The following post is taken from a sermon given on Sunday, 10th April 2016, ‘Breakfast with Jesus’ John 21:1-14
I love that word ‘again’. “Jesus appeared… again”.
I remember Rob Frost talking of a holiday in remote highland Scotland.
“They were lovely, hospitable folk, but it was like living in the past”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Do you want milk on your porridge?” – “Yes please” – “There’s a cow in the field”
“Tea?” – “yes please” – “Here’s a billy can, the stream’s behind the house.”
“Honey on your toast?” – “Yes pl… err no thanks!”
He said, “living like its 1650 is OK for a few hours, but the novelty soon wore off.
‘Again’s’ are important. Times when Jesus comes again.
How wonderful when we can remember the first time when Jesus came to us, drew near, when we became aware of his love for us, when we offered our lives to him and the service of God’s kingdom. You can call it conversion, being born again, being saved, seeing the light, I don’t mind.
But how equally important that there are times when Jesus comes to us again.
Because faith is a living thing.
It begins with a step of faith but it must result in a walk of life.
When I worked at Cliff College, one of our Methodist training institutions, we encouraged lots of testimonies. We perhaps ought to have more testimonies here?
I confess that I find some testimonies more encouraging and interesting than others. Testimonies that begin “I met the Lord in 1976” – and the story ends in 1976 – bore me a little.
How much more vital is the person who testifies to what happened last week, how the Lord gave peace, or healing, or safety or blessing – when Jesus came again, and faith became currently real rather than historically remembered.
I’ve been married 36 years (yes, I know, she deserves a medal!). Since then we’ve have changed shape, clothes, the food we eat, the appliances we surround ourselves with, the cars we drive, and the places we go on holiday.
Each area of our life has seen huge change – except, for so many of us, in the realm of our faith, where we are living on what we received so long ago….
Is it time that you experienced the risen Jesus again?
Because I’ve got good news for you. Jesus is longing to meet you again, and renew you.
Back to the passage, note where these disciples are. By the sea of Galilee.
What on earth are they doing up there?
They’ve gone back!
These disciples, many of them once fishermen – but called by Jesus to be fishers of men – have gone back to trying to catch fish. They’re like so many of us. We’ve been called to follow Christ. We profess to be his. We have a gospel to proclaim, we have a mission to fulfil, we have a saviour to live for.
But we keep looking over our shoulders.
You sometimes heard it in the testimonies I talked about.
“I did all sorts you shouldn’t do. What a sinner I was.” “And then I became a Christian!”
And they make the sinning sound so much more attractive than the following!
Let me tell you that If you are called by the Lord, and you flirt with going back to ‘life like it was before’ you are doomed to disappointment.
You will be miserable with the things that once satisfied you.
You will not be the same, and what you try to return to will not be the same.
Jesus effectively says ‘Why are you trying to catch fish when I’ve called you to catch men?’ It won’t work.
Sometimes we’re tempted to give up on our discipleship of Jesus. The disciples were at this point, I think. Here we catch another sign of their lost-ness.
Remember I told you to imagine how something is said? How does Peter say “I’m going out to fish”?
I see him pacing up and down in the midst of a group of bewildered and confused men.
“Oh, I’m going fishing!”
“We’ll come with you” (as in, we don’t know what else to do.)
Have you given your life, and then in subtle ways taken it back?
Perhaps today Jesus is calling you to be obedient to what he has called you to be. Today can you hear him come to you and say, follow me…. Again?
So, Peter the ex fisherman tries to go back to how life was before Jesus. He is, after all, a master fisherman, so he puts the boat out, he travels to waters he knows well, he puts the nets down and he catches…. nothing. All night. Nothing. And about dawn, across the water, comes an unknown voice, “Friends’ it said in our translation, but it also hints at ‘little ones’ or ‘children’ – immature ones. “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
Now, how do you imagine the disciples say “No”.
Well, no actually, terribly poor do, never known a night like it….
“Well” says the voice, “put the net down at the other side and you will find some.”
It’s amazing that Peter does this. What are you like when people tell you how to do something you think you’re good at?
“Listen here, sunshine. I don’t know who you are but I’ve been fishing these waters man and boy all my life. I know where the fish are, now just keep your opinions to yourself and clear off.”
That would be more likely.
But Peter does as the voice tells him, which in fishing terms isn’t good practice, because there was no rigging on one side to help pull the net back into the boat – which is likely why they have to drag the net ashore to empty it.
Now what’s all this about? What is John telling us?
That being obedient to Jesus is always fruitful.
That our efforts will be fruitless without the Lord.
Even if we are experienced or talented at something.
You see Peter had to bring the things he knows best under the Lordship of Jesus. Most of us are well able to offer to God those things we can’t do, or cope with, but we have a tendency to keep back from God – sometimes unintentionally – our gifts and talents.
What was it Charles Wesley wrote? “My talents gifts and graces Lord, into they blessed hands receive.”
Peter, the master fisherman has to give to Christ what he feels he has mastered to the master, before it really brings forth fruit.
What do you have to give?
So they put the nets in over the wrong side of the boat and the catch is fantastic. The net is full to bursting.
And Peter suddenly realises. The light bulb moment. The point of revelation.
“It is the Lord”, and Peter dives into the water and heads for the shore.
I want simply to pose a simple question: when in your life you realise ‘it is the Lord’, which direction do you go?
Away from Jesus or towards him?
Jonah, for example, runs away from God.
The story of Jonah is not so much about a big fish, but more about the internal spiritual problems Jonah has coming to grips with God’s call and God’s grace.
He hears God’s call – and he knows “it is the Lord” – and he boards a ship in the opposite direction – as far from God as possible.
Now what about Peter? Peter who failed Jesus. Peter who denied Jesus – repeatedly. Was he still wracked with a deep sense of failure and betrayal. I think so, that is in part why he’s here, by the lakeside.
So when he hears John say “it is the Lord” bless him, Peter runs towards Jesus.
How hard it is to face someone you have wronged.
Think for a moment of a person you fell you have disappointed, or conned, or neglected. The person you said you would ring up – and didn’t; write to – and didn’t; go visit – and didn’t.
So when they ring you, or you see them coming down the road which way do you want to go? Do you dive into a café, or go down another aisle in the supermarket?
So notice this.
The fact that Peter heads towards Jesus tells us still more about Jesus than it does about Peter.
It tells us that in spite of all his sense of guilt and failure Peter knows deep inside that Jesus is someone to whom you can turn again, no matter what the circumstance.
Because Jesus is full of grace, compassion, understanding, forgiveness.
Do you need grace, compassion, understanding, forgiveness? A new start?
In your life when you become aware “it is the Lord” how does your spiritual body language react? Do you shrink back? Is your sense of failure a barrier? Or like Peter do you realise the only way forward is to head towards Jesus.
Remember another great line from Charles Wesley: “and my heart is does dance at the sound of his name.”
You can turn and head towards Jesus this morning.
One of the characteristics of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances is his desire to feed people. The road to Emmaus is another example. It is then that those 2 dear Christians realise it is the risen Jesus.
Here too eating is a symbol of restored fellowship.
It is beside a charcoal fire that Peter has denied his Lord, and it is beside a charcoal fire that Jesus offers food for fellowship. To accept it is to accept Jesus’ offer of restoration.
Bring some of the fish you have just caught, says Jesus. Come and have breakfast.
Do you let Jesus feed you, or are you on a spiritual hunger strike?
From what we know of Peter he was quite stubborn. “You won’t wash my feet.” He says on one occasion.
And in the days before the crucifixion, “others may leave and desert you, but I won’t.”
So you can imagine him here saying something like, “feed the others first, Lord. I’m not very hungry… If there’s anything left, I’ll have it in a while…..”
And he knows if he is to have strength for the journey of pilgrimage he must receive all the Lord gives him.
Jesus has never let anyone go hungry who truly hungers after him, and seeks strength to live life in obedience to his will.
“Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”
So, brothers and sisters,
How long is it since Jesus came ‘again’?
It can be today.
Have you given your life, and then taken it back?
Have you gone back to live like it was before-and failed miserably.
He is just a prayer away.
Have you brought under his lordship what you feel most secure, and competent about? Do you hide yourself behind your gifts, when they need to be his gifts?
He will transform you again if you ask him.
When God does call to you, how do you react? Do you turn towards him or away from him?
Because, whatever, he will receive you.
Do you let Christ feed you with himself? Or are you still stubborn.
He offers himself to you as Saviour and Lord, again, today.
© Revd Dr Martyn Atkins 2016
Listen back to this sermon here.