4.18.10 sermon notes
I have some important news for you. Easter isn’t over. Hard for us to get that. We’ve put away the beautiful flower cross (would have started to look pretty bad, even after a day or two – hardly the sign of new life we intended!), spring break is over, we’ve eaten all of the good candy, the pastor is back from vacation. Back to business as usual.
But wait! Easter isn’t over!
You know, the disciples had a hard time with this as well.
In our reading from John this morning, Jesus had just appeared to the disciples and Thomas saw the wounds he still bore on his resurrected body and declared: “My Lord and my God!” And where do we go from there? We’re back in Galilee – at the sea of Tiberius. And Peter, after EVERYTHING that has happened, says, “I am going fishing – who wants to go with me?” Back to business as usual. What!?!? Within a few scant weeks of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and amazing reappearances, Peter is back in the boat – not fishing for people the way Jesus said he would, but back at his old job. Fishing for regular fish – and doing a pretty poor job of it actually. Did you notice how much they caught that first night? Not a one. But isn’t it great, that even when we get off track from the plan God has for us, even in the ordinariness of the things we do to avoid hard times, Jesus is there. In this case, he was sitting on the beach – cooking some breakfast – nothing fancy – just some bread and fish, a clear nod to many of the ordinary and extraordinary meals Jesus had shared with his disciples before.
Now remember that the disciples caught nothing the night before. But Jesus instructs them to cast the nets on the other side of the boat, and they can hardly pull in the net for all the fish. And did you notice? We are told specifically how many fish were in this catch – did anyone notice the number? 153.
From the earliest times of the Christian faith, scholars have tried to come up with all kinds of symbolic arguments for this number, and we honestly, we really don’t know what might have been significant about the number 153. But if we try to suppress our DaVinci Code tendencies, stop looking for secret codes and just enter into the story, it is fascinating that this number is here. In his novel The River Why, David James Duncan tells the story of a fly-fisherman and offers an interesting take on this story from John. He writes: “Like gamblers, baseball fans, and television networks, fishermen are enamored of statistics. The adoration of statistics is a trait so deeply embedded in their nature that even those rarefied anglers, the disciples of Jesus couldn’t resist backing their yarns with arithmetic: when the resurrected Christ appears on the morning shore of the Sea of Galilee and we learn that the net contained not ‘a boatload’ of fish, nor ‘about one hundred and a half,’ nor ‘over a gross,’ but precisely ‘one hundred and fifty and three.’ This is, it seems to me, one of the most remarkable statistics ever computed. Consider the circumstances: this is after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection; Jesus is standing on the beach newly risen from the dead, and it is only the third time the disciples have seen him since the nightmare of Calvary. And yet we learn that in the net there were ‘great fishes’, numbering precisely “a hundred and fifty and three.’ How was this digit discovered? Mustn’t it have happened thus: upon hauling the net to shore, the disciples squatted down by that immense, writhing fish pile and started tossing them into a second pile, painstakingly counting ‘one, two, three, four, five, six, seven . . .’ all of the way up to a hundred and fifty and three, while the newly risen Lord of Creation, the Sustainer of their beings, He who died for them, stood waiting, ignored, till the heap of fish was quantified.”
Even there, in the face of these silly disciples, more occupied with the number of fish in their net than with the risen Christ in their midst, Christ is patient and loving.
Even here, in the face of us silly disciples, more occupied with the number of people in our pews than with our experience of the risen Christ in our midst, Christ is patient and loving. Christ waits for us. Christ prays for us. And Christ offers us sustenance for the journey ahead. Come and have some breakfast.
I love that part; “Come and have some breakfast,” Jesus says. And in a moment, Jesus is going to offer them his famous charge: “Feed my sheep.” And then we discover that the fish aren’t the only thing grilled by Jesus on the beach that morning! He persistently asks Peter some very direct questions pertaining to his love. This is obviously a reenactment of Peter’s denial of Jesus, only in reverse. Just a few chapters earlier, Peter publicly denied even knowing Jesus three times. Here, Jesus gives Peter an opportunity to perhaps undo his previous denials. This is a remarkable illustration of Jesus’ faithfulness even to those who are not faithful to him. It is the grace of God at work in the life of Jesus’ followers.
You are forgiven. You are a new creation. So get out there and feed my sheep. Take care of my people. You, Peter, you, James and John, you, Mary, you, Luther, you, Sara, you, . . . all of you — You are going to be my body in the world now. Feed my sheep. But first, have some breakfast. Before Christ sends us out to feed others, he ensures that we are fed.
How many of you have flown on an airplane? What do they always tell you to do in the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure and those little oxygen masks fall in front of you? Put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on others who need assistance. The first time I heard that, I thought it was crazy. If my child or someone otherwise unable to help themselves is sitting next to me, how can I dare put my own needs first? But when you think about it, it makes sense. I am no good to someone if I cannot breathe. Sometimes we have to feed ourselves in order to have the strength to go out and feed others.
What feeds you that allows you to feed others? What is your oxygen mask – that life-giving, soul-filling thing that sustains you so that you can serve others? Maybe it’s prayer. Maybe it’s music or laughter. Perhaps it’s digging in the dirt on a spring day, Long walks, a great book, or worship, or time with good friends, or poetry. Maybe it’s communion, when you receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation that allows you to reinvigorate your life as a disciple of Christ. What feeds you? Take a moment in silence to think about those things that feed you. And give thanks to God for them. And make a commitment to do them more often.
And perhaps even more important is what we do once we have been fed. In this season of Easter, who is the resurrected Christ calling you to feed? Who is God calling you to serve? And how will you respond?
Do you love me? Feed my sheep. And follow me.