3 April 19, 2015 | John 21, 1-14 | Rev. Nancy Talbot –
I’m wondering if any of you have ever seen the reality tv series called “Supernanny” starring Jo Frost. It’s no longer on tv but I can remember watching it one time not long after Easter (in one of those post-easter clergy exhausted states) and thinking to myself “that nanny has a lot in common with the Risen Christ.”
If you’ve seen the show you’ll know that every episode begins with the nanny arriving at the home of a family in chaos, a family at the end of their rope from trying to make things work between parents and children and failing miserably over and over again. Into the midst of all the chaos sweeps Nanny Jo. She listens to their trials and tribulations, settles some arguments, applies a few band aids and teaches them some basic rules to help them love each other better and restore peace in their home. Then she leaves and the family is left to live their new life together without her.
But just to make sure they are getting the hang of this new life, she watches them from her hotel room on a closed circuit tv. This was always my favourite part of the show. Because you know no matter how confident the family is that they can manage things on their own without her, she’s barely out the door before things start deteriorating. They quickly slip back into old familiar habits, and the Nanny observing all of this from afar starts pulling her hair out with frustration asking “what are they doing? Have they forgotten everything I taught them?” And finally with resignation she says: “I guess I’m going to have to go back and remind them what they already know.”
The nanny might not be the best example of a Christ figure but there is definitely some resonance with the picture of the disciples and the Risen Christ painted for us in John’s Gospel this morning.
It’s now more than a week after Jesus has mysteriously risen from the dead. Twice now he’s appeared to the disciples. He’s broken through the locked doors of where they were staying hiding for fear of the authorities, he’s spoken words of Peace and breathed into them the spirit of new life and forgiveness. He’s shown his wounds to Thomas, he’s given them a mission to go and preach and live the good news of their faith.
And what are they doing? They’re going fishing. They are doing the exact same thing they were doing when Jesus first discovered them and called them to follow him. They’ve fallen back into old familiar habits, fishing out of the wrong side of the boat and as a result they are experiencing the same old empty feelings and empty nets.
A couple years ago some of us went to hear biblical scholar Dominic Crossan talk about the circumstances in ancient Israel that allowed Jesus and his movement to take root and gain momentum. He spoke specifically about the state of the fishing industry during the 1st century in the area of the Sea of Galilee. (which is actually a lake)
He told us how in 1986 during a drought the hull of a boat was discovered in the mud of the lake. Once restored it clearly resembled the type of boats described in the pages of the Jesus stories. On closer examination, what they found was that the boat had been pieced together with several types of inferior wood found locally. The entire keel had been salvaged from an earlier boat. Both sternpost and stempost had been removed, presumably to be reused in some later vessel. In fact, when sunk offshore this now useless hull had been stripped of every reusable part including the nails.
According to Crossan this vessel which dates back to at least the beginning of the common era, tells the story of an experienced Boatwright with sparse resources. The broader story it reveals is of a community feeling an economic squeeze. In the early days of the common era Antipas, the son of King Herod, in a bid to gain power and influence had commercialized the lake in order to increase his tax base. The impact of that on the local fishing villages was severe. Resources were scarce, people were valued only for the economic worth, which is why children and widows had such little worth, and people were despairing.
So when a man named Jesus showed up and said follow me and I will make you fishers of men, we can imagine that what Jesus was inviting them into was a movement, a growing movement of people: a movement that valued each person for who they were, not just for what they could produce, each one a child of a loving God; a non-violent movement that taught them that when they shared with one another and cared for one another and let their lives be ruled by grace and love everyone would have and be enough; a movement that called forth from within them the strength and the courage to stand up for what they knew was just and fair.
Crossan says this is why the Jesus stories emphasize food and health and the land because people were desperate for the abundance that good and peaceful relationships with one another and with the land can bring.
So the stakes were high. If the response of Jesus followers to his death was to cower in the corner and go back to the way things had been because they were afraid of what would happen to them if they spoke out or because they felt unworthy of their mission because they had messed up so badly by abandoning their leader in his hour of need, or because no one thought they had the gifts and skills to do what he could do so why even bother trying – if this was their response then everything that had been gained would be lost and even worse, everything he showed them that was possible would never come to be.
This was a community that needed resurrection maybe even more than they allowed themselves to realize.
All week long I have been wondering what it means to gather around this story about the disciples fishing all night and catching nothing in contrast to the nets bursting with fish after they listen to the voice of the Risen Christ, on the Sunday that is closest to Earth Day.
So I’ve been thinking a lot this week about scarcity and abundance and about what happens to small villages and small people when they experience an economic squeeze, a squeeze that comes from the drive for greater political and economic power. And I’ve been thinking about food and health and the land and our relationship to it. Consequently I’ve been thinking about leaking tankers in English Bay and pipelines built to increase profits and our dependency on fossil fuel and what that is doing to us and to our environment, and farmland that is diminishing and oceans that are over-fished.
And what I realize, what we all realize is that the stakes in our day and age are high as well. We too need resurrection.
Like the disciples who go back to old familiar patterns when they think nobody cares, we also become habituated to our life-denying ways. We also become immobilized by our complicity. We too doubt our capacity to stand up and make a difference. I think sometimes we doubt that even the small ways we tend our bodies and souls and tend to those around us can impact the greater whole. We forget our part in the circle of life.
Maybe we forget that we too have been called and given a mission to live good news.
The morning Jesus shows up on the shoreline and directs the disciples to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, he doesn’t admonish them for messing up – again. What he does instead is feed them.
Those of you who are familiar with the Gospel of John know that it is full of symbolism, so you may have picked up by now that what Jesus feeds the disciples when he calls them to gather round the fire is not just fish and bread. He feeds them on memories, memories of his presence with them, memories of what they have already learned and what they already know, memories of love and forgiveness, possibility and grace, memories of who they are and what they are meant to be about.
When the disciples come in from their night of fishing, at the break of day, empty nets in hand, what the writer of John’s gospel is evoking is the memory of what happened at the dawn of another horrible and painful night. It was early in the morning when they went to the tomb and found that it was empty.
When they haul their nets ashore and see that the person they now know to be Jesus has started a charcoal fire we are reminded of the last time the disciples gathered around a charcoal fire on the night they had betrayed him and we sense the forgiveness and the grace that is waiting there.
When he asks them to share what they have been given, to release what they have caught, so that along with the bread it could be blessed and broken and shared we are reminded of the miracle of the fishes and the loaves and the promise that there is more than enough for all if we would simply share what we’ve been given.
In contrast to the fear and the hoarding of Herod and Antipas we are called to receive the gifts we have been given, to receive the gift of resurrected life and then to open our arms wide and to share with those around us, to live as easter people because we know what it is to be loved and forgiven and empowered with new life.
The reason the Risen Christ appears again and again to the disciples is because the stakes are high. It matters that they embrace the life they have been given to live. In many ways it is a matter of survival. It matters that they remember what they know. It mattered then and it matters now.
What is it about your life and your faith you need to reminded of so that you can be fully alive? So that others can simply live. So that our planet can not just survive but thrive?