Hello-Goodbye sermon series - June 6, 2021

John 21:1-14

Like a variety of the scriptures we’ve studied this Spring, I feel this one needs to come with a preface: many scholars claim John 21 is a later addition. That the original gospel finished with the resurrection and the visits to the disciples in the upper room and that chapter 21 came later as a redaction or addition. And yet, even if it was added later, it carries the thread of the Gospel, such that it doesn’t read as an imposter chapter, and it stuck, like the last half of Mark chapter 16, which is also understood as a later edition. I’m not sure arguing about original texts is worth it, at least not for today’s sermon, but it does seem worth mentioning since we don’t often tell this story and hear this scripture passage. You are educated Christians who enjoy learning, asking questions, and looking for a different

perspective, so I want you to know that perspective is out there.
For me, I guess the question I would ask is, what did the community of followers hope to offer in sharing the stories of John 21? And, eventually, what did they gain from this story that made it last? In other words, why do we still have it and how might it speak to us?

End prologue. Focus on the scripture before us.

I think this is such a fascinating scene. It’s post-resurrection (as my dad /Amy said), and it’s the third time the disciples encounter the risen Christ, but that’s not counting Mary. First, Mary sees Jesus outside of the empty tomb, then 1) Jesus goes to the disciples who are “locked in the upper room” and the Gospel simply says he “came and stood among them” as if he were a spirit, who didn’t need to open the door, he just showed up among them. Then (2) Thomas comes to the disciples and he doubts their story and insists on seeing Jesus himself and…?… touching his hands and his side where they pierced him. He needed to know that Jesus was more than a phantom, more than a Spirit. He wanted to know if the risen Christ was real—flesh and bones…and Jesus welcome him and his doubts and opened his hands, let him touch the wounds that had scabbed over, and his side that was likely still sore.

And now, (3) our story from John 21, where Jesus’ disciples have gone back to the region of the Sea of Galilee—7 are named here--, and despite the resurrection, they’ve gone back to what they knew before…fishing. They didn’t go back to teaching and healing as they had with Jesus. They didn’t go back to their life from the last 3 years. They went back to life before…

In some ways, that feels astonishing and strange, doesn’t it? They spent three years with Jesus. Three years talking with him, learning from him, practicing the things he taught them. And then it’s like nothing happened. How does that happen? How do you just go back to before when life with Jesus was so profound? How does that happen? Well, it likely happens because they’re human…it’s what humans do…we can focus on one thing, be excited about it, invest in it…as long as we have a leader, but without the leader standing in front of us telling us what to do and encouraging us along the way, we lose track. We go back to before…to what we once knew.

In many ways, discipleship is marked by following, but more than following Jesus because the crowds did that— they wandered in search of him, they followed him to a destination, but the disciples, the ones Jesus called by name, we’re called to emulate him, to practice what he did, to learn to do it for themselves. Why? Well, to show they were more than just fans of his work…to do what he did was to be a true disciple, it was to be an apprentice so that when the time came they could flourish even without his constant companionship.

And yet, even they who followed so faithfully, got distracted, or discouraged, and simply reverted to what came more easily—the old thing--fishing. Except, when they got there to the Sea of Galilee, the thing that used to come so naturally was now a struggle. They fished all night and had nothing to show for themselves. So they start to come into shore and what happens?

A man is standing on the shore and he asks, “You’ve caught nothing, have you?” Who is this man? To the disciples, he seems a stranger. They don’t know him. They simply answer his question. “nope.” And he then says, “go back out and throw your nets on the other side of the boat.” Now these men, 7 of them according to the Gospel, have fished ALL night. Don’t you think they would have tried everything? But apparently not…apparently, they stuck with just one side of the boat ALL night, so when this random dude suggests they go back out and throw the nets on the other side, they go, “ok…”. According to the gospel, they still have no idea it’s Jesus. They see him and don’t recognize him. Even though they’ve seen him since the resurrection. He speaks to them, and they don’t recognize his voice. Even though he spent three years teaching them and they’ve heard his voice since the resurrection. Only when they do what he says and they catch a huge haul do they recognize him. They simply don’t know the man. And they aren’t the only ones, right? The disciples we find on the road to Emmaus in the gospel of Luke don’t recognize him either. They walk with him and talk with him and have no clue. Mary saw him face to face in the garden and didn’t know him—all those stories tell us that the risen Christ is markedly different than who we knew before and what we might expect. And yet, his power remains the same. He continues as a miracle worker. In fact, it’s only in the face of a miracle that the disciples finally know who he is. It wasn’t in seeing him or hearing him—only in this miracle. More fish than they can manage. Then they get it. It’s the Lord! It’s Jesus. The risen Christ is recognizable, but not in the old familiar ways. Not in the ways we anticipate and expect, but recognizable in his otherworldliness—his divinity—his miracle-working abilities. His larger-than-life self. Then we know he’s Jesus. Not just some ordinary man. But God with us--God incarnate, Emmanuel.

And in hearing their story, we are invited to listen for how it reflects or informs our story. How are we like the disciples? Have we had invaluable time with Jesus? Years maybe? Have we walked with him? Learned from him? Done our best to emulate him? And then found ourselves distracted or discouraged and simply gone back to what we always knew? I bet most of us have. I imagine there are times in our lives where it felt like Jesus was right in front of us leading us each step of the way and then for whatever reason he steps out of view. Maybe we felt like he had died when we started questioning Bible stories or our own theology. Maybe we refused to follow any longer when the miracle we prayed for didn’t happen for the one we love. Maybe his voice grew faint, his steps became blurry and we didn’t know where to go or how to follow. So we stopped. We stopped following. And in not following Jesus any further, we decided we had to go somewhere, we had to do something, so we went to the familiar, to the before, to the things we knew before we chose to follow Jesus. But after having experienced him, after spending time with him, after practicing the things he taught the thing we thought we knew, the thing that came so naturally in the past suddenly feels fruitless. It just doesn’t come together the way we thought it would. And Jesus sees us, he knows our struggle. He comes to us. He invites us to live in that resurrected space—the miraculous space of the Gospel, and for most of us, even the most faithful, even though we knew Jesus before, even though we’ve spent hours together, asked our hard questions, practiced what he taught us, the Jesus of new beginnings, the Jesus of transformed lives is somehow foreign to us. We don’t always recognize him even when he’s right there in front of us. Somehow the things that were once so familiar are skewed and it’s only the essence of him, his godly nature, his otherworldliness that finally captures our heart and draws us in.

For many of us, this season of the pandemic has been discouraging and distracting. We’ve lost sight of Jesus in front of us, or beside us. We’ve yearned for what once was, but his image, his voice, has become blurry. And we’ve stopped. We’ve stopped following because we couldn’t discern the path. We’ve gone back to the old things, the before things, the everyday things that were easy.

But what if today is the day Jesus stands at the lakeshore? What if today is the day he calls out to us? And we feel so distant, so removed that we don’t even recognize his voice? But he persists. He calls to us again. Helps us again. Reminds us of his essence, his otherworldliness and we see him? What if we know him again? With fresh eyes and an open mind? Will we follow?

Will we follow? Maybe with added insight from the Gospels and the book of Acts…after all, Jesus comes to the disciples, he proves his physical resurrection. He talks with them. He eats with them. He breaks bread with them. And then, he leaves again. He is confident they can and will continue as disciples, as apprentices, as emulators of the Good News even when he isn’t right there with him. And I believe he believes the same is true of us….we can be emulators of the Gospel, even if we’ve been distracted or discouraged, we can be renewed in our trust in the power of who Jesus was and who Jesus is so that we persist as true disciples of the Risen Christ.

I’d invite you to take a deep breath.

Ask yourself: am I among the disciples? Discouraged? Distracted? Maybe even distressed?
Have I lost sight of the risen Lord?
Have I stopped following faithfully?
Take another breath.
Can you hear Jesus calling out to you?
Try it again.
Do it a little differently.
Trust there are still good things to come.

Will you follow faithfully? Even if it feels like you’re walking in the dark? Even if you can’t really see him? Or hear him? You simply have to reply on the lessons you learned before, the closeness you created in the past? And the faithful ways you will follow into the future?