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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter 04/14/2013

I don’t think there’s much question that the end of last week’s Doubting Thomas reading was the intended end of John’s gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  That sounds like the end; case closed. John says, “I’ve said what I have to say and after twenty chapters I’ve told you exactly who I believe Jesus is…the Messiah, the Son of God.” 

John was pretty clearly done at the end of Chapter 20, so Chapter 21, part of which I just read, represents something of a mystery.  Most scholars agree that it must have been added later, but whether this chapter was written later or found later we don’t really know.  On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter because it obviously was seen as being worthy of inclusion even if it does kind of have a “deleted scenes” feeling about it.  It’s   good that it is included though, because this chapter does provide further insight into the post-Resurrection presence of Jesus with his disciples.

The scene had shifted; Chapter 20 all took place in Jerusalem, but now the disciples are by the Sea of Tiberias which is another name for the Sea of Galilee; so basically they’re back home, back where the Jesus story had started for them.  Back in Galilee maybe their desire was for life to get back to normal, back to what it had been before the run with Jesus.  But you would also think, that in light of the resurrection, they were hoping for a new normal.  After all, something dramatic had happened; they might not understand it all but something had happened.   What they had thought was the end, the crucifixion of Jesus, wasn’t the end; they had experienced Jesus alive again and shouldn’t that change things?  Shouldn’t life be different after an event of that magnitude?  Shouldn’t life be better?

Whatever their expectations were, for Peter and several of the others, what was normal was fishing.  So when Peter announced that he was going fishing it wasn’t a shock and it wasn’t a shock that others joined him.  You do what you know how to do and fishing was what they knew.  Anyone who has ever fished knows that when you fish, some days are better than others in terms of how much you catch.  Maybe though, in light of the resurrection and the change it represented, maybe what Peter and the others were hoping for was that there wouldn’t be any more bad days…or nights, but this first post-Resurrection fishing excursion didn’t go well… “but that night, they caught nothing,” the text says.  If they were hoping for no more bad days, that’s not what they got.

There had to be disappointment with that; it looked like the new normal wasn’t going to be any different than the old normal.  It looked like the resurrection hadn’t changed anything, that life was still going to be subject to the same ups and downs and in betweens as it always had.  Jesus had been raised and that was a good thing, but had all he’d been through and all they’d been through really made any difference?  If so, it wasn’t readily apparent…until dawn was breaking and they saw a stranger on the beach.

People like me often say that the Doubting Thomas story gets included every year because everybody can relate to it; everyone has their Thomas moments.  That’s true; but that ability to relate may be just as true for this story of the disciples gone fishing.  Every year on Easter Sunday you hear about how the resurrection changes everything; the world is different because “He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!”  We enjoy the celebration and have a nice Easter dinner, but for most of us, within a day or two we’re back to the routine of our life, whatever that may be.  Life gets back to normal, and it’s nothing new; it’s the old normal.  On Easter Sunday the pastor talks about what a difference it makes, how the resurrection is the best news we’ve ever had, but then, like the disciples gone fishing, life is still full of the same old frustrations.

But then there’s that stranger on the beach, cooking breakfast.  If the story ended with “but that night they caught nothing” that would indeed be depressing.  But it doesn’t end there; there is the stranger on the beach.  He suggests that they try casting the nets on the other side of the boat and lo and behold they catch so many fish, 153 to be precise, that the net almost breaks.  If you were hoping for an explanation of the 153, sorry, there doesn’t seem to be one other than it’s a large number representing abundance or some speculate that it could represent the number of known species of fish at that time in that part of the world.  Basically though, it’s a mystery.  You suspect that the number means something, but no one has ever figured it out.

A couple of things to note though, on this miraculous catch of fish; first of all Peter pays attention to the advice of the man on the beach.  Now, if he knew it was Jesus that would perhaps make sense, but he doesn’t.  We know it’s Jesus but the text says the disciples did not know.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t always respond real well when someone tells me how to do something when I’m pretty sure I know more about it than they do.  That’s the situation Peter was in, yet he didn’t just lash out in anger or say “That’s not going to help,” as I might have done, he gave it a shot. 

From that, Peter figures out that it is Jesus and I think that’s significant because this moment of enlightenment came when he probably least expected it, a moment when he wasn’t even being successful doing what he knew best how to do.  It was a moment when he probably felt like a failure, when the new normal he was hoping for wasn’t happening and even the old normal wasn’t as good as it used to be.  Peter wasn’t having a great day.

That brings me back to the fact that just as we can identify with Thomas’ doubt, I think we can identify with Peter in this story today.  We do return to normal a day or two after Easter and for the most part it is the old normal and because of that we can feel like we haven’t really experienced the Risen Christ; we’ve been in church, we’ve heard about him, but we haven’t really experienced him.  Maybe though, we get so trapped in the old normal, so blinded by the old normal, that we don’t see the stranger on the beach or pay attention to him.  Remember, Peter didn’t know who it was, but it was though that stranger that he experienced the Risen Christ. 

You never know who it’s going to be, who is going to provide you with that Risen Christ moment.  Peter could have missed it; he could have been so bogged down in the old normal and his frustration with things that he didn’t pay any attention to the man on the beach, or he could have said, “Put the nets on the other side of the boat?  That’s not going change anything,” and he would have missed it.

I think that happens a lot.  We want to experience the Risen Christ, or so we say, we want the resurrection to make a difference, but getting busy again with the ordinary of life we either miss the stranger on the beach or we ignore the offered advice saying, “That’s not going to make any difference,” and we stay stuck in the old normal. 

I think about this relative to spiritual practices and disciplines.  In Monday Bible Study right now we’re going to be looking at some methods of prayer that have been used for a long, long time to help people to deepen their relationship with God, to experience God more personally.  Some of you have done this in Lay School classes; it’s actually what I’ve been doing at the Grace Institute down in Iowa that I’ve been going to for a couple of years.  The desire is for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the Risen Christ, and if asked, probably all of us would say that we want that.   But, if on learning about a particular practice, your response is “Well that’s not going to work for me,” it won’t.  But if you’re like Peter and you try putting the nets down on the other side of the boat, who knows?  The Risen Christ just might show up; there might be a new normal for you.

That’s just one example of paying attention and being open to the presence of God in your life, but the stranger on the beach is out there in some form or fashion for all of us.  You might be the stranger for someone, the one who provides that experience of the Risen Christ, the one who has just the words that will make a difference, the one who transforms normal and most likely it will happen not through some well planned confession of faith but in the ordinary of life, when like Peter, we’ve gone back to fishing. 

We need to pay attention though, or we’ll miss the stranger.  We need to pay attention, maybe especially at those times when the nets are empty and even what we know and do best isn’t working. 

The stranger on the beach is watching for you.  Dawn is breaking, he’s got the fire started and breakfast is almost ready.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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