April 14, 2013

posted Jun 19, 2013, 12:22 PM by David Hawkins   [ updated Jun 19, 2013, 12:22 PM ]

04/14/13 Sermon (April 14, 2013)

“Fish for Breakfast”

Scripture Reading: John 21:1-19

After these things 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."

Sermon: “Fish for Breakfast”

I remember when I was a kid, camping with my dad, and going fishing early in the morning. We came back with some rainbow trout, and we put some bacon grease in a frying pan, and we had those trout for breakfast. It was glorious. I have never been so hungry. I have never tasted such good food. I have never felt so connected to nature, to the world, and to my dad. It was one of those rare perfect moments, the kind that I wanted to last forever and ever.

And since then, I’ve always had a special taste for fish. Especially for breakfast. In fact, I had some smoked salmon this morning. When I lived in Germany, I was delighted to find that you can get fish for breakfast pretty much anytime you like. They’ve got rollmops, which are pickled herring, a kind of an acquired taste. Of course there’s eel, for those who are brave. And then my favorite, lachs, which is the German word for smoked salmon.

This last weekend while we were in Colorado, I remembered that there was a coffee shop that served a wonderful New York style lox and cream cheese bagel, and so we met my friend Sally, my friend who was getting ordained, and her husband for breakfast. It was a beautiful morning, and we ate outside, and as we ate, friends of ours from Grand Junction happened to be walking down the street, and before long, we had more than a dozen folks at our table, sharing breakfast and some precious wonderful memories. And of course, fish for breakfast. It was a perfect moment.

You may remember that I once told a story in a sermon about being in Cambridge, in England, and feeling very lonely, missing my family, not really fitting into the community. And then, one day I walked into the cafeteria at lunchtime, and I smelled Fish ‘n’ Chips, and somehow, I knew that it was Friday, and that I was part of that place. You see, all of the colleges in Cambridge serve fish on Fridays, it’s part of the English Catholic and Anglican heritage, and so when I smelled the fish, it somehow located me in that place, made me feel like I was one of them, even if just for a little while. I will never forget the way fish made me feel at home in a strange place.

They say that the sense of smell is the most powerful memory trigger, and I believe it. Something magical happens to us when we smell a barbecue grill, or a thanksgiving kitchen. There are some tastes and smells that take us back, and we relive the moments we first experienced them. Our emotions and our sense of smell are bound together in ways that are powerful and mysterious.

In our scripture today, the disciples are beginning to face their everyday  life again. The roller-coaster of the last month is beginning to slow down, the chaos that has surrounded them is starting to subside. The excitement of the triumphal entry in Jerusalem, the terror of the midnight arrest, the grief of Jesus’ execution, the confusion and joy at seeing Jesus alive again, all of the these crazy emotions are starting to smooth out, and the normal routine of getting up in the morning and going to work is calling to them.

They are trying to get back into the groove of things.

But it doesn’t seem to be working.

They go back to the one thing they know, fishing. But they couldn’t even catch a cold. They fish like I do. Poorly. They fish all night long, without a nibble.

But in the morning, a stranger starts offering them advice from the shoreline. “Fish on the other side of the boat,” he says. Well, like they haven’t tried that already. Give me a break. But it works, and they haul in the net filled with what the Bible says is 153 large fish.

153 large fish. Well, you know me, I just can’t let that go. I had to figure out how much fish that would be. So, let’s see, the disciples are on the sea of Tiberius, which is another name for the sea of Galilee, which is a freshwater lake, and the main fish at that time would probably be Tilapia. Yes Tilapia, the fish for people who don’t really like fish. The largest species of Tilapia in that area would be the Nile Tilapia, and it could get as long as 2 feet, and weigh over 10 pounds.

So, a net full of 153 large fish could weigh more than 1500 pounds. That is a lot of fish for the seven disciples listed in the scripture to carry.   

The disciples have to know that something’s going on. This kind of change in fortune is not an accident. The disciples realize that it is Jesus, and they go to the shore, where of course they have fish for breakfast.

And how richly satisfying this breakfast must have been for them. Working all night without any luck, I can identify with them, and then there’s fresh fish right from the lake into the frying pan. And the memories stirred up by this food, good memories of Jesus feeding the 5 thousand, memories of countless other meals gathered together with Jesus, listening, marvelling, questioning, believing. What it must have been like, sitting down one last time with their friend, after everything that’s happened, sharing one more meal, this time with their risen savior. A perfect moment. I can imagine that they wanted that moment to last forever and ever.

My friends, this is what communion is. Communion is that same meal in which we are given permission to bring our empty nets to Jesus, and to remember that in him, we can do anything. It’s that meal in which we are reconnected with Jesus Christ, and with each other. It’s that meal in which we are fed the most satisfying, fulfilling food imaginable, and it’s free, and it’s endless.

This story establishes the pattern of life for the earliest disciples of the church. As their lives begin to smooth out, as the craziness that has surrounded them for so long subside, and they consider the work that that is before them, fishing for people, feeding the lambs, they are first fed by Jesus Christ.

In the earliest documents of the church, Christian communities gathered weekly to pray and to worship and to teach, and at each gathering, they broke bread, and they were fed at the Easter table of our Lord. It was at the table that they received the food for both their bodies and their souls for the work ahead of them.

Without this food, our lives and souls are curiously empty. But with this food, we are able to face the day that God has given us, for good and for bad.

Communion is not a burden; it’s a gift. It’s not a task that we are commanded to do; it’s a celebration to which we are invited. It’s not a formal dinner; it’s a gathering of dear friends, a reminder of shared memories, and the promise of forgiveness. It’s not fancy clothes, or stiff conversations between strangers; it’s the sound of fish frying early in the morning, sitting around a campfire, with our friends. Communion is a perfect moment and we are given permission to experience it forever and ever.

As we begin this season of Easter, I invite you begin your week with us by being fed by Jesus at this table. Of course, the reality is, we can live without Jesus. We can get up, go to work, come home, go to bed, without once considering the freedom he has given us.

But at the end of the day, if our lives are lived without a sense of our connection with Jesus, or our relationships that we share with one another in his name, we find ourselves empty-handed, and our fishing has been in vain. If we are going to live in his name, then we need his strength. If we are going to feed his lambs, then we need the food that only he can offer. If we are to spread his name in this community, in this world, we must first be fed by his love.

Come to the table of our living Lord. There’s nothing like the smell of fish for breakfast.

Thanks be to God.