Sermon for 04-18-10: “Life’s a Beach, Part 1”

April 22, 2010

Sermon Text: John 21:1-14

[Click here to download a podcast of sermon.]

The following is an original manuscript of the sermon.

Daybreak at the Sea of Galilee.

Does anyone know when it was decided to cancel spring this year? I mean, I know we had a harsh winter, but we didn’t have to go straight to summer, did we? Actually, if we were going to cancel spring, we might have also cancelled pollen! I’m not really complaining much. But just in time for summer, we have today’s scripture. It has two of my favorite activities in the world: hanging out on the beach and grilling! Throw in a boom box playing the Beach Boys, and it’s my idea of heaven! And Jesus is there. And what else do we learn in this text: charcoal really is better than propane because, after all, it’s what Jesus used!

“After these things,” John writes, “Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias”—or Sea of Galilee. What are “these things” that John is referring to? The events related to Easter and the week following that, when Jesus appeared again to the disciples, including Thomas—and offered to show him his hands and side. According to Acts, the resurrected Lord made appearances to the disciples for a period of 40 days, and according to John this was the third of those appearances.

We’re told that seven of the disciples—including at least three former fishermen, Peter, James, and John—are gathered together. Verse 3: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’” Why were they going fishing? Throughout Church history, this question has intrigued scholars and preachers. The consensus opinion has been that the disciples were being disobedient to their Great Commission to go and make disciples—that they were doing something wrong by leaving Jerusalem, returning home to Galilee, and resuming their normal lives.

I actually strongly disagree with that interpretation for several reasons. First, nothing in this chapter suggests that they were doing anything wrong—Jesus doesn’t rebuke them at all. Second, I think that the evangelist is using this event to say something, symbolically, about how we’re supposed to live as the Church. There are clues in the text: These disciples are gathered together: Good things happen when disciples gather in community. Jesus said in Matthew that where two or three are gathered in his, he will be there among them. Christ is present in a special way—even this morning in worship. We are not meant to be Christians by ourselves; we’re meant to be together.

Another clue that John is saying something about the church is in verse 6: “He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.” That word haul, translated elsewhere as “draw,” is used in two other places in John’s gospel, both of which are relate to people being drawn into a saving relationship with God through Christ. This is saying something about the Church’s calling to be “fishers of men,” or people.

This is exactly what the Great Day of Service is about next Saturday: Nearly everything we do as a church ought to be pointing people in the direction of Jesus Christ; everything we do ought to have an evangelistic edge, drawing people to God by the power of the Spirit. Otherwise, we’re wasting our time.

But the thing I want to focus on today is the fact that these disciples—fishermen by trade—had to eat. Right?

I take comfort in knowing that Jesus and the disciples lived in the real world—a world that in many ways might not be too different from the one that you and I live in. Can’t we relate to these disciples? Haven’t many of us had these kinds of “mountaintop” spiritual experiences—maybe on a church retreat or mission trip—and we encounter Jesus in a special way; we feel close to God. And then what happens?

We have to come down from the mountain. We can’t stay there… There’s work to do down in the valley… We have jobs. We have deadlines. We have planes to catch. We have sales calls. We have court dates. We have classes to teach and prepare for. We have school work. We have exams to take and papers to write. We have families to take care of. Some of us even have to study for C.P.A. exams while also having to take care of young children. And we don’t even have time for Facebook anymore! Some of us are pulled in so many different directions all at once that we just don’t feel like we have time to do any one thing very well.

We are busy. We are stressed. And maybe we long to return to a simpler time in our lives—when we had the luxury of being carefree. I certainly feel that pull. I had lunch with a high school friend recently with whom I played in a garage band in high school—in ninth grade. We called ourselves Ox Tongue. He gave me a tape of some original songs that we recorded back then. And I heard the 14-year-old version of myself on that tape—man, I had guitar chops back then, make no mistake!

But mostly I heard the 14-year-old version of myself and wanted to tell that person, “Brent, enjoy this time in your life! It doesn’t last long! Take life easy. Go flirt with girls. Have fun—at least before you enter the world of adult responsibilities, and you don’t have the luxury of spending time in your friend’s basement worrying about what to name your band.” And I think, “I didn’t enjoy that time enough! I didn’t realize how good I had it! Youth is wasted on the young!”

But even that’s a crock, you know? That’s not reality… If I could go back in time, I would find that in its own way life was pretty complicated back then, too—even when I was 14. Our youth today know this. I am not telling you [looking at teenagers in the congregation] that somehow you have it so much easier than adults. Forget that! You’ve got your own stuff to be preoccupied with and stressed out about, and it’s every bit as real as what adults are going through.

No. These disciples weren’t so different from us. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could just stay in that upper room with the resurrected Lord—and get all their deepest questions answered? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could devote themselves completely to prayer and Bible study and evangelism? But they had to eat; they had to find a way to live while they were doing all this work for God’s kingdom.

And today’s scripture tells us that in the midst of the disciples’ work—with its accompanying stress, busy-ness, frustration, and even boredom, Jesus Christ was right there with them! This very ordinary, mundane activity became an opportunity for them to have an encounter with the living God! They hadn’t planned on this. They hadn’t expected this. And look what happened!

There’s a great song by John Lennon called “Beautiful Boy.” Some of you might have first heard it in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus—it’s the song that Mr. Holland performs for his son. There’s a line in it that is often quoted that says, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And that’s true. I would only add that oftentimes God is what happens when we’re busy making other plans; Jesus Christ is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

There’s a British website that facilitates guided prayer that I recommend to help people remember to pray at work or in the midst of their busy day. One of the questions it often asks you in preparation for prayer is, “Do I sense or know that Jesus is my traveling companion?” Isn’t that a great question? Jesus is our “traveling companion,” no matter where we are or what we’re doing. Whether we recognize it or not. When we’re out fighting the wind and the waves, vainly casting our nets, struggling without direction, Jesus is right there—never far away, within ear shot. Just over on the not-too-distant shore. Ever ready to give us what we need.

If only we would recognize Jesus when he shows himself to us! If only we would hear his voice when he calls!

Speaking of calling, many of you know that I was approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry to be an “elder in full connection.” This was in many ways the end of an eight-year process from start to finish—from the moment I began to discern the call into pastoral ministry with the help of pastor mentor to the moment on Monday when I was approved for full ordination. In June, at Annual Conference, the bishop will place his hands on me and ordain me. I called my mom on Monday night, driving home from the Methodist Center at Simpsonwood, where I had been sequestered all day after Board interviews in the morning. I was excited to tell her the big news.

She didn’t quite get how the process works—she’s Baptist, after all. She said, “Oh… I thought you were ordained three years ago.” No, Mom, I was commissioned three years ago! Ordination is a two-part process. Oh, well…

One question I was asked during my Board interviews on Monday was the following: “How will you respond if the Board tells you today that we don’t think you’re ready yet, and you’ll have to wait another year and try again?” This is sort of a cliché question that candidates are supposed to be prepared for. I suppose if you don’t know it’s coming, it could be stressful: “Are you saying I won’t be approved?!” Regardless, it’s a question that ought to be answered with a great deal of tact—diplomacy might be one word for it… There are blunter, more colorful words for these kinds of answers, as you can imagine.

So I was prepared for the question and had even rehearsed an answer. I began by saying something like, “Of course I would be very disappointed, blah-blah-blah, but I would view it as an opportunity for growth as a pastor, blah-blah-blah…” But then something took hold of me. I said, with a passion that surprised myself, “But I’m not going anywhere! I’m not going to give up! God has called me to do this. Nothing changes that. I’m going to do this one way or another.”

In that moment I never felt more convicted about anything.

And Jesus calls every single one of us—not just those of us who are called into pastoral ministry. All of us are called by Jesus to do any number of things. God has given us our unique set of gifts, skills, and abilities, and God wants us to use them in the fulfillment of his mission in this world. Do you feel a sense of mission when you go about your work?

Frederick Buechner put it this way: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” When that thing that we want to do more than anything else happens to be exactly what God wants us to do—look out! I honestly believe that there’s no other way to find true and lasting happiness in this world.

I think it’s no coincidence that three times in this passage John emphasizes the abundance of this catch of fish. It’s more than the disciples could have reasonably hoped for, more than they expected, more than they thought their nets could hold. Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Do you have this kind of life? Do you want it? Jesus is calling you.

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