Sermon for May 5, 2019 -- RECOGNITION


-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 5-5-2019 Pardeeville

(Matthew 14:22-33 and John 21:1-17)



     If you look at the way the chapter before this one ends, it really seems like that’s where the Gospel writer John intended to stop.  It’s almost an explanation of why the Gospel was written…what it was meant to accomplish.  It even says, “These things have been written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through your faith in him, you may have life.”  But our scripture today, which is the very next thing in the Gospel according to John, begins with, “Oh, by the way, there was one more time that Jesus appeared to the disciples.”  Today’s passage seems to begin an afterthought to his Gospel narrative, an addendum, a different ending.  But I think we should be glad that this story made it into John’s Gospel account because it still has something to say to us today.

     The story takes place a short time after the resurrection.  Things are still a little mixed up.  The events of Good Friday are still fresh in everyone’s mind.  The whole day was traumatic for the disciples.  It had to be emotional for them to witness a man they had followed for three years, a man who had taught and healed, a man who had confronted the religious leaders of the day time after time, a man they were convinced was the Messiah…it had to be difficult for the disciples to see Jesus crucified like a common criminal.  In short, they were grief stricken.  They were also heartbroken because they thought it was all over.  Here they thought that Jesus was “the one” but it seemed that now it was all for nothing.

     They were so brokenhearted that they completely missed the significance of the resurrection at first.  By the time this story is told, the disciples had a slightly better understanding of what had happened…at least that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead.  The disciples are feeling lost.  They’ve been moping around for several days now…not doing much of anything lately.  The emotional roller coaster they have been on for a while has exhausted most of them. 

     Then Peter, always the impulsive leader, decides to do something.  Peter isn’t that much different than we are today.  He reacted to emotional stress in much the same way we do.  Those times in our lives when we experience emotional overloads—perhaps because of something that’s happened to a loved one.  Perhaps because one of our relationships has disintegrated.  Maybe because of a medical diagnosis.  We get that kind of news and we look to find comfort in familiar things.  Maybe it’s a certain food that brings us this feeling of comfort.  Maybe it’s an activity we enjoy doing.  Whatever it is, it helps to take our minds off the grief or fear or whatever emotion that’s trying to raise our anxiety level.

     For the disciples, life in general over the past few days had been overwhelming.  Looking back to Palm Sunday, emotions of joy and celebration had been very high.  Everyone was having a great time.  But what followed was an angry scene at the temple, a very special Passover meal, plus all the events that took place in the Garden of Gethsemane…the arrest of Jesus, the trial, the jeering mob, and ultimately the crucifixion.  Human spirits can only take so much.  All that was still fresh in their minds when the whole thing turned around, quite unexpectedly.  The tomb was empty, Jesus had been raised form the dead, and maybe it wasn’t over after all.

     But Peter has had enough of this emotional roller coaster.  Peter is going to do something he finds relaxing, something he has experience with, something he’s pretty good at.  Peter is going to go fishing!  So some of the other disciples decide to go along.  Too bad Peter’s experience is nothing close to relaxing!  He and his friends spend all night in the boat…and all night long they pull in only empty nets.  I guess we can add frustration to the list of emotions the disciples are feeling.

     But then there is the dawn of a new day.  Out of the blue this man appears on the shore and engages the fishermen in conversation.  When they admit they haven’t caught any fish the man on the shore, the unrecognized person of Jesus at this point, offers a suggestion.  The stranger suggest they try on the other side of the boat.  When they do, and when they struggle to bring in this enormous catch, one of the disciples begins to put things together.  He remembered that something like this has happened once before.  John remembered the day that Jesus called some of his disciples.  Jesus had climbed into Peter’s boat to teach a large crowd of people from the relative comfort of being a few feet off shore.  After Jesus dismissed the crowd, he asked Peter to go out into the deeper water and let down his nets for a catch.  Peter’s answer?  “Lord, we have worked hard all night long and have caught nothing.”  That day too the disciples had caught an amazing number of fish.  The disciple John remembered that day.  When it happened again in this morning’s story, John immediately put two and two together.  “It’s the Lord!” John shouted to the others.  As soon as Peter heard this, he jumped out of the boat and headed for shore to talk to Jesus. 

     Now perhaps we see one of the reasons this story was added to John’s Gospel.  We see a distinct difference between the reactions of John and Peter in this story.  John is more of the observant type, kind of the thinking man’s disciple.  John needs to understand first, before he acts.  John was the man who, along with Peter, ran to the tomb after Mary Magdalene announced that the body of Jesus was not in the tomb.  That day, John had beaten Peter to the tomb but had stood outside of it.  Peter, on the other hand, even though he did not arrive first, is the first one to go into the tomb and check things out.  Peter is the impetuous disciple, the one who makes decisions quickly and acts on those decisions immediately.  Hence, he jumps into the water.  Peter cannot wait until the boat gets back to shore.  He wants to meet with Jesus right now!  He reacted the very same way in the other reading we heard this morning.  When the disciples are in a boat and they see Jesus walking on the water toward them, it’s Peter who steps out of the boat and tries to come to Jesus.

     Even today, the church needs both kinds of disciples.  We need both responses to the things that we recognize God calling us to do.  We need those who take the time to understand the situation…those who hear God’s call and carefully form their response.  But we need the spontaneous folks too.  We need the people who, having recognized God’s call, spring to action.  We need those who are willing to jump out of the boat and into the water right away.  When we gather as a community of faith, we undoubtedly will have members from both.  There will be the thinkers and the doers.  And we must somehow exist together if we are going to be able to live out our call to discipleship.  Those who choose to take their time must understand the impetuous folks.  And those who rush off to ministry must be willing to accommodate those who need a little more time to form their responses.  Both reactions are expressions of our love.

     And it’s the three-fold exchange that Jesus has with Peter that helps us to understand exactly what sort of love we need to show not only for each other but for every person whom our ministries touch.  In the Greek text of this passage, there are two words used that we would both translate as “love”.  The Greek word “philio” describes the kind of love that you would have for a friend.  The word “agape’ is love that is unconditional…the kind of love that God has for us and the kind of love that God asks us to have for others. 

     The first two times that Jesus and Peter have a discussion about love, they wind up trading these words:  Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me unconditionally?”  And Peter responds, “Lord, you know that I love you as a friend.”  Not once but twice they do this.  Even though it is a different kind of love, Jesus still asks Peter to take care of his sheep.  But the third time that Jesus asks Peter the question, he switches words.  The last time Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me as a friend?”  And Peter responds, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you as a friend.”  I think Jesus did that because he realized that, for Peter and for the rest of us, unconditional love is a tough thing to get our arms around at times.  But by changing the wording of the question the third time, Jesus is allowing Peter to begin where he’s at…at philio love…the love we have for a friend.  In time, that can grow into agape love.

     We can do the same thing.  As Jesus’ disciples, heck, even just as human beings, we go through times of grief and heartbreak, we become exhausted both physically and emotionally, we get frustrated.  It’s especially at those times that we need to be reminded who we are as disciples.  We need to find ways to recognize Jesus working in us and through us.  It doesn’t matter who recognizes Jesus first.  It doesn’t matter who is the first to respond.  What’s important is our response to God as a community of faith and that we grow in the agape love that God calls us to practice.  Thanks be to God!

  July 2020  
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