Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our risen Lord and
Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
No doubt most of you have heard the “light bulb” jokes
that have been making the rounds for several years. The basic structure of
these is for the joke-teller to question his audience as to how many people of
a particular profession or group it takes to change a light bulb. When the
recipients are stumped as to the answer, the joke teller then gives the correct
number, and explains why. The humor comes in that the reason it supposedly
takes that number of people reveals something of society’s perceived view of
that group’s or profession’s characteristics.
Such jokes are usually pretty harmless. In most
cases, anyone who is a member of the group or profession can even laugh along
without being offended, usually agreeing that, “Yes, we’re often like that.”
For example, how many Episcopalians does it take to
change a light bulb? Three: One to call an electrician, and two to mix the
How many Jews does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one: “Don’t worry about me; I’ll just sit here in the dark.”
And, finally: How many Lutherans does it take to
change a light bulb? Thirteen: Six to complain to the pastor that they’ve
noticed a burnt-out bulb and wonder why he hasn’t fixed it yet, and seven to
hold a meeting of the Trustees to determine if there are still funds for one
more light bulb in the budget.
We chuckle at such humor because—even though it
generalizes—it also captures some of the underlying truth about who we are as
Extending that concept to today’s Gospel lesson, I
might ask: How many disciples does it take to catch a fish? Answer: It
depends… is Jesus involved, or not?
I can’t even begin to imagine the emotional
roller-coaster on which the disciples had ridden in the 47 days between Jesus’
triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and His ascension to heaven 40
days after His resurrection. What incredible swings from highs to lows and
back again, several times.
Just try to put yourself there for a moment: Thinking
that the man you were following was going to be installed as the ruler of a new
Israel, throwing off the heavy yoke of the hated Romans and their puppet,
Herod. Being reminded that, instead, your leader was going to be taken
prisoner, suffer, and die. Being told He was going to rise again from the
dead. Seeing all that He had spoken of come to pass—in vivid detail.
The fear and turmoil at His arrest, torture, and
death; then, the euphoric joy at seeing Him alive several times, still bearing
the scars of the wounds He had suffered. The anxiety of being separated from
Him in between those post-resurrection appearances.
The disciples had been told during some of Jesus’
early appearances that He would go before them to Galilee, the area where it
had all started those many months before. Later, they would be instructed to
return to Jerusalem and stay there, where they would be given power from
heaven—power they would need to remain firm in the faith and to convey God’s
message of salvation near and far.
But now, during one of the lulls or downtimes in this
frenzy of amazing events, seven of Jesus’ disciples find themselves back on
familiar ground—gathered together on the shores of the lake they knew so well.
It was here that some of them had made their living at
fishermen, up until three years before. It was here Jesus had called some of
them to “follow me,” and they obeyed. Along its shores He had taught and
healed, fed and forgiven. Upon its surface He had walked, and from beneath its
depths He had previously given a wondrous catch of fish so great that the nets
had broken and it took the crews of two boats to haul the catch in.
In the stillness of this evening, though, these seven
disciples find themselves quite alone, even in each other’s company: Peter,
Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John, and two others. The Denier. The Doubter. The
Scoffer. Two Connivers. And two Unknowns.
As he is so apt to often do, it is Peter who speaks
and acts first. Whether he is simply seeking solace and comfort in that which
is familiar to him, or is unconsciously trying to return to the life he had
before it had all gotten so complicated, we can’t say for certain.
What we do know is that they still had
possession of a boat and fishing tackle, and at least three of these disciples
had the expertise to use them. Yet despite having all the right equipment, and
plenty of knowledge, skills, and experience, their efforts at catching anything
turned out quite futile.
Tired and frustrated, they head back to the shore,
perhaps wondering if their fishing abilities—like the presence of Jesus—was now
something that they’d only see and have occasionally. But just when their
hopes were near their lowest, Jesus stands before them. “Haven’t you any
fish?” He asks.
In a way, this is almost a veiled insult. These
disciples had been told at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry that they were to
have left behind their boats and nets, and to follow Jesus in catching men
rather than fish.
And now, they have to admit publicly to this stranger
on the shore the very real truth that they can’t even catch fish anymore. “What
good are we?” they might’ve asked themselves at that moment. “What’s
the use?” Yet this stranger on the shore doesn’t laugh at them for their
shame and futility. Instead, He offers some clear direction and quiet
confidence: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will
This time, there’s no hesitation. This time, there is
no protest from Peter as there had been when he’d said, years before, “Master
we’ve labored all night and haven’t caught anything.” The disciples
obey, and their obedience unexpectedly bears fruit—or, rather, fish.
So miraculous is this turn of events that immediately
the eyes of John are opened, and he is led to realize that it is Jesus Himself
on the shoreline. John gives voice to his discovery, and Peter can’t hold
himself back from still another impetuous act. He throws on his clothes and
throws himself into the lake.
This time, there’s no, “If it is really you,
Lord, command me to walk across the water to you.” This time, there
isn’t any, “Get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” No,
this time Peter’s doubts and fears have completely vanished, and his desire to
be with the Lord drives him headlong into the headwaters of the Jordan. A confidence born of faith and sealed in his witnessing of the resurrected Christ
brought Peter through the waters and placed him before His Savior.
Yet, pleased as He must’ve been to have Peter show
such eagerness and devotion, Jesus doesn’t leave Peter to linger in wonder in front
of His resurrected body. Peter isn’t to abandon his fellow believers in their
struggles with the overflowing bounty of this catch. “Bring some of the
fish you have just caught,” Jesus instructs. So, Peter returns to the
boat, and assists his brethren in hauling the full net to the shore.
It is as if Jesus had said, “I told you before that
you would be catching men, not fish. But since this is the last time you’ll be
going fishing on the lake before I send you the power to do that, I’m going to
make sure it’s a memorable one. Enjoy this sort of fishing while you can.”
While it might be difficult for us to try to relate
our own circumstances to those of these first-century fishermen, we are often
much like Peter and these other disciples.
When we don’t feel or see the Lord directly involved
in our lives in a very visible way, we are prone to fall into old, worldly
habits. We get distracted by what we know and what we feel comfortable doing,
rather than hearing His words, “As the Father has sent me, even so, I am
sending you.” We strive so hard to provide for ourselves, casting our
nets aimlessly here and there across the desolate surface of the deep, or
fruitlessly fishing in the same spot over and over, rather than trusting that
the Lord will provide all that we need, and more.
And, too often, in our eagerness to have a closer
personal relationship with our Lord, we leave our fellow Christians to struggle
against their own burdens, forgetting that our Savior said, “Whatever you
do to the least of these, my brethren, you do it unto me.”
For all these shortcomings, whether from weakness of
faith or selfish ambition, repent.
Repent for failing to see how the Lord works clearly
in your life, every day in countless ways.
Repent for forgetting to give thanks for the even more
countless ways in which He works that are unknown to you.
Repent of letting the world lead you toward choosing
what to do, rather than letting God’s word of guidance rule in your heart, your
mind, and your actions.
Repent of not trusting that He will provide for your
every need according to His good and gracious will.
Repent for thinking that your survival and success
depends on what you alone do.
And repent that you have often turned away from your
responsibilities to be a good neighbor to your brothers and sisters in Christ,
refusing to take up your share of the burdens of this fellowship—with your time,
your efforts, your finances.
Return to the boat—the ark of His Church—and put
yourself to the task of bringing ashore the incredible bounty the Lord has
placed in our nets, easily grasped if enough of us are willing to take a hold
of those nets and pull hard with the strength He gives us. The net won’t
break, because God’s Word is never broken, and that Word always accomplishes
what He would have it do.
How many Saviors does it take to change everything?
Only one, for He is the Son of God and the one who has accomplished all things,
so that you might receive eternal life not by your own doing, but by His work
on the bloody cross and by the power of His resurrection.
Having worked so hard in the darkness and gaining
nothing of worth, come into the light of the new Easter dawn. See your Savior
standing, awaiting you. Cast your net on the right side, and He will give you
what you’ve been looking for. Bring the catch that He has provided you to the
place where He is.
And as the culmination of it all, receive the meal
that your Savior has prepared for you—His body and blood, given into death on
the cross, but raised again to new life so that you may believe. It is the
foretaste of the heavenly banquet that He provides for the forgiveness of your
sins and the strengthening of your faith. Come, and have breakfast.
In His holy (+) name, Amen.