John 21. 1-19
Believing is for the times and the places we live our lives!
This morning, I need to get something off my chest. Something I’ve gotten a lot of flack for, over the years, but have never admitted to anyone before. And somehow, this time, this place, seems right. Before god and everybody, I have to admit that I’m one of “those” people! One of “those” people who just don’t like their food to touch! Yes, I know that it all goes to the same place, but I don’t care. Thanksgiving dinners have always been a nightmare. All that food! And such a small plate! Covered with gravy and cranberry sauce and melting jello salad. Not even those plates with the dividers made a difference. It all just ran together. You’d never know where one serving ends and another begins.
Of course, as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, I learned to deal with it, what with all those potlucks. In the congregation before last, a friend gave me a dinner tray he’d used when he was in the navy! Stainless steel! With six – count ‘em – six separate sections! It was the best gift anyone had ever given me! To this day, I don’t know if he did it out of compassion or as a bad joke. But it’s all of those images that came to mind as I read through this week’s gospel, for the first time, again. The gospel according to John. Chapter twenty-one. Verses one through nineteen.
Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and a couple others are back in Galilee, on the shores of the Sea. They spent the night fishing and caught nothing. In the morning, they go back out on the lake to try, again. Just after daybreak, Jesus shows up. They don’t know it’s him. And like the story we heard about three months back, he tells them to cast their nets one more time, only this time, on the other side. They do. And they catch so many fish, they can’t pull in the net. The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Now, the think I’ve never been able to figure out. Why were they there? They had a job to do! They were disciples! Apostles! They had places to go! Things to do! People to see! They had a world to save! And here they were lollygagging! Or as my mom wouldn’t have said, fiddle-farting! They were burning daylight! It just didn’t make any sense! Well, after a few days, the idea fermenting, a bit, I realized something. I realized it was thanksgiving dinner all over again! My food – metaphorically speaking – was touching!
You see, that’s how we end up reading the bible! Especially here in worship! We dish it up! We pile it on! And there’s nothing on the plate to keep it all apart! No dividers! No sections! At Christmas, we spoon out the angels and shepherds from Luke’s account. We add a slice or two of magi and star according to Matthew! A dash of manger! A splash of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And when we, finally, dig in, it’s a mess! It touches! It runs together! It turns into a stew! And we do the same thing with Easter! We plop down a scoop of Great Commission! Going into all the world! Making disciples! Baptizing! Teaching! That’s Matthew’s contribution! We add to it Luke’s Emmaus road, his ascension, his Pentecost! And Mark? Well, Mark doesn’t bring all that much to the table. A pinch of fear! A splash of trembling! And then, there’s John. Mary Magdalene, in the garden, first thing easter morning. The ten in the room, behind locked doors, easter evening. Same room, same doors, a week later. Only this time, Thomas is with them. And now, this morning. The seven, along the sea, in Galilee. Mix it all together and it ends up looking like the inside of a potpie!
Truth is, food isn’t just something you eat. It’s something you savor. Presentation is just as important as taste! Especially, where scripture is concerned! We have to read Matthew as Matthew! We have to read Luke as Luke! And we have to read John as John! Otherwise, the message gets lost beneath the potatoes! The gospel is covered up by the gravy! But when you keep it all separate, something interesting happens. You begin to realize that the disciples, fishing there in Galilee, that morning, are exactly where they were supposed to be! They’re exactly where they’re supposed to be, doing what they’re supposed to be doing!
According to John, not once – not one time – does Jesus tell the disciples to make more disciples! Not once – not one time – does Jesus tell them to grow the church! Make it bigger! Make it better! Make it more! Two weeks ago, he tells them they are sent like he was sent! “As the Father has sent me, so I sent you!” And on Maundy Thursday, he tells them to love! To love just like him! But you can do that anywhere! Those things can happen wherever you happen to be! It can happen while you’re fishing! It can happen at work! It can happen at school! It can happen on vacation! It can happen in the living room! Around the kitchen table! In your own backyard! You don’t have to do anything special! You don’t have to go out of your way! You don’t have to climb a mountain! You don’t have to build a Temple! It doesn’t happen in the exception; it happens in the rule! In the routine! In the monotony! “As the Father sent me, I send you. . . to love! Just like me!” And that happens anywhere! Everywhere! At least, it does according to John! He tells us to look in the places, at the times, we take most for granted! In the places and at the times we least expect! That’s when we realize, that’s when we recognize, “it is the Lord!”
Faith, believing, isn’t a matter of being religious. It’s not doing religious things! Saying prayers! Reading books! Singing songs! It’s, simply, being who we already are! In the places we’re already in! It’s being loved by god! Loved without apology! Loved without exception! Loved without excuse! And it’s loving the exact, same way! Without apology or exception or excuse! No, the disciples weren’t there by accident that day. In the boat. On the sea. They were right where they belonged! Right where god wanted them! Needed them! And my friends … my friends, so are you! Right where god wants you! Right where god needs you! Right where you’re supposed to be! Being the people, doing the things, god intends!