Message for Easter 3 on John 21:1-19 on May 5, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
In the early tech era of the 90’s, our favorite computer activity with our kids was playing a Living Book CD based on Aesop’s Fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare." We could click on a picture and the birds would sing, the Hare would run out of his house and brush his teeth, or a frog would play the drums.
You know the fable; the Tortoise and the Hare engage in a race. The Hare is over-confident in his speed and he gets distracted during the race. He forgets to eat, so he stops to eat breakfast, he takes a nap, and he stops to tell on-lookers how great he is. He becomes so distracted and full of himself that the Tortoise crosses the finish line while the Hare is racing to catch up. At the end, the narrator asks the crowd at the finish line, “What is the moral of the story?” The animal members of the crowd pipe up with suggestions that clearly show they missed the point: “The journey is the reward?” “Don’t act like such a big shot?” “Always eat a good breakfast?” “No, No!” says the narrator, “It’s ‘slow and steady wins the race!’” “Ohhhhhh!” The crowd realizes how they have missed the point.
In our Gospel reading the disciples are learning lessons of their own. Peter and the disciples have received their marching orders from Jesus, but they are not sure they have what it takes to follow in his footsteps. Earlier, the resurrected Lord appeared to them two times, showed them his hands and side, and offered them his peace; Jesus breathed on them the Holy Spirit and sent them out with these words, “As the Father sends me, so I send you. If you forgive the sins any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
There’s the call. The disciples are sent out with a Gospel to proclaim, sins to forgive, peace to offer, and a church to build—the only problem is, they do not believe they can do it. They may know what to do, but they are not sure they have what it takes. Following Peter’s lead, the disciples go fishing.
Ironic, isn’t it? It was not long ago that Jesus called them away from their boats to fish for people. But now, despite the miraculous resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the disciples have returned to their old way of life. After three years with Jesus, they are still not sure they have what it takes, so they return to what’s familiar. Like the Hare in the fable—the disciples are easily distracted from the path that Jesus has set them on, and they hang up a sign that says, “Gone Fishing.”
Sound familiar? In your bulletin, we have a whole list of strategic plans and priorities that the Council has come up with after a full day of prayer and conversation at a retreat. I am sure you could add more ideas as well. We know what to do—in fact there are probably too many directions we can go, with too many opportunities in a growing community like northern Texas.
Like the disciples, the question for us may be, “Do we have what it takes? What is it going to require on my part and, do I have that to give? How do I know if I am ready or even called to participate in any of our congregation’s mission?” Maybe like Peter or Paul, you feel haunted by a past you fear disqualifies you from you serving. How do you move forward? This may be true in our personal life as well. The future is uncertain. Do we have what it takes?
Our temptation in these situations of self-doubt and uncertainty is to join the disciples in going backwards rather pay attention to what new thing God might be doing. You will notice that this did not work for the disciples. They are experts at fishing, and they fished all night and caught nothing! They are totally flunking. Going backward rarely moves us forward. We can learn lessons from our past, but our future is not there.
What lessons do the followers of Jesus need to learn to fulfill our calling and move forward? The answers just may be found in that old Living Book of "The Tortoise and the Hare"—not only the main moral of the story, but even the ones we thought missed the point.
Lesson #1: Jesus gets the disciples back on the right path by appearing on the beach that morning. He invites them to cast their net on the right side of the boat, and they caught 153 fish!
It’s an odd number—153. This is the only place it appears in the Bible, so why 153? One hundred fifty-three is the known number of species of fish during the first century! Jesus did call them to fish for people, so this shows that the good news of Jesus is to be proclaimed to all “species” of people, to the ends of the earth. Everybody’s in! The net won’t break because God can hold us all! Every language, race, ethnicity, orientation, gender is in! Our job is not to judge, so enjoy the journey—The journey is the reward! Being part of God’s great plan to love and redeem the world is blessing enough! What does it take to move forward in mission? Share God’s forgiveness and embrace with everyone for The journey is the reward!
Lesson #2: The funniest part of the story comes next—Peter is fishing naked, and when he sees Jesus, he puts on his clothes to jump in the lake and swim ashore. We usually work while clothed and strip down to jump in the lake, but in the first century the one who saw someone naked was dishonored; Peter is honoring Jesus by putting on his clothes, but it all seems backward to us! The point is that Peter is naked. We see Peter in all his vulnerability. He denied Jesus three times, he fears his past disqualifies him, and that he does not have what it takes, and so he went back to fishing. But, Jesus sees right through Peter—he can put his clothes back on, but none of us can hide ourselves from God. Jesus sees us and knows us in all of our failings, fears and going backward. So, stop trying to hide. Don’t act like such a big shot.
You are not so bad God cannot love you and you are not so good you do not need Jesus! Peter gets to Jesus as fast as he can—he got this part right! Come to God in prayer, talk with Jesus throughout your day—rant and rave if you need to, cry if you feel it, dance when you’re moved—just do not run the other way, because he already knows all of who you are. What does it take to move forward in mission? Don’t act like such a big shot—get to Jesus as fast as you can, and take it all to the Lord in prayer.
Lesson #3: In the midst of this complete, stark-naked-knowing, Jesus invites Peter and the disciples to join him for breakfast on the beach. Jesus feeds them, body and soul with the physical food and the spiritual relationship they need to run with perseverance the race he has set before them—to carry the good news of God’s love throughout the world. Always eat a good breakfast. We can’t survive on this journey of faith, this mission of good news without proper nourishment. We need to be fed and loved at this table, where Jesus appears to us in the Lord’s Supper—our breakfast on the beach—to be loved, forgiven and strengthened for the day, especially when we don’t know what is coming next. And feed yourself physically as well with good nutrition, exercise and proper rest. We cannot carry out the mission of peace and love when we do violence to ourselves by neglecting self-care! This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn. What does it take to move forward in mission? Always eat a good breakfast, spiritually and physically.
Lesson #4: Finally, Jesus re-establishes a relationship with Peter and all the disciples based not on their good behavior, not on getting everything right, but rather, based on love. Peter’s three-fold denial is redeemed when he affirms that he loves Jesus three times—which he can do only because Jesus has already loved, nourished, and forgiven him. It is not just about how much Jesus loves us, it is about how much we love Jesus! Slow and steady wins the race. Take time to experience Jesus’ love and let Jesus know you love him! Three times! You do not have to rush to prove yourself. We do not have to rush to complete every goal this summer. Our mission is about love; it is about being as much as doing. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep” because we spend time loving Jesus first. What does it take to move forward in mission? Take time to experience Jesus’ love and let Jesus know you love him because Slow and steady wins the race.
God loves you, St. Luke’s, and every one of you as an important and valuable part of God’s mission in this world. The repetition of these faith practices will serve us well as we use them to discern how we participate in God’s unfolding mission here, and how we manage uncertainty in our personal lives. We all have what it takes as we make the next right step forward trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ whom we follow.
Remember that you are part of the 153 species that God loves, so, the journey is the reward! God knows you fully and completely, so bring it all to Jesus in prayer and don’t act like such a big shot! Nourish yourself spiritually and physically and always eat a good breakfast! And remember that our mission is all about love—taking time to experience how much God loves you, and how much you love God, how much God loves the world, and how Jesus equips us in love with what it takes to share this message, so slow and steady wins the race!
Image: Art by Peter Koenig