Sermon for April 10, 2016

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

April 10, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  John 21:1-14

Sermon Theme:  “So What Does This Fishing Story Mean?”

(Sources:  Anderson’s, Cycle C, Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Online Christian Jokes; Online, “What does IXOYE mean?” by Matt Slick)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

On a beautiful spring morning, I am sure many of you have been tempted to skip church and go fishing, whether succumbing to the temptation or not.

One such beautiful spring morning, ten year old Jody arrived at Sunday School late.  Miss Walker, his teacher, knew that Jody was usually very punctual, so she asked him if anything was wrong.

“No,” he replied, “I was planning to go fishing this morning, but my dad told me that I needed to go to church.”

Miss Walker was very impressed, and asked the boy if his dad had explained to him why it was more important to go to church than go fishing.

“Yes,” Jody replied, “he did.  Dad said that he didn’t have enough bait for both of us.”

In the case of the disciples in our sermon text from John’s gospel, seven of them, — Simon, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two others – weren’t skipping church to fish, and fishing wasn’t their recreation, it was their career prior to following Jesus.  It seems to me that the equivalent of missing church, for them, was going back to their old fishing business rather than continue preaching, teaching, and healing as they had when Jesus was with them.  No doubt, it was both a way of giving up (we can’t carry on without the Master) and a way of releasing some of their fear, tension, and bewilderment, and a human way to normalize their lives.  What comfort they were to each other!

John ended Chapter 20 of his gospel on a very upbeat note, saying, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.”

And then in Chapter 21, today’s text, he throws us off balance, as we see the disciples going back to their old haunts and habits.  Didn’t their encounter with the risen Lord have any effect on them?  It seems in our text they were back to Square One.

Yet, this is precisely the meaning of the resurrection for us.  The risen Lord may encounter us in the upper room or in the holy place but we can’t stay there.  No, the Lord confronts us in the ordinary places where he found us, forgiving us and reassuring us, strengthening us for the work He has set for us to do.  It’s very important for us to see the relevance of this text to our own lives.

Naturally Peter was the disciple who reacted and acted the quickest.  You remember that Peter was the first to confess that Jesus is the Christ.  When the Lord told them of His suffering and death, he immediately asserted his undying loyalty.  Once in a while he got in over his head, as when he attempted to walk to the Lord on the water.

So, in our text, when Peter was convinced that Jesus was waiting for them on the shore, he hurriedly jumped overboard to go to Him.  Faith is the biggest plunge of all, which immerses us in the depths of God’s mysterious will and purpose.  Faith begins with the baptismal plunge into a life with Christ, and it ends on the safe and peaceful shores of heaven.

In learning to swim, a person has to reach the point where he takes the risk of jumping into the water.  Faith also requires such a plunge.  Discipleship involves taking the plunge to where Christ is.  Each of us has to ask ourselves: “Am I willing to take the plunge?”

On the surface, today’s text is just another fishing story, but the Bible is never an on-the-surface story.  The deeper you search, the more the Holy Spirit reveals to you.  For example, this text contains some of the most incredible symbolism you will ever see.  Let’s explore a little deeper.

OK, so here we have the disciples, seasoned fishermen, on a fishing boat, fishing all night; yet, they caught nothing.  As professional fishermen, they must have used every trick they knew.  Nothing worked.  At daybreak, dog-tired from a weary night that produced nothing, someone called to them from the shore, “Children, do  you have any fish?”  They shook their heads and shouted to the stranger, “No.”

The man from the shore told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  Reluctantly, these fishermen did as the man had suggested and the man was right.  Their nets were full and running over.  John recognizes the man and says it was Jesus, and Peter jumps into the water.  Before you know it, they are on the shore having breakfast with the Lord.

Things are now coming into focus.  Their lives are moving back toward the center, back to Jesus.  Their crucified Lord was really with them.  It was not a dream or a hallucination.  Jesus actually cooked breakfast for them.

They began to see where Jesus was leading them.  The huge catch of fish was a sign that Jesus wanted them to draw all manner of people into the kingdom of God and to care for those who belong to Jesus.  This great catch must have reminded them that they had left the nets to be fishers of men.

Professional fishermen in Jesus’ day used nets to catch fish.  My son-in-law and I used to use a net to seine for bait fish.  It always amazed me to see how many different kinds of fish and other sea creatures would turn up in that net, — the point being that all kinds, colors and shapes are to be brought into the boat of the kingdom.

If you are a commercial fisherman, you DO have to throw the too-little-ones back, but , in fishing for men, you don’t reject anyone, none are too little or too big or too dark-colored.  To Jesus, all are keepers, and He loves them all.

This was just one of the many stories Jesus’ disciples shared with other believers, and it was one of many that caused the fish to become an important Christian symbol.  During the on again, off again, Roman persecutions of Christians, the fish became a sort of secret sign whereby Christians communicated with one another.  It was not uncommon when strangers met for one of them to draw a fish in the sand, which was a way to communicate his allegiance to Christ.

All believers understood the meaning of this symbolism.  It is not by accident that if you take the first letter of each word in the sentence in Greek, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” you will spell the word “fish.”  In Greek, it is “Iesous (                 ) Xristos  (                          ) Theou (               ) Yios (           ) Soltare (                         ),” and the first Greek letter of each word is “Iota,” “chi” (        “theta,” “upsilon” (                          ), and “sigma.”  Jesus used “icthus” (                 as a metaphor to represent evangelism in the proclamation of the gospel by which people are saved from their sins.  Christians began using the fish as a symbol for Christianity as early as the first Century A.D.

Our sermon text also shows the importance of companionship.  These disciples had just gone through the trauma of the crucifixion of their Master, who was also their best friend.  Being with one another helped them pull through this difficult time in their lives.  Then, added to their comfort of being together was to come together in companionship once again with their dear Lord and dear friend.

By cooking fish on the beach for His disciples to eat and breaking bread with them, Jesus was reassuring His disciples that He was still their friend.  Although the resurrection had changed Jesus physically, it had not changed his relationship with His friends.  What a comfort that WAS!

And IS!  To us.  We too experience that breathtaking joy of breaking bread together with Jesus each time we take Holy Communion.  We too experience the uplifting companionship and relationships with one another both in Sunday worship services and in the Fellowship Hall.  Christian solidarity is stronger than any tonic.  When seas get choppy in your life, you need the Christ-given strength of Christian solidarity and companionship.

The word “companion” or “companionship” is derived from the Latin word for “bread.”  It seems that companionship has something to do with breaking bread together.  Oh the healing power of companionship with Jesus and with one another!  Visiting with one another during coffee and donuts is not an empty action!  That is what the loner, the hermit, the recluse misses out on by not coming to church regularly, by not coming together with the Body of Christ.

Jesus died for our sins.  Jesus arose from the tomb.  In His gloried body, Jesus fellowshipped with His followers before He left them to continue their work as fishers of men.  But He didn’t really leave them or us; He remains in the Body of Christ.  And that’s what this fishing story is all about.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.