The Uprising of Discipleship

John 21:1-15

Resurrection changes everything. As we follow the Risen Christ, we anticipate the power of life rising up within us, between us, and around us. During this Easter season, we will be in a series called The Uprising. As we gather together each week and then go back out into the world, we will experience an uprising of fellowship, discipleship, worship, partnership, and stewardship. In Christ and with Christ, we live in the power of life, facing the suffering of the world head on, and proclaiming new life for all. Resurrection happens. 

Last week we read from the end of the gospel of John the story of a guy who is unfortunately usually known as Doubting Thomas, which is unfair. Many of you have told me that message really resonated with you. This week we are going to explore one last story from the gospel of John, the very last chapter, another post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, but this one very different from the others. 

I want to remind you that John is a very different gospel from Matthew and Mark and Luke, which all share a lot of material. John is not linear or technical or literal. John points out the patterns and cycles in our lives. He encourages us to embrace symbolism and get a little bit more comfortable with mystery, because the divine life is something to be experienced, even if it’s not fully understood. Trust is the key response all the way through John’s gospel. The truth is that the loving nature of God has been fully revealed in Jesus Christ and our response is to that revelation is to trust. To trust means to have an active personal allegiance to Jesus and to be ready for whatever he’s going to do. Faith or belief or trust is never a noun in the Gospel of John. It’s never a thing that we have or possess. It’s always a verb. It’s always something we do. The revelation is that Jesus is fully one with God and the invitation is for us to put our faith in Jesus. To trust him and then to follow him.

This is from the gospel of John chapter 21, verses 1 through 31. Let us listen now in the reading of scripture for the word and wisdom of God. 

“Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, 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.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 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.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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.”

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.”

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. 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.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

Since this is the end of the gospel of John, and we haven’t spent months and months studying it together (although if you’re interested, you can go back and listen to past podcasts because I’ve preached this gospel through twice already), I want to point out a few things that might not be obvious and I think help us see what could be meaningful for us today in this story.

The first is the miraculous catch of fish. If this story sounds familiar to you, it’s because you have probably heard another version of it before. The gospel of Luke tells a very similar story of Jesus telling some of his followers to try fishing again in a spot they’ve already been fishing but have caught nothing. And when they follow his directions, they wind up with so many fish, they can’t hardly haul them in. But that other story in Luke happens at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he calls Peter and a few of the other disciples. I want to pause here for a second and talk about how we interpret the Bible. Because a natural question is, “Did Jesus do the same thing twice?” Do we have two entirely separate stories where almost exactly the same thing happens? Or do we have one story about Jesus that two gospel writers choose to use in different ways and the other two gospel writers skip entirely. For many years questions like this really messed with me because I thought there was only one way that the Bible could be true. I had to find a way to make all the accounts be factually accurate even when they seemed to be really different. 

But in this gospel in particular where Jesus says “blessed are those who haven’t seen and yet trust,” where personal testimony and story matter so much, I don’t think we need to be anxious about whether this is one story or two stories. What I want you to know about the gospels is that they contain what our ancestors in the faith thought would help us trust in Jesus. That’s the level at which they are true. Our trust in the authority of these gospels is a trust that the gospels have what we need. They are authentic in that they authentically communicate wisdom and a tradition that needed to be handed on. And they do that regardless of whether we can make all the individual pieces match up. This is what we mean when we say that “tradition” is a source of authority for us. I hope that’s not too academic, but I want you to know that you can trust what you read here even if other people want to argue about factual accuracy. That’s not the main point.

OK. So a story of an abundant catch. Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus performs signs of abundance. The very first chapter tells us that from his fullness we have all received abundant grace, grace on grace. Then in his first miracle, he produces an abundance of wine at a wedding. Then later an abundance of fish and bread for a crowd of maybe 15,000 people. During one of his speeches he says that he has come so that we may have life, and have it abundantly. And finally here at the end, an abundant catch of fish. What does this mean for us? It is a reminder that our God is a God of abundance. Please don’t think about money right now. Abundant grace, abundant life, abundant fellowship with each other, abundant joy in the midst of trials. Jesus shows up in abundance.

And like the beloved disciple, we recognize Jesus when we experience abundance. It’s when they see how many fish they catch that the Beloved Disciple says to Peter “It’s the Lord!” The reason we share our joys every week is because it is important for us to not only recognize Jesus abundance but publicly proclaim the source of that abundance. Not on street corners with a sandwich board, unless God calls you to do that, fine. But in our personal relationships, and most importantly as a community, we must proclaim the source of the abundance.

Some scholars think this post-resurrection appearance should be making us think not about the individual disciples but about the Church that comes to life in later years. One theory is that the Beloved Disciple is a stand-in for us, collectively, who have not seen and yet still trust. Sometimes it can be hard to testify, to proclaim, as individuals. Which is why we are called together into communities and as a community, as one iteration of the Body of Christ, we all together are called to proclaim Christ’s abundance in the world. We all together have a testimony. We all together are witnesses. As a church family, we stand for something in this town. We have to speak up.

And after we speak up, we have to act. The Beloved Disciple and Peter demonstrate two of the things we are called to as followers of Jesus: proclamation and action. It’s not enough to say, “It’s the Lord!” We have to also be willing to get out of the boat and follow Jesus. His invitation is always, “Follow me. Come and see.” Or, in this story “Come and eat” which always sounds good to me. We can’t stop with proclamation, we have to move to action.

And then Jesus final encounter with Peter helps us understand what that action must be. It is not enough to simply say that we love Jesus. We have to also care for the people Jesus cares for. The only other time in John’s gospel that we get sheep and shepherd imagery is where Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd. So here at the end of the story, Jesus is passing that shepherding responsibility to his followers. On the night of the last supper Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us. Love one another. Care for one another. Feed the hungry. Satisfy the thirsty. Welcome the strangers. Tend the sick. Clothe the naked. Visit the prisoners. It’s not enough to just say that we love Jesus. As the Father has sent him, so he is sending us. He has breathed into us the Holy Spirit. And now it’s time for action.

It won’t be easy. And the power structures of the world won’t thank us for it. If we truly follow Jesus, it may wind up costing us dearly. If we do it right, it will cost us some comfort and safety and power, because that’s what it cost Jesus. But that’s OK. That’s why we do it together, trusting that we have received grace on grace, abundant life, and that when we recognize Jesus in that abundance, that no one can take our joy from us. Amen.

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