Sermon May 1 – John 21:1-17 Moving Forward Rev. Betsy Hogan
So here’s a reality for clergy which many of you may not be aware of – but I would like to generously share it with you in case you’d like to borrow it. And claim it’s an issue for ALL churchgoers.
And it’s this: for a great portion of the winter months, for ministers, there’s two kinds of time. There’s Lent and Easter – and then there’s ya ya ya After Easter.
And it can be a bit of a surprise. When suddenly someone calls us saying, “Didn’t we have a meeting?”. Which is clearly impossible, we know it’s impossible, because that meeting cannot be today because that meeting is not until after Easter.
It is, unfortunately, an actual thing. If lots of people have that time post-Christmas when no one seems to know what day it is? The clergy sort of have that after Easter. I mean, we have it after Christmas too like everyone else, but we also have it after Easter. Even though everything else goes back to normal right away, it’s strangely shocking for us that it's right back to business. Back to the usual routine.
But of course it is. Easter’s over, back to work. Which was EVEN the case, it appears, for the disciples. Because in the passage from the gospel of John that we just heard, that’s basically what they’re doing.
Easter’s over – Jesus rose, they saw him, they rejoiced – and now, after a couple of weeks of sort of limbo-time in the Upper Room, it’s back to the old routine. “So I guess I’ll go fishing,” Peter says. And the rest of them shrug. “I guess we’ll go with you.”
And so out they go, back to the Sea of Galilee, they haul out their boat, they haul out their nets, and they’re right back to where they were before any of it happened. Before Jesus had risen, before he was crucified, before they followed him, before they even MET him.
Back out in their boats to do what they’d always done for an entire lifetime – not just BEFORE any of it happened, but as though it never had. They’d always been fishermen, there’d been this sort of blip on the screen, so now they’re back to being fishermen.
It’s kind of like they sort of… pick up where’d they’d left off. Not that it’s easy for them to put aside what they’ve experienced in the last few years, in the following of Jesus on the road, in their time of discipleship, in his having risen – but what else are they supposed to do? It happened, it was meaningful, it’s done. Time to go back to fishing. Right?
Not so fast, Jesus says. Okay, he doesn’t actually say that. What he DOES say, from the shore of the Sea of Galilee – even though the disciples don’t realize it’s him when he’s saying it – is actually (if they’d happened to be thinking about it) quite familiar.
Because it’s exactly the same thing he said way back when he first called them to be disciples. When they were also out fishing. “You’re not catching anything, are you,” he calls out to them from the shore. “Try the other side of the boat!”
So they do. And just like the first time, there’s an enormous catch, and just like the first time they realize it’s him. And they can’t get to the shore fast enough. Although Peter at least stops to put his clothes back on because he's inexplicably naked. But once they’ve all arrived?
“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus tells them. And they sit down around the campfire he’s built, and they cook the fish, and he passes around a loaf of bread, and then he makes it absolutely clear.
You can’t just go back, like it never happened. “Do you love me?” he asks Peter. “Then feed my sheep.”
You can’t just go back, like it never happened. Back to fishing, back to the same old same old, like it never happened. It happened – the disciples have been changed by what they experienced. Now they have to move forward to live, changed. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks Peter. “Then take care of my lambs.” You can’t go back to just fishing.
I think we’re in a moment. Collectively, I mean, as a human family.
Because some of us, individually, may well be in our own moment. In which everything’s changed and we know we can’t go back and like the disciples we’re standing on the beach looking back at those nets without one sweet clue what we’re meant to do next –
But I think we’re in a moment collectively too, as a human family.
When we know that what we’ve experienced in the past two years, and what we're still seeing now, and what we've learned about the human capacity for caring, and about what actually ultimately matters, is NOT just a blip on the screen, and CAN’T just be ignored, and WON’T stop badgering us with its insistence and its urgency, allowing us to just go back like it wasn’t meaningful to the ordinary routine of what we’ve always done.
If it seems extraordinary to us that the disciples could just go back to fishing after the events of Easter, and didn’t they notice the majesty of what happened?, I think in many ways it's equally extraordinary for US to simply subside into "back to normal" when we were there and we saw the revelation of the possible --
when however briefly, like Jesus, those we cared about MOST as a community were those most vulnerable, those doing undervalued but essential work, those who couldn't GET work, and those one rent-hike away from living in tents.
We called it a state of emergency, and like Jesus we made their well-being our collective priority. We submitted to protective restrictions and lined up around the block for rapid testing. We secured higher wages for essential workers, the covid-premiums. We secured a guaranteed livable income in CERB. We enforced housing security by preventing rent-hikes and renovictions --
All these things that could never happen, that we didn't think were possible, that it didn't occur to us were possible. And new patterns too – we noticed isolation and tried to mitigate it, for ourselves and others. We distilled our wants into needs, and dared to make changes or try new things. And throughout, we kept remembering and didn't forget that whatever this was like for US, it was like that for others too, and maybe worse. And we wouldn't put up with cracks through which people might falling.
And in all these ways we got closer than I think we've ever been in my lifetime to actually embodying Jesus' call to make the least of these, our brothers and sisters, the ones whose well-being was most important to ensure.
And didn't we notice the majesty of that? The Godness and Goodness and resurrection power of that? Honestly, I think we did.
So if it seems extraordinary to us that the disciples could just go back to fishing after the events of Easter, well here we are too, just subsiding into "back to normal".
But Jesus is standing on the beach and shouting at the disciples and shouting at us too --to stop already with the fishing, to stop already with the "back to normal". To come have breakfast – and listen to him.
Because he has something he wants them, he wants us, to hear. Do you love me? he asks. Then feed my sheep. Do you love me? Then take care of my lambs.
I think we’re in a moment. We’re on the beach and the water’s rising. And rising. And rising. And ahh, the disciples might say, more money to be made from fishing! But we're actually still meant to be caring about who's drowning.
And this is an imperative – this is a command. Do you love me? Jesus asks them. Then show me. Take care of my lambs. Show me what you've learned, what you've seen is possible.
Is it going to need an enormous decisive shift in how we use and share our resources and distribute our wealth? Yes it is. Take care of my sheep. Is it going to need an enormous decisive shift in our priorities and our systems and how and where we spend our money? Yes it is. Take care of my lambs. Is it going to turn everything upside down? Yes it is. Take care of my sheep.
There’s no more room for same old. Do you love me, Jesus asks us. Show me.