O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Together at the Family Meal
Together at the Family Meal
Based on John 21:1-14
Preached on April 10, 2016
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In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
I'm sure you've seen this: the movie after the movie. That little extra scene that some directors like to put at the end of a film to reward the people who sit all the way through the credits and the closing music. Who couldn't get enough - and are hoping for more. It's like a special treat for those on the inside. You can almost picture a director at his family dinner table after a long week of work telling his children - oh, and at the end, after all the credits, I put in this scene just for you. You're gonna love it.
That's what John chapter 21 is. It's the director's cut at the end of John's gospel, a little something more for the reader who just can't seem to get enough.
Think about it. John 20 ended rather nicely with a footrace to the open tomb, Jesus' resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene, the ten apostles, then the following Sunday to the ten plus Thomas. Jesus shows them His wounds, breathes His Spirit into them, authorizes them to forgive sin, and sends them on their way to do His forgiving and binding work. And then we even read, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." And cut. Roll the credits, cue the music. This is a great place to end the gospel. You've got a perfect seven signs, a death and resurrection, three eyewitness appearances. It's in the can.
But then you turn the page - because you have to - and you get more. A whole chapter more. A reprise, a coda, a kind of mini gospel picking up all sorts of things already discussed: a miraculous catch of fish, a feeding, and a whole lot more. You might say that the gospel doesn't really come to an end until it finds you and is preached into your ears. You are the target. You are part of it. The story is incomplete without you hearing and you believing. It is like all four Gospels have a bad case of "loose ends," because the ending is for you. In fact, it is you.
Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, the Zebedee brothers James and John, and two other unnamed disciples (seven in all) are at the Sea of Tiberius (aka the Sea of Galilee) sometime during that 40 days between when Jesus rose and when He ascended into heaven. Simon Peter wants to go fishing. And why not? He's a fisherman. As are the Zebedee boys. And so off they go into the boat at dusk and fish all night - but they catch nothing.
Sound familiar? Sure it does! This hearkens back to their call as disciples when they had caught nothing all night until Jesus had them cast their nets whereupon they hauled in a load of fish; when Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Fishing - but no fish. Do you know what its like to go fishing and not catch a single fish? It reminds me of the time my father and I went deep-sea fishing down in Mexico. There we were at the crack of dawn, so pumped with excitement that we could barely sit still as the boat left harbour. Dreams of catching marlin and tuna sparkled in the mind's eye. Passionate recollections of past fishing stories jumped off the tongue in anticipation of a man on fish struggle with the Pacific Ocean's best. After three hours of sailing straight lines out in the middle of nowhere, the excitement had died down. After five hours, only a thread of hope remained for the epic showdown once envisioned. And after eight hours as we sailed into the harbour with our heads hung low, we found the most exciting part of our adventure was throwing our leftover bait to the waiting pelicans. We had no exotic tuna steaks for dinner that night.
So it is easy to understand how the disciples would have felt that night. It's dark. It's cold. Your hands are wet from hauling nets. You're tired but the waves won't stop lurching the boat. You're hungry - but you caught nothing. In other words, you feel defeated, you've just had enough.
Sometimes we feel this way when it comes to the Church. Jesus says, "from now on you will be catching men," but where are all the people we've caught? We are not catching men. All our efforts yield no catch. Our human ideas and innovations do nothing to stop the bleed in church attendance. We are tempted to change the church in order to catch a certain type of fish, like the youth, yet we catch nothing. We are tempted to give up the truth in order to give the impression of unity, yet we catch nothing. We are tempted to water-down what Jesus would have us say; yet just like the disciples, we catch nothing. These human ideas and efforts will not catch any fish - not for the kingdom of God. They are a night of empty nets on the Sea of Tiberias. We are the disciples of Jesus in the boat, weary, disappointed, discouraged, defeated.
Then the sun breaks the horizon, and the new day dawns. Perhaps at first it is extremely bright and you can't quite make out this new figure standing on the shore - "Children, do you have any fish?" "No." - "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." Do you really feel like throwing the net out one more time? Well, whoever He is, maybe this man on the shore has a better perspective than us.
The disciples cast the net one more time, and instantly we are reminded of whose Church it really is. It is the Church of Christ. Jesus speaks to His fish. Jesus ministers to His children. It is His voice that named the apostles. It is His Word that established the Office of the Holy Ministry. His Office. His Ministry. His Fish. His Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church and School.
And why don't the nets break with so many fish? Because the net is His Gospel - good news that goes beyond human reason. It is the Gospel of Christ that catches fish. His Word that has the power to makes disciples out of men. Jesus says, "Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." There is no secret timing or correct combination. There is the glorious fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God assumed our flesh and made atonement for our sin by His death on the cross. He has come down to be with us in our sin, so that we may be with Him in His holiness forever. This is the net that does not break, even with a miraculous catch of fish in its grasp.
Obviously this was a dramatic change for the disciples. From famine to feast. So here's the question: Do you know what it feels like to make a miraculous catch?
It reminds of me of another fishing story, but this one from my youth. I was new to fishing, maybe seven years old, so my dad stayed close by to make me feel comfortable. We were at the base of a muddy cliff on a riverbank. As I got more comfortable I wandered down the riverbank, and just as I got out of parental range, I hooked an eight-pound Pike. I looked shockingly towards my father, but he was too far away. I wrestled and fought with that fish, but I didn't know how to finish the catch. I just kept reeling him in. Finally, I pulled him right up onto the riverbank and stepped on him with my little rubber boot. For a seven-year old boy, this was a miraculous catch. However today, my memory of catching the fish is quite weak, but my memory of being together with my family when we ate it is vivid and strong.
The same is true for the disciples. Although it would have been exciting to catch so many fish, being with the risen Christ is the climax of the account. The catch of fish almost gets forgotten in the excitement that the Lord is present. We see such a desire to be with the Lord clearest in the apostle Peter, who the moment he hears John say - "It is the Lord" - does everything he can to be with Him. Proclaiming the Gospel is exciting. A life-long fisherman making a record catch is exciting. But the greatest and most important thing for Peter is being with his Lord and Saviour.
When the disciples get to the shore they realize why Christ has come. Even when He stands before them in His resurrected body, Jesus comes to serve. "Come - and eat." At the time when He could most expect to receive praise and adoration, He hands them food. This is how Christ spends time with His loved ones. He knows His disciples are hungry, weary and discouraged, so He provides for them. We often focus on what we bring to God when we come. We often act as though how we prepare, or what we do during worship - our participation - this is what makes worship meaningful - but our Lord shows us another way. Even in His glory, Jesus continues to be the servant. He is the one who comes to us. You and I are still the target.
In His Service to us today, He begins with the Service of the Word in which we hear Him proclaim His Gospel. Then His Divine Service climaxes in the Service of the Sacrament where He serves us His very own body and blood.
The purpose of proclaiming the Gospel is to lead the children of God to be with Jesus in His Holy Supper. This is how Christ spends time with His loved ones. This is the very reason Christ died conquering sin and rose again conquering death - that He could be with you in the Blessed Sacrament - the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. Even as He serves you His eternal body and blood here on Earth, He will also eternally serve you at His feast in heaven.
He knows it is tough being in this world, working as His disciples - He knows you need Him - but the true emphasis is that He wants to be with you - He wants to feed you the benefits of His work - the benefits of His suffering, death and resurrection - and this is why He instituted His Supper. This is what this director's cut chapter of John ultimately teaches us.
He wants you to know that when you approach the rail, as you ascend the steps towards His altar, He is with you - even as He was with His disciples on the shore. There in His flesh He loves you. There He heals you. He forgives you. He touches you. When He is with you He wants to remove all of your struggles, failures and baggage - He wants to feed you His strength, His success and His very self. As He tenderly says, "Come to Me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls."
What is the best way to spend time with your loved ones after a long week of work? That's right - it is a meal. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr