John 21:1-19

1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." 6 He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."

A Great Big Net

Today’s Gospel reading comes at the very end of the book of John - almost as an after-thought.  After all, the big news has been shared. We’ve already heard: Jesus has risen. He appeared to his disciples. He appeared to Thomas, clarifying doubt. Today’s Gospel is a story about the day after the party. The question that I think today’s Gospel addresses is this: How does Jesus’ resurrection matter for YOUR life Monday - Sunday? Does it?

I think that Peter was asking that question.  After all of the excitement from listening to Jesus teach, watching him perform miracles, taking part in a royal procession into Jerusalem, sharing a passover meal, watching as Jesus was betrayed and arrested, standing helplessly by - and yes - denying Jesus. The shame Peter must have felt as Jesus was crucified. But then —- miraculously - Jesus rose from the dead. And he appeared to them. It was all too wonderful… Perhaps Peter just did not know what to do. And so… Peter went home. The other disciples did too. What was there left for them to do in Jerusalem? But then… what was there for him to do at home?

So Peter did what Peter had always done - he went fishing. The others came too. But what was he catching? Nothing.

Now I know from personal experience, that sometimes the fish are biting - and sometimes they just aren’t. I remember one year that I was up in the Boundary waters. Some in my crew wanted to fish. But it was a couple of days after the Mayfly hatch. It didn’t matter what fly or worm or lure we used. The fish just weren’t biting. Why would they? They were gorging themselves on the free and abundant mayflies blanketing the water.

Perhaps the disciples were sitting in the boat blaming their lack of fish on mayflies, the moon or something else. They probably had tried everything. After all, many of them had grown up fishing. Clearly they knew what to do. The situation looked rather hopeless. So when a stranger called to them from the shore, and suggested they throw the net on the other side, it was almost laughable. But they did it anyway.

The catch was amazing. The nets were almost breaking.  Seeing abundance where there had been scarcity, one disciple was wise enough to look up - and seeing said, “It’s the Lord.”  It was Jesus, providing an overwhelming abundance in a situation they had found hopeless and felt helpless.

And that’s not all - Jesus invited them to breakfast too. Jesus provides the fish - and the breakfast. Notice that Jesus already had fish cooking - but invited them to add to the potluck.

But then Jesus does something really interesting. In asking Peter three times, “Do you love me?”, Jesus restores Peter to his flock, allowing him to be the one who confesses Christ rather than the one who denies Christ. But that’s not all. Jesus also commissions Peter, giving him a task, a purpose. Jesus says,"Feed my lambs….Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep.” and he ends with… “Follow me.”

Care for my sheep. And follow me. That is the invitation that Jesus gives to Peter and that Jesus gives to us too. This is the secret to a meaningful life// This is an invitation to purpose/meaning. This is the antidote to the hopelessness in the world around us - a hopelessness that sometimes seeks to suck us in. Because it is SO EASY to become hope-less. It’s tempting to despair. Often times the world around us does not seem fair. And it’s not. Sometimes the challenges of our everyday living seems a bit, frankly, overwhelming. our pain and sorrow can feel suffocating. But Jesus does not want us to stay there. Instead Jesus says, “Care for my world, my children - and follow me.”

This isn’t always simple. It isn’t always easy. But when you are looking for hope in a seemingly hopeless world, a world against which you sometimes feel helpless - then listen to Jesus’ invitation. Jesus is inviting you into a life of meaning - and a life of purpose.

Yet…sometimes situations in life make us feel as if we are holding an empty net. In those times, it’s hard to believe that net will be full of fish if you simply cast it on the other side.  At those times…we feel stuck - hopeless and helpless.

I had an extended conversation this past week with a woman in our congregation about hopelessness. She called it a “spiritual disease”. And I think she is right. Hopelessness comes when people lack an imagination to see life differently - to see an alternative to the life they now live.

She told me the story of a man I’ll call John. He was an alcoholic and had had several DWIs. In fact, he had had so many DWIs that they became almost “normal” for him. He wan’t even depressed about it. He simply assumed that he would die as a result of his alcoholism - maybe while he was driving. He just hoped that he wouldn’t kill someone else in the process. He had no hope for his own life. He felt it was inevitable.

John was stuck in hopelessness. He had lost all imagination that life could be different. That is… until he met Bob and Mary.  It was hard to say what exactly changed. It wasn’t anything dramatic that they did. They would simply listen to him. They made it clear that they were truly interested in him and in his life. What changed? Somebody cared — and he did not want to let them down.

Jesus said, “"Feed my lambs….Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep.” Jesus isn’t shaming Peter for denying him and he doesn’t shame us either when we fall short. But Jesus is giving Peter and us a new way, a path to live a life that is full of meaning and purpose. It’s simply this: Love and care for the neighbor, the “other” as if they were Jesus.  This is the way to follow Jesus.

If this seems overwhelming - or too hard to do - remember this: when Jesus invited the fishermen to cast the net over to the other side of the boat, he wasn’t just talking to Peter. Indeed, it needed all of the fishermen, all of the disciples, to try to haul in that great catch of fish. Jesus does not call us to work alone.  Rather, Jesus is calling us ALL - every one of us — to be the net that tends to his sheep and catches any child of God who fears that he or she might “fall through the cracks.”  And the blessing is two fold. For you see… sometime we are the ones who are holding onto the net - catching those who might fall. And there is nothing more meaningful or purpose filled than being part of that net that holds your brother or sister up.

But sometimes… we are the one in need of a net. We are the ones who need to hold on for dear life.  Sometimes, when we are feeling hopeless and helpless like John was, we don’t have eyes in which to see that there are brothers and sisters surrounding us ready to help. Too often… the last place that someone wants to be vulnerable - to admit needing help — is in the church.

So I wonder… can you and I change that impression? Can we tell others that we are not here to judge others but simply to do as Jesus taught - love others as Jesus has first loved us.

While you are at it, you could mention that Jesus has a really big net.  For Jesus has promised to be with us - to send the Holy Spirit to catch us when we fail. So come - follow Jesus. For Jesus is calling you - and me - and our neighbors to a live a life worth living. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
April 10, 2016
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran