Fishing Love

May 5, 2019 (The Third Sunday of Easter)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Acts 9:1-6

Psalm 30

John 21:1-19

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

21:1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon 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. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He 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. 7 That 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. 8 But 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. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So 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. 12 Jesus 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. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 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.” 16 A 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.” 17 He 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. 18 Very 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.” (John 21:1-19, NRSV)

Let us pray: God of victory over death, your Son revealed himself again and again, and convinced his followers of his glorious resurrection. Grant that we may know his risen presence, in love obediently feed his sheep, and care for the lambs of his flock, until we join the hosts of heaven in worshiping you and praising him who is worthy of blessing and honor, glory and power, for ever and ever. Amen.

It happened one time and one time only.  My father and I went fishing.  My grandmother lived in an apartment that backed up to a waterway in St. Petersburgh. Florida. We walked out in the middle of the day and stood on the concrete retaining wall and I cast the line from my brand new Zebco fishing pole into the water.  My father was wearing a shirt and tie, that was his uniform, short sleeve shirt and tie.  Always, everywhere, even fishing.  The second we had just bought the fishing pole at K-mart earlier that day.  I don’t remember much except that we didn’t catch anything.  I can’t imagine we stayed very long.  Golf, Fishing, Hunting were not for my dad, they took too much time and patience.

I certainly can’t remember but I imagine the first few casts were exciting.  But with no results, I bet we both got frustrated and gave up and went back inside.   I have tried fishing a few times since then, but fishing is not my thing.   There is a lot of preparation, waiting, and disappointment when I have gone fishing. 

And this is exactly where we enter this story from the Gospel of John.  Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples as a group of disappointed disciples in their frustration and grief they want to go back to their normal lives as fishermen.  We join them in the boat on the Sea of Galilee.   We over hear them after a long night of fishing, and they have nothing to show for it.  They are tired and disappointed.  They just want to go home.   So, they head back to shore with empty nets.

Remember, they were professionals, they made their living as fishermen before Jesus came along, before he invited them to join him when he said, “Come, follow me.”  And they left their nets and followed.  What a trip it had been!  But now he was dead and gone so they tried to go back to normal, back to business as usual.  I imagine there was some relief getting back to the familiar – the predictable.  We all look for and enjoy our comfort zones, don’t we?  But they caught nothing.

Fishing may be the perfect metaphor for following Jesus, preparation, waiting, and disappointment.  It did not seem to them that they were very successful at following him either. Things had not turned out like they hoped.

So, there they are sitting in the dark, dejected, watching the sky change colors as the sun rises behind the hills.  Then they heard a voice. They could not see the person speaking but they certainly heard a voice.  Maybe it was the fog, maybe it was the darkness. They heard him first.  He tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and they caught a lot of fish. 

It was, as Yogi Berra used to put it, Deja vu all over again. It is not the end after all, for the end has led them to a new beginning.

“It is the Lord!” said the beloved disciple.   A disappointing night of fishing suddenly becomes a glorious new day.

And the point of the story for us is, after the death of a loved one, often we find ourselves just “going through the motions” of life.  There is no rush to move on, but rather a space and time to dwell on what was. We too want to go back to our routines, when we have left the glorious Easter service, when we’re back at business as usual and maybe having a rough time of it, perhaps having a long dark night of the soul, it is precisely then that Jesus calls out to you and to me. 

We can see. “It is the Lord!” That is what the beloved disciples said. A dismal midnight scene becomes a glorious new day.

We teach our children these stories because these stories are full of clues for times when we are in the middle of the night and afraid, we struggle, when we are lost, alone and don’t know where to go.  It is precisely at that moment that the story says to us, “Pay attention. Listen to the voices around you. It is the Lord.”

We believe in a God who never gives up on us, who continually calls us, sometimes in the middle of the night or at the breaking of a new day, to new beginnings.

That moment of recognition. “It is the Lord!” A breakthrough moment when we know maybe for the first time or the hundredth time that God is in this with us, that we are not alone, that we do not have to face the difficulties of our life alone. We do not have to face death alone. God is with us.

Not only is God with us. God is calling us to something new, precisely when we thought it was all over.

Whatever else this strange story of fishing and naked fishermen, of the Risen Christ whose disciples at first don’t know him, of charcoal fires and a meal of bread and fish, whatever else this story is about I think it is really about what the Church does on the Sundays following Easter.  It is what those who are seeking to be disciples do every ordinary Sunday, when there are not a thousand Easter lilies and the Halleluiah Chorus, complete with brass and Easter finery.  It’s about worship, ordinary worship, when two or three or more gather in his name.

We pour water at the font that we might be reminded that, though we deny him – more than three times; let’s be honest now, three times a day perhaps is more truthful – though we deny him, he washes us clean in the waters of baptism; he forgives us; he keeps on offering the opportunity to reaffirm our love.

And we eat together.   In his name we take the bread and a common cup.   During the season of Easter, we do this almost every Sunday, except on those Sundays when we don’t.   We gather at the Table, so that he might feed us.  Not just with a little wafer of tasteless bread and a cup of wine, but with his presence, made available in the gathered community through the love and the compassion and the concern and the faith of our fellow worshipers.

Every Sunday after Easter as we go back to fishing, or whatever the normal and ordinary is for our lives, Jesus keeps on forgiving, restoring and feeding us.  And if we are attentive, if our ears are open as well as our hearts, every ordinary Sunday Jesus asks us his penetrating question: Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?

Let us pray: O Lord continue to remind us of our worthiness through your love. Equip us to share that love with the world. Amen.