A Sermon for 5 May 2019 – Third Sunday of Easter
A reading from the gospel of John 21:1-19. Listen for God’s word to us.
“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 Peter 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 Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Beaches are some of the most favored destinations in the world. To beaches people flock just to get away. Restore our souls. Relax with family and friends, or all on our own. What could be better than the warm sun on your shoulders? A gentle breeze on your face. The sound of the water lapping the shore as wave after wave races up the sand to tickle your toes. Lots of lessons are learned on beaches. Huge insights take place on beaches. Life-altering experiences happen on beaches. Ever feel lost and all alone? Head to the beach and let the sights, sounds, touch of Mother Nature revive as the Spirit of a mighty, gracious Creator wraps all around. Beaches. Beaches are marvelous spots!
It’s a funny little beach along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee that we hear of from the gospel of John this morning. Smooth, dark rocks cover the beach instead of the typical soft sand. The beach can’t be more than 100 feet wide – a little opening among tall grass along most of the shore of Galilee’s sea. Until a pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few years back, I had no idea it’s a hotly-sought spot named the Primacy of Peter. There, a simple little church building sits along the shore. Beautiful stained-glass windows that remind of dancing vibrant flames dot the sides of the basalt rock building. A massive limestone sits at the front of the chancel area then continues out the side of the chapel to face the sea. Mensa Christi a sign reads. Meaning: “the Table of Christ.” For here, on this very beach, it is believed the Risen Christ prepared a meal of fish and bread for his disciples.
Imagine the incredible scene on that beach – some two thousand years ago. Peter and a handful of other disciples: Thomas, Nathanael, Peter’s old fishing buddies James and John who were the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples, one of which was who the gospel of John calls Jesus’ beloved disciple; all head to the beach. It was early in the a.m. – before the light of day peeked out. Perfect time for fishing any real fisherman would proclaim. As the gospel of John tells it, this would be the morning Peter got his grand direction: feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed by sheep, he’d be told. Follow me – no matter where the journey leads. Meanwhile, the little ban who had to be ready for a break after all they’d been through not just the last few weeks with Christ – but the past three years they literally had trekked all over the countryside with him. These seven disciples head back to the beach to what they know and love: fishing. Pushing out the boat. Letting down the nets. Hoping for a huge haul. Certainly, they’d say it wasn’t their lucky morning. Again and again the nets came up empty. Then, just about dawn, as the sun began to rise; someone’s standing on the beach. Shouting to try the nets on the other side of the boat. You know how when you’re really far from shore you squint to make out who it could be? The beloved disciple obviously had the best eyes and insight. For right after they pulled in overflowing nets, suddenly he exclaims: “It is the Lord!”
What I love best about this story is the way the Risen Christ has been busy building a beach bonfire. He wants to feed his friends! Scripture doesn’t tell us, but no doubt they’d gathered on the beach ‘round the fire before. Who knew Jesus was such a chef though, whipping up a delightful breakfast with just a few loaves and fish? Of course, according to the story, the disciples already knew what he could do with just a few loaves and a little fish. (Remember: the last time they saw him with fish and loaves, five thousand men plus women and children went home from a spot very close to this one, all filled up and with leftovers saved for later.) This breakfast on the beach wasn’t the first time he’d fed hungry folks. It is the first meal the gospel of John records that they shared together again after that Last Supper the night before his death. Now, I know eating is just a part of it – a routine thing done several times a day by those fortunate enough to have easy access to food. But this is no ordinary meal! Breakfast on the beach with the Risen Christ is a very big deal. Breakfast on the beach prepared by the Risen Christ is Eucharist. Thanksgiving. A gift of the great feast!
It’s striking, don’t you think, that according to the gospel of John; the Risen Christ cooks up breakfast right before he gives the command to go feed others? He’s not about to send out his first disciples until they are all filled up. The act of taking, breaking, giving. It’s the crucial reminder of God in our midst. The Risen One offering us food to eat because he knows – maybe like those silly Snickers candy bar commercials – that we’re not quite like ourselves until first we’ve gotten something to eat. We cannot go forth into the world taking our lives, breaking open our hearts, giving of our time, talents, and treasures if we haven’t first had our sustenance. It’s why the Table of Christ is so important. Why we’re invited to it again and again. About this story in the last chapter of the gospel of John, one biblical commentator writes: “If you are going to fulfill the mission entrusted to you, you will need the Risen Christ . . . feeding you.” The good news is that “the Risen Christ . . . continues to supply the strength and nurture we need for our lives and work” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Thomas H. Troeger, p. 423).
Maybe it’s through time we take each morning all on our own. Re-reading our favorite scriptures. Listening to beloved sacred songs. Maybe in the quiet of the late night right before we lay ourselves down to sleep, we nourish ourselves through reviewing when God felt close the past twenty-four hours. When we experienced Christ-like compassion from another or knew the forgiveness of our LORD. Maybe the Risen Christ has fed us by coming extra close in the beauty of God’s intricate creation. The diversity of brothers and sisters of this world who inspire us with their generosity and encourage us through their love. Maybe the Risen Christ has filled us up with the peace of knowing that we are deeply cherished as we are – like Peter, the disciple who three times denied, then three times re-declared his love right there on that beach beside the sea. Maybe it is in the bread and the fruit of the vine around another Table of Christ that we eat our fill to find ourselves nurtured. Revived. Ready to go forth to serve again!
Be it on a beach somewhere that you absolutely love, or at this Table of Christ here; we need the food the Risen Christ prepares. For then and only then can we go forth to offer sustenance to others. Tending the vulnerable. Following our loving Lord. May we never neglect to let the Risen Christ feed us. Fill us up. Daily. Then from the blessing of times just like that beach breakfast, let us go back out to love and serve like Christ!
In the name of the Life-giving Father, the Life-redeeming Son, and the Life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)
*NOTE TO READERS: the pic at the top of this blog is from the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the outdoor chapel at the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Photo taken by JMN ~ March 2014.