As we move through the Easter Season we are taking a closer look at the disciples of Jesus - their lives, their backstories and how they used the gift of following Jesus to bless the world. Here is the sermon manuscript from week 2; Andrew, James, Nathanael and Philip (the fishing trip.)
It would be oh so very easy to write off the disciples – after last week’s readings from the Gospel of John. They seemed so afraid – hiding out in a room somewhere – doors locked – sequestered from the world – even though they were witnesses to the greatest miracle ever known. But that is often the case when we don’t have categories to explain the inexplicable, isn’t it? We don’t want to appear overly anxious – or foolish… and so we try to figure it out – sometimes even try to talk ourselves out of what we saw…or what we thought we saw and experienced.
It’s the same way with folks like you and me – we may have mountain top experiences – but if we don’t tend to them – and invest in re-sorting our lives – changing things up….well, now I’m getting ahead of myself.
Jesus appears again to the disciples
Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. This is how it happened: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”
They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. 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. 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. The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.
When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
For Peter – going fishing was as natural as breathing – same with Andrew, James and John – the sons of Zebedee. Maybe they went fishing because it was something physical, something that they enjoyed and would keep them fit – maybe they went fishing because it was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee – also known as the Sea of Tiberius – where they first encountered Jesus.
We don’t know from whom they borrowed the boat – maybe James and John borrowed it from their dad – I would imagine he’d be overjoyed to welcome his sons back to the family business. Peter, formerly a net casting fisherman from the side of the lake – might have been interested in joining in – after three years of traveling together – it made sense to return to what they knew. They had no clear sense of direction – and were open to just about anything.
But - it seems their fishing abilities were a bit rusty…they worked all night long and had nothing to show for it. You know that feeling don’t you? When you pour yourself into something and it seems all for naught.
As the sun started peaking up over the horizon they were floating back toward shore when a voice called out to them:
“Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
6 He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
Say what? the right side of the boat? who casts nets to the right side of the boat??
And yet – they did just what the stranger said – and John tells us:
there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”
And in that moment – everything changed – again…
Because we have a God who was willing to enter into our human lives – who lived and breathed and lived and loved and toiled like you and I – Jesus knows – God knows that we are prone to return to the fall back position – to return to our old ways – even after an encounter with the Holy One. Even after we have been given a new vision for how life could be lived – living in and through the power of the Holy Spirit and the giftedness that we have been given.
God isn’t asking us to forget how to cast our nets – but to consider that there may be a new way to do what we do – a way that is more free – more authentic – and that leads to a new normal.
To live in the new normal we have to be willing to live in the tension of the in between – not quite heaven – but certainly not hell either. Not quite got it all figured out – but not floundering either – not quite there yet – but that’s ok – because I’m making progress…
And the progress is marked by abundance – abundant joy – abundant relationships and sometimes – abundant catches of fish!
For James and John, Thomas and Nathanael, Peter and the other two disciples along for the fishing expedition – it was a huge catch of fish – so huge that they even took time to count – so that if anyone asked or seemed skeptical they could say with conviction – 153 fish – all keepers too – and the net held – that in and of itself was miraculous!
Of course Peter, the impetuous one – was so excited to see if it truly was Jesus that he jumped over board and swam the 100 yards to shore – and when he arrived he found a fire with fish and bread cooking – a breakfast feast. They added some of the fish that they had just caught to the fire and sat down…still trying to figure things out… and Jesus blessed the bread – and broke it – and served it to his disciples… a holy meal – communion by the shore…absolutely lovely, don’t you think? A holy meal – with their friend Jesus.
I do find this curious – the end of verse 12…
None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
and yet – and yet – they weren’t quite sure…maybe they were embarrassed because they didn’t recognize him when they were out on their boat? – the disciple whom Jesus loved is the one who had called out earlier ‘it’s the Lord’…however they say nothing.
What this says to me is that God appears to us in ways that are both ordinary as well as extraordinary – and like the disciples, we have to learn how to recognize God in new ways…something we coined in our Wednesday noon bible study as the ‘new normal’
When we become a Christ follower we open ourselves up to living in a new way – a new way that forms and informs every part of our life. This new normal may seem odd at first – but when we lean into it and allow this new way of living to permeate all aspects of our lives we find that this new normal is a way of living that is more affirming, abundant – and joyful than before…
Last week we talked about Thomas – let’s spend a moment reflecting on the lives of the others who were casting their nets that morning – and how their experience of Jesus led to their new normal…I will caution that their new normal led to martyrdom – but that’s the way it was in the 1st Century church. Something that we aren’t familiar with today – but we need to remember that sacrifice is part of living as followers of Jesus.
Consider James – one of the Sons of Thunder – Zebedee’s son – was the first of the original disciples martyred. He was so passionate about telling the story of Jesus that when Herod decided it was time to stop the Church – James was the first man who had to die. His life was short – but his influence was great – he stood firm in the face of persecution and inspired his brothers to do likewise.
Nathanael – also known as Bartholomew, was introduced to Jesus by his friend Philip – the only scripture references we have about him are from the first chapter of John and then here in the 21st chapter… but from the beginning we know that Nathanael was able to make connections between Old Testament promises and Jesus – as the son of God – Jesus himself commended Nathanael on his knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures – he was most likely a steady companion –
he was convinced from the beginning that Jesus was the one promised – the Messiah. Tradition and legend credit Nathanael with missionary journeys with Philip. Nathanael was open, honest and filled to the brim with an unspoiled enthusiasm for the Good News of Jesus Christ!
We don’t know who the other two disciples were – but I’m going to add Andrew and Philip to the mix, since Andrew was Peter’s brother and Philip and Nathanael were best of friends – it would make sense…
Andrew – J. Ellsworth Kalas, in his book the 13 disciples writes about Andrew: Someone has said that Andrew was both the first home missionary and the first foreign missionary – He was a home missionary in the winning of his brother, Simon (also called Peter) and a foreign missionary when he brought the Greeks to Jesus. Andrew is the patron saint of Greece – and of Scotland (as those of you who are golfers might have figured out). It is said that the governor of Patras in Greece hated Andrew because Andrew converted his wife and brother to Christ, so he condemned Andrew to death – according to tradition he was tortured and bound to an X shaped cross – what is still known as St Andrews Cross to this day – and as he died (alas over several days) he preached to all who passed by…his final prayer being “Would, Father, that I had time to teach truth to my murderers….”
And then there’s Philip – another early follower of Jesus Philip was known for his more reserved and logical nature. Read stories about Philip in scripture and he will be the one who is more by the numbers (which is probably why all of those fish were counted!). Something we don’t know about Philip is that his name was a Greek name – why his Jewish parents would give him a Greek name is unknown, but this opened doors for him to travel more widely as an evangelist – he became one of the great missionary preachers to Asia – and was martyred at Hierapolis.
Next week we will continue the story of the meal by the Sea of Tiberius – with the stories of Peter and John…two of Jesus’ closest friends.
As we look closer at the lives of the Apostles – we are reminded these were ordinary folk – just like you and me – they had doubts, they weren’t perfect – but they were faithful in trying to understand their world and how God was calling them to use their gifts to build up the Kingdom of heaven…
Not unlike what you and I are doing each and every day of the week. When we sign on to follow Christ – when we proclaim that Jesus is indeed our Lord and Savior – we are signing on to live in a new normal – a new way of being that can make some pretty significant demands upon us –but can also bless us in ways that we hardly imagined!
Enjoy the journey my friends – and know that God calls each and every one of us by name….and that we have gifts that are needed to make this world a better place for all people. How we use those gifts is the question…my challenge is to remind us not to waste what God has given us through the power of the Holy Spirit.