The Gospel: John 21:1-19
Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is 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. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: This week in preparation for my Sermon I listened to an audio commentary on our Gospel Passage. You will know that I have referred to this resource in the past. Working Preacher is a resource, supplied for those preaching in our parishes, by the Diocese through The Rev. Brad Purdom as the Canon for Congregations.
The passage from John is a very familiar one and I often find it helpful to hear other voices reflect on what the passage means to them. It was really helpful to me this week because each of the three speakers referred to the "new beginning" aspect of the passage.
I have to admit that I hadn't thought about how this encounter on the beach is one of a number of accounts of Jesus meeting with the disciples after the resurrection. Last week it was the disciples and especially Thomas locked away in fear in the upper room. Today it is the encounter on the beach.
On each of these occasions - these post-resurrection encounters - there is actually the opportunity for new beginnings for those involved. Jesus meets with someone, one of his disciples, and he gives them the opportunity for a fresh start.
All of the denials, all of the turning away, all of the uncertainty, all of the unwillingness to take up their roles in the new kingdom are set aside. They are given a new beginning with a fresh understanding of their relationship with Jesus.
We read, in a few weeks, how at Pentecost, that new beginning is confirmed and the disciples take up their ministry. But these earlier encounters are all about the Lord meeting with people and clearing away their transgressions. Jesus doesn't belabor the point. He doesn't seek to have the individuals go through major steps of reconciliation, he doesn't set out an agenda of expectations for what they have to do to be reconciled with him. He speaks to the person and offers them a new beginning.
That is what is at the heart of this morning's Gospel reading. Jesus meets with Peter, Jesus challenges Peter, and then Jesus offers Peter a new beginning.
This is one of the clearest examples of grace that is shown in the Gospels. Jesus had every reason to hold Peter accountable. Jesus had every right to demand Peter step out of ministry. Jesus had every right to condemn Peter to a life of exile and vilification. But Jesus forgives and commissions Peter to a new beginning. A new life in which he could offer that same grace to all those whom he met.
Jesus actively lived out the concept of grace with each of the disciples and then commissioned them to the task of sharing that grace with others.
While I was in the process of preparing and writing my sermon, this week, I was asked by two different people if I could take some time to answer some questions. What was interesting to me was that when I sat down with those people they basically had the same question.
One asked me: "what do you think people would say was the major emphasis of your preaching, teaching, or your time here, at Christ Church?" and the other asked: "what I thought was ahead for Christ Church?"
Wow! Now there are two questions that every leader should consider every day. It got me thinking that perhaps others in the parish have similar questions. So I am going to take some time this morning to address those questions. I will also try to bring some clarity to my answers in my sermons over the next few weeks as the Gospel allows and the Holy Spirit leads.
I am going to address the second question first: "what do I think is ahead for Christ Church?" Well, I believe we are entering a season of new beginnings. A time of renewal and new opportunities for every one of us individually and for us as a community, a parish, a congregation.
I believe that we need to prepare for God to begin to move among us. That we will experience the Holy Spirit touching our lives and asking us to examine what it is that the Lord might be asking us to be willing to do next. Just as Thomas and Peter encountered the Lord perhaps we will experience some of that for ourselves. Perhaps, like Thomas, the Lord will ask us to put aside some of our doubt and questioning?
Perhaps, like Peter, the Lord will come to us and ask us to examine have we been living up to the statements of faith and confidence we have made in the past?
In this season of new beginnings perhaps some of us will be asked by the Holy Spirit to step in deeper and allow the Lord to redirect the direction of our lives?
Now I have to say the second question is a little more challenging for me to answer, not because I am not sure of what my answer would be, but because I was very surprised by it.
I actually would have thought the answer to that one was fairly clear and that I had been clear in communicating it in a straightforward way for a number of years. Apparently not.
I have to admit that when I was asked I gave a stumbling not very coherent answer. So I want to try again here and make myself accountable to you all for stating the focus of my ministry and to strive to be clearer in my presentation in the future.
So, my desire for Christ Church, now and into the future is that we would be known as a Place of Grace.
That we would live our lives together for the sake of grace. That we would be willing to risk ourselves for grace. That we would no longer hold onto our resentments because of grace. That we would no longer count the cost to ourselves, and that we would forgive for the purpose of grace. That we would study the Scriptures so that we could focus our lives on grace. That we would temper our conversations and our comments about others with grace. That we would consider how we invest our time, our talents, and our finances for grace.
So, today I want to offer us the opportunity to begin what I am going to call "THE GRACE EXPERIMENT."
We are going to experiment with grace.
I am inviting us to experiment with living our lives together for the sake of grace. To be willing to risk ourselves for grace. To no longer hold onto our resentments because of grace. To no longer count the cost to ourselves, and that we would forgive for the purpose of grace. To study the Scriptures so that we could focus our lives on grace. To temper our conversations and our comments about others with grace. To consider how we invest our time, our talents, and our finances for grace.
There isn't going to be a signup sheet for this and we are not going to hold small group meetings, this is going to be an individual opportunity that you can choose to participate in or not. You don't even have to let me know you are doing it. Let's see what the Holy Spirit does with this experiment and see how we are led by the Lord in this process.
To help us I am going to suggest that we use a scripture as a personal focus point. I am going to invite us all to read that scripture every day for the next month. To use it as our plumb line for our behavior and our attitudes.
That scripture is a Canticle from the Book of Common Prayer and copies will be available after church this morning. Talk to me afterward and I will get you a copy.
Canticle: A Song of Ezekiel
I will take you from among all nations;
and gather you from all lands
to bring you home.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you;
and purify you from false gods
A new heart I will give you
and a new spirit put within you.
I will take the stone heart
from your chest
and give you a heart of flesh.
I will help you walk in my laws
and cherish my commandments
and do them.
You shall be my people,
and I will be your God.