Fishing, Feeding and Following

Published: Monday, 11 April 2016

ABC Easter BannerThis sermon was given by Geoff Pound at ABC on 10 April 2016. It is part of the ‘Resurrection People’ series which is also accompanied by Study Notes for group discussion and personal study. Here is the link to Study 3 which is based on this Scripture passage.

Reading: John 21:1-19

I wonder how many of you attended the Ashburton Baptist church camp at Philip Island way back in 1992? How many of you were there at Cowes 24 years ago?

I’m told that for one of the activities people were invited to choose a coloured square that they liked. People received a verse of Scripture and were asked to ponder how that text connected with the texture of their lives. Then with irons and ironing boards many chose to fix onto their square a triangle, a circle or some other geometric design.

For some this was just another camp exercise while for others the participation and the reflection were significant.

The squares were gathered up and then Rhonda Edmonds, who’d cut up the squares, took them home.

The patches were sewn together [see the photos] and they were assembled into zones .

The light blue squares representing the atmosphere, symbolise thanksgiving and God’s faithfulness.

The dark blue patches representing the sky stand for the wisdom of God amidst the mysteries of life.

The red, yellow and white patches represent the sunrise and the sunrays signalling the celebration of new beginnings made possible by the reconciling God.

The green and brown squares represent the earth. They express our humanity as we welcome the God who is with us in the mess and chaos of life.

Then there was added a white cross not made from several squares. It’s in one piece thereby representing the divine difference, God’s unconditional love that grants hope to everyone.

Many people returned home and forgot that exercise with the squares at the church camp.

So you can imagine the surprise when several weeks later on Easter Sunday this banner was unveiled for the first time. Someone said it was mind-boggling! Many were blown away!

People could stand close and pick out their patch! They saw the value of their contribution to the whole, how the tone of their square combined to form this rainbow of colours.

Their part may not have meant much when they choose the square and added the shape but at Easter they saw that their offering had been sewn and stitched into a greater design and a most wonderful beauty.

I’m sure we’ve been admiring this banner Sunday by Sunday since it was hung up this last Easter.

Week by week we’ve studied the stories of Resurrection people. We’ve seen Mary who met the Risen Lord alone, in the garden and at sunrise.

We’ve remarked on Thomas whose life was changed by Christ in church, at night, and surrounded by others.

Today we’re thinking of the transformation of Peter which happened at a barbecue on the beach.

Their different stories and their unique encounters are like the coloured squares. As with us the different ways they met Christ, the different times and the different places, they all combine in an overall design in which we see the Risen Christ in the midst of us radiating hope, light, colour and new beginnings.

Peter would tell us that Christ appeared to him not in the swirl of the city but in the calm of the lake. Google Maps tells us that Lake Galilee or the Sea of Tiberias, as John likes to call it, is 123 kilometres away from Jerusalem. We can imagine after the grueling events of the crucifixion, Peter just wanted a break. After being ‘peopled out’ during the Passover he wanted to get away from it all.

Where is it that you go to get some distance and peace from the pressures of life? What do you do day by day and at special times to regain some perspective and passion? Are you getting enough of this down time?

Peter said to the others, ‘I’m going fishing’ (v3) and half a dozen others said, ‘We’ll go with you’.

Remember Peter was a fisherman before he followed Jesus so fishing was his default position. When his life became so confusing he returned to what he knew best. What he could do with his eyes closed. I wonder whether with the death of Jesus he felt his days as a disciple had also died.

It’s instructive that when Peter’s life was all at sea he heads to the lake!
The good news for Peter and for us is that
‘Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the sea’. (v1)

When we see Christ appearing on the beach he wants us to look for him not only at worship but in our work. He wants us to be open to him not only on Sunday but on Monday.

When Christ meets these fishermen on the beach over a big barbecue breakfast we know that he wants to be part of our lives outside this building. Our faith must be outside the box. He’s interested in all of our lives. Our working, our leisure, our relaxation, our sport, our sex, our eating and our befriending.

I’ve been dreaming about another banner. I’m on the banner wagon! Imagine you were given a patch and you were asked to come up with a design you’d fix to it that represents your work or what you love doing or where you’d like to see Christ’s activity in your life at the moment. What image would you affix to your patch?

Some of you might say, “I’m a lawyer, [see the pics]. I’d love to find a greater connection between my faith and my profession.’ Christ, you were in the dock at a kangaroo court, so please can you enlighten my legal world?

Some might say, ‘I’m a teacher or I’m a student and at the beginning of this new term I’m yearning to see Christ who was such a wonderful teacher and mentor in my classroom’.

Or ‘I’m a medico. I want to see how the Christ who was a healer might best enable my work of wellbeing and wholeness’.

Or ‘I’m an accountant, an investor, a trader and I’d like to see greater links between my faith and finance’.

The artists among us might paint some art on their patch with the prayer to see the creator God at work in their paint and on their paper.

Others might dig up an image of the garden with the prayer that the Gardening God might be at work in their plot or on their farm.

We have a church walking group so how can we be open to the divine stranger who walks with us so that every road is called Emmaus?[1]

We want to see Christ in our card making, Christ in our fitness, our fun and our frolicking, Christ in our creativity, Christ in our footy and golf (did you know we have an ABC Golfers group?), Christ in our cooking and eating and hospitality and Christ in our conversation, our relaxation and our sleep.

Then imagine all the images from our work and our play being stitched together to tell the story of Christ giving purpose and pleasure in every part of our lives.

John tells us v3:
They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”

This is where we might see Christ’s interest and involvement in all our lives. It might start at the point of our frustrations, our failures and our fruitless nets. This is exactly the place where Jesus comes to us and wants to be known by us.

21:4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
21:5 Jesus said to them, "Children [a term of endearment], you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No."

You’ve got to be brave to ask fishermen this question. This all-knowing One is touching a raw nerve. But he asks in order to be constructive.

21:6 He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some."

What a cheek we might whisper! This landlubber is telling these tired fishing tragics to turn their boat around and go out and do it differently. Surely he would know that nighttime fishing is best, not now as the sun’s hotting up. This carpenter is poking his nose into their fishing business.

But all credit to them for John says v6:

So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. (v6)

Consultants urge us to think outside the box, outside the envelope.
Edward de Bono speaks of lateral thinking.
But Jesus is urging right side networking (sorry you left handers!). He’s calling us to think with him in innovative and counter-cultural ways. And to do this not only on our own but to think with others in our group, those who are with us in the same boat, those who are part of our network.

What a huge catch! 153 fish! Large fish! Don’t you love this detail of eyewitnesses that make it so authentic? Does the number ‘153’ have a special meaning? Why did they count them all? You ask any fishermen and women why they do this!

From empty nets to this net full of fish and the net wasn’t torn.
It shows the abundance when we take our work and our frustration to the same one who turned water into wine, the same One who saw empty bellies and multiplied the loaves and fishes and there were 12 baskets left over.

All this caused Peter to exclaim, “It is the Lord.” And here’s more eyewitness detail: “Peter put on some clothes for he was naked and jumped into the sea.” You’d think he’d put off his clothes to swim but it seems he didn’t want to meet the Risen Christ in his birthday suit!

Years ago I was preaching on this very text at the German Baptist Church in Ferntree Gully. The pastor gave this reading in English which was his third language and he said:
“Peter put on some clothes for he was knackered.” He was knackered as well as naked! I love the Ferntree Gully Bible Translation?

The big brekky BBQ on the beach is a great illustration of how Christ wants to partner with us in our work. Jesus lit the fire, provided the bread and gave the commands about the nets over the right side. The disciples pulled in the fish and Jesus served the food. This was a superb partnership.

After grilling the fish Jesus then grills Peter.
I don’t know why Peter put on his clothes because Jesus strips him bare.
In the presence of the others three times Jesus calls his name and asks:
"Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."

I hope those of you in your small groups will discuss:
+ the different levels of love in this Q & A,
+ that you’ll tease out the way that love must be shown,
+ that you’ll note the vocational guidance that Jesus offers by turning a fisherman into a shepherd to feed lambs and tend sheep.
+ I hope that you’ll ponder the proverb about fastening your own belt when you’re young and needing others to belt you up when you’re older plus
+ the haunting prediction about Peter’s untimely death.

Let’s come back to the charcoal fire and think of why Jesus asks him three times: “Peter do you love me?”

Let your mind go back a few nights earlier in the courtyard at the time of Christ’s arrest. Peter was warming his hands around another charcoal fire. Three times people asked Peter if he was a follower of the Galilean carpenter. And as the heat was coming on him, three times he denied him. Ever since Peter must have felt an abject failure with the sound of the cock crowing in his ears.

So now here is the Risen Christ around another charcoal fire not berating him but giving him the threefold opportunity of confessing his love and renewing his allegiance. What a wonderful reconciliation! A rehabilitation that set him on such a fruitful path as the fisher of men and women and the shepherd of the church.

As we finish let me tell you about a contemporary Chinese artist. Guo Jian[2] [see his pic] is a Chinese activist who protested at his people being shot by the army in Tiananmen Square (1989). He was detained, he couldn’t get any work but he came to Australia as a refugee. He had worked as an artist for the government in his earlier days so he’s continued as an artist here in Sydney.[3]

He happened to return to his city of Guizhou in China’s south-west, a beautiful place near the mountains with refreshing lakes and waterfalls.

On his return after a long absence he was horrified by the pollution, the rubbish that was choking the waterways and killing the birds and animals.[4]

As Guo Jian rummaged through all the paper and plastic he noticed that most of it contained the faces of celebrities used by marketers to get consumers to buy the stuff.

So this artist took photos of these faces—hundreds and thousands and he put all these 130,000 rectangles together into a huge painting.[5]

If you go close up to this painting that’s hanging in a Sydney gallery[6] this month you can see images of rubbish and the faces of what he calls cultural garbage.

Stand back and you see this huge painting of 10 panels with the beautiful lakes and mountains from Jian’s home town.[7]

It’s wonderful prophetic painting in the tradition of well-known artists like Ai Wei Wei.

But I love the way Jian with his creative giftedness has transformed the rubbish into a picture of rich and rare beauty.

Today we’ve seen the way the Risen Christ has come to Peter and turned the rubbish of his denials and disowning into a beautiful new relationship of love and service.

So we finish this Gospel where it started by hearing Christ’s eternal invitation: ‘Follow Me’. (v19)

Risen Christ, help us to see you when you show yourself to us this week.
Give us the expectation to look for you in the workplace, in the home, in the places of creativity, refreshment and relaxation.

Grant us the humility to share with you our frustrations and our failures.
The trust that brings you into our professions and pastimes.
The insight to discover wonderful solutions especially when we’re frustrated as a group, as a church and are in need of your guidance and creativity.

Christ of the beach, Christ of the BBQ, Christ of the breakfast
Speak to each one of us by name.
Feed us.
Forgive us.
Restore us.
Call us anew.
Give us the courage and compassion to follow you.

For our benediction and blessing people were asked to turn and face the door and to think of the places where we will be tomorrow and the people we are likely to meet.

In all the places where we will be tomorrow
With all the people with whom we will share
In work and in our hobbies
In frustration and in our fun
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
The creativity of this world’s amazing architect
The enlivening breath of the Holy Spirit
Be with us and among us
Forever more,

[1] Check out the details about the ABC Walkers Group.

[2] Pronounced, “Gwaw Jee-en”.

[3] Guo Jian, Artist exhibiting at White Rabbit.

[4] The artist says, “After 5,000 years of culture, now all you can see is rubbish. We are being buried by rubbish.”

[5] Luise Guest says he decided to use AndreaMosaic, a graphic art software developed specifically for the creation of photographic mosaics.

[6] White Rabbit Collection, Chippendale, Sydney.

[7] Guo Jian, Picturesque Scenery 26, 2011–2012, inkjet pigment print, 10 panels each 160 x 96 cm, two rows of five images, image courtesy the artist and White Rabbit Gallery. Special thanks for information and images to Luise Guest, Director of Education and Research, White Rabbit Collection , Sydney.