A sermon preached
Readings: Acts 9:1-8, Jn 21:1-19
Jn 21:3 “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing’”
Peter has gone back to Galilee – back to those same
boats he’d left 3 years before.
He’s come from Jerusalem the scene of his denial of Jesus and then the cross.
And is he perhaps
to put behind him not only the denial but the whole reckless adventure
which had come to grief, trying to displace the memory of his recent past,
and pick up the safe , secure mundane life he had known
before he ever met the man from Nazareth.”
(R.R.Spiller in Expository Times, vol.112, p.202)
Peter knew his trade of old –
much fishing was done at night with flares to attract the fish –
and so as night falls sets out across the lake.
I wonder, how did Peter
as he eased the boat out into the dark waters that night?
cannot be jettisoned and thrown overboard
like nets from a fishing boat” (Ibid).
I wonder if Peter looked around at the dark
of the mountains and coves around the shore,
the winking lights of the coastal towns –
and did his mind run back to all those events he had witnessed
those past three years –
multitudes fed on the mountain there, the sick healed here,
and such stories of the Kingdom told here?
Well he has plenty of time to reflect,
because there has been no fishing that night-
And now the cold grey light of dawn is creeping over the eastern hills,
and it’s time for home – not a single fish caught all night.
And then he sees a stranger on the shore
telling them to cast on the other side of the boat.
And suddenly the boat is tilting and all hands are
to steady her and beach her and bring in the biggest catch Peter has ever seen!
The stranger on the shore is already cooking fish
for breakfast over an open fire,
and he invites the men from the boat to join him
But Peter knows now that this is no stranger –
it is the Lord.
Imagine you are Peter at that moment –
feel the shame.
This is the very man he has betrayed and deserted.
And now the Resurrection drama,
which had been played out on the vast Jerusalem stage,
is now focussed in close up –
just two figures in the spotlight –
Peter and Jesus.
Breakfast is over and does Jesus say
“Come on, Pete, let’s go for a walk on the shore –
and as they do so,
do they look back together to the flames of the open fire,
and does Peter feel his face burning
as he remembers the flames of that other fire in the courtyard
just a few days ago?
Thee times Peter denied Jesus then,
and how does he feel now as Jesus reminds him of that threefold denial
with a question asked three times –
son of John, do you love me?
Yes Lord you know I love you
Feed my lambs
son of John, do you love me?
Yes Lord you know I love you
Look after my sheep
son of John, do you love me?
Lord you know everything, you know I love you
Feed my sheep.
Yes Peter – face up to the past,
but in so doing learn that you are forgiven, loved and accepted and trusted -
Even you, Peter, are not a hopeless case -
that God-given gift of love is still there,
and nothing can defeat the power of love.
So how about it Peter –
just as I asked you three years ago in this same spot –
“will you follow me?”
Let me ask you to reflect on your life’s spiritual journey to date –
When did God last speak to you in a powerful way?
So that you said “Wow – that is going to change my life?”
Think for a moment about your life – when God was specially near –
The truth of course is that there are well over 100 of us here today,
and therefore over 100 different answers to that question.
ŚMaybe for some here the answer is never –
You’ve never stood dazzled with Paul on the road to
you’ve never met the Lord by the lakeside saying leave your nets, follow me!
And you may say “The Lord has never been near to me!”
you I say this –
Yes the Lord is always near, but sometimes, often we do not see him –
we see only the stranger on the shore, the gardener by the tomb,
not the Lord.
Do you remember the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning –
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only ~he who sees~ takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries
we – do we recognize God speaking to us from every place and every bush? –
or do we just sit round doing the gardening??
If you feel there is nothing but the journey to and
or night fishing, let me say this –
the Lord is waiting to speak, if you can but hear.
you’ve read Philip Pulman’s novels
you’ll be familiar with the idea of parallel universes
and those points where in everyday life
you can cut through from our Universe to another.
may be fantasy –
but the old Celtic Church had a similar and very real idea about heaven –
the old Celtic saints talked of special holy sites as “thin places” –
places where the divide between earth and heaven was very thin,
and where you were especially aware of the heavenly dimension.
Well we sang at the start of this service-
“Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy
One is here…..
Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around”
Maybe today is the day when you hear….
ŤWhen did God last speak to you in a powerful way?
Maybe you can say exactly when the Lord entered your
Perhaps tell me the date, even the hour -
You’ve had something many of us missed out on –
certainly personally I can’t point to a precise point
when Jesus first spoke to me – it wasn’t like that.
If God first spoke to you in that clear and
it must be a precious memory,
and I thank God for that Damascus Road, that Galilean shore,
in your experience.
But I’d also want to say this to you.
Don’t think that that is it –
that you have finished learning, growing, discovering.
Time and again the Scriptures make it clear
that meeting with God is the start not the end of a process.
Peter is a classic case.
He first hears “Follow Me” at the start of Jesus ministry
(in Mark Chapter 1) and follows –
but at that point it is more than nine parts bravado,
less than one part real understanding and commitment.
Gradually Peter grows and matures, is given new insights, new challenges –
but even then he still manages to get hold of the wrong end of the stick
quite spectacularly on occasion,
and indeed he is still capable of denying Jesus.
So that here in this story at the end of John’s Gospel,
he is to hear the same call–“Follow me”:
And if for Peter, in the very presence of Jesus
throughout his earthly ministry,
if for Peter discipleship is a lifelong learning process,
how much more so should we expect it to be for us?
It will always be “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief” –
it will never be a matter of having arrived
but always seeking directions through the darkness of earthly life.
Maybe if the world gets to be a thin enough place
we will start to hear the gentle Galilean voice across the waters
not once in a lifetime but more and more often.
But always tomorrow we will have more to learn and understand.
Ž When did God last speak to you in a powerful way?
Maybe you answer – don’t talk to me of such things
right now -
Yes I did once hear the call, but that was in happier, sunnier days -
I am in a dark and frightening part of my life –
and such light as there was has gone out….
My friend, read again the
story of Peter on the night waves –
nothing but darkness and regret – and look to the shore -
there is one hailing you now – it is no stranger, it is the Lord.
And what does the Lord say to us
when he speaks to us in our of need and travail?
(and this, I might add,
is how he speaks to all his children, whatever their journey)
Well stand with Peter on the lake shore and see how Jesus treats you–
First he cooks you breakfast –
that is more than a thousand words –
this is not an inquisition, it is a welcome home
And what does he say then?
What he absolutely doesn’t say is
“Do you now understand the Trinity
and sign up to everything in the creed?” -
if he said that, he’d wait a long long time for some of us.
What he does say is: “Do you love me?”
That’s all it comes down to in the end -
Peter I love you – and do you love
Because if you do, well then nothing else matters
and there is a troubled and hungry & frightened world out there –
I need shepherds like you to feed my sheep.
And that is what Jesus says to us all -
maybe its time for us all, wherever we have been sailing,
- and we’ve all been on different voyages of one sort or another -
maybe its time for us all to come ashore and say
“Lord you know I love you – and yes I will follow you -
show me the way”
leave you with these words from Albert Schweitzer.
Schwietzer wrote a very famous book in 1910
on the search for the historical Jesus of Nazareth.
After 400 pp analyzing the evidence
and trying to build up of picture of the man Jesus from the evidence,
he finishes the book – as I finish this sermon – thus:
He comes to us as One
unknown, without a name,
as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those who knew him not.
He speaks to us the same word, “Follow thou me!”
and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfil for our time.
He commands. And to those who obey him,
whether they be wise or simple,
he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts,
the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship,
and as an ineffable mystery,
they shall learn in their own experience
Who he is.