Easter 3 Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 10 April 2016
RCL Year C: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
Jesus says: Throw your net to the right side of the boat for fish.
Does he mean your right or my right?
I wonder if the disciples wonder, as my favorite children's sermon website suggests1 What difference does it make which side of the boat?2 If fish aren't in this area of water, we won't catch any.
On this 3rd Sunday of Easter we hear in John’s Gospel the 4th & final appearance of the risen Jesus that happens after the disciples have returned to their home town & the activities that shaped their lives before Jesus called them to be fishers of people, before all the recent difficulties, disaster & surprising reversal of death's power they have witnessed.
This morning we see them after a night of futile fishing. This stranger calls to them using a parent's endearing term: "Children, you have no fish?" They say, "No." Jesus gives a simple instruction. They do what he suggests & suddenly everything changes! This happens in our lives, too.
The futile fishing suddenly transforms into a bounty. The filled-to-overflowing nets are too heavy to heave on board. Although the significance of the 153-count of fish is unclear, my sources note, the abundant catch points to the abundance of God's love that draws ALL people into God's love, ALL people into the Body of Christ. God is drawing some of this bounty to this happening community where we live God’s Love.
Notice Jesus invites the disciples to sit on the beach, around the fire he has made, to share breakfast, to break bread together again. The last time the disciples shared a meal with Jesus was the last supper, after which Peter warmed himself by a fire & denied knowing Jesus. Warming by this new fire, they share “Breakfast on the Beach” as the sermons4kids calls it.3
After this shared meal by this warm fire, Jesus has a fireside chat & gives Peter the gift of a new start, a renewed relationship, a clean heart & mind. I wonder if this new start around a fire reminds Peter of his heritage as part of God’s people led by a pillar of fire in the wilderness, the fire of the covenant with Abraham, the fire Moses saw at the burning bush, & Peter's own experience of fire’s holy significance: fire of incense in worship, fire for burnt offerings.
I wonder if Peter remembers that fire purifies. Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to purify, to burn away the ugliness in his memory of his denying Jesus 3 times.
With its several words for love, Greek speaks more precisely in this scripture. In addition to “eros” for physical love, Greek has “philia” for family or brotherly love, & “agape” for God's overflowing, self-giving, unmerited love for us.4 What kind of love do you have for Jesus?
Jesus 1st says “agape”. Peter responds, “philia”: “Yes, I love you like a brother.” Jesus says again: “agape” & Peter responds “philia”.
The 3rd time, Jesus graciously meets Peter where he is & says: “Peter, do you love me/do you 'philia'?” Peter responds not as I had hoped he would, saying “Yes, Lord, I agape you.” Peter again replies “philia”.
During our Holy Week Lunch that we co-hosted with 1st Christian, their Minister Mark Jones, spoke of this encounter5 in his meditation, noting the difference in the words Jesus & Peter use for love, not only giving me this new understanding of this encounter but also noting how Jesus changes his word choice on his 3rd question:
Jesus speaks to Peter at the level of love
to which Peter can commit.
Jesus meets us where we are &
walks with us so that we grow in his agape/love.
Agape is the starting point, the center &
the context in which Jesus invites us to live &
to work as his disciples where we are.
What kind of love do you have for Jesus?
Agape/love transforms, goes beyond simple feelings to deep commitment like we see in Jesus' life among us, as he dies for us on the cross & as he rises to lift us from being mired in mere existence to live more & more fully in God's agape/love, which we can do with the Holy Spirit guiding us.
Today's Gospel shows us the last appearance of Jesus in John's Gospel, yet the Rev. Jason Cox says this about today's Gospel:
“...this is not Jesus’ last appearance. Look with the eyes of faith, & we begin to see Jesus in the oddest places: on the seashore, in the garden, on the street corner. Sometimes Jesus is hungry & cold & asking us for money...other times he is inviting us to sit down for an unexpected meal. But always, always, Jesus is challenging us to live lives of kindness & compassion, of sharing & generosity, of justice-making & peace.”6
What kind of love do you have for Jesus?
Brother Mark Brown of the Society of St. John the Evangelist says in a recent daily meditation:
“The resurrection appearances continue in us — we’re the risen body of Christ. Each of us, in a sense, & in a very flawed way, is a resurrection appearance. The story continues — there is no ending to the gospel because resurrection continues in us.”
“Breakfast on the Beach”. http://www.sermons4kids.com/ Accessed: 8 April 2016.
Brown, Brother Mark. “Body of Christ - Brother, Give Us A Word”. Daily Meditation: Society of Saint John the Evangelist.. http://ssje.org/ssje/2012/04/25/resurrection-appearances-this-morning-br-mark-brown/ Accessed: 8 April 2016.
Cox, The Rev. Jason. “Jesus Will Meet Us, Easter 3 (C) – 2016.” Accessed 8 April 2016. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2016/03/28/jesus-will-meet-us-easter-3-c-2016/
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: Jams. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985.
4 Note: From several sources in Bibliography.