Sunday, April 3, 2016

I Am Going Fishing (John 21.1-17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 3, 201
Text: John 21.1-17

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Scripture and Music ::
Call to Worship: Piano Meditations, Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Praise: Come, People of the Risen King (Getty/Townend)
Song of Praise: Mighty to Save (Morgan, Fielding)
Offering of Music: He's Always Been Faithful to Me - Katie Meeks, soloist (Sara Groves)
Hymn of Sending: Great is Thy Faithfulness (FAITHFULNESS)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.


Tomorrow morning, thanks to the generosity of the session and this congregation, I am going to begin a planned sabbatical: a time of rest and spiritual renewal. You will ever be on my mind, though, and just as the session has challenged me to be thoughtful in my time away, so I want to challenge and charge you to be intentional with the time.

In today’s text 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.

So here’s my premise for using this text. Jesus is still “around” – they know that. But he is not walking around with them day in and day out anymore and they are trying to figure out what to do in this changed scenario. While I’m not Jesus, and I am coming back to be with you, it seemed like there might be some things to look at and learn from.

Going Fishing

In that strange post-Easter time, we find seven of the disciples together. Peter announces, “I am going fishing” and the whole group decides to go with him. Now that’s not too strange because many or all of them had grown up as fishermen and it was natural for them to go together to handle the nets. Nonetheless, it must have been a frustrating night for them, because they did not catch any fish; 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.

Now my prayer is that the next twelve weeks will be full of the fruit and movement of God’s Spirit among you. But if you have moments of wondering what church looks like while the pastor is gone, or any time you may be struggling to figure out what God wants you to be doing, consider the words of Jesus in this passage.

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

We don’t really know why these disciples went fishing that day. What seems apparent in the scene that follows – when Jesus forgives and commissions Peter to “tend his sheep” - is that Peter was 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. He had called Peter to fish for people and yet here is Peter turned away from that calling. When Jesus asks if they’ve caught any fish, I believe he is asking them, and especially Peter, “How’s doing your own thing going?”

One of the questions I have found myself asking you (and me) over and over is, “What is God doing in and around you and how can you be a part?” I trust that the elders will not stop asking, nor that you will stop hearing that question playing over and over. But if that question does become faint in your ears, consider Jesus’ question: “How are you doing on your own?”

It’s a pretty annoying question, especially if things aren’t the greatest. But when we realize that it’s Jesus asking the question, we have to take the question seriously.

Continue to listen for Jesus’ voice!

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

Jesus offered Peter and the others 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.”

When you listen for Jesus’ voice, he may well speak convicting words into your life… 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 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.

Continue to follow where Jesus leads, even if that requires a significant change.

“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. God had sent 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!

God continues to invite each of you to bring something to His work through this church and in the world.

“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.

God continues to invite each of you to participate in His work through this church and in the world.

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

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.

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.”

If you ever start to think God is done with you, remember Peter; God’s invitation is a wide net, but it is also personal and specific for you.

“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.”

God continues to call disciples like Peter and like you, saying, “Follow me.”


I believe the Holy Spirit is moving and will move among you while I’m gone. I believe Jesus is still working wonders and cooking up fish for you and with you. My prayer is that you press on, listening, obeying, and partnering with Jesus, wherever he leads you. Amen.





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