Lectionary blog for April 10, 2016
Third Sunday After Easter
Texts: Acts 9:1-6; Psalm 30;
Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
When my older son was a preschooler, we had a book we read every night before bed. It was a wordless book, filled with panoramic pictures that tell a story as adult and child explore each scene. We saw a small New England town get ready for Christmas, putting up lights, hanging banners, decorating homes, buying presents, having concerts, baking cakes and cookies, going to church, etc. On the last page we saw workers picking up used Christmas trees from the street and taking down lights and banners. When we got to that page, David would gleefully shout out “BACK TO NORMAL!” and slam the book shut.
These are times when, like my son, we long for things to get “back to normal.” I talked to a pastor friend this week, asking him how he was. I love his response; it’s a keeper. He said, “I am dealing with the tedious consequences of procrastination.” Things put off, delayed, avoided, during Holy Week and Easter come rushing in demanding to be attended to. It is time to get “back to normal.”
In our Gospel lesson, Peter says, “I’m going fishing,” and does. There are a couple of ways to look at this. One is to see him as deciding he needs a break, a bit of relaxation, a vacation. But I don’t think this is why Peter went fishing. I think Peter had had enough. Enough tension, stress, death, dying and dead people coming back to life — enough of all of it. It was time to get “back to normal.” And normal for Peter and many of the others was fishing. They were, after all, fishermen, professional fishermen; it was their life and their livelihood. There were bills to pay, mouths to feed, families to provide for. It was time to get back to the normal tedious consequences of procrastination, time to get on with life and forget this crazy Jesus stuff.
The trouble is, post-Easter, there is no getting back to normal, no way to go back to the way things were, not completely, not entirely. Some events change us forever. Because of the presence of the Risen Christ in the world, things can never be quite normal or completely tedious again.
Peter and his friends go fishing. Fishing at night was normal for commercial fisher folk; that’s the way you get fresh fish to market by sun up. And it was quite normal to have bad luck. Fishing is a bit of a gamble, and sometimes you come up empty. And there is nothing unusual, or miraculous, about someone on shore pointing out to those in the boat where a school of fish is hiding. It happens all the time in net fishing in shallow water. It has to do with angles and the glare of the rising sun on the water. And there’s nothing all that special about the someone on shore having breakfast ready when those in the boat come to shore after a night of fishing.
Indeed, outside of the fact that the someone on shore is Jesus (a formerly dead person now risen from the tomb and flitting about the country in a resurrection body) there’s nothing odd or miraculous about this story at all. It’s all pretty normal stuff, except for Jesus’ presence in the middle of it. Jesus’ presence says, “Guess what folks, from here on out, there is no possibility of returning to business as usual, no going back to normal.”
As long as the risen Christ is in the world, there is no insignificant activity, there are no merely tedious details. Christ’s presence in the world transforms ordinary busyness into extraordinary opportunities to serve God and humanity. All too often we miss God’s activity in the world because we’re looking for something spectacular — loud thunder, blazing lights and shows of supernatural power.
In our Gospel lesson, after breakfast, Jesus begins an interesting dialogue with Peter. He asks him, “Peter do you love me?” not once but three times. The number is not by accident. Jesus is rewinding the clock, turning back time. Remember Peter denied Jesus three times on the night he was betrayed. Now Peter has three opportunities to affirm his love for Jesus, and he does.
But notice also that every time Peter affirms his love for Jesus, Jesus then calls upon him to take care of his “sheep.” Twice he says feed them; once he says tend them. In all of it he calls on Peter, and by extension, all the disciples — and by further extension, all of us who call ourselves Christian — to take care of and love one another.
Now, think about it; feeding and tending sheep isn’t all that exciting or spectacular. It’s like milking cows and slopping hogs and plowing corn; it’s repetitive and boring and tedious and normal, and, oh, so necessary. Or it’s like washing dishes, cooking meals, doing laundry, mowing grass, cleaning house, changing diapers, paying bills, driving kids to school, going to work, drawing a check and sitting up all night when somebody’s sick — which is nowhere near as interesting as being in love and going on dates but is much more like being married.
Just so, the Christian life, lived out in the body of Christ, the church, empowered by the Risen Christ, is seldom exciting or spectacular. It is much more often ordinary and mundane, a matter of living together under the leadership of the will of God and the way of Christ. The gospel is that the change worked in us and the world by the presence of the Risen Christ is greater than any evil that can befall us. And the call of the gospel is the call to reach out to a world of hurting, mournful and scared people with simple acts of love, care and concern.
Do you love Jesus? Help out a child struggling in school.
Do you love Jesus? Go visit someone who lost a loved one and still grieves.
Do you love Jesus? Help feed the hungry at the Gospel Mission.
Do you love Jesus? Help Habitat for Humanity build a house.
Do you love Jesus? Do you? Do something simple, ordinary and kind today, knowing God is present in all that you do.
Amen and amen.