This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: John 21:1-14
Sermon prepared by Rev. Fred Vander Berg, Strathroy, Ont.
Some time ago, we sang the familiar words, "Low in the grave Christ lay — Jesus my Savior..." Then we sang the glorious chorus, "Up from the grave he arose — he arose!"
Now we are on the other side of Easter...It is a very uncertain place to be. It is not an easy place to be...Let us consider this for a moment...Perhaps you have had a resurrection experience in church. By resurrection experience I mean coming alive in Christ. Maybe hearing the word of God, you were touched and said, "Yes! I want to live for him!" Or perhaps you had a resurrection experience as a result of hard times. You saw the leading of God's hand. You experienced his miraculous restoration; God raised you out of the pit, and you said "Yes! I will live for him!" Or perhaps, you had that moment when you were born again, when you accepted Jesus into your heart. In one way or another, you have been touched by the Holy Spirit, made alive in Jesus.
Now, picture yourself a few days later. The initial excitement is subsiding. The event is clothed in mystery. You ask yourself, "Did something really happen?" You are on the other side of resurrection, your Easter. It is a very uncertain place to be. Life on the other side of Easter is not easy. It is tempting to go hack to where you were. It is tempting to go back to who you were. It is tempting to go back to what you were doing.
This was also true for the disciples. Remember, Easter was not the glorious event for them that it was for us. Their whole community did not get together. The trumpets did not sound. Easter lilies did not fill their homes. Unexpectedly, momentarily, they saw Jesus alive! Now they are wandering by the Sea of Galilee, waiting, as they had been told. They are on the other side of Easter. It is a very uncertain place to be. It is not an easy place to be.
Think about it for a moment. Before Easter, more concerned with their own status, the disciples were not very good at discipling. They were unruly students. They rarely understood what Jesus was saying. His parables confused them. When he walked on the water, they never recognized him. On occasion they performed miracles, but they never healed anyone of significance. If put honestly, they never really understood what was going on.
On Friday, Jesus died. The disciples scattered. They were told that this was going to happen, but they did not understand. Then, Jesus appears, alive! They are apprehensively joyful. They are hesitantly hopeful. Now, they are wandering by the Sea of Galilee. There are no more appearances. Jesus is gone.
They are on the other side of Easter. It is a very uncertain place to be. It is not an easy place to be.
The disciples are tempted to go back to where they were. They are tempted to go back to who they were. They are tempted to go back to what they were. They were tempted to let things get back to normal. We often give this advice. After a loved one dies, we accept a person grieving for a number of weeks. Then we say, "It's time for things to get back to normal, to get on with it, to get back to business." After a vacation we say, "It's time for things to get back to normal, to get on with it." Even after a friend comes alive in Christ, we sometimes think, "Now it's time for him to get back to normal, to get on with it, to get back to business."
Walking by the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were tempted to go back to where they were, to who they were, to what they were doing. Peter said, "I am going fishing." The other disciples joined him. Things were back to normal. For years they had fished, making their living, providing for their families. Now they were doing what they were good at. They fished for the whole night. They caught nothing, not one little fish.
Early in the morning, through the grey mist, a man called out from the shore, "Friends, do you have any fish?" The disciples responded, "No." Peter J. Gomes (In his book entitled, Sermons) points out that "no" can mean different things. Sometimes "no" can mean, "No, will you help?" Sometimes "no" can mean, "No and I am frustrated!" Sometimes '`no" can mean, "No and I am angry!" Perhaps the disciples' "no" included all three.
"Friends, do you have any fish?" Gomes suggests that there may be more to this question than meets the eye. Jesus knew his disciples better than they knew themselves. Perhaps he was asking, "Is your work producing any fruit? Are you happy? Is your work giving you joy?" The disciples were doing what they are good at! They had fished all night. They had caught nothing. It is early morning. The best time for fishing is almost over. "Friends, do you have any fish? Is your work producing fruit? Are you happy? Is your work giving you joy?" "No" the disciples answer. People of God: after you come alive with Christ, you cannot go back to where you were. You cannot go back to who you were. You cannot go back to what you were.
Jesus calls to his disciples, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat." These words point back to a fishing experience at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, when Jesus called his disciples to be fishers of persons. Jesus calls.
I will say five things about a calling. One. After the Holy Spirit touches you and you say, "Yes!" after you come alive in Christ, there is always a calling.
Two. A calling grabs you. Many of us have a romantic sense of calling. The calling gently falls on a person's heart, the person responds and everything is a rose garden. This is not true. Most of the time a calling grabs us. I think of a parent of an alcoholic child or a very sick child, or a rebellious child, or a teenager with a recognized gift. I will stay with the first illustration, a parent of an alcoholic child. The parent has learned much about alcoholism. After dealing with their own child, this parent feels called to offer compassion, to offer what he has learned to other parents in the same situation. This sense of calling compels, grabs, will not leave the parent alone. Years ago, this would have been the furthest thing from the parent's mind. The parent didn't know anything about alcoholism. Now, God says, "I want you to use what you learned to help others."
After you come alive with Christ, there is always a calling: a call to use your gifts in worship, a call for you to be there for another person, a call to change the way you run your business, a call to change careers. Most of the time the call grabs you. It compels you.
Three. The call often comes at the wrong time. Picture the disciples. They had been fishing all night. It is almost morning. They have caught nothing. Jesus calls, "Put your net on the right side of the boat." I'm not a fisherman. I don't know much about fishing. I imagine that the net must have been a fair size, that it must have been a fair amount of work to get it into the boat. I imagine that when they hauled the net in, it would pick up seaweed, debris; that the net would require cleaning before it was thrown back in. They had been fishing all night. They had caught nothing. It was almost morning. The best time for fishing is over. Why bother throwing the net into the other side? Why not just pack it in? The disciples received this call when the circumstances were most unfavorable.
The same is true for us. We seem to receive the call when circumstances are most unfavorable. After you come alive in Christ, there is always a calling. It seems to grab you. It seems to come when circumstances are most unfavorable. Part of the reason circumstances seem unfavorable is because it is tempting to go back to where you were, to who you were, to what you were doing.
Fourth. The disciples responded to their call. They dropped their net on the right side. The net filled with fish. This is God's work. This catch symbolizes the abundance of persons coming into the kingdom of God. All we can say for certain concerning the number 153 is that it symbolizes abundance, fullness, joy. When you respond positively to your calling, no matter the calling, your life is transformed. There is meaning to getting up in the morning; meaning to spending the day at school, meaning to spending the day at work!
This past week I came across a little story. Growing up in a small town in Scotland around the turn of the nineteen hundreds, poet Robert Louis Stevenson was accustomed to looking out of the window every evening. As darkness would settle on the village, Stevenson could see the solitary, shadowy figure of the lamp lighter coming by each lamp post and lighting the gas fixtures. "Look mother!" Stevenson would call out, "There is the man who is punching holes in the darkness!"
When you respond to your calling, you are punching holes in the darkness. The light of Jesus Christ is breaking in and persons come into the kingdom of God. And your life is filled with abundance, fullness, joy.
The fifth point about calling is that Jesus gives you the strength to respond positively to your calling. Let me bring you back to the Sea of Galilee. After the net is filled with fish, John realizes that the man on shore is Jesus. Peter jumps into the water. In time, they all get to Jesus. When they get there, this is what they saw: "When they landed they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread." Picture the scene; a small charcoal fire. There are some bread and fish on it. In the Greek this sentence reads, "They saw a fire of burning coals there with a fish on it." One fish.
Jesus instructed the disciples to pull the full net onto shore. After this, Jesus invited them to breakfast. We read, verse 13, "Jesus... took the bread and gave it to them and he did the same with the fish." In Greek it reads, "And he did the same with the little fish." One little fish.
The disciples have been working all night. They are seven, grown, hungry men. Jesus gives them some bread and one little fish. Does each hungry disciple take one tiny bite of fish and then pass it on? No. As they ate, the bread and one fish miraculously multiplied and satisfied all seven disciples! This is the meaning: Jesus, through whom all things were made, feeds his disciples, giving them the strength to follow their calling. This is the meaning: Jesus, through whom all things were made, feeds you, giving you the strength to follow your calling.
Is it enough? Is what Jesus feeds us enough? Our calling comes when circumstances seem most unfavorable. Is what Jesus feeds us enough? All we have is the cross — the foolishness of the cross. All we have is God's promises, which sometimes we are not sure of. All we have is a small community of Christians around us. Is what Jesus feeds us enough? Sometimes it seems as small as the one little fish on the fire. Life on the other side of Easter is a life of faith. Is what Jesus feeds us enough?
Through the ministry of the disciples, in approximately 30 years, the Good News of the gospel had spread through the whole Roman empire. Was it enough? Yes! Some short years ago, the Strathroy Christian School community were called to build. There were unfavorable circumstances. Today the building is mortgage free! [It is better for you to provide your own, local example.] Was Jesus' feeding enough? Yes and more than enough.
Houston Smith writes of his experience. In 1951, his missionary parents were forced to leave China. In the years following, all foreign missionaries were expelled, local pastors imprisoned or killed, seminaries destroyed, bibles confiscated. Christians were forced to wear dunce caps, kneel for hours in broken glass in front of jeering mobs. Houston Smith's parents thought that their work had been in vain.
Thirty years later, after the ban on religion was lifted, Houston Smith went back to the large church in Shanghai where his parents had ministered. Not sure where the church was located, he left early. He came forty minutes before the service was to begin and found standing room only. Sixteen Sunday school rooms, which were wired for sound, were likewise packed. And during announcement time, the pastor pleaded with the congregation not to attend church more than once so that others might have an opportunity to worship! Was Jesus feeding enough? Yes and more than enough!
We worship the Creator, the Redeemer, the Giver of Life. When the Holy Spirit makes us alive in Christ, there is always a calling. It seems to grab us. It seems to come when circumstances are most unfavorable. When we respond, there is abundance, fullness, joy in our lives. Holes are punched in the darkness and persons come into the kingdom. Jesus feeds you, gives you strength to follow your call.
Proposed Order of Service
Processional Hymn: "Father, Long Before Creation" #464
Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: The Lord be with you also.
We pray (Leader prays...quiet time for personal prayer, concluded [announced] with #424)
Leader: May we receive grace, and peace, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Hymn: "As Moses Raised the Serpent Up" #219
Prayer of Confession
Song (unannounced) "O Christ, the Lamb of God" #257
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 10.9–10, 13; ending with the words, People of God believe this good news and live in peace!
God's will for our lives: Mark 1:14–20
Song: "May the Mind of Christ, My Savior" #291:1, 2, 5
We give of our blessings: 1............. 2 .............
Prayers of the people for the people
Children’s time (following which the children leave for Sunday School)
Prayer for understanding
Scripture Reading: John 21:1–14
Sermon: "The Other Side of Easter"
(moment of silence for personal application)
Song of response: "Jesus Calls Us; O'er the Tumult" #553:1, 2, 4
Prayer of response
Departing song: "God, the Father of Your People" #322
We Receive God's Blessing: Lord, may you bless us and take care of us.
May you smile on us and be gracious to us. May you turn your friendly face to us and give us your peace. ( followed by 3-fold amen.)