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Fishing with a Difference – John 21:1-19

Fishing with a Difference – John 21:1-19

A sermon preached by Canon Simon Everett

on Sunday, 10th April 2016

Lady St Mary Church, Wareham



I wonder if you have ever been to a concert listening to a piece of music that you know well, and as it reaches its finale, part of the audience bursts into applause, unaware that the piece still has a few more bars still to be played!  Or maybe you have been guilty of being the person that starts the adulation to soon!  There are many pieces of music that can easily catch you out if you do not know them.

And I always think that John’s Gospel is a little like that: in chapter 20 we have the empty tomb and Mary meeting the risen Lord, then we have the risen Jesus meeting the disciples in the locked upper room, followed a week later by the Lord appearing to Thomas who hadn’t been there the first time Jesus visited.  And then the chapter concludes, ‘Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

Now to me that sounds like the perfect way to conclude a book that has been written to tell the world of Jesus, the one who, ‘came from the Father full of grace and truth’.  But before you put the book down, marvelling at the wonderful narrative that you have just read, you need to turn the page one more time.  For just as you think that John has finished he has a little more to share with his readers; and that is what we had for our gospel reading this morning.


Of course scholars hypothesise on whether John meant to finish his Gospel story at the end of chapter 20 and therefore whether chapter 21 was something of an afterthought.  Some have even gone as far as to suggest that it might even be a follower of John who added the last chapter.  But all the manuscripts that have been found suggest that it was the apostle John and that he wrote the last chapter about the same time as he wrote the preceding chapters.  And that is good enough for me.


But another reason I believe it to have been written by John, is that it is written in a very personal way.  It is written with a great attention to detail, to me it reads like an eyewitness account that has been reflected on over many years.


In two of the synoptic Gospels the disciples are told that they should go back to Galilee and wait for Jesus there.  And although John does not record this conversation, he nevertheless has the disciples returning to Galilee, obviously still in a confused state.  And so to calm their nerves, or simply pass the time, they decide to return to their old workplace the Sea of Tiberius (Sea of Galilee).  Some commentators see this as disobedience; but as a former mariner I see it as a perfectly natural draw to the sea.


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song

        and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

                                                        (Sea Fever by John Masefield)


I think that’s what we have here, a good old dose of sea fever!  And we begin this particular story with a grey dawn breaking.  Just as when they were originally called by Jesus, so it is this time, the fishermen have no joy at catching fish.  But then, as before, Jesus steps in and things change.  It was at a time such as this that he had called them to be ‘fishers of men’ and, as strong as the call of the sea was, they were to leave it and go out into the mission field to face whatever may come their way.  For many this was martyrdom, John being one of the exceptions.  But for now he indulges them.


And by being obedient to Jesus they are successful in what may have been their last fishing expedition.  By casting the net on the other side of the boat they caught a huge catch.  No sooner had this happened then John realises who it is that has called instructions from the lakeside, and he informs Peter.  Probably for both of them there was a great sense of déjà vu, and Peter, being Peter, jumps straight in and wades ashore to meet his Lord, the other disciples following close behind dragging the net full of fish.


It seems to me there are often times when we do not realise it is the Lord that we have obeyed, until after we have carried out the request.  Søren Kierkegaard (Danish Theologian and Philosopher) said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. Do you ever look back over your life and ask why things happened the way that they did: and in happening see how that changed your life, maybe in profound ways?  I know I do, certainly it is often the case that a life of faith can only be understood backwards; but must be lived forwards.


For sure as Peter looked back over his life the times that he denied Christ prior to his crucifixion must have been a raw and painful memories.  And just as life can only be understood backwards but lived forwards, it can be for many that they fear to look backwards because of what haunts them, and that in turn affects the way they live their life in the present.  I am sure that this was probably the case for Peter.  Would he have been half the man he was had he not had this post-resurrection encounter with Jesus?  We can only assume that he would not.


Jesus did not engineer this meeting just to rub Simon Peter’s nose in his failings; he made it happen so that Simon could be released to be the man that God wanted him to be.  That’s what true repentance is.  You will recall how Simon Peter had denied Jesus three times as Jesus stood trial even though he had sworn blind that he would never disown him, even if the others did.  Now Jesus, alone, could put things right and he does this by confronting Peter’s failure.  He doesn’t carry on as if nothing has happened, to have done this would have left Peter with deep uncertainties and regrets that would have dogged his future ministry.  He knew he had failed his Lord and master, and now he knew that this had to be dealt with.  It is when failure is confronted and repentance exercised, that forgiveness is bestowed.


Peter’s love for Jesus is expressed three times, once for each occasion that it was previously denied.  

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.


As one commentator says of this episode, ‘each time Peter confesses his love, his mission is restored.  Over and above the abundance of Jesus’ common grace, seen in his provision of so many fish, we now witness the abundance of his special grace as he recommissions Peter as shepherd of his sheep.’ 


But more than Peter’s mission being restored, Peter is also restored as a human being, made in the image and likeness of God.  The greatest blessing of coming to Christ, is discovering who God has made you to be.  Too many people live their lives trying to run from this rather than embracing it, or trying to mould themselves in their own image, or that of the society in which they live.  But they will never find true peace of heart and mind until they embrace who they are before almighty God. 


Today’s Gospel reading reassures us that in Christ there is forgiveness for all who truly repent of their wrongdoing.  And it is in being forgiven that reconciliation with our heavenly Father is achieved.  And in being reconciled to God we discover who God has made us to be.


Do you know who God has made you to be, and are you who Christ wants you to be?


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