Grace’s Restoration

May 5, 2019 by

Sermon by Garry Blinch

 John 21:1-19

The gospel we read today is incredibly detailed and specific. There were 7 disciples, 5 of them named. Jesus had a “charcoal fire”, not just a fire. There were 153 fish- who counted and wrote that down?? Sounds like a Matthew kind of thing – tax collector- always counting. The author says “and he showed himself in this way”, prefacing the very detailed account that follows. Each of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances had very specific purposes. This appearance displays grace, in all her beauty, glory, and healing power. It shows us the central place that grace holds in humanity’s relationship to God and in human relationships, one to another.

Seven disciples are hanging out on the beach. Probably didn’t know what else to do at this point. They are drawn to be together because of their shared experiences and I dare say, the shared trauma of the torture and killing of their best friend and best hope.

In the silence, as they sit together, there is a powerful connection just below the surface, invisible to others, but as solid as steel cables to these men. There are likely other fisherman coming and going. They watch these fishermen with their boats and nets, they smell the fresh air off the water mingled with the tang of old fish carcasses and newly caught ones, and they hear the familiar banter of the men mixed with the cry of gulls.

It is intoxicating, a familiar drug that is combatting the awful sense of uncertainty and lack of direction. They only needed a leader to say, “I’m going fishing”. Once Peter said it, they were energized to take up the nets. Like riding a bike or washing dishes or playing your musical instrument it is a type of meditating… it is grounding, centering.

The work itself is its own reward, but after fishing all night we have to imagine the disciples have strong feelings of frustration and irritation; maybe confusion that something so familiar isn’t rewarding their hard work. It’s dashing their expectations instead.

Now, just as with Mary, Jesus could have appeared earlier, even before they headed out. But he doesn’t.

Jesus appears “Just after daybreak”. The sun has broken over the horizon and the Son of God appears on the beach.

The scene, the experience is an unmistakable and powerful connection to Peter’s first encounter with Christ as recorded in Luke 5. Jesus had gotten into  Peter’s boat and taught the crowds from a little ways out in the water. When finished, he turns and tells Peter to go out and let down his nets. Peter says, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” That catch is overwhelming, just like this one, and Peter’s response is to fall on his knees and say, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Jesus replies with the well-known words, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Same scenario. Worked all night, nothing. Jesus directs the group to let down the nets on the right side of the boat. There is no challenge to Jesus’s words mentioned here- was this scene working in Peter’s subconscious so that he didn’t say anything but just did as directed?

This time, instead of wanting Jesus to go away from him, Peter dives in the water and swims to shore to be near Jesus as quickly as possible.

When they are all ashore and have been invited to breakfast, the author writes, “Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord.”

This seemed a strange juxtaposition to me- they didn’t dare ask but they knew it was the Lord. I found a commentary on this that made sense to me. It’s by Joseph Parker writing in the People’s Bible. He says, “…there are unaskable questions in human life—questions we dare not ask, and other questions we may not ask, and burning questions to which we know the answer without putting the inquiry; so that the heart is full of mute questioning. A sacred fear kept the disciples quiet: they knew, and yet they did not know; they were perfectly assured, and yet far away; almost beneath their consciousness there lay a wonder as to the personality of this most distinguished presence. Do we not all know what it is to want to ask a question, and yet to feel the needlessness of asking it because there can be only one answer to the inquiry?

Something Jennifer said in her sermon last week came to mind, that Jesus did not judge or rebuke the disciples for hiding in a locked room.  It’s the same here. Jesus did not judge/condemn disciples for going fishing, because God always meets people where they are at and invites them to consider where they could go next.

Quoting website author Debie Thomas:

“Jesus’s appearance to Peter — like all of the post-resurrection appearances the Gospels record — speaks volumes about God’s priorities. In the days following the resurrection, Jesus doesn’t waste a moment on revenge or retribution.  He doesn’t storm Pilate’s house, or avenge himself on Rome, or punish the soldiers whose hands drove nails into his.  Instead, he spends his remaining time on earth feeding, restoring, and strengthening his friends.  He calls Mary Magdalene by name as she cries. He offers his wounds to the skeptical Thomas.  He grills bread and fish for his hungry disciples.  He heals what’s wounded and festering between his heart and Peter’s.

In other words, Jesus focuses on relationship.  On reconciliation.  On love.  He spends the last days before his ascension delivering his children from fear, despair, self-hatred, and paralysis.”  

We all have an inner critic and it’s easy to think that the condemning voice in our heads is God- “you are a disappointment, you have failed Me, you need to repent/do penance and do better (frown of disapproval and/or disappointment).

But let’s join the disciples on the beach around a campfire right now, watching and listening to Jesus, and feel God’s acceptance, loving invitation, and non-hurried guiding. The entire scene is one of relating (food/meal), unhurried-ness (fish cooking, ‘bring fish you just caught’), and consistent modeling (Jesus himself serves them). He has died for them and the whole world and he is still serving them.

After the tension and rapidly moving events of Easter- now there is a calm. Now time to pause and consider the call and the cost- and to choose. We, too, experience a lot of hurry and activity around Easter; we enter into the horror and the drama through the re-telling of the story, and we have busyness with our own family schedules and events. So now, let’s slow down with Jesus and feel the calm and the restoration of just being with him. Imagine having no idea what the next step is, so you go back to something familiar and no doubt comforting, something you know so well it’s kind of mindless like riding a bike or doing dishes, and in that space it’s like meditating…grounding, restoring.

Peter has not held back his expression of desire to be with Jesus. But there are hard things that need to be said; unfinished business.

And Jesus has set up this meeting and this hard conversation to show the path of and meaning of grace.

They get back to the beach and now are greeted with the tantalizing smells of cooking fish and bread nearby. I have only once had fish cooked directly after being caught, but I have never forgotten how good it smelled and tasted!

Though fresh fish would not be a unique experience for them, just the fact that they are tired, hungry and grumpy from working all night with no results, to have  someone else waiting with a prepared  breakfast would be amazing. And what does eating together do? It says, “we are in community, communion together”. It says, “I care about you”. It shows Jesus to be the same, still serving them according to their need in the moment.

A meal also says, “time to stop working, slow down and connect with each other”. How long did they sit there before Jesus began to speak directly to Peter? The sun slowly rose in the sky and warmed their bodies; the food filled their bellies; the familiarity of the whole scene was healing. Jesus had asked them to bring some of the fish they had caught, showing that their work and effort is accepted and wanted.

On the night of Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter was asked the same question three times: “Surely you are one of this man’s disciples?”. Three times he answers the same: “I don’t know him!”

Now Jesus asks Peter the same question three times:

“Do you love me?”

But the timing is right. Jesus has ministered to Peter form the outside in. He first provides a miraculous  catch of fish just as he had done when Peter first chose to follow him. The message? Nothing has changed in my love for you and my desire for you to follow me.

Then Jesus feeds him, reviving the sense of communion and caring for the very real needs of the body.

Again quoting Debie Thomas:

“What would our witness look like if the Church epitomized Jesus’s version of reconciliation?  What would the world be like if Christians were known as the people to run to in times of humiliation?  Can we, like Jesus, become sanctuary for the shamed?”  

‘Come- follow me’, Jesus said. Amen




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