Now What?

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | May 1, 2022

John 21:1-19

Sometimes life presents us with a “Now What?” moment. Something changes for good or ill and we have to decide how to cope with change. These changes can hit us hard, or they can be something we know about and plan for.

Some years ago, when my dad passed away after slowly ebbing away it was not unexpected, but it was still a shocking experience. I got the news on a Sunday morning as I was getting ready for church. I felt like W.H. Auden when he cried out, “Stop all the clocks!”

But no clocks were stopping and the harsh reality of life in the face of death is that life does go on. So, I went to church that day and led worship with a different prayer in mind from the ones I was praying out loud –

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I realized, for me at least, the “Now What?” didn’t involve any magic formula. It was basically rising to the occasion, showing up and getting on with living. The stark reality of life which is true in all the changes big and small that might come our way is – life goes on.

As followers of Jesus in all our varied ways we lay claim to a revolutionary concept – that Jesus was killed, and God raised him from the dead. In other words, that’s a pretty big deal.

One might think that when the Son of God was raised from the dead that big things would happen next. Imagine it – the Son of God was put to death. That in itself might give the world cause to tremble. But then God raised him from the dead. That might give even more cause for concern. What would he say now? What would he do next?

Would he march to the governor’s palace and say to Pontius Pilate, “So, you want to know what truth is!? I’ll show you!

Would he storm into the Temple and face down the Pharisees with, “So who’s the blasphemer now?”

As it turned out his resurrection was shrouded in fog and mystery. There were glimpses of him here and there; it was him, but there was something different. It seemed like Jesus; was it Jesus? The stories are told almost as if describing something seen from the corner of the eye. Maybe that’s the nature of God’s realm – It’s elusive.

The clocks didn’t stop – or as in those days, the sand kept flowing through the hourglass and the shadow kept moving around the sundial.

After the resurrection Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” He was saying, “I can’t be sitting around here waiting for something to happen. Jesus may show up again and he may not. In the meantime, I have a family to feed. The rest of you do what you want – I’m going fishing.“

“I’m going fishing” was Peter’s way of getting back to life. He might have thought that he was done with the hopes and dreams Jesus revealed. There toward the end when Jesus said Peter would deny him, Peter swore that he would not be moved. Then he swore he never knew him.

His denial was hardly any better than betrayal. Did Peter wonder what the risen Christ might say to him?

Jesus didn’t say anything to Peter right away. Peter was there in the room with Thomas when Jesus appeared, and Jesus ignored him. Was he trying to make a point? Maybe Peter thought, “What else can I do? I cursed and swore that I didn’t know him, and he knew it. I’m not the rock he thought I was. I’m shifting sand. I’ll go fishing and leave the work of religion to religious people.”

That night on the lake the fish weren’t where they were supposed to be. They went to all the good spots and came up with nothing. But that’s fish for you. They can’t be counted on to be there when you need them.

When they rowed into shore there on the beach was a guy with a clever question, “Have you no fish?” Maybe it was a loaded question, a way of asking, “What did that get you?”

He told them to cast their net to the right side of the boat and they would find some.

So they did and they pulled up a net-full of fish. What was this all about? One of them said, “It’s the Lord!” No, it can’t be. It has to be. Who else could it be?

Peter didn’t wait for confirmation one way or the other. He was a jumping out of the boat sort of guy and that’s what he did. He jumped in the water and swam for shore.

We draw back a bit from the story to remember that the way the writer of John tells it, there are symbols in the story. Symbols that remind us one thing often means something else. The boat, for example. Some have said that in the gospels the boat represents the church. It’s the place where the followers of Jesus are all together. Sometimes the boat is in stormy seas. Sometimes Jesus falls asleep in the boat.

In this story, the work of fishing from the boat has been unproductive. Doing all the right things and going to all the places has brought no results. It is when the people in the boat follow Jesus’ instructions that they catch any fish.

This reminds us that sometimes we need to stop what we’re doing, what we’ve always done, and what has worked before. It reminds us that we need to reach out in new ways, but somehow still at God’s direction.

Peter jumping out of the boat is a way of saying that there are times when if you want to get close to Jesus, you need to get out of the church and into the world. Leave the safety and security of these four walls and go into the world of deeper water, but where you find Jesus waiting there for you.

One might think that the risen Christ would have some big message for them, some profound truth to impart. What he had was a wee cooking fire, some glowing charcoals. “Toss a couple of those fish over here and we’ll have some breakfast.” Not such a big deal for a guy who had risen from the grave.

It shows that much of what it means to follow Jesus is not religious rocket science. It doesn’t depend on razzle-dazzle or the latest gimmicks. The light of world that brings life to all people is often seen in the glow of a cooking fire. A dim light after a long night – but a light, nonetheless. Enough to warm your hands by; enough to draw others into the circle of light; enough to fry up a wee breakfast; enough for the day at hand.

Being a follower of Jesus is usually not about moving mountains; it’s usually about sitting around a table sharing a meal. Being church is about being together, knowing that where two or three are gathered, the Spirit of Christ is there also.  

Once they finished eating breakfast, Jesus got around to dealing with Peter. Did Peter wonder what Jesus might say? Would he shame him just like he felt ashamed? Would he yell at him? Would he say, “Of all of you, you Peter have disappointed me the most?”

Jesus said, “Peter, let me ask you something. (Uh oh here it comes) Peter, do you love me?”

What kind of a question was that? That’s easy to answer – “Yes Lord, I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

Jesus asked him again, “Do you love me?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, I love you.”

A third time he asked him, “Do you love me?”

“Yes Lord, you know I love you?   How many times do I have to say it?”

And then the light dawned  – Jesus did not need convincing – Peter did. For each denial that had cust so deep, instead of shaming Peter, Jesus gave him the opportunity to say, “I love you.”

It’s not hard to connect the dots there. When we fail, God does not condemn us; God asks, “Do you love me?” For Peter it took three times. Jesus said there is no limit, not even seventy times seven.

God brings us to the occasion of restoration, forgiveness, and healing. When we feel guilt and shame or when we are broken and down, God presents us with the opportunity to touch upon God’s purpose for our lives – to give and receive love.

We come to a place in life where the clocks ought to be stopping but they don’t. Those places where our worth is questioned, when we have failed, when we are broken or when life seems lost. When we wonder “Now What?” These times and places are also God’s occasions.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.


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