“Let’s Go Fishing!” 04.10.2016 Sermon

John 21:1-19 • April 10, 2016

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Ok, I’ll admit it. Two unique, albeit unusual things, stuck out for me in the gospel reading today during this resurrection breakfast story with Jesus on the beach. It might be a sign of still being a little tired following Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Or, it might just be the way the Holy Spirit was speaking to me this week. I’ll let you decide.

First – Simon Peter fishing naked. I don’t fish, but I know many people who do. And as far as I know, none of them fish naked. Like I said, as far as I know. I can’t actually assume to know the proper way to dress or not dress when fishing. And did you catch what Peter does when he hears about Jesus on the shore. He puts his clothes back on and THEN he jumps in the water to swim to shore. Wouldn’t it have been easier to swim to shore without the weight of wet clothes? Or maybe easier to just stay in the boat and get to shore with the other disciples that stay in the boat and at the same time stay dry?

And the second thing, again remember, I’m not a fisherman. Jesus says to cast the next to the other side of the boat. I’m sorry, but how can a few feet make that much of a difference in how effective your fishing with a large net will be? As we see though, it made a great difference. Zero fish on one side of the boat after fishing all night long. 153 fish from the other side in just a short time.

I have no idea what the daily limit on walleye is in North Dakota, but I’m guessing it’s not remotely close to 153! And why do you think it’s so important for the writer of John’s gospel to make sure that we know it was 153 fish caught?

In fact, why are either of these details necessary in telling us this part of the Jesus story – Peter fishing naked and the disciples catching 153 fish. Both take place during the fourth appearance of Jesus after the resurrection in the gospel of John?

Cyril of Alexandria in the 5th century said that the 100 represented the fullness of the gentiles, the 50 symbolized the remnant of Israel and the three of course was there for the Trinity.

Saint Augustine, also in the 5th century, said that there are 10 commandments and 7 is a perfect number of grace, which makes 17. If you add all the numbers from 1 to 17 together – 1+2+3+4+ etc. you’ll get to the number 153.

Also from the 5th century, Saint Jerome believed that there were 153 different types of fish in the sea and it was symbolic of the church reaching all the people of the world.

And still other Christian theologians believe that 153 represented the total number of nations that existed in the known world at the time of Jesus resurrection and appearance to these disciples.

I think it’s just fine to consider any of those theological or mathematical theories in a positive light. It’s also fine to consider any of the hundreds of other theological insights that have been written about the reason for 153 fish over the past 20 centuries.

But here’s what I was hearing in this text and the significance of this incredibly large catch of fish. I believe that this is the Gospel of John’s version of the commissioning or sending the disciples into the world in mission. Similar in many ways to the other three gospels.

In Mark’s gospel Jesus says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”

In Luke’s gospel Jesus opens the disciples minds to understand the scripture and says, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations,”

In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

And in the gospel of Saint John, in the story before us today, Jesus calls the disciples to go into the entire world and fish for all people – not just those in their inner circle of friends. Not just from the side of the boat that they have always fish from before.

For those of us who are called by Jesus to be his disciples in 2016, I think that means we are supposed to fish for all people, even those who don’t call North Dakota their home and those who haven’t been raised their entire life as Lutherans and those who may not fit into the United States economic classification of middle class. Jesus says to the first disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and to disciples on the shores of the Missouri River today, that we are to fish. For all people.

I think there’s a simple interpretation for Peter fishing naked. Fisherman in Jesus’ day would often take most of their clothes off while fishing. It was as much of a safety measure as it was a comfort measure. If they accidentally got caught in the net and ended up in the water, it was much more likely that a fisherman would be able to get back into the boat and not drown under the weight of the wet clothes. Which was actually a pretty common occupational hazard for fisherman in the ancient world.

As for the large number of fish that were caught, Luther Seminary Professor Karoline Lewis sees John 21 as a reflection on the main point of John’s proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, the risen savior of the world. Professor Lewis believes that the entire gospel is about abundant grace, beginning in the very first chapter when we hear “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (1:16) And although we never hear the word grace again in John’s gospel, we see it in action over and over and over again. Jesus healing, raising the dead, extending love and acceptance to people that the rest of the world ignores or casts off as dead.

The purpose of any of the four gospels that are contained in the New Testament is not to show us how to contain God’s grace and forgiveness and mercy and love and keep it all to ourselves. The purpose of the gospel is to invite us into a journey of faith that will empower us to extend God’s grace and the good news of the risen savior of the world to every corner of God’s creation.

Professor Lewis says that, “Resurrection is abundance.”

The abundance of the resurrection is what you and I are being called to share today. An abundance of grace and unconditional love that extends beyond our wildest imaginations. An abundance of mercy and forgiveness that will break down every wall of sin and fear and hatred and exclusion that we try to build. 20th century Trappist monk Thomas Merton said that, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business. What we are asked to do is to love.”

So brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue this journey together through the season of Easter, the resurrection is calling us to cast our nets. To cast our nets and share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children. Let’s go fishing. Amen.


“What is Easter anyway?” Easter Sermon 03.27.2016

John 20:1-18 • March 27, 2016

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

First…I need to offer a word of thanksgiving to my colleagues in pastoral ministry here at Good Shepherd – Pastor Bob and Pastor Pam. And thanksgiving to the staff of this holy place. They consistently go above and beyond, including working on Christmas and Easter, in order for all of us to have an opportunity to grow in relationship with each other and with our God. And, finally, thanksgiving to the dozens of people who volunteer their time and talent in service during Holy Week and Easter worship. I am forever grateful for the many ways that the risen savior Jesus Christ is alive and working through each one of you. Please join me in showing our appreciation for the work that God is doing through these fine brothers and sisters in Christ.

In his book, Wounded Lord: Reading John Through the Eyes of Thomas, theologian Robert Smith claims that “from the beginning, the Fourth Evangelist has been mulling over the meanings of Jesus’ dying.” (pg. 128)

Smith’s claim that the writer of John’s gospel is in search of meaning in Jesus’ death beautifully lifts up one of the challenges that Holy Week and Easter present for those of us who are followers of Jesus in post-resurrection time. We claim to follow someone whom we believe was crucified, died, was buried but is now alive – risen from the dead. And even 2,000 years after the resurrection, the powers of the world around us continue to say that Jesus is dead and that God doesn’t even exist. It’s one of the reasons why I believe so strongly that Good Friday and Easter are the two most significant days in the faith life as Christians.

If Good Friday and Easter do not happen, if these events are only a figment of our imagination or a really good idea for a Hollywood blockbuster movie script, then our worship together today – or on any other day of the year for that matter – is really quite pointless. Jesus was just an ordinary dude in the ancient world who was killed by crucifixion. End of story. Who cares.

The first printed words in your bulletin today ask the question “What is Easter anyway?”

I would be willing to bet that if you and I walk around town today and took a poll of people who claim to follow Jesus with that question – nearly everyone we ask would say something like “the day Jesus rose from dead” or “the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.”

But, I’m also willing to bet that many of those same people – which does include all of us by the way – will have a more difficult time trying to explain the importance of Jesus’ death or what the resurrection actually is or what this ancient story has to do with our life and faith today. If you and I do truly believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and that the cross and tomb are still empty today, then the resurrection is the single most significant event in the history of creation.

The resurrection of Jesus is difficult to explain and equally difficult for some to believe. But rather than throwing a bunch theological jargon and resurrection theories at you today, let’s simply take a look at the resurrection story again. From the first people to actually witness it as it happened. What does this ancient story of Jesus’ resurrection in the gospel of Saint John and the experiences of the three disciples in this story, have to do with our life of faith today?

In a lot of ways, even though around 2,000 years have passed since that first Easter morning, you and I are still among the first witnesses. And in so many ways, you and I are just like the 3 disciples who find the tomb empty and can’t quite make sense of it.

Three disciples.

One who sees the grave clothes neatly folded and believes.

One who sees the same thing, yet isn’t quite sure if he believes anything that he has seen.

One who in a way is surprised into believing by hearing the sound of her name from someone she didn’t recognize even though she knew him well.

The writer of John’s gospel could have written a less complicated story. Something like – “Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple went to the tomb. They saw the linen wrappings lying there and believed Jesus had risen from the dead.” Period. End of story.

But you and I know that faith and belief in the resurrection in such a simplistic way is not reality for followers of Jesus. Especially as we live in a post-resurrection and ever increasing post-Christian and post-religious world. That’s why I think it’s important for us to see John’s story of the resurrection as one that leaves room. It leaves room for each of us as we sort out our own response to the question “What is Easter anyway?” That’s what’s happening with the three disciples.

John’s gospel leaves room for when you and I see and believe. Room for when you and I see and are still not sure. Room for when you and I hear Jesus call our name and only then will we see Jesus and believe. (this section is inspired by a commentary written by Barbara Lundblad)

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, here’s the good news for all of us today regardless of where you find yourself. I quote from a sermon preached in 1987 by Pastor Bruce Laverman that rings just as true today as it did nearly 30 years ago. “Today,” Pastor Bruce said, “even though we may have missed him, he comes looking for us right where we are. If we have slipped and fallen – ignored him, missed him – he comes looking for us this morning in the cemetery of our human experience, in a Good Friday-Holy Saturday mood – to find us in the garden on Easter morning!” (excerpt from Rev. Bruce Laverman’s sermon at Christ’s Community Church, April 19, 1987)

A young dad walked in on his children playing one afternoon. He thought his kids were just playing house because that was one of their favorite things to do. Much to his surprise, it turned out they were playing church. And they happened to be at the end of the worship service when he walked in. He witnessed the giving and receiving of the benediction in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The dad was impressed. He shared his enthusiasm with his children and asked them if they knew what the cross meant when the pastor gave the benediction at the end of worship. Here’s what they said. “When the pastor makes the sign of the cross at the end of church it means that…some of us should go out this way, some of us should go out this way, and the rest of us should go out over there.”

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, whichever way you go out from this sacred time of worship and into the world today, go knowing and believing that Easter is for you. And the next time someone asks you “What is Easter anyway?” Share with them the good news that God has raised Jesus Christ the Savior of the world from the dead and because that happened, God has conquered every death that you and I will ever experience. In the resurrected Christ, there is time after the end, life after death, restoration of what was broken, the brightening of what had gone dark. That’s what Easter is today, tomorrow, and for all eternity. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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