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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

God of Second Chances (Lamentations 3.19-26, John 21.1-19)

April 18, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell

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Scroll to bottom of sermon to hear Katie singing "He's Always Been Faithful"

This week we hear about Jesus appearing to some disciples at the Sea of Galilee. He has already appeared to them once in the room where they were hiding after the crucifixion. So they know he is alive. John even says that Jesus performed “many other signs” in their presence. But this third resurrection appearance to the disciples happened after all that.

Seven of the disciples were together and Peter announced, “I am going fishing.” The whole group decided to go with him. Many or all of them had grown up as fishermen, and it was natural for them to go together to handle the nets.

It must have been a frustrating night for them, because they did not catch any fish. Maybe they wondered if they had lost the touch they once had. Maybe they were out there contemplating whether they should return to their former lives. Whatever the reason was, no one likes to fish and catch nothing.

And then, as the sun was rising, a man shouted from the shore, “Do you have any fish?” They couldn’t see who it was, but they answered… surely a discouraged (and perhaps annoyed), “No!” And then this stranger tells them to throw their nets back in off the right-hand side of the boat. He tells them that they will find a catch there.

About this time, however, something should have begun to wake in the back of Peter’s mind. It had been three years, but certainly he could never forget what started with frustrated fishing and ended with Jesus saying, “Follow me.” On that day he hadn’t caught any fish either. And Jesus told him to go back out and throw his nets back in the water. Really, it’s kind of strange this happening again…

And about the time enough neurons fired in Peter’s brain to make the connection, the nets began to strain with the great number of fish… just like that other time. In fact, EXACTLY like that other time. It was nothing short of a miracle!

And just then, too, the young disciple, John, turned to Peter and said, “It is the Lord.” Peter put his outer garment back on and dove in the water to swim to shore. The others were left to haul in the fish and bring the boats to shore.

By the time they got to the shore, Jesus had a fire going with fish cooking, and bread ready to eat. And Jesus asked them to put some of their own fish on the fire and invited them to come and have breakfast with him.

And they all knew him and broke bread and ate fish with him.

I’d like to look at the things Jesus said that day as we try to understand what God would teach us from this encounter between the disciples and the risen Jesus Christ.

“Children, You Do Not Have Any Fish, Do You?” (v. 5)

We don’t really know why these disciples went fishing that day. It might have just been for fun, though fishing with boats and nets isn’t the recreational event that heading to the pond with a rod and reel can be. It may be that it was apparent that the days of following Jesus around from town to town were over and the disciples were trying to figure out what to do next, though Jesus had told them that he was “sending them as the Father sent him.” What seems apparent in the scene that follows – when Jesus forgives and commissions Peter to “tend his sheep” - is that Peter was still feeling cut off from Jesus. He had betrayed Jesus and denied every knowing him, and resurrection or not, Peter probably felt like his discipling days were over.

When Jesus calls out from the shore, he is asking more than about the quality of the fishing. As always, there is intent behind his every question. When he asks if they’ve caught any fish, I believe he is asking them, “How are you doing on your own?”

Like Peter, we may have experienced God in a profound way at one point in our lives. Maybe it was at a summer camp; maybe it was on a youth mission trip; maybe at a church service or a revival meeting; maybe in a quiet moment alone with God. Like Peter, we may have walked closely with the Lord for some time in our lives, but now feel distant and are not sure how to get back that closeness. And it may be that we have returned to our former lives or ways of doing things… out of habit, in a search for meaning, or out of a need to feel productive.

The distance between us and God may not be from something as dramatic as Peter’s denial, but is real nonetheless. And whether we’ve known God before or not, being distant from God amounts to the same thing – feeling like we are on our own in the world.

And a stranger shouts from the edge of our awareness, “How are you doing on your own?” It’s a pretty annoying question, especially if things aren’t the greatest right now. But as the clouds clear in our minds, and we see that it’s Jesus asking the question, we have to take the question seriously.

And, having considered the question seriously, I’d have to answer, “Not so great… I could use some direction; I could use some help.”

“Cast the Net on the Right Side of the Boat” (v. 6)

And Jesus offered guidance. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat.” It is not inconsequential that the step of repentance, always a core ingredient in being forgiven and reconnected with God involves turning from one direction to another. “Turn from the left and go to the right.” Stop moving this direction in your life and go this direction.” As Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving, but be faithful.”

And so Jesus may well speak convicting words into our lives… into our not-so-great situations.

Stop pursuing wealth; pursue me. Stop worshiping that idol, that person, and that success story; start worshiping me with your whole heart. Stop sinning; turn to me.

It may be that Jesus’ words cause us embarrassment; they may disrupt what we think of as a balanced life. But if the answer to the question, “How are you doing on your own?” is “Not so well,” then it may be in our best interest to consider what Jesus says.

The disciples’ obedience led them to the miracle. Doing what God says leads us toward His will for our lives, and when our lives are wrapped up in God’s will, then amazing things WILL happen. When we exchange our behavior for God’s direction (that’s REPENTANCE) and obey God’s will (that’s WORSHIP), God works in our lives, offering forgiveness, cleaning us up, and using us for His glory.

The natural response to recognizing God at work and experiencing this kind of miracle in one’s life is exactly Peter’s response – to run to God (or swim!). The more God works in our life, the more we will be drawn to Him in love and gratitude.

“Bring Some of the Fish Which You Have Now Caught” (v. 10)

The third thing Jesus said to the disciples was, “Bring some of what you have now caught.” They arrived on the shore to find him already cooking breakfast for them. Who knows where Jesus had come up with the fish and bread. God has everything we need already prepared for us!

And yet, He invites us to participate WITH Him – to bring ourselves and what we have done to His table.

Though fish and bread were a common enough breakfast, the miracle of the catch and the fact that Jesus provided where none were before would have reminded the disciples of the day he fed 5,000 with one boy’s lunch of fish and bread. It was just after that miraculous event that Jesus taught them that he was the bread of life, the bread sent from Heaven, the living Manna from God.

His lesson that day was that God had sent us exactly what we needed for spiritual nourishment – for eternal life – in the person of His Son, Jesus. By “feasting on” Jesus, we would be fed forever. And yet… God invites us to bring some of what we have. God invites us to exchange our sins for his grace; God invites us to include our praises and words of thanks with the eternal song of Heaven. Even as God offers us rescue and life itself, He invites us to add our will and worship to what is already perfect.

Such is our salvation and such is the table the Lord sets before us. God is and has everything we could ever need. At the same time, God delights in inviting us to “bring some of what we have now caught” – which is what He has produced in our life as we obey and follow Him. What a privilege and what a joy!

“Come and Have Breakfast” (v. 12)

And finally, Jesus invites the disciples to “Come and have breakfast.” Come, sit with Him; come, worship Him; come love Him and be loved by Him; come enjoy God’s provision and the result of God at work in your life. The disciples did not need to ask who this was. They knew him as their Lord and friend.

“Do You Love Me? ... Tend My Sheep” (v. 17)

I’ve never preached this whole passage together, but Jesus’ conversation with Peter flows right out of the encounter with the larger group. If his words and questions about how you are doing and turning around and bringing what we have to share in what he is doing are too vague, what follows with Peter is direct, personal, and to the point. Peter, who has done all the other disciples have and more in terms of giving up, running away, and denying him, now must confront his own failures and see what the Lord has in store for him.

It is just here where we see the truth of those verses from Lamentations: “God’s mercies are new every morning.” It is a second chance and more. Three times, perhaps even once for each denial, Jesus asks Peter some variation of “Do you love me?” Three times Peter has the opportunity to respond. And three times, Jesus answers with some variation of “tend my sheep.” Earlier we saw the invitation to repentance and worship and here it is extended directly and personally to Peter. “Peter, will you turn to me and love me?... Then I have work for you to do – to share in my own work.”

“Follow Me” (v. 19)

Jesus’ words to Peter do not end there, but with the same words with which he began three years earlier. On that day, after telling Peter and others to push back out and throw their nets back in, Jesus invited them to “Follow me.” So also, on this day of second chances and new starts, Jesus calls Peter once again, saying, “Follow me.”

How many of us need to hear God’s declaration, not just that he wants and uses ordinary people like you and me, but that he comes even to those who have failed and fallen to call to them – to call you – again and again. To you who are burned out, used up, off track, ashamed, and full of doubt; welcome to the disciples’ club! I just described those in the boat that day and especially the one to whom Jesus said, “Do you love me? Tend my sheep.” And as he said to Peter, so he would say to you, “Follow me.”

Listen again to the words from Lamentations 3:19–26, which we used for our call to worship. Surely these words would have rung true in Peter’s heart. Maybe they describe your journey as well. Listen to the Good News of God’s gracious love and purpose for you:
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord.


Katie singing "He's Always Been Faithful"


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