Toorak Uniting Church

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On the beach.

John 21: 1 – 19     Acts 9: 1 – 9
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
25 April 2004

Imagine: It’s been Easter (well that isn’t hard to imagine), there has been a lot of excitement and upheaval, but in the midst of all the emotional and spiritual excitement at some stage or other tummies start to rumble and people have to eat.

At least that is how I imagine the disciples ended up back in their fishing boats fishing shortly after the first reports of the resurrection.

Even in the midst of the most exciting happenings ever, people have to eat, have to go back to work, have to earn a living.

Perhaps it wasn’t only that, perhaps it was also because the disciples sought, in the middle of what must have been unnerving and disturbing experiences, something familiar to occupy their hearts and minds.
As people do when there are upsetting and unsettling events taking place in their lives like a death in the family or sudden illness.

As the simple act of washing up after a funeral can bring relief and put things into perspective. And putting flowers in a vase for somebody in hospital can give you something to do and help you focus your mind when you are upset and feel unsettled by the unfamiliar and uncertainty of a situation completely different to your daily routine.

They must have been so unsettled, so insecure, so completely at a loss as to what it all meant and where they were going to go next those disciples!
So they return to their fishing boats and go fishing for a night. Catching nothing.

Have they lost their skill? Or do they find it difficult to put their hearts and minds into it?

By morning they must have been pretty desperate: out all night and nothing to show for it.
(We’ve heard this before haven’t we, only a couple of weeks ago? Wasn’t it Luke that told the story of how Peter was called to become a disciple after another miraculous catch of fish, also after a night of fruitless fishing? Other gospel, different story, that may have been the same story originally, but never mind, lets keep to John for now….).

According to John it is after a night of fruitless fishing after the resurrection they see a stranger sitting on the shore by a charcoal fire. By the looks of it he’s had more luck then they have, because there are fish on the fire and some bread at hand near by. The smells of a good breakfast wafting over the water towards them. mmmmm.

"Children, you didn’t catch anything did you?" Children not the customary way to address grown men really, especially fully grown rather rough folk like Galilean fishermen, and a first hint to those in the boat that something out of the ordinary could be going on….."Cast your nets out on the other side……".

Oh well they probably thought, if he says so, perhaps he can see something we can’t, so let’s try it! (actually, it is possible that somebody on the shore would, looking at the water from another angle, be able to see a shoal of fish those on the water would not be able to see at all, and those weathered fishermen probably knew this all too well).

And yes, suddenly their nets are full to overflowing. 153 fish they will count later, a very good catch at the last moment.
Yeah, time for breakfast!

"It’s the Lord" says the disciple whom Jesus loved. Love opening his eyes before any of the others can see. A voice, a familiar figure, the smell of a meal and an unexpected turn of events all he needs to understand who the stranger waiting for them on the shore is.
Whereupon Simon Peter impulsive as ever plunges into the water and heads for the beach, unable to contain himself and wait for the others.

But wait, perhaps not quite as impulsive as it seems at the first instance. He first puts his clothes on it says, or rather: he covers himself……..
A strange thing to do when you want to go swimming isn’t it? And in the company of people that have seen you in your undie’s before? (Jesus has been fishing with them before and I can’t imagine they kept their clothes on just for him?)
So why??????

The last time Jesus and Peter met in the gospel of John is at the table where Jesus tells Peter he will deny him three times and Peter full of self confidence maintains he will never ever betray Jesus, that he’d rather die then turn his back on him………
Well I think we probably all know what happened after that:
Peter did not quite live up to his own expectations less than 24 hours later.

A week or so after the event Peter has every reason to cover himself ! There is no way he can just plunge into the water and swim to his beloved master, or even better as he’s done before: Walk over the water to where Jesus is standing on the shore. Peter’s confidence and faith have suffered a nasty blow since they last spoke, a blow Peter must still be smarting from. He was not the courageous hero he had imagined himself to be, his love and loyalty not as pressure proof as he had thought, he’s failed his master and he knows it.

Jesus invites them all to breakfast. Peter, the disciple Jesus loved, and all the others after the nets have been brought ashore. 153 fish.
A mysterious number scholars have been racking their brains over for centuries. The most plausible explanation probably that at the time there were thought to be 153 nations in the world. But it could also be that it is 12x12 plus 3x3, or a misprint of any other number that might appeal. I’ll put my cards on 153: It is all the nations the disciples will be catching after this, the whole world Jesus will bring into their nets and this is their first bit of practice preparing them for it.

"Do you love me Peter?"

Any idea how that feels after you’ve betrayed somebody? Right in the middle of a reunion party, a celebratory breakfast, standing in front of the person you thought you lost forever and be confronted with your guilt?

"Do you love me Peter?"

"yes Lord, I do love you, and you know it"

"Tend my sheep"

For every denial there is a affirmation of faith. For every affirmation of faith there is a commissioning. Healing takes place, Peter is put back on his feet, forgiven and accepted as disciple of the Lord, given responsibility and a future.
And at the end two simple words:
"follow me"

A deeply moving encounter on that beach in Galilee at the crack of dawn. Reconciliation taking place, direction given, a new future opened up.

Beach, shore, words that on this day, the 25th of April have a special ring to them, because the celebration of this day has everything to do with completely different happenings on a completely different beach in Turkey many, many years ago.
A beach not of resurrection and healing and the peace of finding ones bearings in life, but a beach where many very young men suffered and died, where people were scarred for the rest of their lives through the ravages and insanity of war. And since then this date has become a day to remember all who have, since then, given their lives in the service of this country, have suffered for peace and lived with the wounds of trying to keep that peace. A day to remember the pain, the scars, the loss and the hurt of war in whatever way it was encountered. Be it in defending of this country or keeping the peace somewhere else.

Another beach. Another shore. Another story.

And yet.

The disciples were lost. Were grieving and trying to find direction. Their hands empty, their hearts and minds troubled, their future insecure on that day when they go fishing on the lake of Galilee.

It’s there that Jesus finds them. Where he suddenly appears unexpectedly on the shore, on the sidelines of their hard work, giving them direction, bringing healing and reconciliation, taking them in another direction, appointing them tenders of sheep, fishers of men.

Those who died at Galipoli, and those who came back, those who died in later conflict and those who came back, those who were the family and friends that tried to look after them and help wounds heal, those who are now keeping the peace as it is so cynically called in Iraq (God only knows if it would be worse if they weren’t there) and those who are anxiously waiting for them at home, I imagine that they are not so very different from the disciples in that boat.

Finding something to do to keep their hands and minds occupied. Feeling empty, empty handed, incapable of doing the right thing, bringing anything into fruition.
And any of us who have suffered a loss, have been wounded deeply, have lost direction will know how that feels.

And then there is Jesus, a figure on the shore, a familiar voice, a compassionate comforting set of eyes, breakfast, a few words of support and healing, reconciliation offered between work and meal. The quiet calm of the embrace of love in the midst of a world that is insecure, unsafe and unstable.

"Follow me"

That is all there is to do.

Some of us need a blinding light to see that. Paul did.
For others the quiet voice and a figure on the shore will be enough to put us on the track to peace, to putting out our nets on another side to go catch the nations in the net of peace, righteousness and love, following Jesus.
Sharing breakfast and listening to a voice that will comfort, reconcile and offer future. Looking into eyes that have been through death and destruction and live to see us through the same. Feeling the embrace of somebody that loved our enemies as much as ourselves.
Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004


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