The Sunday Sermon: The Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 14, 2017
Scripture: John 21:1-14
A Strange Appendix: Gone Fishing
So, as we continue our proclamation this morning, through the preaching of the Word, take out your pew bibles and turn to page 115. We don’t do this too often, as a whole congregation. Several of you do it on your own each week, and there are even a few of you who bring your bible with you. If you have done that, find John, chapter 20, verse 30 in your bible. It’s on page 115 in the pew bible. John 20:30, and following. Listen to this:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
That’s beautiful, yes? Two verses that leave no doubt that John’s written Gospel is finished. It’s not written here, but you can hear it “clear as a bell” in your ears: The End. You can almost see the script being written across the page. What a great ending. Except … it’s not.
Just when it sounds as if it’s all over, there is yet one more chapter, on more story, like a play when the curtain comes down, but an actor steps forward to deliver an epilogue. So …
Listen for the Word of God from the first part of this “Strange Appendix.” Read John 21:1-14 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
A Strange Appendix (and my apologies to anyone who is disappointed after reading the sermon title that this isn’t a message about the four inch long protrusion at the junction of the small and large intestine located in the lower right abdomen. It’s that appendix). No, the sermon title refers to the supplemental material at the end of the Gospel of John, the protrusion known as chapter twenty-one.
Someone other than the author of the first twenty chapters of John wrote chapter twenty-one. That’s pretty universally agreed upon. There are major differences in vocabulary and style. In verse five, the word we heard translated as “children” (Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?”) is apparently more literally translated “lads.” That’s a word, a Greek word, that’s not used anywhere else in the Gospel of John. As in, Jesus said to them, “Lads! Yuh have nay fish, have you?”
There are also clear changes in rhetorical style and theological imagery. It is pretty clear that this is an addendum, an epilogue, an appendix. Almost certainly designed to further illuminate the relation of Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” whom we remember most recently from the empty tomb narrative, but who is a “character” throughout John’s Gospel. But …
The fact that someone other than John most likely composed this epilogue doesn’t lessen its insights and its instructions. And we’re going spend time on the shore with Jesus and seven of his disciples (count ‘em up in verse two – five of them named and two of them not). Today, we break fast with Jesus on the Sea of Tiberius. A strange … well, you get it.
Pray with me …
So, I want us to continue this way: What have all of you, any of you, been doing since Easter morning, Easter Sunday? We’ve gathered back here three time. We sat in the locked room with the disciples – most of them, the Sunday after Easter. And we got back together with those disciples last week, a gathering that included Thomas, this time. And last week, through the reflections that Brandon’s sermon evoked, we sat with bridesmaids – some prepared and some not – waiting for a return. But what else? What have you been doing since Easter morning in your lives outside this church, this sanctuary? What’s been happening? (Larry? Vivien? Dan?)
It’s a little “tricky” to open up this question and actually ask for, and hear, responses. But … yea … the most honest answer is “we’ve gotten back to our lives as we’ve arranged them,” or as we’re trying desperately to arrange them. So have the disciples in chapter twenty-one. This fact alone may indicate a different author has written this addendum. The author of the first twenty chapters wants his disciples, and us as readers, to receive the final blessing from Jesus – Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe – and be ready from that point on, from this point on, to “hear” the Gospel Word he has written so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing (by hearing from now on) we may have life in his name.
But here, in this strange appendix, another story begins that has the disciples “back at their lives.” We’re not really sure if they’re listening anymore. They’ve gone fishing (there’s your subtitle). We’ve talked about this a bit over the last few weeks. The last week of Jesus’ life was overwhelming for the disciples that were with him. The emotional high of their entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Boy, that seems like ages ago, already, doesn’t it?); the extraordinary events in the Temple; a Passover meal unlike any other; an intense experience in the Garden of Gethsemane; an unexpected betrayal, an armed arrest; a series of denials; a mock trial; brutal lashings; a jeering mob, and; a bloody execution. Surely the disciples were numb and crushed.
And then, an emotional overload of another sort: news of an empty tomb and resurrection experiences. Believe what you need to believe about any of this, but events like these are not only overwhelming, they are life-changing. They turned out to be world-changing. Surely, in the aftermath of all that has happened, the disciples needed some time and emotional space to figure all this out. So, in verse three of our epilogue, Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” (Right, Don?!) “I’m going fishing.” And the other six said, “We’ll go with you.”
Just like us. Just like most human beings when we respond to emotional overload. We go back to “the lives we know,” the lives (or those parts of our lives) that comfort us and console us and convince us that we have a purpose and a point to life. Jobs, yes, but friends … spouses … children … church. In fact, we really have to “get back to that.” The disciples had a practical reason for going fishing. That’s how many of them made their living, got to eat, and fed their families. So, this is not only emotionally required, it’s practically sensible.
Our strange appendix, chapter twenty-one gives us all permission to take the challenging events of Palm Sunday and Holy Week, and the profound experiences of Easter morning and the weeks that followed, and set them aside in order to get back to the real world, to real life, to “bread and butter” issues and responsibilities. I mean, we have to – emotionally and practically. However …
Just as we’re getting comfortable with our fishing boat, bobbing in the water, lulling us to asleep with the sounds of the waves lapping on the sides and the murmur of voices as a few speak of mundane day-to-day routines, daybreak comes again – and something reminds us that things aren’t the same as before. Our return to our former lives and trades, much needed – even required, sets us up to realize that, in some powerful way, there is no longer any escape from Love, and call, from the hope and promise that we have been given. No matter where we go or what we do, how far we travel or how hard we try now, “Jesus is standing on the beach” for us. Wherever we go now, God is with us. The ordinary and routine can no longer be ordinary and routine. For even as we flee to our familiar trade, to our offices or to our classrooms, to our worksites or to our living rooms; even to the malls or the gardens or the vacation lodges in our lives, God is with us. “Jesus” is there, waiting to serve and nourish us and calling us to serve and nourish the world.
Everything is becoming normal again. Allow that. But nothing is the same. Believe that.
Now, we all know from sermons past that this passage contains a lot more theology and Christology and ecclesiology than I’m engaging this morning – a lot more instruction about who and how God and Christ are for us and about who and how we are as a church because of them. Other sermons have included, or could include insights:
About how there are “no fish” without Jesus, or
About the Night being over, and a New Day arriving, or
About how we disciples are still struggling to recognize Christ., or how Jesus is recognized in the shared-meal, or
About how it’s not enough to simply “recognize” Jesus (as the beloved disciple did), we must act, “go to him” (as Peter did) and follow.
Those are sermons for next time we read John twenty-one, verses one to fourteen. But for this morning, for this week and this year. This is our message, our reminder: Nothing is as it was for us. That doesn’t mean that we’ve changed careers, or dropped out of school, or given up our retirement. It doesn’t mean that we no longer spend time with our families, or get together with our friends, or make new acquaintances. It means precisely that we have gone back to those careers, that school and our lives; and we continue to spend time with family and friends, making even more friends, in “everyday ways” and in new ways. Nothing is as it was for us. For in us, now, a new light shines, and the darkness, any darkness, anywhere, will not … what? Ever overcome it.
There’s nothing crazy-different about going back to being a Federal Attorney. Except now, we must do it with the eyes of Christ, seeing the stranger, the foreigner, the prisoner through eyes of love and compassion. There’s not much tangibly-changed in the way we go back to school to learn or to teach or to administrate, except now we do it with the heart of Christ, understanding that there are challenges and obstacles that many of our fellow students or colleagues face that we can’t even imagine. There’s nothing altered in how we go fishing now, or get together for birthday lunches, or monthly card games, except now we do it with the life of Christ, opening fully to creation and to one another.
The curtain has come down on John’s Gospel, his narrative. “The End” of the story of the life of the historical Jesus of Nazareth was written in chapter twenty. But our “Strange Appendix,” chapter twenty-one reminds us that the real-life drama of God-with-us continues, with us; in us; through us. So …
Get back to your day-to-day, “go fishing,” again. But look up at the horizon every once in a while and realize … nothing is the same. Love is standing, calling, feeding, and leading our lives now. Let us love the world no less.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / May 14, 2017