"From the Lips of Fish" – John 21:1-19
After Jesus appeared to his followers in Jerusalem, he 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.
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.” 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.” 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. 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.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
At the summer camp in Ohio where Lindsey and I worked, there was a pond. In this pond were fish. To my knowledge, no one ever ate the fish that were caught in the pond. We simply threw them back into the water, over and over again.
Now, when I say “we” I am referring to everyone except me. I will never be confused with a fisherman. I can barely muster up the courage to pierce a worm with a hook. Now, when I say, “I can barely muster up the courage,” I mean, I cannot muster up the courage. Every time I took kids to fish in the pond, I teamed up with another counselor who would handle all of the parts dealing with hooks either going into or out of wiggling, convulsing creatures.
One morning when we were fishing, and when I say “we” I mean “they;” when they were fishing, a kid reeled in a fish. I happily let the other counselor grab the fish, release the hook, and toss it back into the water. Except that at nearly the exact same time, another kid caught a fish; and then another kid caught a fish. Three fish on hooks; two counselors. The other counselor was busy. It was up to me to touch the fish, release the hook, and toss it back into the water.
The problem was that every time I touched the fish, it moved…and creeped me out. I must have tried a half a dozen times to grab hold of the fish without throwing up. I finally got hold of it. I grabbed the hook and tried to wiggle it out.
Recall, I said we never ate the fish, we simply threw them back into the water, over and over again. Well, this particular fish had been caught dozens of times before. How do I know this? The fish’s “lip” (do fish have lips?) was perforated like a piece of paper designed to be torn in two.
I grabbed the hook, tried to wiggle it out, and the whole lip – a perfect circle – came off with it. I returned the fish to the pond. Now, when I say I “returned the fish to the pond,” I mean that I screamed and threw the fish like a fastball into the water.
I’m no fisherman.
But I love John’s story of Jesus’ fishermen disciples. Because while I’m not a fisherman, I am a Christian who is committed to the Christ’s work in this world through the church. And as it turns out, fishing and being a Christian, and being a part of a church, are very similar endeavors.
Recall from the gospel story last week that Jesus had already appeared to the disciples two times since being raised from the dead. The most earth-shattering event in history had just unfolded, and what were the disciples doing? Fishing! Not fishing for men, as Jesus had instructed them; but fishing for fish.
This strikes me as similar to someone undergoing a serious and complicated surgery that saves their life, only to spend the rest of their days lying on the couch watching TV. Everything the disciples had learned, witnessed and experienced had prepared them for lives of courageous service and miracle-working…not fishing.
No wonder, then, that Jesus appears to them a third time. The disciples still don’t get it!
And yet, Jesus doesn’t come with judgmental or condemning words. In fact, he gives them a pointer on how to actually catch the fish they’re fishing for. The secret, the unbelievable secret, the secret that no one else seemed to consider throughout the evening…put out the net on the other side of the boat! It’s an invitation to try again, even after failing all night long.
The disciples end up with quite a haul of fish – 135 big ‘ens. They realize the mysterious man on the shore with the incredible fishing advice was Jesus. So they come ashore, and find that Jesus has already provided them with bread and fish. And yet, Jesus invites them to contribute a portion of their haul to the beachside barbecue.
There is an important connection between this scene and our life of faith. We are commissioned – called and sent – at our baptism to share in the work and ministry of our Lord.
And yet we often fall short, failing to give witness in word or deed to our faith in the living Lord.
And yet Jesus doesn’t just call and send us, Jesus also forgives us when we fall short.
And Jesus doesn’t just forgive us, but calls us to try again.
And Jesus doesn’t just call us to try again, Jesus also invites us to share what we have and gives us meaningful work to do.
Is it possible that we as a church have failed to give witness in word or deed to our faith in the living Lord?
Is it possible that Jesus has forgiven us for falling short?
Is it possible that Jesus is calling us to try again?
Is it possible that Jesus is inviting us to share what we have? Is it possible Jesus is giving us meaningful work to do?
It’s more than possible; it’s a fact. What you do matters. As parents or children, siblings or friends, employees or volunteers, citizens or neighbors, you are called to look for opportunities to care for the people and world God loves so much.
Do you love Jesus? If so, you are to care for the people and world God loves so much.
Do you love Jesus? If so, then you need to take some risks.
Do you love Jesus? If so, then live in a way that honors the fact that Jesus has destroyed the power of death.
Like Peter, we too will deny Jesus. We will convince ourselves we have nothing to offer anyone. We will follow the path of certainty, even if it is certainly leading to death. But like Peter, we will have as many opportunities to serve God as we have denied Jesus.
We are called to be fishers of men.
Some of us will get sea sick – we’ll want to leave the church because it navigates the rough waters of faith instead of resting on the solid ground of certainty.
Some of us will get queasy at the idea of touching a fish – reaching out with compassion to someone different from you; someone who is struggling and afraid.
Some of us will become impatient after not catching anything all night long – we look around and wonder, “Shouldn’t our church be growing more and doing more?”
And some of us will forget that Jesus has already provided everything we need to survive and thrive and is inviting us to rest and enjoy God’s provision.
I don’t know if you like to fish for fish. But each one of us, regardless of our age, physical ability, or sense of faith, is called to fish for people. We will get sea sick, queasy, impatient and forgetful. But by proclaiming God’s grace through Jesus Christ, by caring for those in need, by loving those who have been disregarded, we will be living lives that give honor to God and ourselves.
May Cross of Grace Lutheran Church be a boat navigating the rough waters of faith. May this church be patient through the lonely nights. May this church be willing to risk failure by tossing the net off the other side of the boat. And may this church never lose sight of Jesus who provides all we need and guides us safely to shore.