Third Sunday of Easter
Year C, RCL
May 5, 2019
North Fork Ministries
Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 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. 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.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." 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. 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. 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.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 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. 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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
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." 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." 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. 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." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."
I can’t quite make up my mind whether this gospel story is theologically simple or really very complex. What I am sure of, is that within this encounter of the disciples with Jesus, described in the earthy terms of fishing and charcoal fires and tending sheep, is a profound mystical element, an otherworldlyness that seems to characterize all the post resurrection appearances of Jesus. There are actually two stories here. The fishing story, where a Jesus that his followers don’t yet recognize, calls out to the disciples, in a manner that everyone of us who has ever stood on the shore of a lake and sighted passing a fishing boat has also done. “Catchin’ anything?” Jesus asks.
It’s the second part of the story, when the disciples land their boat on the shore, where we can also arrive on firm and familiar theological ground. Jesus has called the disciples and then he “took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” Jesus calls the disciples and then he fed them. Just as Jesus calls us and feeds us. And then there is this conversation between Simon Peter and Jesus. Where Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. And when Peter says yes, Jesus, again three separate times, tells him to “feed my sheep.” The lesson seems simple: Jesus calls us and feeds us and then asks us to do the same for others.
So why is this story, with the familiar theme of “Jesus’ call and our response”, so ripe with a sense of mystery?
We heard a similar fishing story a few Sunday’s back, that time as told by Luke, and on that occasion, if you recall, the result of their successful fishing expedition was a call to discipleship – Jesus’ followers were called to “fish for people”. The same call to discipleship is present in this fish story as well. The difference is, this tale focuses our attention on the element of recognition - a recognition of the risen Christ.
The summer I turned 16 I discovered that the newly minted driver’s license in my pocket also gave me license to expand the reach of my wilderness wanderings beyond the familiar creeks and valleys surrounding my childhood home. I tossed a few provisions and a sleeping bag in the back of my Dad’s work truck and drove the hour or so it took to reach the Brazos River, a river that, viewed on a map, flows through the X in Texas. I had learned in school that Brazos was Spanish for arms, but I didn’t yet know that later settlers had shortened the stream’s name and that the Spanish conquistadors had originally called the twisting river “Los Brazos de Dios” – “ the arms of God”. And I surely didn’t understand, how those arms could beckon me.
After parking the truck I hauled my gear up the side of a steep bluff known locally as Bee Mountain and laid my pallet atop the flat, stone mesa, just a few feet from the edge. My rocky bed was hard, so I slept little, and I watched the stars most of the night. Sometime before dawn I must have fallen asleep, because I awoke with a start as the sun eased above the horizon. The twisted remains of a lighting-charred cedar tree reached from the bluff’s edge in the direction of the river below, as if trying to quench its thirst. Silhouetted against the rising sun, and clinging to the cedar’s last remaining limb… was a majestic Great Horned Owl. Perhaps hearing me finally shuffle, the owl, as if she had been waiting patiently for me to wake up, slowly turned her head in my direction, looked straight into my eyes, and penetrated my soul. It was one of those mystical moments. A moment for which I lacked the language, at 16, to adequately describe. And still I struggle to find the words, but I now understand that moment as an early recognition that nothing, absolutely nothing, separated me from all of God’s creation. In that knowledge, I wept for joy. And more than 50 years later, the sight or sound of an owl, still causes me to pause, and acknowledge that I am one with the Divine.
In no more hurry to leave than I, the owl lingered for some minutes, and then cast off in search of breakfast. I wasn’t hungry for the hard-boiled eggs I had packed for my own breakfast, so I gathered my gear and stumbled down the mountain to the banks of the Brazos. Retrieving my fishing tackle from the truck, I baited a hook with the grasshopper I caught in my cupped hand and tossed the line into the gently flowing river. I was luckier than the disciples had been on that long night before Jesus’ appearance and in no time I pulled two small bass from the water. Possessing the optimism of youth, I had already built a fire and now shimmering red mesquite coals lay waiting.
If you’ve never breakfasted on freshly caught fish, roasted over glowing mesquite, you’ve never breakfasted at all. It is a meal, as the disciples learned, worthy of the invitation that the Christ extended to them, “Come and have breakfast.” You see, Jesus’ invitation, wasn’t simply an opportunity for the disciples to still their hunger, Jesus was asking them to awaken and see who he really was. Jesus was asking these simple fishermen to look into the eyes of a carpenter, and see that they were all more than their occupations. Jesus’ offer of breakfast was a chance for his followers to understand that Jesus was divine. And the invitation carried with it the opportunity for the disciples to look within their own hearts and discover that the potential for divinity was within them as well.
It is good that we are here today on the North Fork. Outside we can feel the spring rain, smell the blossoms of the fruit trees, see the light green leaves of spring, and breathe the fresh salt air. And in the midst of this spring morning we assemble, much as we normally do on a Sunday morning, and call on the presence of the Divine. We say our ancient prayers and sing our ancient hymns and invite God to be with us. When all along, it’s God who is extending the invitation. Its God who is saying, “Come have breakfast with me.” And all we have to do is recognize the call.
Opportunities to experience the mystical presence of Christ are not confined within the four walls of a church building. We are called to recognize that this land we occupy is also sacred. And that God’s presence is as real and alive within all that surrounds us and within everyone we encounter, as it is embodied in the Christ we worship.
Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, instructed his followers to “find God in all things.” The disciples found a mystical moment lying hard fast against roasted fish on a fire. Sitting on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the disciples breakfasted in silence, their tongues stilled by the mystery of the encounter. John writes, “…none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord.” Learning to recognize the Lord, in all of creation, that’s the mark of a disciple.