Dr. Anne M. Cameron
August 15, 2010
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
We return to the lakeshore for a final time, completing our series on faithful fish stories. This time we cast our line with the gospel of John. Our passage today is one of four post resurrection appearances in the gospel of John. Oddly enough, this one is the final one. The reason I say oddly enough, is because of the state we find the disciples in at the beginning of this passage.
The disciples seem to be going about business as usual. They know Jesus has been crucified, AND they know he has risen. They have already seen him once or twice! Yet they seem to be casting about for what to do. It is almost as if the resurrection hasn't sunk in; they really do not know what to do with this new reality.
In the gospel of John, the only witnesses to have seen the resurrected Jesus are the eleven disciples plus Mary Magdalene. To be sure, this is a small and select group. And though their experience of the Risen Christ was collaborated, one can't help but think they still must have been in a state of shock. Rather like the kind of shock and denial that happens after a sudden death, only in reverse.
It is easy to imagine they were unsettled. It's likely they were anxious. They had no idea what they were supposed to do next, so they did the next best thing. They returned to the familiar. They went fishing.
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 "I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?"
"No," they answered.
6 He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught."
11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord.
I don't know about you, but when I think of leaving my home, abandoning my family and my livelihood, traipsing after someone all over the country, sleeping on roadsides, eating goodness knows what kinds of leftovers, all in the hope that something momentous will happen. . . If I were in that situation, I would be a bit despondent to find myself back where I started, only worse, because my business had been utterly neglected for three years. I would not be happy to find my family staring at me like some kind stranger.
Though we can romanticize what it might have been like to have actually seen the Risen Christ, I am not at all certain it was easy for the disciples. Jesus doesn't hang around all that long. He didn't leave them with a manual or a Book of Order or a Life Line or anything.
Once again, they find themselves floundering back where they started. Though they have seen the Risen Christ, once or maybe twice, they don't exactly know what to do with that. Some may even be unsure they believe what they had seen.
All this is to say, there was probably uncertainty and lingering grief. There was undoubtedly confusion. An inability to see beyond today. Nagging questions remain. Where do we go from here?
So they go back to the familiar, to the lake. They go back to the livelihood they knew. They go back, perhaps wondering if they can even catch fish like they used to. Have they lost the knack? Will their nets still work? They go back, hoping for something to eat, something to satisfy the hunger in their bellies. They ignore the hunger in their hearts.
They spend a long and fruitless night on the lake. Some doze, others mind the net. They take turns. Nothing happens. Nada. No fish. They can't even do this familiar thing anymore! It must have been frustrating. They end the long night with nothing but a gnawing hunger, growing more insistent every hour. Their lack of success on the lake would have accentuated the negative thoughts they were already having.
I think there was some wisdom in their return to the lake, to the act of fishing, to the familiar place where they had first met Jesus.
Then they see him, walking alongside the lake in the pre-dawn glow. They see him, but they DO NOT KNOW HIM. They do not recognize him. Maybe it was the low light. Maybe he'd changed. Maybe they simply did not expect to see him. We will never know.
What we do come to know is how they recognize him. Scripture says Jesus revealed himself to them.
When is the moment of recognition? In the moment they realize they have gotten this enormous catch of fish. How do they know it is the Lord's doing? In the abundance of provision, in nets full to the bursting point, receiving what they so longed for: fish, yes, affirmation of their ability as fishermen, yes, but what they really saw when their nets began to tighten, what they really knew in the morning chill when the weight began to drag on their boats, what Christ gave them was far more than fish. It was HOPE.
Hope that life would resume semblance of normalcy. Hope they could once again be useful. Hope there would be more than enough to go around. Hope that what had begun those three long years on the road had not vanished, and would never be forgotten. Hope that they would have a continuing part in the amazing story.
When you don't know what to do, go back to the place you have known the LORD. Go fishing.
Go back to the places where you have met the LORD. To the lakeside.
To the places where you have seen the LORD. In the breaking of the
Where you have heard the LORD's voice calling.
Go back---to worship, to pray. Dive into scripture. Delve into honest work.
Immerse yourself in inspiring literature, wondrous music, challenging film.
Get in the boat to serve others, mend some nets, do simple tasks of care.
Go back to where you have seen the Lord. In the pre-dawn glow of nature, in the human face of love.
To where you have known the Lord, whether in great abundance or dire need. Return, go back.
God will meet you there again.
God will reveal himself to you there again.
Even when you don't feel like it, get back into the boat.
When you have lost hope in your marriage,
When you have been dealt a cruel blow. Go fishing.
When circumstances spin out of control. Seek him.
When someone or something dear has been snatched from you,
Get back into the boat.
Back into the ship of faith, the place where you have seen God.
The place where you have known God.
Keep after it, stay with it, for the dark night of the soul.
Keep going, dawn will come.
Cast your nets again, even if you think it won't work.
You are not alone in that boat. Others are with you, to take their turn, mind the watch, cover your back.
When dawn comes, in its own peculiar guise (it may not SEEM like dawn)
You just may see him on the shore.
He may look like a stranger. He may ask you to keep going when you have nothing left in you. He may demand even more of you---
But in the end he will reveal himself to you.
He will reveal himself in the abundance he places before you.
He will reveal himself in the people he gives you.
He will reveal himself in miracles of reconciliation and forgiveness.
He will reveal himself in the sustenance he provides you.
He will feed your deep hunger.
When you don't know what to do, go fishing.