Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! He has appeared, to Mary Magdalene in the garden, to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, to the Eleven in the Upper Room, to Thomas a week later. Jesus has appeared; Jesus is risen from the dead! Earth-shattering news: the world is different now; everything has changed! Nothing can be the same again—nothing! My Lord, and my God!
So why are the disciples back in Galilee? Why have Peter and Thomas and Nathanael and the sons of Zebedee and the other two gone fishing? Why are they acting like nothing has changed, like everything is back to the way it used to be? Why are they fishing?
Maybe the better question is: why isn’t Jesus upset about this? Why is he so patient with the disciples? He doesn’t yell at them; he isn’t stern; he doesn’t even ask them why they’ve gone all the way back to Galilee from Jerusalem. Jesus shows them infinite patience, unending mercy. It’s a good reminder that God isn’t waiting for us to fail. In Jesus Christ God wants us to be faithful disciples, but when we miss the mark, God is always ready to guide us back, to welcome us again into a life that bears witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on the first disciples, either, this morning. After all, we’re only on the third Sunday of Easter, and how many times have we fallen back into old habits, old routines, without evening thinking about it, just in the last two weeks? Lent was a time for putting away those old habits and for taking on a new ones, like prayer and fasting and inviting people into Christian discipleship, but Easter is not supposed to be the season of forgetting about Lent! Easter is when we recommit to living according to the resurrection, according to the new life we have been given in Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t just be going back to the old life we meant to give up! If we have died to ourselves, shouldn’t we live to Christ?
Still, those old habits, those old routines are so hard to shake. And really, that’s a good bit of what Christian discipleship is about: learning, again, of the new life we have been offered. Being reminded over and over that there are two paths before us: the way of our old, sinful selves, and the way of Jesus Christ. And receiving the grace to follow in the way of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes that grace comes like a lighting bolt, a jolt of energy that grabs our attention and shakes us to our core. I imagine that’s what it would have been like when Jesus showed up in the locked room on the first Easter evening. But sometimes, grace comes gently. In this morning’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to give up their nets. He says, “Try fishing on the other side of the boat.” That’s all—couldn’t be simpler. And the disciples, who have caught nothing all night long and have no reason to listen to some guy on the seashore, have enough sense to pay attention anyhow. They cast their nets on the right side of the boat, and the nets fill, overflow with fish—the greatest catch of their lives! And that’s all it takes for the Beloved Disciple to recognize Jesus. And that’s all it takes for Peter to jump out of the boat and run full speed to Jesus on the shore.
Friends, where have we been casting our nets as a church? Where have we been fishing the same waters over and over again? Is it possible that Jesus is standing on the shoreline calling to us, saying, “Children, cast your net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some fish”? Is it possible that there are some simple, minor adjustments we could make so that instead of doing things our way we could actually be listening to Jesus? Is it possible that the way of life, the way of Jesus Christ, is so close at hand that all we need to do is turn, just a little bit, so that we can be doing God’s work? Is it possible that if we turned our attention, as a church together, to the school that is literally in our backyard, God may bless us with fish too numerous to count? Is it possible that if we turned our focus just a little bit south, just that way a little more, we might find people eager to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in new neighborhoods and new developments right here in Forest Hill? Is it possible that Jesus is calling us from the shoreline, saying, “Children, you’re almost there”?
If it’s possible, if it’s true that Jesus is calling us, is nudging us in the right direction, then we need to respond with every bit of energy we have. We need to be excited and daring and bold, because every opportunity to walk in the way of Jesus Christ is a gift of life, of abundant, eternal life. Every opportunity, every chance we have to serve Jesus Christ is precious, wonderful, and worthwhile. And when we listen, unexpected delight follows, even in the simplest tasks and the smallest changes.
For maybe the first time in his life, Peter gets things right on this one. Once Jesus is recognized, Peter doesn’t wait a second. He doesn’t ask questions but jumps into the water and leads the disciples back to shore, back to Jesus, back to his Lord. In fact, Peter is so zealous for Jesus that Jesus has to send him back to the boat to help bring in the catch of fish. And Peter obeys, eagerly, faithfully. He is being restored, even before Jesus asks him, Peter, do you love me?
In the church, even right here at Centre, we need people like Peter, people who go out ahead of us and respond to Jesus Christ with love and adoration and passion. We need these people to inspire us to follow the way of Christ with the energy and devotion Jesus deserves. Sometimes we hear the Word proclaimed to us, and we get in our cars and say, “That was a nice thing to hear today; I really could feel God speaking to me this morning. Wanna get some lunch?” But people like Peter refocus us; they grab our attention, so that we turn our eyes back to Jesus and don’t let the Word sit idle in our midst as we fall back into our daily routines.
Some weeks I wait to see if Peter will show up in our midst: Jesus could speak to any one of us at any point in a way that moves us to leap out of the boat and run with joy to our Savior. But this Sunday, I happen to know in advance who will be taking the lead in our service. In just a few minutes, Brian Griffin will be baptized into Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Brian has attended here at Centre for years; he went on Chrysalis a few years ago; and he’s a faithful member of our combined Centre-Jarrettsville-Ayres Chapel youth group. But today Brian gets to take the lead, because he’s heard Christ’s voice and he wants to leap into the waters for Christ. Not the waters of the Sea of Tiberias, but the waters of baptism. It’s a big step for him, a public profession of his faith, but it’s also a great moment for our community of faith, because Brian is modeling for us the importance of faithfully responding to the little shifts and changes and adjustments Jesus calls us all to make.
In our reading from John’s gospel, Peter stands in for all the disciples. He takes the lead, but you also get the sense that he represents the rest of the disciples to Jesus. So after Jesus feeds the disciples breakfast, when he calls Peter and asks him three times, “Do you love me,” it’s not just Peter who is being reconciled to Jesus: it’s all the disciples, really the whole church. And in a sense, Brian is doing the same thing for us this morning. He’ll have water poured on his head three times: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And each time, I want you, Brian, and all of you to hear Jesus asking you, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”
And because baptism is when we are all commissioned into ministry, because all of us have been called to participate in God’s mission through our baptism, I want you, Brian, and all of you to hear Jesus saying to you, “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
Two paths lie before us: the path of our old, sinful self, and the way of Jesus Christ. Today, Brian is publicly professing his faith in Jesus Christ, and so he is choosing the way of life, the way of Jesus Christ. But it is God who will baptize Brian, God who will claim Brian as a child of God, God who will graft Brian onto the promises of the gospel, God who has nudged Brian to come forward this day, and God who will bring forth fruit from the life of discipleship Brian takes up this morning.
Don’t you want that, too? For yourself? For our church? For the world God has called us to love? Then listen to the voice of Jesus calling, “Child, you’re almost there. Children, just a little bit further.” Listen to Jesus, follow his words, and be amazed at what happens when you respond in faith.
In nomine Patri…