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Easter 3C Sermon
John 21: 1-19, Acts 9: 1-20

April 10, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

John mentions a little detail in this Gospel reading in order to take his hearers or readers back to one of the first events in Jesus’ adult life. I must admit, until a Biblical commentator brought it to my attention, I had skimmed over it the many, many times I read this passage; now that I see it, I cannot help but wonder how I missed it. John describes one of the disciples who go fishing with Simon Peter as, “Nathanael of Cana in Galilee.” The reason he mentions this is not so that we get an idea of where Nathanael came from, but bring back to mind the very first miracle that Jesus performed in the second chapter of John’s gospel, when he turned water into wine at the wedding feast. We heard that story way back in January, during the season of Epiphany. It was the first of seven signs (or miracles) of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel, pointing to something about Jesus and God. And if you remember my comments about that sign, the thing that it points to is the abundance that is present when Jesus blesses us with his presence. In a time and place where otherwise there would be rationing and limits, Jesus brings with him abundance and freedom to enjoy all of the goodness of God’s kingdom.

Along the way there have been other signs, including the feeding of 5,000 men and countless women and children with only three loaves of bread and two fish. But in this story of Jesus appearing to his disciples on a beach after he was raised from the dead, we are taken back to the beginning; to that first sign of Jesus in John which is now connected to the seventh and final sign, which is the resurrection of Jesus. After he is raised, he appears to his disciples many times, this being the third. After they spend the entire night fishing, they end up catching absolutely nothing; their nets are empty. Jesus sees them from the shore and says, “Children, you have no fish, have you? Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” Since they probably thought they had nothing to lose, they do as this mysterious figure tells them, even though it makes little sense, since a boat drifts and fish swim all over the place, and there wouldn’t be much difference between throwing the nets out on the right side or the left of their little fishing boat. The abundance of fish that they haul in is almost enough to break the net. They dragged the net full of fish – 153 of them – to shore, and have breakfast with Jesus.

By mentioning Cana, we are reminded of the first time Jesus provided an abundance of wine when it had run out; and in this story, we witness an abundance of fish when they had gone all night without catching even one; and as we are reminded, we live in a moment of promise: that life after the resurrection continues in God’s abundance!
We cannot help but know that John is talking about more than just having enough to eat or drink when we recalls these miracles about abundance. Peter puts on some clothes and dives into the water in order to get to Jesus quickly. There is a charcoal fire there, and they all have breakfast; then something amazing happens. In the abundance of grace which should truly blow our minds, Jesus gives Peter three opportunities to recant his denials on the night of his arrest and trial. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, and Peter affirms all three times that indeed he does. And then, Jesus gives Peter a commissioning: feed and tend my sheep. In the abundance of Jesus’ love and mercy, all is forgiven for Peter. He now has a new beginning, and he makes the most of it, as we all know.

Saul experienced that abundant grace as well. Being one who was feared for heading up the arrest and stoning of Stephen and others who followed The Way of Christ as Messiah, Saul had much to fear when he was knocked off the horse on the Damascus Road and blinded. When he heard Jesus’ voice speak to him, accusing him not of persecuting his followers but of persecuting HIM, Saul must have assumed that his life was over. But Jesus sent Ananias to him, and Ananias (reluctantly, at first) came to Saul and called him, “brother.”

Jesus calls the disciples, “children” from the shore; Ananias calls Saul, “brother” in his blindness. These terms put those being addressed at ease – they encouraged them to know that they could trust the ones who were there to share this abundant grace with them. Saul would be renamed Paul, and he and Peter would be the leaders in the Christian Church in the first century, spreading the gospel among Jews and Gentiles all over the known world of the day. These two men, flawed, sinful though they may have been, were loved and encouraged by the same Lord that they either denied or persecuted, and their lives were filled with abundance which they spread wherever they went.

I would venture to say that very few of us here have experienced some kind of “Damascus Road” experience like Saul did. Many of us, especially those who grew up in the church and continue to be active in our congregation, were nurtured along the way by people that God sent into our lives. People who called us, “brother” or “sister” or “children.” People like my Pastor when I grew up, Louis Mielke, or my first Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Rayl. People like teachers or professors, other family members or even close friends.

Who has called you, “brother, sister or children” during your life which, in so doing has shared the abundance of the love and mercy of the risen Lord with you? Wherever I have lived while growing up, during higher education years, and wherever I have served, God has placed people like Ananias or even like Jesus himself into my life to share the abundance of God’s grace, forgiveness and encouragement along the way. I would be willing to bet that God has done that for you as well!
In the abundance of life, Jesus is risen and present with us now and always. By reminding us of Nathanael’s hometown of Cana, we are encouraged to reflect upon our whole lives, from the very beginning – especially when we think that joy and peace are getting scarce in life. They are not – they are abundant, and God has placed people and voices who share God’s grace abundantly with us, as he did with Saul and with Peter and the disciples on that early morning beach. As you remember those messengers, keep looking for the Ananias’ of today – expect to be encountered by the risen Lord, and expect to experience abundance of grace, love, peace and joy … even and especially when you think that those things are scarce. Amen.