Sunday’s sermon: Rock the Boat

Rock the Boat

Texts used – Psalm 30 and John 21:1-14 (in sermon text)

  • It was all over now. It had been a crazy-amazing last few years full of miracles and lessons, healings and strange predictions, parables and sticking it to the Pharisees. They had been welcomed and rejected. They had been laughed at and cheered. They had criss-crossed the country side with him, stopping to rest and getting food when and where they could. But always teaching. And even as intense as those last few years had been, the last few weeks had been the craziest part of the whole thing. That perplexing and intimate Passover meal in the upper room. The betrayal. The arrest. The trial and torture. The death. And most inexplicably of all … the resurrection. Jesus had been dead for three whole days, and yet, when the women showed up at the tomb to perform the customary burial rites, all they found were an empty tomb and cast of grave clothes. Oh, yeah … and Jesus, alive and well again. Not just some specter made of vapor and imagination. Jesus. Real. Alive. Whole.
    • Showed up here and there a couple of times after the resurrection – had this knack of popping up in rooms whose doors were all locked
      • Brought words of peace
      • Brought encouragement in faith
  • But it was all over now. Jesus couldn’t just keep randomly popping up like that, could he? It was time for the disciples to rejoin “the real world” … which is where we find them in today’s Scripture reading.
    • READ John 21:1-14
    • Seven disciples involved: Simon Peter, Thomas (the Twin … the Doubter … take your pick), Nathanael, James and John (Zebedee’s sons), and two other, unnamed disciples
    • Text: Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.” They said, “We’ll go with you.”[1]
      • Seems normal
      • Seems plausible
      • Seems almost blasé
      • On the outside, it appears like a perfectly natural decision … but there’s a little more to this decision than meets the eye. → weight of this decision is found in placing this short story within the broader context of the gospel
        • Passage that we read last week: That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them.[2] – also mentions later on in the passage that the disciples were again gathered with the doors shut  speaks to a real fear that the disciples had
          • Fear of the authorities
          • Fear of the crowds
          • Fear that someone would recognize them as one of his disciples  recognition might snowball into those disciples meeting the same terrible fate that Jesus had endured only days before
    • And yet Peter and those other seven disciples had finally decided that it was time to step out. It was time to leave those dark, stuffy rooms with locked doors and shuttered windows. It was time to move on. So they decided to go fishing.
      • Attempt at returning to “life as usual” after their time with Jesus
      • Trying to go back to the way things were
        • Scholar: Many of these men had left their families, jobs, and hometowns to follow Jesus – who was dead and miraculously raised but, for all they knew, permanently gone. Jesus was the compass in their lives. Now they had no direction. … They took comfort in familiar routines. They went back to what they knew: fishing.[3]
          • REMEMBER: at least three of the disciples – Simon Peter, James, and John – were known fishermen before they chose to follow Jesus
  • But even this seemingly-normal endeavor doesn’t go as planned.
    • Having no luck fishing: They set out in a boat, but throughout the night, they caught nothing.[4]  Now, we can imagine what a difficult and frustrating night that must have been for the disciples. It was the first time they’d ventured out to do something since Jesus’ death. It was their first attempt at moving on – at continuing to live after their extraordinary teacher had been taken from them. But time after time, all night long, their nets came up empty. An entire long, dark night of nothing.
    • And then, the dawn. Surprise, surprise … the risen Christ appears in their midst and interrupts them again: Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus. Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.[5]
      • In the darkness, in the night, on their own = coming up empty
      • In the light, in the dawn, with Christ = overflowing abundance
      • Scholar: [This passage] awakens memories of the darkness – the darkness of our hunger, the darkness of our failure to recognize Christ, the darkness of our denial – but at the same time it reminds us that none of this darkness has overcome the light.[6]
    • Brings us to probably the greatest reaction in all of Scripture: Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water.[7]  Peter was the rash and impetuous disciples. He acted before he thought. He was bold and passionate, which got him into trouble plenty of times.
      • Climbed out of the boat when he saw Jesus walking on water – walked a short way before he began to doubt and sink[8]
      • Reprimanded Jesus when he began talking about having to suffer and die: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you!”  elicits Jesus’ harsh response: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”[9]
      • Cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane when they come to arrest Jesus[10]
      • And when John, the beloved disciple, points out that it is Jesus on the shore, Peter couldn’t wait. He couldn’t hold back. He forgot about all the reasons they had come out in the boat in the first place – to try to move on, to try to do something “normal” for a change, to try to make a living – and he jumped into the water and swam to shore as fast as he could.
        • Scholar: There is a time for decorum, and there is a time for the raw sort of desperation that is on display in Peter’s swim. … Peter was not thinking practically; he was hardly thinking at all. If given the chance, he would do it again a million times over.[11]
  • All of this makes for a crazy scene: disciples out in a boat all night catching nothing, Jesus calling to them to try something as simple as casting their net on the other side of the boat, the disciples hauling in a catch so massive they couldn’t even pull the nets up, Peter jumping into the water and swimming full speed ahead for the shore (can’t you just see him dog paddling as fast as he could toward Jesus?), and Jesus meeting them all there – in the midst of all the ordinariness and all the insanity – with breakfast on the beach. Because of all of this, I think this is the realest story in the gospels.
    • Disciples had tried to go back to something familiar, something normal after their experience with Jesus BUT Jesus meets them in the midst of that normal and shakes everything up again  So often, we have these incredible encounters with God in the world. Maybe it’s witnessing the jaw-dropping beauty of the world – a sunset, a glass-calm lake in the early morning, majestic mountains, a night sky so full of stars you feel like you can’t even see them all. Maybe it’s experiencing some incredible kindness – someone helping you out when you needed a hand or caring for you when you were ill. Or maybe it’s an experience in prayer – a conversation that you had with God that touched you so deeply, you can’t forget it. These are those places where God interrupts our lives and reminds us, “Hey, I’m here and I’m working and I’m doing great things. And you’re a part of that.”
      • Flashes of the sacred and the inspiring and the unexpected in the midst of the mundane and the normal and the expected à that’s what makes them so special
      • Ps we read this morning testifies to those times: I exalt you, Lord, because you pulled me up; … I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. … You changed my mourning into dancing. You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop.[12]
    • But like the disciples, we eventually slide back into our old patterns, our familiar routines. We believe that God is out there, but we begin to rely more and more upon ourselves to get through.
      • Also in the ps this morning: When I was comfortable, I said, “I will never stumble.” … But then you hid your presence. I was terrified. I cried out to you, Lord. I begged my Lord for mercy … Lord, listen and have mercy on me! Lord, be my helper![13]  speaks to just how much we need God’s presence in our lives even when we don’t think we do
        • Times when things are normal
        • Times when things are easy
        • Times when things are familiar
  • Like the disciples in the boat that morning, Christ comes to us. We are reminded that God is indeed near. And we will forever be changed. Even as they attempted to return to “life as usual” – fishing and making a living and moving on after their incredible experience – the disciples discovered that nothing would ever be the same again. Friends, Jesus doesn’t come into our lives to leave things as they are. Jesus comes to shake things up. Jesus comes to rock to boat. Jesus comes to fill our nets to overflowing. Whether we expect it or not – heck … whether we like it or not! – we cannot continue to do things as we have always done them because we have experienced the goodness of God: grace, forgiveness, love, hope. These are things for which the world is truly desperate. And we cannot simply sit idly by and keep them to ourselves.
    • Could react like Peter
      • Jump in with both feet
      • Throw our whole selves into that message
        • Live it
        • Breathe it
        • Share it
        • Let it electrify our hearts and minds
    • Could react like the other disciples
      • Pull in the incredible catch
      • Work hard to bring it to shore
      • Feel the awesome weight of that message in our hearts and our bones
    • That morning on the beach, Jesus appeared to all of them. He didn’t say, “Peter, you’re the best because you came to me immediately.” He didn’t say, “You other disciples are the best because you did the work of hauling in the net.” Both actions in this story are essential. The Church needs Peters – people to hit the ground running with enthusiasm and excitement, people who encourage and inspire and envision and lead. And the Church needs the other disciples – people who are methodical, people who are strong in spirit and dedicated to seeing the task all the way through. We’re all in this boat together, and Jesus is ready to rock it. So what are we going to do? Amen.

[1] Jn 21:3a.

[2] Jn 20:19.

[3] Louise Lawson Johnson. “John 21:1-8 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 336.

[4] Jn 21:3b.

[5] Jn 21:4-6.

[6] Thomas H. Troeger. “Third Sunday of Easter: John 21:1-19 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 425.

[7] Jn 21:7.

[8] Mt 14:22-33.

[9] Mt 16:21-23.

[10] Jn 18:10.

[11] S. Brian Erickson. “John 21:1-8 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 337.

[12] Ps 30:1, 2, 11-12.

[13] Ps 30:6, 7b-8, 10.

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