Sunday, May 05, 2019

Third Sunday of Easter

John 21
14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Apologies if you rushed here this morning and missed breakfast, but I want you to think about your comfort food.

Comfort food, for those of you visiting this planet for the first time today, is the food you reach for when you need more than nutrition. It’s that warm feeling you get when you tuck into something familiar and comfortable. At our house there is something about the lunchtime combination of grilled cheese and tomato soup—comfort food.

And there are obviously lots of variables—culture, memory, circumstance—all of which determine your comfort food. It’s also highly subjective—one person’s comfort food might sound odd or unappealing to someone else. But that’s the nature of comfort, it depends who you are and how you were made.

Related to comfort food is the idea of a comforting friend, the person you turn to for support or well, comfort. For some this will be someone who really understands you, or won’t judge you, or doesn’t need a long explanation to understand what you are saying. Maybe you have different friends for different areas of concern, one for kvetching and another for sharing something good. In this era of posting and forwarding, you might see some pattern—certain stories sent to certain people—knowing that what you send will be appreciated.

And then, of course, there are comfort activities, that thing you do when you have a particular need. Maybe you’re too tired to do anything else, except your comfort activity. Maybe you’re stressed out and you know which activity will calm you down. Or maybe it’s like your comfort food—tied to memory and circumstance—an activity that transports you to a different time and place and gives you a sense of comfort.

Like fishing, for example. The reading Kathy shared is part of an extended narrative that begins back home, some days after Jesus first appeared to his disciples. John picks up the story:

Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael from Cana, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Even with John’s sparse telling, you get the sense that they are engaged in a comfort activity: “I’m going out,” Peter said. “We’ll go with you,” they said. Back to the water, a familiar place and a familiar activity. They obviously can’t turn back the clock, return to whatever moment was happiest or most comfortable, but they can sit in the boat, with the friends that remain, and do something as natural and familiar as breathing. And then the dawn breaks.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

Then Jesus said, “Cast your net on the other side and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul in the net because there were so many fish.

Suddenly this story about friends finding comfort in the familiar transforms into something else, this miraculous catch, too many fish to haul into the boat. Suddenly the unexpected breaks into the familiar, and it doesn’t take the beloved disciple long to figure out what is happening here.

That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

I don’t do sermon titles, but if I did, it would have to be some variation on “Fishing Naked with Peter.” Interesting that in 1611 (the old King James) Peter is naked, but by the middle of the last century the translators can’t bring themselves to describe him as naked, then in the latest translation (NRSV) he’s naked again. Later, when someone asks you the theme of the preacher’s message, what will you say?

Back to our story. Jesus said, “bring me some of the fish you have caught, and Peter obliges: 153 large fish in the net, yet the net was not torn. “Come and have some breakfast,” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” But they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

Now we get to the comfortable heart of the story. He broke bread and gave it to them, and likewise he shared some grilled fish. Simple elements transformed into a heavenly feast, one the body of Christ and the other a sure sign of the Kingdom, 153 fish in the net. 153, then, is the number of abundance, the number of the inexpressible generosity of God. The unexpected breaks into the familiar: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

But the meal is only the beginning. We’re back to the part that Kathy read, certainly one of the most emotional conversations in scripture. Jesus was known for emotional conversations, the rich young ruler, the woman at the well, Nicodemus by night— but this one is different. This one is an extended version of that conversation I expect we have all had at one time or another, the conversation that can be summarized simply as “are we good?”

What John records, of course, is more complex—a threefold dialogue in a threefold movement—that seems to take the familiar (the need to be reconciled) and transform it into something unexpected. Listen again:

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Lord, you know I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep.”

By the third time this questioning repeats, we should know that something else is happening here. The answer to “are we good” is an obvious ‘yes,’ having been granted a window on the love between Peter and the Lord. It might seem cliche to say that Jesus was Peter’s comforting friend, but here it becomes clear. The darkness of denial has lifted, and now they can resume this remarkable partnership, a fisherman from the Galilee and the Lord of All.

This might seem the most likely place to end, but I want to add more one unexpected element to the familiar end of John’s Gospel. And that has to do with the miracle of scripture. Time and time again we have talked about finding yourself in the Bible: imagining yourself in a parable, seeing yourself among the twelve, guessing your reaction when standing on holy ground. But in John 21 we get to enter the conversation, with a different kind of comforting friend: the comforting friend who asks the questions we need to be asked, the comforting friend who sees what we can’t see, the comforting friend who knows there is much more in store for us.

“Do you love me?”
“Lord, you know I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep.”

Our comforting friend, the ultimate comforting friend, is calling us to fill this role for others, for this is how we glorify God and bring the Kingdom to them. First we accept these words, and then we bring them to others.

May the God of the unexpected find us and make us new. Amen.


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