I’m Going Fishing
REV. CHRISTIAN BARON -April 10, 2016- EASTER 3, John 21: 1-19
“I am going fishing.”
Good morning… Happy Easter… Can you guess what the sermon is going to be about today? This one isn’t my fault. The fishing text just fell in my lap. I don’t want to belabor this point, but I’m just so excited to not have to try to forcefully squeeze a fishing story into my sermon. This is truly proof of the resurrection. At least for me.
Here we are and it’s Easter 3. I hope you have been feasting like you are supposed to. Kids, on the way home from Church, remind your parents that it is Easter and that it is our job to feast and not to fast… Go ahead and put sprinkles and fudge on that ice cream too. Maybe caramel.
The text for today is one of my favorites. It is filled with humor and oddity and rich with the abundance of God.
Now, I haven’t always been the prolific steelhead fisherman that you see before you today. No… no… it’s true. There was a time in the recent past that I was just a bass fisherman… Just a sport fisherman. Only recently has my hobby become a true obsession. It is true that on my day off this past week, I woke up two of my girls, at 3am and jumped in the car to head to the Allegan Dam.
We were in fact the first to arrive at the Dam and were rewarded with the best fishing spot on the entire Kalamazoo river. It is the farthest upstream the the steelhead can make it on the journey to procreate. The next person arrived at 6:45. To their dismay, they realized that the good spot was taken. I thought, “might as well just pack it up folks. Head back home. Have some breakfast and try again tomorrow. We had 8 rods set out. We were tired but prepared for a great day of fishing. It would only be a matter of time before these fishers would be able to watch me and my children pulling fresh meat from the Kalamazoo River. I imagined their embarrassment as a 10 and 7 year old reeled in fish after fish while they sat twiddling their thumbs and shivering from the lack of action.
I imagined the scene that would come into being the following week. “Hey kids, wanna go to Craig’s Cruisers and then to the movies. Maybe get some ice-cream after?” “No dad, we wanna go fishing… But can we stay the whole day this time? Last time we only caught 8 steelhead.”
Beforehand, they would serve me coffee from my #1 Dad mug and make me breakfast as they sang the “Dad is Great” song.
But suddenly, I was shaken out of my fantasy… shaken back to reality because…. The guys to the left of us hooked up. That’s right, they caught a steelhead.
But I wasn’t rattled. That meant the fish were biting now. I rubbed my hands together and prepared for the onslaught of fish. “Now we’re ready,” I told the girls. “It’s fish thirty… time for the bite.” An hour later the guy on our right hooked up. He couldn’t get the good spot, so he had gone and sat in the woody area, with stumps and fallen trees. I prayed that he’d lose the fish. That he would snag and sever his line. But God couldn’t hear my cries. The man landed a nice male.
10 minutes later the first guys, on my left, caught a second fish. This time a female… loaded with eggs. The prize catch for river fishers. A hen, or female steelhead, was filled with bait. Without eggs, catching steelhead is nearly impossible. The reason I know they caught a hen, is because they came right over and offered me and the girls a cookie and to show us the 2 fish. I forced a smile and refused the cookie.
How could this be? What was going on? I did my due diligence. Had the right bait. The right spot…
I said the prayer and blessed the rods and the girls, just like I always do… My reward for being faithful to the tradition… was bored children and bragging fishermen. Now I wished I had accepted that cookie. We stayed longer than the others… We stayed so long that the kids demanded we leave. I kicked some rocks, walked to get the car and then packed up the gear. We drove home in complete silence drowning in the waters of scarcity.
I wish I could say this was unusual. But, if i’m honest… IF i’m really honest, this is pretty normal. More often than not, I get blanked. I come home empty handed. You’d think this would discourage me, but it really only antagonizes me and calls me back again as soon as possible.
I have heard that fishing addictions are like gambling addictions. No matter how good or bad things get, either the positive reinforcement brings you back for more, or the negative reinforcement calls you back for that next fish.
And, I think Peter had it bad. I think Peter had it worse than anybody. Much of the gospel of John is spent talking about the future. The Johannine community was very concerned about what would happen now that Jesus was gone.
Not only are they persecuted by the Romans, but they are persecuted by the rest of the Jewish communities. Rejected by both groups and without the leader that kept them plugging along towards a Kingdom of Justice and freedom. Their identity was “the other.” They were very concerned. And the author wanted to make sure to communicate that hopelessness was not an option. In this gospel Jesus appears several times. He appears to mary, to the disciples without Thomas, Once with Thomas and this last time on the sea of Galilee.
What about the future for Peter? For the other disciples? What would their future be? In this account, Jesus seems to be telling his friends… “see. I haven’t left you. I will continue to be with you… you are not alone.” The reason this story is important is because although Jesus was persecuted and tortured… and even though he was raised from the dead… from death to life…. And even though he showed himself to Peter two times before… Peter goes back to what he knows… Peter has totally lost it… Is he depressed? Hopeless? Feeling helpless? Is he still suffering the humiliation and shame of denying Jesus three times? Has he lost his position and status among his friends because of that denial? We just don’t know. And scholars make different meaning out of these different theories.
But in my mind… Peter is lost. He has watched his best friend be tortured… and though he has been risen… he misses him dearly now that he isn’t around regularly… Misses him dearly now that he can’t even recognize him when he seems him face to face. Jesus has totally changed… Everything has totally changed…
Now what? Now what should we do? We have no purpose. We followed this teacher to the edge of death and back and now what? We have no future.
“I’m going fishing.” Peter says. I’m going back to the life I once had. Back to what I know. Back to what I was good at. Back to the only way I can survive and have meaning. Back to the future i had hoped for… Back before I was called to this life that led up to this emptiness… to this loneliness… Let’s just forget this whole mess..
“Yeah,” the others say… “Why not? Jesus called us away from fishing… and look at us now? We’re in real trouble. I guess Peter’s right.” So they all pile into the boat. They too, rub their hands together and prepare for success. But, they fish the evening bite…. And they fish all night… with nothing… Their effort is rewarded with nothing… total scarcity.
And then Jesus offers them a proverbial cookie… “Hey… you guys… How is the fishing? Any chance I could get a couple from you for my breakfast? I’m starving over here and could use some of that delicious protein from some commercial fishing experts. I can see Jesus with a wry smile… trying not to giggle. “Oh, Pardon? What’s that you say?” Oh, I see… Well I have a few suggestions about how you can catch some fish…
It’s a good thing Jesus is a hundred yards from shore, because I guarantee there was murmuring in the boat. “What did he say? Oh! He did NOT just say to put the nets on the other side. Oh, I’ll tell him where he can put the nets… “
But they try it… And the miracle of the fish is the the author intentionally reminding the reader of the wedding in Cana. It is absolutely absurd that fishing on the other side of the boat would yield 153 fish. It was absurd that the wedding party would have so much fine wine after the cheap wine had been consumed. Both miracles, the first and the last, remind the reader of God’s abundance. It’s at this point that the disciple whom Jesus loved… the same disciple who beat peter to the tomb in a foot race on easter morning… let’s Peter know that the guy on shore was in fact Jesus… And Peter, suddenly aware that he’s naked… throws some pants on… and then jumps in the water to get to Jesus. This intentionally makes no sense. Peter, worried about appearing naked and vulnerable in front of Jesus… the same Jesus he denied and refused to be vulnerable on behalf of, in the courtyard… is in such a hurry he doesn’t think things all the way through. He’s a 100 yards from shore will certainly not beat the boat back. Puts on pants to jump in the water… It is a comical and ridiculous scene.
And, here’s the beauty of the story for me… Jesus is letting them know… that they are no longer called to those jobs… No longer able to just go back to the way things were. Everything has changed Peter. Everything has changed guys. Nothing can ever be the same… The Resurrection wasn’t just a historical event to be recorded in a book.
Jesus is saying, “My resurrection was THE RESURRECTION…. It was your resurrection. It was the resurrection for your families… for your wives and future wives… for your children and grandchildren… The trajectory of creation has been changed and resurrected… The kingdom is here guys… and this is what it looks like… It looks like jugs full of fine wine… and nets full of 153 fish…
And Peter… it looks like reconciliation between you and your best friend. You are forgiven for your betrayal Peter. You are forgiven as many times as you betrayed me and even more so.
So, Peter, you are no longer called to feed yourself. No longer called to tend to your own needs. Follow me Peter… in the feeding and tending of my people… Follow me to death and back…
Grace Episcopal Church Holland… the resurrection has happened… the resurrection is happening… You can see it by placing your hands inside the torso of Jesus like Thomas did, or by being reminded that after your baptism… after you have been called to the Kingdom and to participate in the Justice of God, that there is no going back… Don’t lose heart. Don’t forget your calling. The resurrection of our God is our strength and supplies us with the nourishment for our mission and journey. It repairs our relationships and breathes new life into them. It saves marriages and heals our broken hearts. Our God has made things new because of his abundant love. So, Happy Easter… Grab a glass of fine wine and some fabulous fish prepared by Jesus and share them with the world… and while you’re at it… spend time doing what you love with your friends and neighbors… . I’m going fishing… I hope you’ll go with me.