It is interesting occasionally to revisit old sermons. Twelve years ago, I preached a sermon on this coming Sunday’s Gospel reading – John 21:1-19.
My 2004 sermon was preached in a service that included two baptisms and in which we acknowledged members of our community who were graduating from some school endeavour. In that sermon, called “The Work of Life,” I said:
Jesus’ disciples had had an extraordinary week. They had been present when Jesus was arrested. They had heard of his trial. They knew he had died a horrible, violent death. And then they had started seeing their teacher sporadically and unexpectedly for a short time following his death. It must have been incredibly intense. It must have left the disciples feeling overwhelmed, drained, and exhausted.
In one of the down periods, after Jesus had begun appearing to the disciples, not really knowing what to do with themselves, Peter had a bright idea, “I am going fishing,” he said. And the other disciples went along. They went out on the sea in their boat. But John, the Gospel writer says, “that night they caught nothing.”
The kind of fishing these disciples were doing, is not the fishing with which we are most familiar. For these fishermen, fishing meant standing in their boat, taking a round net with lines attached and throwing the net as far out over the water as possible. The net then sank beneath the surface and the fisherman hauled it back and lifted it, hopefully full of fish into the boat. Imagine how tiring this must have been. Stand up and throw, pull the net straining against the motion of the water, lean over the side of the boat, pull the heavy wet net back into the boat, stand up again and throw. Stand and throw, pull and strain, bend and lift, stand and throw – endless motion, muscles working all through the night. So hot and tired that you take off your outer garment and work just in the cloth wrapped around your waist.
And, on this fishing trip, each time the net came back empty. The sea had become barren. The work was futile and meaningless. Stand and throw, pull and strain, bend and lift, stand and throw.
It is like so many of the motions we repeat over and over and over – shopping needs to be done, dinner needs to be cooked, clothes need to be washed. Get up in the morning, go to work, come home, pay the bills, answer the phone. The rhythms of life, the strain and the weight feel like nothing but a grind and a burden.
Then for Peter and his friends, to make matters worse, in the early morning after the labours of the night, a stranger stands on the shore and, as if to taunt them, calls out, “Children, you have no fish have you?”
All this work and what do you have to show for it? A voice inside our heads mocks our efforts. It is as if all our labour is for nothing. We try so hard; we throw that net out over and over. And still we “have no fish.”
Is there something wrong with our technique? Is there some magic we have not fully mastered, some plan we have not quite grasped?
What light does the gospel offer in times when we feel empty and depleted?
The gospel asks us to open our eyes. The stranger on the shore ordered the disciples to cast their net one more time. This time they drew in an abundant catch. Seeing the miraculous catch, John says, “That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
On the cross, Jesus cried out the most forsaken cry of the human condition, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Often in the daily grind of life it is possible to feel forsaken. We feel let down. Life has not turned out as we had hoped it might. We feel alone, afraid, uncertain, and perhaps insecure. We long to make sense of it all and understand what is happening. But it just seems tiring and bewildering.
But, the final events of Jesus’ life tell us that we are not alone. Forsakenness is not the final word. Jesus’ cry from the cross was his last temptation.
This despairing cry is answered by the glory of Easter in which Jesus again speaks to his disciples, calls them by name, teaches them, feeds them, shares his love with them. Resurrection tells us we are never alone. No matter how tired we may be, or how defeated we may feel, there is a dimension of life that is richer and fuller and more true than any despair we may ever encounter.
And so, Peter, when he recognizes Jesus, throws himself into the sea. He plunges back into life. He risks everything for the possibility of getting closer to the source of abundance he has experienced.
Our problem is that we live too much from a mentality of scarcity. It feels as if there is not enough to go around. There is not adequate energy, or money, or time. I am not smart enough, not strong enough, not healthy enough. Everything falls short. But Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor.”
The poor are blessed, because those who can recognize their poverty discover Jesus’ abundance. There is no energy crisis. There is no shortage. We have all been provided with the full nets we need in order to do the tasks at hand. Jesus said, “My burden is easy and my yoke is light.” That means, if we are carrying burdens that are wearing us down, they are not the burdens Jesus has given us to carry.
Our problem is that we do not always see clearly. We think that the figure standing on the shore is a stranger. But it is Jesus. Jesus asks us to sit down, to listen to his voice. And he feeds us. When we start by being fed from Jesus’ fullness, we will know that scarcity is not in fact an accurate picture of reality.
This morning we have baptized two tiny infants. Think for a moment about the miracle of unfolding that will take place in these tiny lives over the next twenty years. Think about this vulnerable bundle and think of the energy, vitality, strength, and power that are contained within her little body. Everything she will become is contained within the being that she is at this moment. All she has to do is discover that inner place of strength and light that is Jesus, and allow that reality to unfold from here.
This is the faith we express in infant baptism. We carry within us the image of God. God does in fact dwell within us. The challenge of life is to grow up to listen, to hear that voice of the Divine that has called us here this day, and to listen more and more carefully the older we get.
This morning we are also going to acknowledge some of the people who are graduating this year from high school, university and other programs. You have to wonder what you would most wish for a high school, or university graduate. The wish of Easter would be that they might learn to listen to the voice within that speaks in the tones of divinity. The wish of Easter for each of these people would be that they might see beyond the sometimes wearying grind of life, to the presence of Jesus on the shore; that they might hear Jesus’ voice calling them to come and sit by the fire; and that they might know in their hearts the presence of Jesus feeding them with fish and filling them with his abundant provision of grace and life.
For those who find the presence of Jesus, it will always be Easter. There will still be times when the grind gets us down. But, when we feel diminished we will know that this is only God’s call to us to look deeper; listen more carefully; become more sensitive to Gods’ presence dwelling at the heart of our being and feeding us with sustaining love.