By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: John 21:1-14
Alright, full disclosure. I am not a fisherman. Last week, my sermon involved bread baking. I am very at home in the kitchen. Cooking is a creative outlet for me. But, from my earliest memories, fishing has been dreadfully dull and monotonous. It requires a lot of patience; and a lot of sitting still… something I’m not very good at. I actually fished quite a lot as a child because my dad was a fisherman and I loved to be with my dad. So, I fished with him… but it wasn’t really about the fishing.
I remember one occasion when we’d been fishing for what seemed like an eternity with nothing to show for it. I was probably around eight and getting so fidgety and restless. Finally, there was a little tug on my rod. I reeled a little crappie to shore. If you know anything about crappies, they are very social fish and live in schools. So my dad encouraged me, “they’ll be more. These fish swim in schools.” Yet, more time ticked by with no further action until in exasperation I said to my dad, “I think my fish was cutting class.”
My frustration could not have held a candle to what Peter and his fishing buddies must have been feeling after having fished all night and catching nothing.
In John, chapter 21, we read yet another story of a post-resurrection appearance by Jesus to his disciples. The weeks immediately following Easter Sunday have long been a time when the church turns its attention to these stories; stories of the resurrected Jesus appearing and revealing himself to his followers; stories intended to remind future generations that – although we can no longer see his physical body – Jesus is still present with us. Jesus still “appears” in the lives of his followers today. We just need to understand how to recognize the revelation of his presence.
Last Sunday I discussed the fact, because Jesus himself was broken on the cross and subjected to the brokenness of this world, we can recognize the presence of Jesus with us in our places of brokenness.
Likewise this morning’s story reveals that Jesus comes to us in places of failure and frustration. I mean, most of these guys were professional fishermen. They’d grown up by the sea, likely taught to handle those nets from a young age. Now this discipleship thing; they were fairly new at that and this recent turn of events – Jesus dying and rising – probably left them a bit confused about what discipleship meant and what, exactly, they were supposed to do now. But fishing… they knew how to do that; that they understood. Yet, on this occasion, they fish the entire night and don’t catch a single fish. Dawn arrives and their nets are empty.
And now some stranger hollers to them from shore and tells them all they need to do is let their net out on the other side of the boat. “What a simpleton!” Peter might have thought. But, it’s not as if they have anything to lose. So they do. And miraculously, there are so many fish in the net they can’t even lift it onto the boat. They have to drag it along behind them as they row to short. That kind of sudden and inexplicable abundance can’t be some fluke and they recognize that this supposed “stranger” on the shore is actually Jesus, their Lord.
Like those Emmaus travelers who did not initially recognize Jesus until he revealed himself in the broken bread, these disciples do not recognize Jesus until he reveals himself through this abundant catch of fish.
So we discover that Jesus is not only present in our places of brokenness. We discover that Jesus is revealed in places of unexpected abundance. That, in fact, Jesus is the source of abundance… a message that has been there from the very beginning of this gospel.
In John’s gospel, Jesus’ first miracle is the turning of water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, the hometown of the disciple Nathanael. In that culture, wedding feasts lasted for days and after such lengthy partying, people’s palates weren’t terribly discriminating. Any wine would do. Yet Jesus transforms water into wine of the most impeccable quality; far better than necessary. But Jesus always provides beyond what is necessary: like 153 fish for a half dozen fishermen.
You might notice in this morning’s story that Jesus feeds his disciples fish and bread… just as was served back in chapter six of the gospel when Jesus fed the hungry multitude with just five loaves of barley bread and two fish. He multiplied that bread and fish so abundantly; the disciples collected 12 baskets of leftovers.
So friends, Jesus can be recognized in places of brokenness and failure. But his response is always one of abundance: abundant grace, abundant peace, abundant joy, abundant goodness. The introduction to John’s gospel announces that from Jesus we have received God’s abundant grace; grace stacked up on top of grace.
In the times of our greatest need – times of brokenness and failure – Jesus doesn’t abandon us. He provides for us abundantly. Now, this isn’t some “get rich quick” scheme. And, I don’t buy in to that prosperity gospel nonsense. But I do believe that God makes provision for us in our times of need and that – like that earlier story of the feeding of the multitude in chapter six – we are often called to be the vessels through which God’s abundance is poured out into the world. John’s gospel tells us that it was a young boy who offered up those five loaves and two fish to the multitude that day.
Episcopal priest and church growth consultant Eric Law shares a story from his adolescence. He writes…
When I was young, my family always had guests for dinner. On any given day, there might be twelve to fifteen people at the dinner table. Dinner was a time of joyful sharing of food and stories. I thought we were quite wealthy, feeding so many people every night. Only when I was older, while talking to my mother about the good old days, did I find out that we were not rich at all. My mother told me that some days she only had three Hong Kong dollars to feed fifteen people. How could that be? I could not remember a day when there was not enough food! What my mother did with three dollars was a miracle in itself. If you asked her how she did it, she would tell you how she determined what to buy in what season and, more importantly, her techniques in bargaining. But I think there is more to this miracle than just knowing what to buy and how to bargain. Not only was everyone around the table filled every night, there were often leftovers. I believe the way we dealt with the leftovers at the dinner table is indicative of how this miracle was accomplished.
Toward the end of dinner, there was always something left on a plate in the middle of the table. Everyone would be staring at it, especially when it was a piece of meat, which was an occasional, special treat. But no one would make a move to take it. Then someone would say, “Why don’t you take it, Grandma? You are the oldest.” But my grandma would say, “No, I’ve been eating this stuff all my life. Give it to the little one. He’s the youngest and needs the nourishment to grow up to be big and strong.” I, being the youngest, and who had learned this ritual, would say, “No, not me. I am completely full because I have the smallest stomach. Give it to my oldest brother. He has an examination at school tomorrow. He needs it so he can do well.”…
This ritual would go on around the table; each person would find an excuse not to take the leftover piece of food. While we offered it to each other, we also affirmed each other’s worthiness in the family. As a result, the meat would sit in the middle of the table… a symbol of our appreciation of each other’s worth. This leftover piece of food became a sign of the abundance we shared.
At the dinner table of my childhood, I learned a very important concept about resources. This concept was very different from that which our society taught me. Society tells us that we should have more than others because of the belief that our resources are limited. At my childhood dinner table, I learned that there was an abundance of resources and that there was always enough.[i]
Friends, our risen Lord is one who enters in the midst of our brokenness and failures and offers abundance – not wealth and opulence; but enduring, authentic abundance. He invites us to sit and eat and trust that there will be more than enough for everyone: enough toilet paper, enough pork and beef, enough flour and yeast if – and let me repeat, if – we are able to trust the grace of God AND acknowledge the worthiness in one another. Those two things together guarantee we will always have enough. God will not short change us. Jesus is so generous toward us; he even gave his life for us. God saw that much worth in us; all of us. And we are called to view one another in the same way.
These are difficult days. The news that confronts us can easily cultivate panic, selfishness and hoarding. But, as Eric Law would say, that is what society teaches us. That is not what the gospel teaches us. Friends: let me remind us all that there are some who do not have the luxury of driving their own vehicle to the grocery anytime they want. And there are some whose checks run out before the end of the month; whose cupboards are nearly bare when they go to the store. When we hoard resources out of fear, we empty the shelves of food and resources they need… and we do it needlessly, because the resurrected Christ is in our midst still appearing among us. We don’t need to stockpile because God is with us and God is generous.
The question is: when blessings are placed before us, do we respond with fear and greedily grab as much as we can? Or, when blessings are placed before us, are we able to trust and to see with the eyes of faith and proclaim as the beloved disciple did, “It is the Lord!”? Jesus is revealed in places of abundance. The resurrected Lord is with you and also with me. Thanks be to God!
[i] Inclusion: Making Room for Grace by Eric H.F. Law; Chalice Press; 2000; pp. 32-33.
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