Preached: April 18, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus is John 21
After these things Jesus again showed himself to the disciples by the sea of Tiberias. He did it in this way:
Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of the disciples were together. Simon Peter says to them, “I'm going fishing.” They say to him, “We're also coming with you.” They went and got in the boat. That night they caught nothing.
When it was already early morning, Jesus stood on the shore; nevertheless, the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus says to them, “Fellows, you don't have any fish, do you?” They answered him, “No.”
He said to them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they did, and they were not able to draw it in any longer because of the number of fish. Then that disciple, whom Jesus loved, says to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So after hearing that it was the Lord, Simon Peter tied his outer cloak around himself (for he had taken it off), and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came with the little boat, dragging the net of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about three hundred feet.
Then when they got out on land, they say a charcoal fire there and fish and bread lying on it. Jesus says to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have caught now.” So Simon Peter went and drew onto the land the net filled with 153 large fish. Even though there were so many, the net didn't tear.
Jesus says to them, “Come, have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared to question him: “Who are you?” knowing it was the Lord. Jesus comes, takes the bread, and gives it to them, and does the same with the fish. This was already the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after rising from the dead. (John 21:1-14)
This is the Word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
All this waiting was taking too long. Hadn't the angel told the women: “Tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you'” (Mark 16:7 NIV)? Here they were. But now what?
And if you or I had been one of them, what kind of nervous apprehension would have paced relentlessly in our hearts? If you were Peter, who had denied Jesus three times (John 18:17, 25-27), what was he going to say to you? Thomas had doubted the testimony of the other disciples, dismissing them as fools or liars. He had demanded to touch Jesus himself (John 20:25). He still would be blinded by unbelief, if Jesus had not appeared again a week after Easter inviting him to touch his wounds (John 20:27). Three years earlier Nathanael had boldly declared that Jesus was the Son of God, the King of the Jews (John 1:49). He had abandoned his God and King in the Garden of Gethsemane. And what about James and John, those sons of Zebedee? They had wanted to sit at Jesus' right and left in his kingdom and claimed they could drink his cup with him (Mark 10:35-39). But they couldn't even stay awake to pray with him in that hour of darkness (Matthew 26:37-44), and then they fled like the others (Matthew 26:56).
“Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 26 NIV), Jesus had said on both of those Sunday nights when he had appeared to their group before. Peace with God. That's why he had died. To pay for even their despicable sins. To reconcile them to God through his sacrifice. The Lamb of God slaughtered for them.
But even with such divine forgiveness, how could they ever be suitable witnesses for Jesus? After three years of around-the-clock training, seven days a week, they had failed so miserably. Yes, Easter night Jesus had again said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21 NIV). But Jesus had never failed in any part of the mission the Father sent him to this earth to accomplish. They had already messed up so many times. How could Jesus send ever out screw-ups like them?
So Peter has to be doing something. “I'm going fishing.” The others join him. What a wasted night! Their nets caught nothing. Now this early-morning stranger tells them to throw the net on the right side. It's the wrong time, the wrong place, and what difference does the side of the boat make? But what's to lose? It's something to do. And so many fish fill the net that they can't get it back into the boat!
Only once before had something like this happened to them. Early in his ministry, Jesus had been teaching the crowds, who were on the shore, from Simon Peter's boat on this same lake. After he had finished, he told Peter to put out into deep water and let down his nets for a catch. He caught so many fish that the nets began to break. He signaled his partners, James and John, Zebedee's sons, in the other boat to help bring it in. Both boats began to sink since they were so full (Luke 5:1-7).
At that time as well Peter felt his complete unworthiness in the presence of Jesus. He falls at Jesus' knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8 NIV). But Jesus says, “Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men” (Luke 5:10 NIV).
Now since the same Jesus had done the same miracle on the same lake, might those same words still apply, even now -- even after what he had done? Yes, they most certainly did! “Don't be afraid. Rather, be at peace. Your sins are forgiven. And yes, I am still sending you to catch men. My mission for you has not changed. Rather than fishermen, you will be fishers of men.” And if Peter missed the meaning of the miracle, Jesus made it very clear a little while later, when he tells Peter three times, “Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17 NIV). Jesus sends out screw-ups -- even screw-ups like Peter, who denied him three times, and like the other disciples.
And he sends out you and me. How often haven't I screwed-up? Failing to speak up for Jesus when I should have or saying too much when Christian love needed to listen empathetically? How often have I spoken harshly when a gentle word was needed or spoken a gentle word rather than confronting sin for what is? How often has wanting to look good or have others like me kept me from honoring God and his truth in the eyes of others who don't fully hold to it? How many acts of Christian kindness have I left undone as inconvenient or more suitable for a later time? How often do I focus on myself rather than serving my family, my church, my neighbor, my Lord? In how many ways have I denied my Savior? In how many ways have you?
You and I have screwed up. We can try to avoid thinking about it by busying ourselves with work, chores, family, school, sports, music, TV, games, hunting, hobbies, recreation, entertainment, or even with fishing like Peter did. Or rather, dear friend, hear the risen Savior speaking to you: “Peace, be with you. See my hands and side. I was pierced for you. I am the Lamb of God slaughtered for you. Here is my body given for you. Here is my blood shed for you. Eat. Drink. Believe. You are forgiven. Be at peace with God. My death reconciled you.”
And he sends you and me out as well, screw-ups though we have been. He sends us out as his witnesses. For who better to witness about God's forgiveness than sinners like you and me who know how completely devastating my sin is and who rejoice in the unsurpassing richness of God's grace in Christ that forgives even a sinner like me? Think of Saul, who became the Apostle Paul. Might you prepare yourself to be called as a pastor, a Lutheran school teacher, a staff minister, or a missionary? All of us are unworthy of such a calling, but Jesus even sends out screw-ups. How else might Jesus send you as witness? Maybe as a Sunday school teacher, an elder, or an evangelist? But don't forget the “unofficial” roles Jesus sends you. What words of kindness or acts of mercy can you do through which Jesus' love shines through you to others? What opportunities does Jesus send you to share his story of death and resurrection, of repentance and forgiveness? Whom has he sent into your life to whom you can be his ambassador and witness? And if you feel timid or afraid or self-conscious because you know how you have screwed up in the past, remember Jesus even sends out screw-ups.
For you see, the results depend entirely on Jesus. The disciples had used their years of experience and their honed skills all night long to catch fish. The result? Empty nets. Jesus' simply makes a promise: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (John 21:6 NIV). The result? So many fish that they couldn't haul in the net.
So also as you cast your nets with deeds of love and the words of the Gospel, the result does not depend on your skill or talent or expertize (though we certainly do want to faithfully use all the ability the Lord has given us). Rather, the result depends on Jesus. We cast the net. He fills it. We plant the seed. He makes it grow. We speak his word. He sends the Holy Spirit. For he has promised, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10, 11 NIV). What a promise!
And what a blessing that our Lord chooses to use you and me as his witnesses! He chooses even us to testify of the great things he has done by his death and resurrection. He chooses even us and sends us as his messengers proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
He could have chosen so many other people or ways to do it. He doesn't need us. Just like he didn't need the disciples to bring in that catch of fish. He already had fish and bread cooking on the charcoal fire. He who could feed five thousand could certainly feed seven disciples. But he stoops to involve even you and me in this great work of spreading his Good News. He even uses screw-ups.
The risen Jesus even sends out screw-ups. That certainly isn't an excuse to give a half-hearted effort and not do our best, figuring: “Why try hard. Jesus will just fix it any way if I screw-up.” It certainly isn't a reason for spiritual laziness or indifference, thinking, “Jesus doesn't really need me, so I can just do my own thing and his work will get done by someone else.” Those thoughts and attitudes flow from the old nature.
But you are a new creation in Christ Jesus. Faith hears Jesus' promise: “I have died for you. I have risen. You are forgiven. Be at peace with God.” Faith then rejoices to hear Jesus say, “As my blood-bought people, as my forgiven children, you are my witnesses.” “Do you mean, me, even me? After my failures, after my screw-ups, after my messes, you still want me to be your witness?” “Yes, I send out even you as my witness.” Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.