Scripture: John 21: 1-17
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
Devastated. Distraught. Despondent. Rejected. Hopeless. Shocked. Brokenhearted. My world shattered. I was 14 years old and I was experiencing my very first break-up. I remember the event so vividly. It was a Saturday night, head buried in a pillow, I cried and cried. My heart swollen with grief. I felt inadequate, insecure, meager, small, insufficient, less than. I didn’t know what to do with myself. And my mother sat down on the couch next to me, rubbed my back and said, “Honey, I am so sorry. I know it hurts. But the good news is there are other fish in the sea.” Of course, I didn’t believe her at the time, but she was right there were other fish in the sea.
In our scripture passage this morning, we meet the disciples who were devastated, distraught, hurting, brokenhearted, plunging into deep despair. It happened sometime after the first Easter, no one knows when exactly, but long enough for the disciples to have left Jerusalem and made the long journey back to Galilee, their home. It seemed like the right place to go since their life with Jesus had now ended. John says there were 7 of them which means that the 12 disciples were already coming apart at the seams, some of them going one direction while the others went another. Their time with Jesus had been powerful, but he is gone now. It is time to get on with life.
“Let’s get back to normal, get on with it, get back to business.” They go back to fishing; they go back to the only thing they know how to do without him.
They remembered the last time they had gone fishing; it had been three years ago. Jesus came by and said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they did. They dropped their nets and followed him. They should have known better than to have believed it, to have staked their lives on something that would come to such a devastating ending. They should have known that it was just false hope, a “big fish” story. It was all over now.
And so they fish all night long without catching a single thing. Time after time their nets come up empty, a perfect match for their empty hearts. They feel inadequate, insecure, small, meager, insufficient, less than. It didn’t feel like there were any other fish in the sea.
There are times in our lives when we feel inadequate, insecure, small, meager, insufficient, less than. Times we are devastated and we plunge into deep despair. Times when it feels as though we have nothing to live for…our lives feel as though they have been ripped into shreds, maybe our marriage is in shambles, our families are fragmented, our finances are slashed, our faith is torn apart, and we can’t seem to find our way to wholeness again.
And if you are in that place today, I want to encourage you to not give up. You see, there is more to your life than you could possibly know; there is more to your song than you have ever sung; there is more to your story than you have ever written. Despair, heartache, devastation…that is only half of the story, but there’s another half to the story and it is this other half in which we build our entire faith upon. The other half is a story of exceedingly good news.
The disciples were in a fog early in the morning on that beach. They were devastated, distraught, hurting; they felt empty without their Jesus. And then…and then a voice…”Have you caught any fish?” It’s a typical question that people ask fishermen, “Did you catch anything?” And the answer is pretty typical of fisherman as well, “No, not much happening out there.” Then, says the stranger, “Cast your nets on the other side”. And so they cast their nets on the other side of the boat, as Jesus had instructed, and Bingo, they catch a net full of 153 fish to be exact, not 12, not 24, not 99, but 153. Holy Mackerel!
Then John says, “It is the Lord. It’s got to be the Lord. He’s the only person who can fish like that.” Now why 153? Well, it may be literally 153 or it may be a symbolic. In that day and age the people believed that there were 153 known species of fish and so catching all of the known species of fish is like preaching to all the world. Remember last week Tim preached “Go and make disciples in all the world.” Interestingly, the boat is a metaphor for the church in a temptuous sea. Church has always used the ship as a metaphor for the church. In fact you are sitting in apart of the church which is called a “nave”, which is Latin for ship. Yes, Jesus says get in the boat, be the ship and I will be with you guiding you in your discipleship. As Jesus says at the end of Matthew, “Lo, I will be with you always.” (Mark Trotter sermon)
Yes, 153 signifies abundance, fullness, overwhelming success; and these are big fish. The one side of the boat is emptiness, scarcity, defeat, failure, insufficiency. There is no Jesus, no hope, no joy, no light. The other side represents abundance, fullness, joyfulness, possibilities. That is the right side of the boat. That is life with Jesus. One moment it looks hopeless to you and the next you see possibilities you never saw before. One moment your problems look too big to deal with and the next you discover handles on them you never knew were there before. One moment the net looks empty and the next moment it is overflowing. One moment feels like a dead end, the next moment is a new beginning.
That is the first part of the story, which we can call the kettle of fish. But there is a second part which is called the charcoal fire. It is important to notice the detail of this passage. It is no ordinary fire; it is specifically a charcoal fire. Last time we read about a charcoal fire, it was outside the chambers of Caiaphas, the high priest, Jesus was inside being questioned. Soldiers are inside warming themselves by the charcoal fire. Peter is lurking in the shadows, but the light from the fire illuminates his face and they recognize him. They ask him, “Are you not a disciple of Jesus?” They ask 3 times and 3 times he denies his Lord by the fire. For Peter, just the sight of a charcoal fire would bring back that dreadful memory. (Mark Trotter sermon)
So Jesus is on the shore by a charcoal fire. Peter bounds out of the boat excited to see his Lord, but he stops dead in his tracks when he sees the charcoal fire. Jesus says, “Come and have breakfast.” And he waits for them cooking fish over the charcoal fire on the beach. He is not serving supper this time. That was the last meal of their old life together. This is the first meal of their new life together – a resurrection breakfast, prepared by the only one who knows the recipe.
Over breakfast, Jesus asks Peter 3 times, “Peter, do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” “Yes, oh yes, you know that I do,” says Peter. Three times Peter denies Jesus around a charcoal fire. Now 3 times Jesus forgives Peter around the charcoal fire. A threefold betrayal is now answered by a threefold affirmation. Jesus had predicted Peter’s failure over dinner, now he chooses to restore Peter over breakfast. Three times denied. Three times invited to love again. In three days Jesus rose from the dead. Peter has risen from the dead too. It’s no longer the eve of the crucifixion – it’s the morning of the resurrection. It was a new beginning for Peter. Peter now has a future ahead of him.
There are times when we are in despair; we feel abandoned, alone, weak, despondent, hopeless. And we need our Jesus who comes along and restores our lives and says, “Cast your nets on the other side”… that is, there is abundance, fullness, and new beginnings just waiting for us.
It is a miracle really. You see, there is more to our lives than we could possibly know; more to our song than we have ever sung; more to our story than we have written. That is the good news of our faith. A promise land awaits after years in the wilderness; a resurrection follows the crucifixion; the joy of Easter Sunday far outweighs the despair of Good Friday.
You have gone through some challenging experiences, you don’t know how you made it through, but you know who got you through. You know who brought you from scarcity to abundance; from pain to promise; from dead ends to new beginnings. You may not know how, but you know who. Praise God for the Risen Christ who provides sun on our face, love in our heart, fish in our nets, and a banquet for our souls!