text : John 21 : 1 - 7
theme verse: “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.” (John 21:7)
How many times have you stood at the edge of something from which you were expected to jump? Do you know that feeling of hesitation? It sure is nice to have your feet planted on the ground. You take the leap and uncertainty floods your body as any sense of control disappears. It’s no wonder that jumping, in this sense, is a fear many hold. No matter how many times you listen to Van Halen sing, “You might as well jump!”, that natural instinct still whispers to you, “Stay where you are. Stay in control. Don’t jump!” Jesus died. He was properly buried. He rose from the dead. Peter has ridden this roller coaster with him... and not always that well. But pushed off from the beach in his all-too-familiar boat, he spots Jesus on the shore. And without missing a beat, he jumps. He’s ready to brave the wilderness. Are you?
anthem : 'Empty Now' (J.Martin) :: Chancel Choir; Kelly Ford, director
reader : Sally Kelley
preaching : Rev Mark Briley
special music : 'Dive' (S.Chapman) :: The Rising Band; Isaac Herbert, leader
“Most of us have only a dozen or so genuinely interesting moments in our lives; the rest is filler.” Do you think that’s true? I don’t know if it is. I read that quote somewhere recently. I can’t remember a thing about the story itself but the quote stuck with me. If it is true, I wondered to myself, “How many have I had? How many do I have left?” Interesting moments. I suppose these are the moments we tell our grandkids about… how we met grandma, the time we broke a leg, the job that moved us out of state, the health scare, the big win, the moment we learned our brother wasn’t coming home from the war. Interesting moments? Life-shaping moments? Who’s to say we’re only allotted a dozen in a lifetime? What we do know, however, is that Peter and the disciples were coming off the most interesting, death-defying moment of their lives so far. Jesus – dead. Jesus – buried. Jesus – alive again. This season in their lives surely made the cut of stories they hoped to tell their grandkids one day.
But was it over? I mean, Jesus did it after all. Was that the capstone of their season with Jesus? Could they have really known how they would, or even if they would, carry the ministry forward? Maybe Peter and the disciples just needed some down time following a busy Holy Week. Ministers everywhere carry these sorts of stories about what happens after a long Lenten season and culminating Holy Week – sort of like accountants do after tax season – hang in there, CPAs! You’re almost there!
Holy Week – even some 2,000 years later has an emotional toll to it in ministry and can leave us totally discombobulated in the aftermath of all of the high holy events. We have such high expectations – we know people are hungry for spiritual depth and meaning and celebration – and we ministers just long for it to live up to all of those things – after all, we may not see some of those folks again until Christmas Eve if at all. That sinking feeling usually hits hard some time ahead of Maundy Thursday where adrenaline gives way to despair and negative self-talk. One of my Disciples colleagues spoke about this on Easter. He said he was having that feeling half-way through last week and sent an email to a couple of other ministers going on about how “I’m a terrible minister. My sermon’s not coming together. I’m failing my people this week and Easter is going to be a disaster.” His friend wrote back quickly, “Quit being a baby. Get over yourself!” (They have the kind of relationship where they can talk to each other like this… I think.). And he knew this was true of course. We all do.
It’s not about the perfect song or perfect sermon or poignant meditation or well-crafted prayers. Easter stands on its own. We put in the work, yes, but then we get out of the way. Even so, it’s exhausting. And it’s exhausting because we care… and we’re talking 2,000 years later. Try the week after the crucifixion and resurrection – the season where Peter and the gang are living – and the instant replay is playing in high speed. Peter’s elated that the resurrection has occurred, we presume, but he’s got to be critical of his own actions through the whole thing – the betrayal, his absence from his leader and friend’s dying moment, his confusion about all that occurred after. I’d say Easter hang-over is fitting for how he must be feeling. And what do you do when you feel like that? You do what you know you can do. You do what makes you comfortable. You get off the couch and attempt to utilize a different muscle group than the one that’s tearing you down into a depressive state. For Peter, you grab the tackle gear, fill the cooler and hit the boat. It’s time to drop a line… or a net as it were.
It was evening. Night time was the best fishing. My son keeps asking, “When can we go night fishing?” I’m not sure why he’s smitten with the idea but maybe he knows something I don’t. It was certainly considered the most productive time to fish in the Sea of Galilee or Lake Tiberias as it is also called. W.M Thomson, author and one who’s witnessed night fishing on that very sea described it beautifully, “With blazing torch, the boat slides over the flashing sea, and the men stand gazing keenly into it until their prey is sighted, when, quick as lightning, they fling their net or fly their spear.” As effective as it can be, he also wrote: “[It isn’t uncommon, however,] to see the tired fishermen come sullenly into harbor in the morning, having toiled all night in vain.” Peter and the disciples set off shore for the night… probably good to have the space from even the very land that caused such recent strife. Much of their efforts were probably routine and silent – the kind of work you can do even when your mind’s not all there. They’ve navigated the seas many times. They know their strengths and likes – who handles the nets best, who steers the boat, and so on.
There was surely plenty of conversation about all that had transpired with Jesus since the previous Thursday when they had such a lovely Passover meal together before the everything hit the proverbial fan. “Where did you hide?” one of them probably asked. “Did you think about trying to get up to Golgotha on Friday?” Someone may have even said, “I feel terrible about Judas. I can’t imagine how lonely he must have felt at the end.” At some point the convo shifts to the shock of the resurrection and the times Jesus had shown up in their presence sense – through the locked door where they had gathered as it were. “Can you believe it?” they surely said in a hundred different ways. “The media is going to eat us alive don’t you think? They’ll cry, ‘Fake news!’” “We all saw him, right? You touched him, John? Thomas, you believe it now, right?” When you’ve been through as much as these guys have, you can easily doubt your experiences. Whether they knew they could or would hold strong on this for the rest of time was surely uncertain at that moment. But they sure did.
Chuck Colson was the first person imprisoned as part of the Watergate Scandal under President Nixon’s administration. Colson wasn’t a professing Christian until he found faith while serving seven months in prison – part of what led him to begin Prison Fellowship, a ministry that encouraged and supported faith among inmates. He said this about the resurrection. “I know the resurrection is a fact and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for forty years, never once denying it. Every one [of them] was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years? Absolutely impossible.”
Whatever your take, this post-resurrection fishing account is a fascinating story that we find only in John’s gospel. It was as if the writer wanted us to see, to feel, to know for sure that the resurrection was real; that Jesus, in the flesh, walked among them again. He could make a fire. He could charbroil the fish. He could eat it and offer a lasting word to those left to carry the momentum forward. I’m so glad this story is here. Stories have a way of relaying truth that we can’t otherwise grasp in a simple benign description of anything. “Jesus was raised. Believe it. Onward and upward.” Nope. That doesn’t cut it. We need to feel it, experience it, so we can, in turn, live it ourselves. Dr. Brene Brown, author and social research professor at the University of Houston, inspired the title of our new sermon series, Braving the Wilderness. Some of her work from that book will show up in the series. She points to J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books she loves so much, as her go-to person when she’s struggling with how to introduce a new and strange world of ideas that has only just emerged from her research. “I imagine J.K. telling me,” she writes: “New worlds are important, but you can’t just describe them. Give us the stories that make up that universe. No matter how wild and weird the new world might be, we’ll see ourselves in the stories.” This, indeed, is the point of scripture itself. To hear the stories of our faith so that we can ultimately see ourselves in those very stories.
And so, we try to capture the feel of the boat that night. It must have been good for the soul even if the catch was a bust. But then, daybreak. A voice from the beach. “No luck, fellas? Try the other side.” Now… if you want to tick off a professional fisherman who’s caught nothing all night long, make the bonehead comment of “You tried the other side?” Right? But that’s not what’s happening here. H.V. Morton, another person who’s traversed the fishing scene on the Sea of Galilee said he once saw two men fishing on the shores of the lake. One had waded out from the shore and was casting a bell-net into the water. “But time after time the net came up empty,” he wrote. “It was a beautiful sight to see him casting. Each time the neatly folded net belled out in the air and fell so precisely on the water that the small lead weights hit the lake at the same moment making a thin circular splash. While the fisher in the water was waiting for another cast, the other man shouted to him from the bank to fling to the left, which he instantly did. This time he was successful.” This was common practice as the vantage point from the shore often allowed a broader and better view of the schools of fish. John doesn’t suggest this as a miracle of Jesus which also affirms this common practice of fish spotting from the shore. SIDENOTE – or tributary as I like to think of it – the haul of fish that the disciples catch? “153 fish” John says, is beautiful symbolism. Many have made remarks about the catch – it’s so specific, some say, to verify the account. But I like the take of historian and early church theologian, Jerome, who said that in the sea at that time, there was believed to be 153 different kinds of fish; and that the catch in the disciple’s net is one which includes every kind of fish, and therefore the number symbolizes the idea that someday, people of all nations will be gathered together in Jesus Christ. Isn’t that beautiful? I like that explanation even if that’s reading into the simple net-catch for the day. But the breakfast on the beach, the imperatives of Jesus we’ll leave for next week.
Today, I just want us to get into the head of Peter in this moment of realization. The voice from the beach hollers to cast the net off the other side. They do. The catch nets 153 fish and that’s all well and good. But John hasn’t removed his gaze from the shoreline. Was it the voice? Was it the way the man held himself? Who’s to say but John believes, he always does, and he nudges Peter who was probably like, “I’m busy here, dude. A little help with the catch would be nice. Pivot! Pivot!” But John elbows him again and says, “No, Pete… Pete… I’ll be darned. It’s Jesus.”
Peter’s impulsive. You don’t have to tell him twice. All the emotion that he’s held about his interactions with Jesus and the events surrounding his death have culminated in this moment, this (perhaps) perceived second chance… to make amends, to express sorrow and joy and regret and redemption all at the same time. He’s ready to jump!
In my mind, Van Halen’s “Jump!” is playing in the background – just for effect. Do you know the lyrics? Interesting overlay to this moment between Peter and Jesus … the hardships they’ve just been through… the processing… the wondering about a path forward. Through the vocals of David Lee Roth – Van Halen lead singer, listen to the words:
I get up, and nothing gets me down.
You got it tough. I’ve seen the toughest all around.
And I know just how you feel.
You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real
How you been?
You say you don’t know, you won’t know until you begin.
Well can’t you see me standing here,
I’ve got my back against the record machine
I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen.
Oh can’t you see what I mean?
Might as well jump. Jump!
I’m sure such wasn’t Van Halen’s inspiration but I can feel it here. And Peter? Well, he’s a might-as-well-jump kind of guy. If you’ve ever longed for one more shot to stand before someone you love; someone with whom you’ve left unfinished business; or longed for one more shot to say the right thing, be the right thing, hold and heal that relationship one more time… then you know what’s stirring in Peter’s gut. Peter does have enough wits about him to get dressed first. The text sounds weird – why would anyone fish naked? Such is not likely the case exactly. He would have had on a loin cloth as fishermen always did when they were working. But it was Jewish law that to offer a greeting to another person was to carry out a religious act. And to carry out a religious act, you had to be fully clothed. So Peter, before he leapt after Jesus, put on his fisherman’s tunic because he wanted to greet his Lord faithfully. And then… you might as well jump! (Jump!) And he does.
So what? Peter jumps. What does that have to do with you and me? Well… that’s always up to you and me. It may have nothing. You can leave the story here and move on with your life as if it doesn’t matter at all. Or… you can imagine your own jump. Every once in a while, you experience something that changes you forever. Maybe its connected to those dozen, or twenty, or 153 interesting moments in your life that alter your existence or that of another. Where do you need to take a leap of faith? Where do you need to take a “leap to faith” as Soren Kierkegaard was apt to say? Easter stuff is packed up. I tell you every year that Easter is 75% off this week – Walgreens always tells us so as they attempt to get rid of all their Easter candy. Moving on. What’s the next holiday? But it so connects to what we do with our faith as well. We shelve it until the next High Holy day. But that takes zero courage.
And to be faithful… to carry on the mission Jesus set into motion, we’re going to have to jump right in, be the embodied presence of Christ in the world. Maybe that’s joining us in the effort to support teachers and students as we continue to host kids every day during the walkout and provide meals to many struggling in the effort. Maybe its offering your heart again… that chance to get in front of Jesus and say, “I’m done with the mediocre pattern of my life. I want to start again. I want to be cleansed of the weight of my past and be freed to the future you imagine for me.” For our Pastor’s Class students, they’ll jump into the waters of baptism this morning to mark this moment in their life… one that launches them into a new discovery of themselves in Christ. Now that’s courageous. How will you jump? May the quest of our students today, and our own quest, be full of moments we can’t wait to tell our grandkids about.
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 Exegetical support including the fishing stories about the Sea of Galilee come from William Barclay’s commentary: “The Letters to the Corinthians.” Westminster Press. 1975.
 https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/555921-i-know-the-resurrection-is-a-fact-and-watergate-proved. The Colson quote can be found in any number of places. This link is one such place.
 Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Dr. Brene Brown. Random House Publishing. New York. 2017. The title for this sermon series is inspired by Brown’s work. While some references will be utilized during the series, the series itself is not directly based on the contents of her book.
 This use is not an endorsement of Van Halen but simply a cultural overlay that I found compelling given the context of this message.