of like my experience of fishing.

Just about daybreak, they look over to the shore, and they see somebody standing there, yonder, but they didn’t recognize it was Jesus. And he calls out, “Hey, did you catch anything?”
They hollered back, “No!”

See, there’s this theme going on in the gospel, that people don’t recognize Jesus. I mean, these are people who have known Jesus for years. They’ve walked beside him for miles. They’ve seen him preach to the crowds. They’ve seen him do miracles and heal people.

They’ve had meals with him, and seen him arrested and killed. But they don’t recognize him.

It’s like there’s something that keeps us from recognizing Christ, even when he’s here in person.

In the gospel of Luke, two guys are walking down the road, and a stranger comes up, and it’s Jesus, and they don’t recognize him.

Easter morning, Mary Magdalene is standing there, right by the tomb. Jesus comes up to her and says, “Hey!” and she doesn’t recognize him. At least she had the excuse that she was crying her eyes out. Maybe she couldn’t see clearly.

But over and over again, Jesus’ closest friends, his own disciples, don’t recognize him.

Maybe they’re filled with grief and fear, rather than faith. Maybe in their hearts they didn’t believe he was risen. They didn’t expect him. If you don’t expect something, you don’t see it, even when it’s right there in front of you.

We think that we would recognize Jesus. Sure, we would! But who’s to say that Jesus isn’t right beside us, here in our world, and we don’t recognize him in our midst?

Anyway, Jesus yells back to them, “Throw your net on the other side of the boat! Throw it on the other side!”

And when they do, the net comes back full of fish. Big ones. Hundreds o them! You know, all four gospels tell this story. Some put it early in Jesus’ ministry. John puts it after the Resurrection. But they all tell it basically the same.

They’re out fishing, they catch nothing. Then Jesus shows up. He tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat, or he tells them to move their boat out into deep water, and see what they get.

And it works. They catch more fish than they’ve ever caught before. They catch so many fish the boat begins to sink. When Jesus is there, they become better fishermen than they’ve ever been in their whole lives.

All four gospels tell this story.

John’s version, the disciple Jesus loved says, “It’s the Lord!” He’s the first one to recognize Jesus. Somehow his love and his faith cuts through all the doubt and confusion, and he knows it’s the Lord.

Simon Peter’s the second guy to make the connection. You’ve got to love Peter, because he’s got a big heart and he acts on his impulses. Peter doesn’t wait for the boat – forget the fish, he’s overboard and gone, heading for the shore.

You’ve got to admire someone who sees Jesus and says, “I’m going!” and goes. We need people like that.

Rest of the guys, they’re pulling on the oars, rowing the boat ashore. They get there, they see the fire, with breakfast all ready.

Jesus says, “Let’s have some more of that fresh fish!” So they haul the net in, and there’s hundreds of fish. And what was almost as amazing, the net never even broke.

Jesus says, “Sit down and eat.” And nobody dared to say anything, because they knew it was him.

This story is really powerful, because it says so many things.

First, Jesus is here, but we don’t recognize him. He’s here beside us, he’s fully alive, but we don’t expect him, so we don’t see him.

Second, they were discouraged. We can identify with that. Difficult times like this, we feel like we’re doing all we can, and we’re not getting ahead. We’re not growing like we want to. We’re working hard. But we feel like those guys who said, “We worked all night, and we caught nothing.”

Third, Jesus told them to throw their net in a different place. That’s so important. Time and time again, the church has grown when we stop trying in the same old place, when leave the safe, shallow, familiar water, and head out into the deep.

Or when we cast our net on the other side of the boat, instead of the side we’re used to. This story has so much application for the church today.

Where else could we cast our net? Do we even know where the fish are? Do we know the habits of the fish we’re going after? Do we know what they’re hungry for, or where they’ve gone?

But it’s not just throwing our nets out at random. Do we throw our nets where Jesus tells us? When they threw their nets where Jesus told them, they caught more than they ever had in their lives. What a difference!

When they caught more, then they recognized it was Jesus. When the net came back ful, that’s when the beloved disciple said, “It’s the Lord!”

It wasn’t when they wished for fish. It was when they listened to Jesus. And when the net came back full, that’s when they recognized him.

And sometimes, just like Peter, you’ve got to take a chance, and jump out of the boat. Sometimes you’ve got to jump overboard, and trust you’ll make it to shore.

I’m a safe and steady kind of guy, myself. Back in the day, I took all the Red Cross lifesaving courses, and got certified as a lifeguard. I’ve taught many people how to swim and I’m big on life preservers.

Maybe what Peter did was dumb, but he did have faith, and he acted on it. That’s something to admire. Maybe the church needs both kinds – the safe and steady people and the impulsive people.

This story bears some careful thinking.

  • We need more people who are willing to fish in different ways.
  • We need more people who can recognize Jesus, and say, “It’s the Lord!”
  • We need people to stay with the boat, and bring it safe to land. And we need people who can act on the moment, and risk everything, because they’re determined to reach Jesus.

Thanks for watching today!

We pray that you’re safe and healthy. We pray for you and your family.

We pray that you have work, and a home, and food.

We pray for all who are ill or anxious. These are difficult times!

If you’re part of the Springfield family, please support us if you can. If you belong to some other church, please support them, and whatever efforts or ministries that you know are trying to help people.

God bless you, until we meet again.

May God lift you up, and bring you hope.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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