Sunday, April 14, 2013

Easter 3, Series C

Sermon on John 21:1-19
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 14, 2013 (Second Sunday of Easter)

The events of this chapter probably evoked a sense of deja vu in the disciples’ minds, as many of the things that happened here seem almost intended to remind these men of other things that had happened during Jesus’ earthly ministry.  The disciples went fishing because they were hungry, and their previous careers had been as commercial fishermen.  The closest source of food was the very lake where they had spent many years catching fish as their main source of income.  Fishing wasn’t just a hobby to these men, a pleasant pastime they engaged in to relax whether or not they caught any fish; it was what they knew how to do, and also, therefore, the most likely source of food at this point, while they waited for Jesus to meet them here in Galilee as He had promised to do.

But they caught nothing, until Jesus tells them to let down their nets on the right side of the boat.  And it was when they did that, and they began to catch an extraordinary number of fish, that they recognized it was Jesus.  It had been, after all, three years ago on the shores of this same lake where He had given them another command that didn’t make much sense to them as fishermen, and then told them that they would in the future be catching men.  Last Sunday we heard about one stage in the fulfillment of that promise to make them fishers of men, as He gave them the Office of the Keys, the authority to bind and loose sins, which is the main tool that Churches and their pastors have in catching men for the kingdom of God, namely proclaiming the forgiveness of sins and therefore also life and salvation to those who know that their sins have made them helpless before God’s wrath.  Here He graphically illustrates what He had been talking about, as once again the great catch of fish is only available when He is the one guiding their work.

And its not a coincidence that this is when they recognize Him, either.  It was after the first miraculous catch of fish that they first recognized whom they were dealing with as well, with Peter asking Jesus to depart from him because he’s a sinner.  Of course, Jesus didn’t apply the binding key to Peter despite what Peter said to Him, because as a repentant sinner the binding key wasn’t what Peter needs.  The forgiveness of sins and restoration to the fellowship of the Church is what the Church is first and foremost to be about.  I suspect that Jesus was also hinting at this as well when He told the disciples to put the nets out on the right side of the boat, as it is the right-handed key, the right hand of fellowship, the forgiveness rather than the retention of sins, that is how sinners are turned into saints in God’s kingdom.  In fact, later in today’s Gospel Jesus personally applies this to Peter, as Peter’s sinfulness had showed itself in a major way during Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin.

And so it’s Peter who jumps into the sea as soon as he recognizes the Lord, just as it was Peter who impetuously asked Jesus if he could try his hand at the whole walking-on-water thing on that same lake during Jesus’ ministry.  Despite how that first experience with jumping out of the boat turned out, it is nevertheless through water that those who will now be caught by the disciples come to Jesus.  It is through the washing of repentance and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which we call Holy Baptism, that those who are caught are brought to Him.

And it is over a meal of bread and fish, not so different from the one that was miraculously multiplied to feed five thousand men plus their women and children, near the shore of this same lake, that Jesus partakes of earthly food with His disciples.  After the first meal of bread and fish, Jesus used it as an opportunity to teach about the greater meal of His body and blood which would become the eternal food of those who are caught.  The fish are caught and brought, through water, to a meal of fish.  Those who are incorporated into His body by being baptized into His death and resurrection, are brought to a meal in which they, the body of Christ, eat the body of Christ.

As I said, this whole sequence of events was designed to remind the apostles of what He had taught them over the course of His ministry.  Even though He is now raised from the dead and his body has become the first-fruits of the new creation, the new heavens and new earth, He is not a different Jesus.  He is not a different person.  He still is the one who directs and works through His Church to forgive sins and bring people into His eternal kingdom.  He is still the one who is the true Lord of the Church.  He is still the one who grants grace and every blessing to His fishers of men, without whom they can do nothing.  He will still be the one preaching, baptizing, and feeding His Church.  He is still the one who has caught you and me, and who has brought us into the ship of His Church, who still feeds us and works through us as the Church continues to catch men and bring them to the safe haven of eternal life.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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