After the resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. What were the disciples doing there? What do Jesus’ actions and words teach us about him and about us? These are some of the questions I thought about in this sermon.
This is a fairly familiar passage, but I think that there is a lot more in it than we sometimes realise. There is certainly a lot more in it than I could talk about in the time I had, but I picked out a few things that seemed relevant to me! Tom Wright’s John for Everyone book was helpful with some of the ideas.
Breakfast on the beach; Reading: John 21:1-19
What would you do next? You’ve seen Jesus risen from the dead, you’ve met with him, seen and heard that he is truly alive and amazingly different. What would you do next?
The disciples have seen Jesus risen and alive. They have experienced the miracle of Easter, have seen with their own eyes the good news that Jesus is alive. They have wondered and celebrated, been awed and amazed by the new life that they have encountered And then, they’ve gone back to Galilee. And, rather than telling people the good news about the new life that they have seen, rather than, as they’d done before, going round the towns and villages telling people the God news. Instead, some of them, not even all of them, go back to what they know, they go back to fishing. We don’t even know what the others did.
What would you do next? You come back from that great service, that great Christian festival or celebration, and then things often go back to pretty much the same as they were, often as soon as you get to the car-park… One of the many reasons why the Gospels ring true is that it’s not something that you make up but is something that we experience.
Jesus has appeared to the disciples and said to them, in John 20:
21…‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’
But, instead, they end up back on the Sea of Galilee, fishing. Almost, but not quite, as though the last few years hadn’t happened. Almost, but not really. Things have changed, although it perhaps didn’t feel like it as they waited all night for the fish that didn’t come. I wonder what they talked about, what they thought about, that long, slow night?
We have a couple of advantages that the disciples didn’t have. We have their example, good, bad and indifferent. And Pentecost has happened for us, the Holy Spirit has been given to us in all his power. That might mean an amazing transformation all at once, or it might mean a transformation, a change, over weeks or months or years. We certainly see both happening to the disciples. And the power of the Spirit is at work in us, sometimes in ways that we can see, sometimes not quite recognisable until we look back. God loves us far too much to leave us as we are. God longs for us to become more fully and truly the people that he created us to be. And God gives us the power to take another step on that journey.
So the sun rises on the disciples, who by now are probably regretting the whole idea of fishing again. And a stranger, someone they don’t quite recognise, aren’t quite sure who it is, calls them. “It’s the Lord!” But they’re not quite sure, not entirely certain. “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” Which rather implies that they didn’t quite know. Weren’t 100% sure. Would quite have liked to ask, but didn’t really want the answer either way.
And so Jesus invites them to breakfast. Jesus has already got bread and fish cooking on the fire, but he still asks for the disciples to bring fish to be cooked. Jesus invites us to join in, to take part in what he is doing. Jesus invites the disciples to offer the fish that he has miraculously enabled them to catch in the first place. He invites them to join in, and gives them what they need to join in as well. Jesus invites us to join in with what he is already doing.
There is the challenging reflection that starts ‘Christ has no hands on earth but ours’. It’s challenging, it contains an important call to get involved and get on and do the things that God is calling, wanting, longing for us to do. It’s challenging, but, ultimately it is wrong. God is not limited by us, not limited by our hands, our feet, by the things that we can bring to him.
There is a fire already burning, with the things that we need on it to sustain us. But God invites us to bring what he has given to us and offer it back to him, and join in with what he is doing.
One problem that we have that the first disciples don’t have is that it’s harder to work out what God is calling us to join in with. That’s why we’re having the vision day on 7th May, to work out what God is calling us to do next. And partly that will be based on what we have the we can bring to him. What skills and gifts do we have, what things do we already care about, what ways are we already seeing God at work?
We usually need to hear what God is saying to us together. We usually need to work out, together, what it is what God wants us to do, both as individuals and as a church. And that’s because we’re part of God’s body and God wants us to work as part of the whole, even when we’re doing things individually. It can be harder, it’s usually slower, the ‘yes’ we thought we heard might turn out to have been a ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ or ‘not in the way that you thought’, and it’s not like the group, the church always gets it right. The disciples made a group decision to go fishing, which wasn’t the best idea they’d had that week. But, God calls us to work as his body, to think as his body, to love and be and serve as his body. We’re in this together!
And then, after breakfast, Jesus takes Peter to one side and asks him three times “do you love me?”
And Peter is hurt and probably upset. He’s hurt because it’s reminded him of his three betrayals, his three denials of loving Jesus. He’s probably upset because he doesn’t want to remember, hurt because he just wanted to forget about it, pretend it never happened. To try to get on with things without confronting the problem that he’d left behind.
Prince William and Catherine have, as you may well have seen, have been on a visit to India. As part of that, they visited the Taj Mahal, where, famously Diana sat alone on the bench all those years ago. Part of this was, Will and Kate said, was to create new memories. They confronted the old, acknowledged its power and created something different. They could have avoided it, not gone anywhere near the Taj Mahal, or at least not gone anywhere near that bench. But, the memories would still have been there, people would still have raised the issue, did still print all the old photos.
And that’s what Jesus was doing with Peter as well. Perhaps, the ‘nice’ thing to do would have been to ignore what had happened, not to go back over the bad stuff. But it’s not like the memories weren’t there, it’s not like both sides didn’t know what had happened. That’s why, amongst other things it’s important that we have a confession as part of our church service each week, a time of saying sorry, together as a church. It’s a group reminder of how we’ve fallen short, a reminder together that we’ve messed up and need to rely on God’s love and power just as much as the first disciples. This isn’t about replacing saying sorry as we go through the week and when recognise we’ve messed up. In part it’s to help us to do just that.
And, another problem is that the things that we mess up the most are often the things that we want to avoid thinking about, or don’t recognise we’ve done. Or, at least as importantly, the things that we haven’t done that we were called to do. So, a time of confession, of saying sorry, is important in getting us to face up to at least some of that on some level.
It’s also a way of reminding us that we, like Peter, are not trapped by the past. It’s a way of receiving God’s love, of knowing that we are forgiven, that the future is shaped by God’s loving power, as well as by what has happened, that change and transformation are possible.
Jesus tells Peter to ‘Follow me!’ Jesus says to us too ‘Follow me!’ We are more than the sum of what has happened to us, more than the things we have done, good and bad, or haven’t done, for good or bad. We are loved by God, made in his image, and given his Spirit to be with us.
We are having our Annual Meeting after this service. We will look back over what has happened, but we will also look forward to what God is wanting to happen. At the vision day we’ve got a longer opportunity to do that, to look at what God is wanting, longing to happen here in Hartshorne. God loves us, God gives us power. God calls us to ‘Follow me!’ Let us, together, find out how we can follow him today. Amen.