A meditation preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church of Prairie Village, Kansas. April 14, 2013.
* * *
I really like how NT Wright reminds us
of the beauty, the serenity
painted for us by the Gospel writer in this scene this morning:
The level of the lake has dropped now,[i]
but you can still sense what a lovely place it is…
You can still get a sense, in the little place called Tabgha
just west of Capernaum,
of what it must have been like that morning.
It was, and still is when the tourists aren’t there, a quiet place,
on the north shore of the sea.
It’s quite a distance from the major town of Tiberias.
It is still enough to hear the water lapping at your feet.
The colour of the sky, reflected in the lake, gives you
double the effect of the spectacular sunrise,
the great fiery ball coming up over the Golan Heights.
The day dawns of new beauty and possibility.
That is part of what John is telling us in this story (Wright explores).
Notice how, once more, he draws our attention to dawn…
as he points to the risen Jesus.
* * *
This story at the end of the Gospel according to John
is a favorite.
In part, its because of the tranquil scene.
After the rush of the previous chapters: the entry to Jerusalem,
the final supper shared and the humble washing of feet
by the master
the arrest, the trial, the death, the burial
and even the first two resurrection appearances
to Mary, weeping at the tomb
to the disciples, locked, frightened, sequestered
having to touch to see….
This story, by stark contrast, is out in the open.
It is a resurrection appearance, yes, but the feel is so very different.
It is early morning, a new day.
It is quiet, and peaceful.
The key figures are there: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin
the one we call Doubting Thomas,
doubting no more…
and some others: Nathanael, some sons of Zebedee
and two other disciples.
Companions, friends, who had been through angst and rage
and fear and trembling,
formerly locked in a room, now out, on the lakeshore
with a fresh breeze and the rising sun facing them.
If you are asking yourself “Why had they gone fishing?”
you would be raising a good point.
That labor doesn’t fit, really, with the flow of the story before us.
The story doesn’t seem to fit, either, since just before this reading
John seems to end things rather nicely for us:
“Now Jesus did many other signs
in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book.
But these are written so that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,
and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
Seems like a good ending to me, the end of Chapter 20…
but then John goes on and tells us THIS story…
Its all a bit odd.
But then I think a bit about who these characters were,
and it makes more sense to me.
Simon Peter, Thomas, the others: they were fishermen.
Peter, you may remember, ran a fishing business in Bethsadia,
John told us way back at the beginning.
And along with James and John (the Sons of Zebedee)
they are key figures of many of the fishing stories of the Gospels.
Fishing was Peter’s livelihood. It was who he was.
To be on the sea, standing on a boat, rocking, the net in his hands.
Why had they gone fishing?
Because Peter declared that he was going fishing,
and the others joined him.
Peter, it seemed, wanted to get on with his life.
To do the next thing, and for him, it was to return to the life he knew.
And for these disciples, that familiar world would be on the sea,
fishing for fish.
It is a common and an often good reaction,
after experiencing something that DISRUPTS us,
to try to re-orient ourselves by going back what we know.
We are taught, when we are lost, to find a familiar landmark
to situate ourselves back on the map.
Or to find someone we recognize or trust—a police officer, say
or a gas station attendant
who can help give us directions.
Sometimes, after a long cold or flu,
or after a long time away on a business trip or even a vacation
I want nothing other than to get out
and back into my routine.
This is a common human emotion, I think.
To turn to what we know, what we can rely on,
what we think is secure and comforting and true to what we are
in times of INSECURITY or DISRUPTION.
I think that’s why Peter wanted to go fishing.
And why the others went with him.
But contrary to their expectations, it didn’t work.
These FISHERMEN knew the sea. They were old hands.
They knew where the fish congregated,
where you could normally find shoals.
But they worked all night and took in NOTHING.
They knew, as Fishermen knew, that if the catch didn’t come in at night,
that they were far less likely to reap any harvest by day.
But then, the dawn breaks, and the sky and the sea fill with color
and perhaps as they were stretching and shivering
and shaking off the night’s cold
and they were tired from their labor and from, lets face it,
staying up all night
and they were ready….for food and for rest.
At THAT moment….Jesus comes again.
There is the familiar to us now moment of miscomprehension,
where they didn’t recognize them,
but Jesus, as he did to Mary, and to the locked-in disciples,
Jesus speaks to them a word of greeting and direction.
And they fill their nets.
And their eyes open again.
And once again….they are DISRUPTED….
Peter, James and John, Thomas, Nathanael, and the others
They come to shore, and Jesus is there,
already with plenty of fish over the charcoal fire,
cooking them breakfast.
“Come and eat” he says to them.
Bread, and fish, broken and shared.
DISRUPTION….and comfort food
a moment of renewal after a long, tiring night of work.
How very peaceful and serene and healing that must have been.
How frustrating must it have been for Peter and the others
to have gone back to fishing, seeking something NORMAL
and to have gotten NOTHING.
Only to be greeted once again by the LORD who loves them
and who equips them
and enables them to find a new NORMAL
a new sense of COMFORT
a deeper and more abiding sense of REST.
All through an invitation, a kind word,
and the sharing of food on the lakeshore.
There are two things to highlight here for us this Easter season.
After the tumult of holy week, after the fanfare of Easter morning
after not only the shocking encounter at the tomb
but also after the Easter Ham has been cooked and eaten
and the bonnets repacked for another year
what temptation it is for us to go back to what we know,
what we find NORMAL
what gives us COMFORT.
If this Gospel story speaks to THAT tendency in our lives,
it is to say that Jesus encourages us to understand that
even when we think that Easter is DONE,
the resurrected LORD can still show up and ENLIVEN us
with miracles in the midst of the ordinary
and FOOD for our bodies and our spirits.
And, second, there is something about the amazing power of food
food harvested and food shared,
that can bring about the most amazing LOVE and POWER of GOD.
This week, I have been in Louisville
at the Presbyterian Mission Agency board meeting
listening to stories about the incredible things, frankly,
your gifts are enabling around the world—
feeding the hungry
rebuilding communities struck by disaster
promoting peace and justice in dangerous lands
and looking over budget reports and docket agendas
and the whole nine yards.
And I was ready, by Friday, to get back to NORMAL….
To fly home and see my kids and my wife and our new, crazy dog
and to sleep in my own bed.
But before I left, the young adult leader for the Mission Agency
invited me to join a crew at Briargate Presbyterian Church.
And I did. And when I got there, in Shivly, Kentucky,
about 25 minutes away,
I saw the most amazing thing: a community garden,
plots lovingly dug and marked and fertilized and prepared
on the property of Briargate Presbyterian Church
an effort to engage the hungry in their neighborhood
to feed them with good food
to extend Christ’s love and witness to the world
to stand with the Risen Jesus to say that
DEATH does NOT win.
And there, around food harvested and prepared,
I saw the risen Lord again…..
Easter may be several weeks behind us by now,
but Easter is not over. It is never over.
This is an EASTER world, a world of resurrection possibility
where Christ can come to us at ANY TIME
and remind us of the power of love to transform the WORLD.
Whether we are DISRUPTED or seeking COMFORT.
Whether we are ready for it or running from it.
Christ is NOT done with us yet.
And for that, we can be so grateful to God.
So may we seek to ALWAYS be open to God’s DISRUPTIVE, COMFORTING love
and may we always SHARE it so that other’s see in us
the LIVING lord. Amen.
[i] NT Wright, John for Everyone Part Two Chapters 11-21 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004) 156-157.