A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on May 1, 2022
Scripture: John 21:1-14
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 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. 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.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 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. 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. 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.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 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. 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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Jesus was dead. Sure there were some crackpot stories about some folks seeing him in Jerusalem, about his body being missing from the tomb, but really, no one believed that. Everyone who’d gathered around Jesus – so far as they knew – everyone had put aside their hopes, their dreams, their expectations, and now they were hard at work trying to re-create the life they’d known before they met Jesus.
And it wasn’t working.
The fisher-folks went out on their boats. They went out to their favorite spot, the place where they’d always hauled in nets filled with fish. But today there was nothing. Today, trying to do the usual, to do what had always seemed right, just didn’t work at all.
I think we can all sympathize with them this year. As we come out of the life-changing experience of COVID, we, like those disciples, really really want to move everything right back to where it was before, back in the good old days of 2019. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone grabbed me right after a service to ask, why weren’t we doing “this”, or shouldn’t we be doing “that”. And I know that person isn’t the only one to ask, why aren’t we doing … or when will we stop some COVID practice? We yearn for a return to that “before” time. And we struggle with our attempts to adapt what worked then with a now that is significantly different.
Well, if our situation is something like theirs, what happened next in their story?
Discourage, the disciples brought their boat back to shore. They didn’t have any trouble pulling it up to the shore, it was so empty it floated high in the water. That’s the kind of good you don’t actually want, you know. Kinda like the church that never needed to have the walls repainted because nothing every happened there….
There was a stranger standing on the shore as they came in. He named what was happening – you have no fish. They agreed. They were so discouraged they didn’t even wonder why, or take offense at, his comment.
This stranger suggested then that they do things differently, that they turn their practices upside down. In this particular circumstance, the stranger wants them to let their nets on the other side of their boats. It’s a simple idea, and, the story tells us it was as if every fish in the water had just been waiting for this one little change…. and now their nets were so full they couldn’t haul them in.
In this success, they suddenly recognized the stranger. The stories were true; Jesus still lived! And he was still leading them, giving them the courage to step into new ways, steeling them to look thoughtfully at what they were doing.
Jesus didn’t just give people new ideas, he equipped them for their new journeys. In this story, he fed them breakfast… a good solid breakfast, nourishing, even encouraging. They ate heartily, and rose up, ready to move into a new life.
Now it’d be really amazing if I could say to each of you that after we take communion, we too will leap from our seats ready to do great things… but it doesn’t work that way – didn’t then, and doesn’t now. What does happen, what will happen is that as we sit together is that we are not alone. We are no longer one single person, struggling to survive on our own. We are part of a community, and that is nourishment to our souls. We are not alone.
The stories of the early church go on and make it clear that things, going forward, weren’t peaches and cream.
It’s not just that they had struggles with the civil authorities wherever they went.
It’s not just that, as Christianity morphed and changed and gradually separated from Judaism, there were painful, destructive fights among the two groups.
It’s not just that, almost from the very first day, it was clear that there was more than one opinion about the right way to proceed.
It’s all of that, and more. It’s differing opinions and grating personalities, it’s available resources and local customs, it’s everything that has ever united or divided us, one from another. That’s the nature of being human; there are a million ways to divide us one from another.
For those of us who have dedicated ourselves to following the way of Christ, this is the one way of love to bring us together. No matter what ways we differ – age, wealth, gender, affectional preference, education, nationality or beliefs about the eschaton – the love which is taught by Jesus and practiced by his followers is what brings us together.
Those early Christians worked hard to understand what they were being called to do; they studied, they talked together, they took advantage of every opportunity to gather. In these changing times, that’s an important part of our work as well. Books, meetings, conversations, visits – all are resources for us in the days to come.
Yes, we’re not sure where we’re going. Sure, some of us still want to return to yesterday, to 2019. And all of us are disturbed and worried about the future. Making our way will not be clear and simple, but it will be satisfying so long as it is built on love for God and one another.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
© 2022, Virginia H. Child