St. Paul's Lutheran Church
May 5th, 2019
“I Am Gonna Go Fish”
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you, from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our text for today’s message is the Gospel lesson, John 21:1-19.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
Introduction: Waking Up
Have you ever woke from sleep the day after something incredible has happened? In those first few moments when you open your eyes, the events of the previous day begin coming back to you. At first…you are overwhelmed by the feelings of the event (whatever it was), and the possibilities of the day ahead seem endless. But then, as you lay there, things become more and more ordinary. Life happens. The momentous event recedes a bit, and the daily needs begin to overtake your consciousness. It is in that moment that you default to what you know.
The Story: I am Gonna Go Fishing
Life on the road with Jesus was exciting, but it was also very normal. For three years we followed Him, all throughout Galilee and several trips to Jerusalem. we saw amazing things…miraculous things. We also did normal stuff, too. But there always seemed to be a goal, an end, if you will, to the mission, the ministry. Little did we truly know that His hour He spoke of would end in His death! That was a dark day. But then, He manifested Himself to us. First an empty tomb, and then…there He is in a locked room—risen from the dead! He also gave us an incredible mission statement. “I am sending you…” He breathed into us. He gave us peace. He even came back a week later for Thomas.
But then one day soon after…I wake up, and now what? I mean, what do we do now? It’s easy to forget what the mission is in the kingdom of God.
So, I went fishing.
After the events described, some of us went back up to home base, on the Sea of Tiberias. Then, I woke up one morning, not knowing what to do, not knowing where Jesus was, and I said to myself, “I am going fishing.” Cause that’s what I knew. I was staying with some of my co-disciples. There was Thomas, and Nathanael, and the two brothers from Zebedee and a couple others. I told them: I am going to go fishing. So, they said, “Hey…we’ll join you.” So, that’s what we did. That’s what we knew.
We get in our boat, really early, in the middle of the night and we go out. And we caught nothin’! I’m supposed to be this great fishermen, right? Had my own fishing business, and we got skunked! It was embarrassing. What was more, we didn’t bring any provisions. We were so sure we would be able to catch something. Well, we are getting ready to come in, and we see this guy standing on the beach. We didn’t know who it was. He calls out, “Boys! You don’t have anything to eat, do ya?” Almost mocking us! So, we all looked at one another and said, “No!” And then he says, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat!” Now, listen…I know what I’m doing…I grew up on this lake…but I figure, “What the heck!” and so we do it. And it was incredible! It was the biggest catch of fish I’d ever seen! Well, there was this other time, but still. It was miraculous. We had trouble getting the haul into the boat, onto the shore.
Story: Breakfast on the Beach
And then, one of my partners, the one Jesus “loved”, says, “It’s the Lord!” And I look up, and it’s Him. It is my Lord and Savior! So, I’m stripped down for work, and I am dirty and sweaty and grimy, so I put on my coat (I knew I couldn’t appear to the risen Lord in my dirty condition) and I throw myself in and start swimming!
Well, the others take the boat in (we weren’t far off shore) but they were struggling mightily with the catch. And we all get on the beach, and it turns out that He didn’t need any of our fish! He had His own—His own fish and His own bread. He had laid the fish out on a nice charcoal fire (it was cold that morning). But He tells us to bring our fish. So, I go and get the net and I am dragging, drawing this huge catch across the shore. We stop and count ‘em—153 in total! And you know what? Not one single tear in the net. Amazing! He then invites us to have breakfast. Again, it’s the miraculous with the ordinary.
Story: the “Talk”
Now, most of you know what happened the night Jesus was arrested and tried. I denied Him. Three times. And even though I had seen Him since, we hadn’t had the opportunity to really, you know, “talk”. So, once I had gotten on shore, and we were all sitting around the fire and eating, I started to feel very self-conscious about it.
So, after breakfast, Jesus calls me over and He says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” And I said yes I do, and then He says, “Feed my lambs.” Okay. And then a second time, He says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And again, I said you know I do. “Tend my sheep.” And then, for the third time, He says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And that really hurt. Three times He asks me. And then it dawns on me. I felt the shame of that night come flooding back over me. And I said, “Lord, You know everything. You know that I love You.” And He said, “Feed my sheep.”
And in that moment, I remembered waking up that morning…not knowing what to do, or what to say. I was thinking about all the possibilities that lay before me. I went fishing, cause I thought that was all that I knew. But I was wrong. I knew so much more. He had taught me. He had washed my feet. He had breathed on me. He had given me peace, and He had given me authority to forgive and retain sins. He had died for me. And He had risen from the dead for me. And in that moment, I now knew what to do. I felt restored. I was repurposed. I was no longer a fisher of fish…but of men.
He continued, “Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands…” (make arms like on a cross). “And another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. And in that moment I knew. I was awakened to my mission. I knew what I was to do for the Kingdom of God.
The Story Applied: You are the Fish
So, where are you in all of this? You may be sitting here listening this morning and wondering what any of this has to do with you? Well, I’ll tell you.
To do that, I gotta tell you about the fish. The number. It was important that we counted them. Because the number—153—means something. For any Hebrew…or Greek for that matter, numbers have a highly symbolic value. 153 is what is called a “triangular number”. That means that the sum is derived by adding up all the numbers leading up to a certain number. For 153 that number is 17. So 1+2+3 etc. all the way up to 17 equals 153. Cool, huh? And you thought I was just some dumb fisherman from Galilee! But what about 17? What is significant about that number?
Well, the numbers 7 plus 10 make 17. Both of those numbers are considered numbers of wholeness or completion. Very significant. It struck me that day that there were seven of us that went fishing that morning. The seven of us represented the fullness of the apostles—those who witnessed the resurrected Jesus and those commissioned to be the witnesses to the world of all that Jesus said and did. The Apostolic Church! And the number 10? That is the fullness of the fish! Don’t you see? That’s you! All of you. You are the fish in the net! 153 is the sum total of the work of the Kingdom of God in His Church. 153 is the fullness of the people of God. The apostles and the people. And something else about what happened on that beach that morning. Without Jesus, we would not be able to do any of it! He granted us the catch. He brought His own breakfast and fed us. He restored me to Him and set me on my mission. He did it all. He died for all. He lives for all. The work that I do was totally for the sake of and by the power of Jesus Christ and His Spirit.
Story Applied: The Mission of God
There is another way this story matters to you. You remember me waking up and being excited by all that happened but not knowing what to do next? See, I think this is a human condition. It’s so easy, so tempting to forget what we’re supposed to do in God’s Kingdom. My work was unique to me. I was an apostle. And your work is unique to you. I think you Lutherans call this vocation. God has given you all work to do. Sometimes it might seem boring, or mundane, or lacking purpose. But the work in God’s Kingdom is all about where He’s put you and placed you. That’s the thing about vocation—it’s the combination of the ordinary with the miraculous. Are you a mother? Are you a laborer? Are you a teacher? Are you a student? Are you a brother or sister, son or daughter? Are you a retiree? Are you in poor health and others have to carry you now? God has given us all callings, wide and various in His Kingdom. In every diaper changed, in every phone call answered, in every form filed, in every cup of coffee poured…in every act of kindness, in every act of love, when it’s done to serve another, it’s done to serve the Kingdom.
But most of all, our work and lives are to be living witnesses to Jesus. We are to proclaim Him in our labor, and raise up our children to walk in the Lord. And we are to gather together weekly…often…frequently and receive the gifts of the Lord in Word and His Meal. We are to be His fish—the fullness of His kingdom, called and purposed to do His work. And through this continuing work of the Church, other fish are brought in. So we too enter into our daily labor and live in the mission of the Kingdom of God. And the mission happens right where He has put you. It may seem ordinary, it may at times be exciting, it frequently will be hard and thankless. But it at all times is for the other. It’s easy to forget what we’re supposed to be doing in the Kingdom of God. I hope this has reminded you. And everything that we do, He has enabled it to be done. In His name. Amen.