Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sermon; Easter 3C; John 21:1-19

“So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.”

The first part of this chapter, vv. 1-11, is the final fishing story of the gospels.  Jesus has died.  The disciples aren't sure about the resurrection.  They decide to get on with their lives and do what they do best – fish.

So these seven men get into a fishing boat and spend all night out on the water, but they catch nothing until the following morning when Jesus tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat.  They do as he says and they end up catching so many fish that they can't bring the nets into the boat.  They realize it is Jesus standing on the shore, and Peter promptly puts his clothes on and jumps into the water to swim ashore, while the rest follow in the boat, dragging the net behind.  Peter hauls the net ashore where we are told there were 153 fish.

I don't know about you, but I have always found this particular story to be a little ridiculous.  Jesus telling the disciples to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and suddenly making a great catch.  Peter putting on his clothes and jumping into the water.  And the specific number of fish, 153 to be exact.  At first glance, the playfulness of it all doesn't seem to fit John's normal style.  Which is exactly why we need to pay attention to this part of the gospel; because there are some hidden gems in here that do fit John's normal style.

One of the things you need to know about the Gospel of John is its interplay between light and dark.  There are thirteen places where John uses the dark/night motif in his gospel, and this is one of them.  Notice that the disciples spend all night fishing without catching anything; but it's when Jesus appears just after daybreak, in the light, that they catch a boatload of fish (pun intended).  Once again we see that the darkness does not overcome the light.

Another thing you need to know about the Gospel of John is that it is highly symbolic and metaphorical.  So when we hear this story of the disciples fishing on the right side of the boat, and that they caught 153 fish, we need to be aware that John is not telling us a fish story.  And understanding this about this gospel story can lead us to see this whole fishing episode as a metaphor for the church.

The disciples represent the leaders of the church.  By their casting of the net they are dictating the direction the church is going.  The net, therefore, is the church itself.  It is the church, under the direction of its leadership, that looks to draw people to Christ.  You are the disciples.  You are fishers of people.  And this church is your net.  But if we don't follow the guidance of Jesus, if we are not listening to where he is calling us to cast our net, then we will be just as successful as the disciples were while fishing from the wrong side of the boat.

Now I don't know a lot about fishing, but there are a few things that I can probably make a pretty good educated guess at:
1. You can catch more fish with a net than with a line.
2. A net will catch any fish too big to swim through the netting.
3. A net doesn't distinguish between carp, salmon, trout, pike, or catfish.

We need to pay attention to this.  As a church, we can choose to fish with a line or we can choose to fish with a net.  If we choose to fish with a line, then we will spend our time trying to catch just the right kind of fish.  But if we follow the example of today's gospel and fish with a net, then we just may catch all different kinds and types of fish; that is, as long as we are listening to the voice of Jesus.

This, of course, sounds wonderful.  Use a net.  Listen to Jesus.  Be ready to gather in 153 new parishioners.  But if we were to suddenly increase our Sunday attendance by 153, there would be a high level of stress placed on our system.  For starters, where would they all sit?  On a deeper level, it's guaranteed that those 153 people would not be exactly like us.  If we had that sudden influx, would we know what to do with them?  I think we would.  We would offer them a spiritual home where they could learn, grow, and experience the love of God.  And it would be very representative of the Episcopal Church:  one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, we welcome them all.

But probably the most important thing to take away from this story, more important than listening to the voice of Jesus, more important than casting a wide net, more important than welcoming 153 new people into the church, is that the net was not torn.  If we listen to Jesus and fish where he tells us, we may end up with such a large catch that it might be difficult for us to handle.  We may find ourselves with such a rich variety of people that this place will look very different.  And like the disciples struggled with their net, those 153 new people will also cause us to struggle.  But if we have listened to Jesus, if we trust in his guidance, if we understand that this is a place for all people, then our net will not be torn.  This church will not be torn.

Like the disciples, we have entered our post-resurrection lives.  Like the disciples are finding out, that resurrection calls us to live new and different lives.  We have come through Holy Week and the Triduum, but have we been changed?  Are we sill living our lives like we have always lived our lives, fishing in the dark from the wrong side of the boat?

This might be the time for us to really begin listening to Jesus.  This might be the time for us to change how we go about our fishing.  This might be the time we catch 153 new fish.  And if we do, know that there will be struggles, but also know that this net will not be torn.



Lady Anne | 10:13 AM, April 11, 2016  

I think I heard someplace that people believed then that there were 153 species of fish in the world, and this represents bringing the Gospel to all the various types of people out there. I wonder how many countries there were at this time? (Not forgetting that one man's Mede was another man's Persian.)

spookyrach | 3:30 PM, April 11, 2016  

I don't read sermons. Really.

Yet this is probably the third time I've read one of yours.

And learned something.

If this keeps up, I'm liable to break out into all sorts of respectability. :D

Reverend Ref + | 1:21 AM, April 12, 2016  

Oh no . . . I'd hate to go down in history as the guy who led Spooky to respectability.

spookyrach | 12:17 PM, April 12, 2016  

No kidding! Respectability is itchy.

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