Come and Eat

This is the text of a sermon preached via video for the Kingsway Baptist Church on the Third Sunday of Easter 2020.

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Happy third Sunday of Easter, Kingsway! As you can see I’m back in the sanctuary, specifically in the balcony. I wanted to give a special shout out to all the “balconites” tuning in from home, all the back row Baptists. Part of the good news of the gospel is that it’s good news for everyone, not just those up front; not just those who occupy the platform. It’s for all of us. Today’s text, in particular, is a reminder that Jesus meets us where we are. And bids us, invites us, to follow Him on from there.

Hear now these words from John chapter 21 verses 1 through 14 (NRSV):

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,[a] Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards[b] off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.


Since the start of Holy Week, we’ve been journeying through John’s account of Jesus’ final days. His last hours spent teaching and eating with the disciples; His trial before Pilate, His death and resurrection, and now His post-resurrection appearances to the disciples. In May we’re going to explore the post-resurrection stories found in the other three Gospels; but this week and next we’re going to finish out John’s version of events.

John 21 is one of my favourite passages in all of the New Testament, though narratively it is somewhat strange. Some scholars, in fact, question the authenticity of chapter 21 because chapter 20 seems to wrap things up right after Jesus appears to Thomas:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[d] that Jesus is the Messiah,[e] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

It is, admittedly, a bit odd that the action would start up again after such a statement. It’s the kind of thing a composition teacher would almost certainly X out in red. But even if it’s stylistically awkward, the content of chapter 21 builds on the preceding narrative in ways that are hardly incidental. There are specific and important connections to what has already happened that prepare the disciples, and by extension the church, to receive the commission Jesus bestows upon them when He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them in chapter 20. “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you” (verse 22). We’ll dive more deeply in that commission next week when we consider Jesus’ instructions to Peter to, “Feed My sheep.” Today we’re going to dive figuratively into the Sea of Tiberias (better known as the Sea of Galilee) with Peter, where he and a subcommittee of the disciples have decided to go fishing.

Now, some preachers and commentators see in Peter’s action here a sign of doubt or aimlessness, even a recanting of his faith in Jesus because, here at the end, after the resurrection, after the fulfillment of all Jesus taught and modelled, he is returning what he knew before he met Jesus. Peter and his brother Andrew – his whole family, really – were fishermen by trade before they were disciples by faith. Personally, I don’t see anything in the story itself to support such an interpretation. Peter sounds to me like my grandfather or one of my cousins back home who sometimes just get an urge to go fishing. “I’m going fishing. Wanna come?” The others disciples say, “Sure. We’ll come with you.” If anything they seem bored, looking for something to do. Nathanael and Thomas weren’t fishermen as far as we know; and Peter isn’t suggesting they start up a business. They’re just going fishing. More significantly, Jesus doesn’t chastise Peter (or any of them) in any way when He shows up. He simply comments, “Looks like you have caught anything. Try casting your net on the right side of the boat.” Far from wavering, Peter shows himself the most eager of the group (and comically so) to get back to land to be with Jesus, putting on his clothes before he jumps into the water to swim for shore. There isn’t a shred of doubt in Peter’s words or actions in this scene. But the connection to what has come before is important. There are a few such connections, actually.

For starters, we haven’t seen hide nor hair of Nathanael since chapter 1, when he becomes one of the very first disciples. Here, he makes a cameo appearance in the boat. Jesus promised Nathanael he would “see great things,” even greater than what Jesus revealed to him in their initial conversation. For Nathanael to be present for the “great catch” of the 153 fish is thus the fulfillment of this early promise.

Nathanael’s presence also reminds us that the events of this final, concluding chapter are framed as a new beginning. It’s just after dawn. Jesus is cooking breakfast. It’s a new day even though, narratively, it’s a conclusion. What the risen Christ has for these disciples (and for all disciples – including all of us) is a deepening, an expanding of the life they (and we) have chosen in the footsteps of Jesus. “Come and see” has become “Come and eat.” Things aren’t ending or repeating; they’re being transformed – recast in the light of the Empty Tomb. There is a new abundance of life now in the world because Christ is in the world as the risen Lord of all creation. This change is not always immediately visible or apparent. But Christ can and will direct us to it, beneath the surface, on the side of the boat that it hasn’t occurred to us to try. He can and will help us to find it in places it hasn’t occurred to us to look. Including prior failures.

The two most significant allusions to past events in this story are found in the breakfast Jesus is making. It’s a simple meal of fish and bread cooked over a charcoal fire. But boy does this breakfast pack a punch. Especially if your name is Peter.

The last time (and the only other time) a charcoal fire appears in John is in the courtyard of the high priest (John 18:15-18). On the night He was betrayed, Peter and another disciple follow Jesus to the courtyard following His arrest. Peter joins a group of slaves and policemen who are warming themselves by a charcoal fire. A woman asks Peter if he is “one of them,” meaning one of Jesus’ followers, and Peter denies it – point blank. “I am not,” he tells her.

Here now, in Christ’s risen presence, Peter is confronted with another charcoal fire, this time after an endearing (if somewhat ridiculous) display of faith that has left him sopping wet. Nothing is said; no comment is offered either by Jesus or John; but John clearly specifies the type of fire to draw our attention to it. John wants us to notice it. We also need to notice what Jesus is and isn’t doing with this charcoal fire. Rather than burning Peter with it – literally or figuratively – in the hands of the risen Christ this fire, this symbol of denial and betrayal, becomes a means of nourishment. With love and grace, through love and grace, Christ uses it to feed not only Peter but also the other gathered disciples.

The food Jesus prepares on top of the fire is the second significant allusion to past events: fish and bread. The disciples’ breakfast here on the beach is the same dinner Christ offered the five thousand in the countryside. So in the context of a miracle – the great catch of 153 fish – we are reminded of another, even grander miracle: the Feeding of the Five Thousand, with twelve baskets of food left over. But that’s not all. We should also think back to and remember the Last Supper, the establishment of the Lord’s Supper, because more than any other Gospel writer John structures his telling of the Feeding of the Five Thousand to draw clear and specific parallels between the bread of the miracle and Jesus as the “Bread of Life.”

This is part of what John writes in chapter 6, just after the five thousand have been fed. Jesus withdraws because He is concerned the crowd will try to make Him king. When the disciples find Him, this is what Jesus says, beginning at verse 25: When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

Then skipping to verse 35: Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

That Jesus prepares and offers the disciples bread and fish – cooked over a charcoal fire, no less: the cinders, the smouldering ash of Peter’s betrayal – is a truly amazing, profound, and remarkable act. An act of comprehensive forgiveness; a gift of love and grace served in the guise of breakfast. A gift of Jesus’ very self; a gift of Jesus’ faithfulness in the face of, in response to, Peter’s betrayal that not only obscures Peter’s denial but utterly transforms it.
We could easily end there. I mean, WOW. That would be more than enough for us to ponder and try to wrap our minds around. But in the spirit of John 21, there’s more. There’s at least one more thing re-cast and reshaped in the light of the Empty Tomb that we need to take note of as we seek to be the church in our day and time.

You may remember back during Holy Week, when we looked at Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and then later at Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, I commented that John links the two scenes directly through his use of language, specifically the word he uses to mean “wipe.” Those are the only two contexts in which John employs that particular verb. It’s a literary ”breadcrumb trail” he leaves to link the two scenes and nudge us to consider them together: Jesus receiving a costly and intimate act of worship on the one hand, and undertaking an act of service on the other – an act that is as powerful as it is menial. Well, I think there’s something similar at work here.

When the disciples arrive on the shore, and Jesus calls them to breakfast, He instructs them to “bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” This is a noteworthy instruction because it means that, even though Jesus showed them where to cast their net and has already baked the bread and cooked at least some fish, Jesus views the disciples as partners/participants as well as guests at this meal. A careful look at John’s word choice reveals just how significant this change is.

John describes Peter “hauling the net,” bulging with large fish, to shore. (Keep in mind Peter is the one who acts, but the instruction is given to all of the disciples). The verb we translate here as “haul” is used only twice elsewhere in John’s Gospel, and both times it is a verb used to describe an act carried out either by God the Father or by Jesus Himself. We’ve already heard the first occurrence, in that discourse in John 6 about the bread of life. Jesus says in verse 44, “No one can come to me unless DRAWN (dragged, hauled) by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” Then in chapter 12 in verse 32, after Jesus has triumphantly ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey, He declares, “…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will DRAW (drag, haul) all people to myself.”

That Jesus here instructs the disciples to do the “hauling”, the dragging, the drawing of the fish is a profound post-Easter expansion of agency within the world and within heaven’s Kingdom. Because of what Jesus has accomplished through His life and witness, through Cross and the Empty Tomb, we aren’t simply His servants; we are His friends (John 15:15):. We aren’t just His students; we are His brothers and sisters (John 20:17). So, too, we aren’t simply recipients of Jesus’ profound love and grace; we are called, invited, to be agents of that love and grace. That’s part of what this new day, emerging in the dawning light of the Empty Tomb, brings with it: a continuation of what we experienced with Jesus before, but also a remarkable transformation of it – and a transformation of *us* – into something more significant, more abundant. We are heirs and ambassadors of Christ’s heavenly Kingdom. We are no longer simply guests of Jesus’ at His Table; we are contributors to the meal. We are commissioned participants in Jesus’ ongoing ministry: “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.”

May the remarkable honour and responsibility of this commission affirm us and inspire us – all of us – both in the front and in the back to live into and live out the love and grace of Easter in the days ahead.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Go and Do Likewise

A version of this sermon was preached on Sunday, July 10, 2016, at Kingsway Baptist Church in Toronto.  I am posting a text version here because the audio recording failed, and several members of the Kingsway family have expressed interest in it.  Perhaps others will be interested as well.  Even though two weeks have passed, it is still applicable to the social and political challenges we face.  The Scripture readings are Amos 7.7-13 and Luke 10.25-37

Audio recordings of other, recent sermons can be found online through the website of Kingsway Baptist Church.

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Last week, we considered the story at the beginning of Luke chapter 10 about Jesus sending a contingent of 70 unarmed disciples out into a world that He knows to be threatening and unwelcoming. Jesus sends them out without so much as a purse, a bag, or even sandals, saying, “Behold, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves” (Luke 10.3).

I submitted to you that the implication of this text is that answering Jesus’ call to be disciples on mission requires us to be exceedingly brave and profoundly vulnerable: to make ourselves utterly dependent on Christ by not carrying our own supplies, because when we do the packing, we invariably bring our own agendas, presumptions, and expectations along on the journey. Which means we tend to make things far too complicated. We tend to magnify lesser concerns into primary concerns, and predispose ourselves to missing what God is up to, because we wind up holding God to our standards rather than holding ourselves to God’s.

What Jesus asks of us is quite simple – not necessarily easy, but quite simple: love God with our whole selves and love our neighbors as ourselves. But to do that, we have to strip everything else away and leave everything else behind.

Several of you thanked me for the sermon as you departed, but also confronted me with variations of a particular question. “That was well said, but I am not sure what I’m supposed to do.”

“What do I do?”

It’s an honest and heartfelt question, a question asked urgently by those wanting and willing to serve Christ. For that reason, it’s a question I’m always happy to hear, and happy to engage. But it’s also a revealing question, and one that we need to be wary of. It’s a question that reveals our discomfort with what Jesus asks of us: not knowing, not fully understanding, not feeling fully prepared but going anyway. That’s a big part of what it means to be brave and vulnerable.

And this discomfort, born of our desire (our need, even) to fully understand and know for sure, should make us wary, because this discomfort can easily set us on the path toward legalism – the path paved with specific lists of clearly defined “dos and don’ts” of the faith, the path of the Pharisees that can be oh so attractive when we are uncertain. It’s a well-kept and well-intentioned path, this path of legalism – but it’s not the way of Jesus.

Not knowing exactly what to do all the time is part of the point. That’s where faith and courage and vulnerability come in. And while that may aggravate us, we shouldn’t view it as a bad thing. It’s Jesus’ way of inviting us in, not leaving us hanging. In actuality, Jesus has told us what to do. What He hasn’t and doesn’t tell us is how to do it.

Love God with your whole self and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10.27).

Speak peace to whatever house you find yourself in, and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near (Luke 10.5-6).

After issuing these and other instructions, Jesus doesn’t paint for us a crystal clear picture of what this love looks like, or lay out step 1, step 2, and step 3 for speaking peace – and that’s what we’re really after when we ask, “What do I do?”

But Jesus won’t fill that in for us, because the how is ours to discover, to work out in fear and trembling, through the work of the Holy Spirit moving in us and through us. The how is where we get to contribute to God’s mission of redemption in our particular place in our particular time, to participate in the ministry of reconciliation as God’s partners in the world. And that is a gift. That is Jesus trusting us, for all of our bumbling and fumbling, as fellow heirs to His Father’s kingdom. Isn’t that a beautiful and blessed thing? Yes, it is! But it results in a two-fold challenge for us:

The first is to put our full faith in Jesus – so much so that we’re willing to travel alongside Him without our own luggage.

The second is to embrace Jesus’ full faith in us.

The intersection of this two-fold challenge is where we find ourselves this morning, in the second half of Luke chapter 10. The “Parable of the Good Samaritan” builds upon and reinforces the themes of the story of Jesus sending out the 70. And I believe this parable exists, in large part, to help us resist the path of legalism and to encourage us to remain brave and vulnerable when we ask, “What do I do?” Because the path of legalism is exactly where a lawyer (a scribe, and expert in the law of Moses) tries to steer Jesus as Jesus is rejoicing in what the 70 accomplished on their mission.

In the midst of this celebration, this lawyer stands up and asks his version of the question: “So, what must I do?” Specifically, he wants to know, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” – a question he asks despite the fact that Jesus has just commended the 70, those who were brave and vulnerable enough to venture out without wallet, bag, or shoes; brave and vulnerable enough to speak peace to both friend and foe; brave and vulnerable enough to testify through their living, as much as their speaking, that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.

Jesus has just commended them and urged them to rejoice that their names are written in heaven, when this guy pops up and asks, “So, what do I do?” He wants something more specific, more detailed, more clearly defined. Or perhaps he just wants something different, because he’s not thrilled with the prospect of being sent out, vulnerable, into the world. “That may be fine for them, Jesus – but what about me?”

But Jesus won’t be forced onto that road. Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question with another question. He gets the lawyer to come back to the simple, primary, but not so easy commandment God issues to God’s people: love God with your whole self and love your neighbor as yourself. Then, when the lawyer presses his case and wants to know specifically who his neighbor is, Jesus steers the lawyer onto a different road, a road that winds its way down from Jericho to Jerusalem:

A road that is dangerous and messy, as the roads of this earthly life so often are – the very type of road the 70 would have just returned from, and the very type of road this lawyer isn’t interested in.

A road that challenges those who travel it to be brave and vulnerable – and that refuses to let anyone take cover behind title, privilege, or any other pretense of the status quo.

What matters on this road is that grave injustice has occurred and the true neighbor is the one willing wade into it rather than skirt around it.

In this inquisitive lawyer’s world, people didn’t get more respectable than priests and Levites. These were the experts in knowing what faithful people should and shouldn’t do, people set apart as special (holy), people to whom deference was due. Likewise, few people were less respectable than Samaritans. They were considered heretical, unclean half-breeds who didn’t worship God in the right place or the right way, people whom the respectable should avoid.

Yet, in Jesus’ parable, on this real life road, none of those things matter. What matters is who lives, who acts like a good neighbor to the man whom this very real life has left lying in that very real ditch – not the one who feels sorry or says a prayer in passing, but the one who stops, gets down in the ditch with the man, lifts him up out of it, and carries him to a place where he can be cared for, and who promises to return to ensure that he is healing and recuperating long-term.

The Samaritan is the one who lives such a life – and he is the one the lawyer begrudgingly must admit is the true neighbor. And so the answer Jesus gives to the lawyer’s question, “What should I do?” is, “Go and do likewise.”

“Go and do likewise”: a decisive answer, but hardly a comprehensive one. There is still a lot for us to work out in fear and trembling, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For starters, we have to ask ourselves, “Where are the ditches along this stretch of the road of life we happen to be on – and who’s lying in them?” It’s not always obvious.

As an American, it’s pretty easy for me to see where the ditches lie and who lies in them this week. There’s a mass grave of black men killed senselessly and unnecessarily by police on one side of the road, and a smaller but no less deplorable mass grave of assassinated police officers on the other.

As an American living in Toronto, however, it’s not always so obvious to me. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ditches here. There most certainly are ditches here, because there’s a status quo here – in this country, in this city, in this church. Who would the characters of this parable be if Jesus told it in 21st century Canada? In 21st century Toronto? After all, there’s a pocket a predominantly white affluence that exists here in this neighborhood in the midst of the most diverse city in the world.

Why is that?

Why does that question make you shift uncomfortably in your seat?

Why does it make me squirm in the pulpit?

And what go-to explanations do we have that basically involve labeling others (i.e., those who don’t live here) as unclean, uncouth Samaritans?

But even when we see where the ditches are and see clearly who is in them, we have to ask ourselves why we, like the priest and the Levite, are hesitant to venture over there, even though we know this parable so very well. The priest and Levite no doubt had their reasons – reasons that they most likely could have articulated and argued convincingly, even theologically, based on their status and position. But those reasons don’t pass muster with Jesus. And if their reasons didn’t pass muster, why would we assume ours would fair any better in Jesus’ eyes?

“Well, Jesus, I’m just so busy. I have so much to do, and this important meeting to attend, and this important deadline to meet, and this important responsibility to take care of….”

Somehow I can hear Jesus saying:

“And why is that? Why are you so busy? What are you trying to achieve, and for what reasons? And what do those reasons have to do with my Kingdom, which you’re supposed to be seeking first?

Our calendars may be the single most effective weapon that the darkness around us has to employ against the light within us. And it’s been that way for millennia.

Centuries before Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we see this dynamic at work in ancient Israel when the prophet Amos comes prophesying to King Jeroboam. They didn’t have calendars as we know them, but they certainly had ways to categorize and compartmentalize life – which is what calendars do, and what we use them for. We also use them to categorize and compartmentalize people (such as Samaritans): those whom we pencil into and those whom we scratch out of our lives, if we have even bothered to include them in our calendars at all.

When Amos comes prophesying to King Jeroboam, the king’s priest (Amaziah) basically tells him, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don’t bring that word from the Lord in here. This is the king’s sanctuary. This is where business and politics occur. There’s no place for prophesying here. Take that back to Judah. Take that back to your church, back to your small group. Go share it in some place ‘spiritual.’ Save it for Sunday. This is Tuesday. There’s no time or room for wrestling with God on Tuesday.”

But Amos’ vision of the plumb line isn’t for the “spiritual side” of life. It is for life in all of its length, breadth, and depth – Sunday through Saturday. Amos is announcing that God is going to measure the entirety of our lives with heaven’s plumb line, according to the specs of God’s Kingdom – for that is what it means for us to be God’s people.

And that’s what the Samaritan understood. He didn’t let his calendar or his position get in the way of being a good neighbor, of living love, of doing what he knew was right.

So, in the spirit of Jesus’ decisive but inconclusive answer to the question, “What should I do?” I want to leave you with a series of questions to ponder today – and in the days ahead.

If you woke up in the morning and prayed, “Lord, how can I be like the Good Samaritan today?” – how would that affect how you plan and prepare for the day?

How would that impact how you scheduled meetings and other work responsibilities?

How would it affect what time you left to head into the office?

What you carried in your car or in your brief case?

What and who you blocked out time for in your calendar?

How you view the people you encounter during the day – either in the ditch or on the road?

May the Lord grant us the courage and the vulnerability to allow the Holy Spirit to measure the length, breadth, and depth of our lives according to the specs of heaven – and to venture into the ditches of this life, that we might embrace our full faith in Jesus, and Jesus’ full faith in us.

Let us go, and do likewise.

Amen.

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