3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C. April 14, 2013. (Text: John 21:1-14)
It’s hard to imagine an emotional roller coaster with bigger ups and downs than the one Jesus’ disciples were riding from the day he entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna,” to the night he was seized in Gethsemane, the next day abused and crucified by his enemies, laid in a borrowed tomb and—a couple of days later—miraculously raised to life. What a ride that was!
We can’t place the fishing story in this morning’s gospel on some exact Biblical post-Easter timeline, but what works best for me is to think of it as happening many weeks after the Sunday evening when Jesus showed Thomas his wounded hands and side, and told him, “Touch me, Thomas. Don’t be faithless, but believing.” The disciples had experienced two weeks of constant excitement and upheaval, but after that special evening in the upper room--nothing. Days passed, then weeks. But no more appearances. No more excitement.
When I’ve been on a wild emotional ride—up and down and then up and down again—I’m wrung out and worn out. I comfort myself by going to a familiar place and doing a familiar activity, something I can pretty much do “on autopilot.” Lots of people are just like me. We want to exert some control over our lives and try to get back to normal. (Whatever that is!)
So… If we’re mystery fans, we lose ourselves in a thriller. If we’re gardeners, we go pull the weeds. If we’re hikers, we head off on a familiar trail. And if we’re fishermen, we go fishing.
It seems that many of Jesus’ disciples had been commercial fishermen. When the excitement over the resurrection appearances had passed, they did what came naturally. They went back to the lake, back to their nets, back to their boats.
I see it like this. One evening, weeks after last seeing the Risen Lord, some of the boys are sitting around back in Capernaum, their home town, when Peter gets up, yawns, stretches, and says to the men around him, “I’m through with all this sittin’ around doin’ nothin’. I’m goin’ fishin’. Y’all want to come?” (I can’t do a Galilean accent, but I figure it was a little like East Texas.)
Right away they say, “Yessir, boss. Let’s do it! We’re comin’ too.”
An hour later, they’re back on the familiar lake at dusk, doing what they’d been doing three years before when Jesus had come to them and invited them to leave their boats and nets and follow him “to fish for people.”
Just as at that earlier time, they fish all night—putting out the net and dragging it back, again and again—but have nothing to show for their work. The sun is coming up and they’re set to beach the boat and take a rest, when a voice from the shore rings out across the water: “Children, you haven’t caught any fish, have you?”
“No!” they all holler back with a groan.
Then the voice—and isn’t it a familiar voice?—replies with a phrase that’s already embedded in their memory: “Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you’ll find some.” They do as they’re told, and suddenly they have more flipping, flopping fish than they can manage. Their net is strained and overflowing. It’s amazing that it doesn’t break. John is the first to say what the rest are thinking: “That’s the Master!” —He’s back!
I was killing time in a bookstore a couple of years ago when my eye fell on the title of a book on the shelf: GOD IS BACK! I had to have it. The title alone jarred my thoughts. —What happens to us after we’ve had a powerful experience of the presence of God, an encounter with the living Lord, an amazing “mountaintop moment,” and then life slips back into its old ruts? No more signs and wonders. No more mystical moments. —Don’t we wonder: What happens now? …Is that “it”? …Did I just have a dream? …Am I right back where I started?
This gospel points out two things: (1) a human reality, and (2) a spiritual truth.
First, the human reality: No matter how energized we might get because of some amazing spiritual experience, it’s impossible to stay at that high pitch. Every excitement always fades into happy memory. No matter how high our spirits soar in mountaintop moments, we’re ultimately going to drop back into a familiar, predictable routine.
But, now here’s the spiritual truth: We’re always changed by our experience, our moment of revelation. “Business as usual,” life as it once was, is not entirely possible after we’ve met the Risen Lord and know he’s truly alive. Oh, we might go back to doing our job, tending our flowers, looking after our children, or even fishing. We may find our familiar “rut” and try to settle into it. —But once we’ve come face to face with the living Lord, nothing will ever be the same again.
God never abandons us. He always comes back. Christ comes back to us in the world where we think we’re totally in charge, where we’re sure we can manage everything. He comes back and reminds us that now we have his work to do: fishing for people.
Here’s what congregational life is like: First, a church has an emotionally moving experience of the presence of God, like what can happen on a parish retreat or after a sermon by an inspired visiting preacher. Afterwards, we’re excited, full of expectation and hope for what God is going do in our church. —Then, time passes with no new excitement. The retreat or the sermon becomes a pleasant memory. And soon we’re back just doing “church biz” again. Back in our old rut, worrying about the budget.
But Jesus won’t let us stay there. In his own time he comes back and meets us again, right where he met us the first time. He comes to rekindle our enthusiasm and direct us away from predictable routines and obsessions and towards “fishing for people.” Jesus won’t let his vision perish. He comes back and calls out: “Cast your net on the right side!”
In this story, the fishnet is a symbol. —So, what’s our “net”? It’s the diversity of our shared experiences of the grace, love, and presence of Christ. It’s the “Heinz 57 varieties” of ways we know God has already come to us, shaped us, loved us, and given new life to us. That’s the net Christ has given each church to fling out from its little boat. It’s not bland, boring, and routine, and it’s not fragile and esoteric, either—not a delicate little net that can hold only a few tiny tropical fish. No, it’s the vital reality of a living Christ experienced in the fellowship of a living church. And it’s immensely attractive!
This gospel tells us we can trust Jesus to provide whatever we need, if we’re willing to get out there and do some fishing. He’ll tell us where to throw the net. In this gospel, Jesus has a hot breakfast waiting on the shore for his fatigued disciples who’ve spent all night in the boat. He comes to them in their weariness and frustration and supplies exactly what they need: direction for the work at hand and nourishment to strengthen them for the work yet to be done.
Easter was two weeks ago. The Resurrection seems like yesterday’s news. But because Jesus is alive, he won’t abandon us to “life in the slow lane”—business as usual and the comfort of old routines. Today, God is back!
Christ is among us again, crying “cast your net on the right side.” Let’s do it! Amen.
For the pdf version of this sermon Click Here