A sermon for Easter 3: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19, Psalm 30
50 years ago Time Magazine’s cover posed the question: Is God Dead? (White). Episcopal Café’s – The Lead coverage included a philosophical summary beginning with leftovers of Nietzsche’s thesis that striving, self-centered man had killed God, and that settled that. It moves to the current death-of-God group that believes that God is indeed absolutely dead, but proposes to carry on and write a theology without God. Then continues with those who believe that God in the image of man, God sitting in heaven, is dead. And concludes that our society frequently faces the questions: “What is in question is God himself?” and “What is in the reality of God?” The article recaps information from The Pew Research Center. In the last decade or so
- belief in God dropped from 92% to 88%
- church attendance has dropped from 39% to 36%
- those religiously unaffiliated has jumped from about 16% to almost 23%
- but interestingly, a majority of the above “nones,” 61%, still say they believe in God or a universal spirit (White).
This morning we heard the third story of an appearance of the resurrected Jesus. The Bible tells us that once before humanity killed God, manifest in the person of Jesus. The result is The Resurrection. So if humanity kills God again, this time via philosophical or ideological means, the result will be ~ the continuance of The Resurrection. The remaining question seems to be how long will it be before we recognize or see the resurrected Divine presence? Bible stories indicate it will take some time. It seems that the risen Christ is not easily recognized until he says or does something familiar (Gavenat and Petersen). The risen Jesus also appears to have developed a habit of showing up in odd, yet usual places (Cox).
We read about Jesus showing up in cemeteries in all the Gospels. In John Jesus appears in homes, and at work. Luke writes of him appearing on the road and, along with Mark, at the breaking of bread with lesser-known followers or believers. Matthew writes about the risen Jesus appearing on a mountain top, and where the disciples had been told to be. Mark also writes of appearances in that which frightens and amazes us, or at table. There are stories of Jesus even showing up when folks have gone fishing.
This morning we heard that Peter and some of the other disciples have gone fishing. They seem to be a bit unsettled; like they are still a little on edge, or perhaps somewhat dispirited (Gavenat and Petersen). The story begins “after these things” but we are not sure what things or how much time has passed since then (Cox). Maybe Peter is just trying to get back to life as it had been before all this Jesus stuff popped up. Whatever their motivation it not very successful night fishing.
On their way back, when they are about 100 yards from shore, someone shouts “Put the net down on the other side.” Have you ever been on a lake or seashore and tried to call to someone 100 yards away? I don’t get how they even saw each other never mind communicated. Nor do I understand how John recognized Jesus, except maybe the net is full of 153 large fish, an overly abundant catch eerily like the 1ooo bottles of wine at the wedding in Canna (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) (Lewis). Their experience is familiar in other ways; it is just like being with Jesus when they were on or near the sea. When they get to shore there is a charcoal fire, just like in the High Priest’s courtyard; one more familiar thing. The bread and fish are just like the Mountain top when Jesus feeds that large crowd (Harrelson). Another familiar thing. Jesus invites them to breakfast, which might be like the last supper; only Jesus offers them offers them bread and fish instead of bread and wine; this sounds and feels familiar.
Now the story shifts to a conversation between Jesus and Peter.
Peter, do you love me?
Yes ~ you know I am you BFF.
Feed my lambs.
Peter, do you love me?
Jesus, I just told you I’m your BFF!
Tend my sheep.
Peter, are you my BFF?
How many times do I have to tell you, you really are my BFF?
Only this time Peter’s voice tinged with hurt as he recognizes his inability to return the love Jesus is speaking of (Cox). Remember Peter by a charcoal fire in the courtyard where he denies Jesus 3 times, here is yet another familiar thing (Erlangen). The three references to sheep and lambs also draw our hearts, and Peter’s, back to the images of Jesus as the good shepherd (John 10) (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). Next, Jesus’ fatefully speaks about Peter’s future, and then invites him to “Follow me.” This is a final familiar moment; it is reminiscent of Jesus calling Nathan and Philip to “Follow me.” way back in chapter 1 (John 1:43) (Gavenat and Petersen).
One gleaning from his conversation with Peter is that Jesus meets us where we are physically and spiritually (Cox). Another gleaning is that the half dozen or more references to previous incidents in John’s Gospel reveal the collective presence and power of grace upon grace (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). It just keeps on building up.
Today’s appearance story is also a story of discipleship (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). It points explicitly to the future life of Jesus’ disciples(Harrelson). It also points to our discipleship and our responses to the continuing questions of “Is God dead?” and the cognate questions of God being indifferent or irrelevant.
I see a few applicable gleanings.
- Jesus meets Peter where he was, and he meets us where we are; perhaps we should meet those who struggle with the question of God’s existence where they are?
- Rather than meet an existential challenge with an equally pugnacious reply, perhaps acts of radical hospitality, like breakfast by the seaside, will reveal the way to living lives of kindness, compassion, sharing, generosity, justice, and peace(Cox) (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner).
- The struggle with existential meaning reveals the need for Jesus in everyday life … like when we are fishing, or on the beach, or about our daily work (Hoezee).
- As we discover our responses are as ineffective as the disciples’, even in the simple, well-known stuff like fishing, in Jesus’ absence, let’s also remember their astonishing power and effectiveness in his presence (Gaventa and Petersen).
- Let’s also remember our need for Jesus in meeting the everyday challenges of discipleship.
- Just because others cannot perceive it, and we can’t explain it does not mean God’s presence and grace are bound. The Resurrection stories reveal that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, (Romans 8:38-39) can contain grace upon grace (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner).
- And finally, when we are befuddled by some particularly complex, or simple, existential question perhaps it is time to invite our challenger to go fishing with us, or jointly engage in some other mutually enjoyable routine, perhaps mundane activity.
To this point, my probably unrealized goal was to bring some sensible understanding to the last chapter of John’s Gospel. And it’s unrealized because I’m not sure I’ve necessarily don’t that, and unrealized because I’m not I was aware that is what I was trying to do when I did it. Later in the day, I saw a Facebook posting from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry:
We need Christians crazy enough:
to love like Jesus
to give like Jesus
to forgive like Jesus.
So, rather than making sense of John’s last chapter, perhaps we should follow the example and like Jesus, just keep showing up in all sorts of odd places to love, to give and to forgive.
Cox, Jason. “Jesus Will Meet Us, Easter 3 (C) – 2016.” 10 4 2016. Sermons that Work.
Ellingsen, Mark. 10 4 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 10 4 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 21:1-19. 10 4 2016.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.
Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection is Abundance. 10 4 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
White, John. The Lead: Fifty years since Time magazine asked: “Is God dead?”. 8 4 2016. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/fifty-years-since-time-magazine-asked-is-god-dead/>.