Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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Second Chances

John 21:1-19

I’ve heard it said that “When you don’t know what to do, you’ll do what you know.” It seems the disciples don’t know what to do. They saw Jesus risen from the dead back in Jerusalem. He told them to go to Galilee and wait for him there. He won’t give them their “marching orders” until the Ascension. So what do they do in the meantime? Hang out? Wait for him to show up? Twiddle their thumbs?

So Peter goes back to what he knows: Fishing, a time-honored traditional way of killing time and avoiding real work. I highly recommend it. And the rest of the disciples say, “Sure, yeah, let’s go!”

After a long night of fishing, and not doing too well, Jesus shows up and repeats a miracle from when they first met him three years earlier. They make a miraculously large catch of fish; 153 of them.

The Early Church Fathers just loved to find meaning in everything. And this is no exception. They set out to explain why they caught 153 fish. Jerome said there were 153 different kinds of fish in the whole world, and they caught one of each. Another early Church Father said there 153 nations in the world, and this shows that Jesus will bring people of every nation into the Church, and the net, which represents the Church, did not break, because there is room for all in the Church.

Well, I’m pretty sure that I can tell you exactly why John notes that they caught 153 fish. Because John was a fisherman, and no fisherman who ever caught 153 fish would ever let anyone forget it. Just so you know, I once caught a 20 inch smallmouth. In case you were wondering.

Then they go and have breakfast with Jesus. And I think John makes sure to include this story as another evidence of the resurrection. John wrote his Gospel to a Greek audience, and the Greek people were fine with believing in a spiritual resurrection, but they weren’t so sure about a physical resurrection. John assures them, and us, the risen Christ was real enough to both cook fish and eat fish. Ignatius, who was one of the Early Church Fathers, actually knew some of the disciples personally. He was a “second generation” Christian. He wrote in one of his letters that “after his resurrection, Jesus ate and drank with them as one in the flesh.”

After breakfast comes the real heart of the text. Earlier, on the night when Jesus was arrested, he told his disciples what was going to happen. And Jesus told the disciples they would all abandon him. And Peter, always impetuous and boastful Peter, spoke up said, “Even if everyone else does, I’ll never leave you Jesus. I’ll die with you before I leave you.” And you know the story, right? Not only did Peter run away when he had the chance, but that very night, he denied he even knew Jesus three times. Jesus gives him the opportunity to “undo” that three-fold denial with a three-fold affirmation of his love.

It’s good news for everyone who has ever committed to following Jesus and then, at some point, fallen short, turned away from him, maybe even denied him. Maybe you think of yourself in that category: At some point you turned away from Jesus. Jesus will welcome you back, past failures and all. As long as we are alive in this world, we still have the chance to return to Jesus.

We should notice what Jesus tells Peter to do to show his love: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep. We can only demonstrate our love for Jesus by loving others. If we truly love him, then we must be obedient to his calling to love and serve others. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”

The last words of the text sound rather ominous: “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands and others will take you where you don’t want to go.” Peter was executed by crucifixion in Rome, around the year 64 AD, during a time of persecution of Christians under the Emperor Nero. Peter may not have followed through on his pledge to die for Jesus the first time, but eventually, he did.

It reminds us that we can never truly love and serve Jesus, unless we are willing to die to self. When Jesus set out for Jerusalem and the cross, he told his disciples, “If you want to be my follower, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”

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