There Was A Lot Going on That Morning at the Beach – April 10, 2016

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Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas LangNicholas
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Third Sunday of Easter – April 10, 2016

In the Name of the Risen Jesus who often appears as the stranger in our midst. Amen.


When life gets tough, when we become disoriented, perplexed, and fearful, when the changes of life are not what we wanted, we tend to run away. We have a tendency to go back to the way it was before – to something safe, something familiar. Often we revert to old patterns of behavior and thinking. Even when we know better it seems easier to stick with what we know than moving forward.

It is a very human phenomenon and there it is right before us in the Gospel story we just heard. The disciples have gone back to their daily routine as fishermen because they need to carry on in spite of everything that has happened to turn their lives upside down. Peter and six others have returned to the familiar locale of the sea.

They have left Jerusalem. They have come home to the Sea of Tiberias, the place where it all began. The upper room, the cross, the empty tomb, the house with its locked doors are some 80 miles to the South. Peter decides to go fishing. He knows how to do that. It is easy and comfortable for him. Perhaps it takes him back to life before Jesus. The others are quick to join him.

I wonder if Peter is not so much trying to catch fish as much as he is fishing for answers. He may have left Jerusalem but he cannot get away from those three years of following Jesus and seeing the wonderful signs he did and the things he taught him; nor could he forget the last supper, the arrest, his denials around a charcoal fire, and the crowing rooster.  Can you just imagine what’s going on in his head that morning? “What have I done?  What will I do now? Where will I go?” Peter is searching for meaning, a way forward, a place in life.

We have all asked similar questions, when our world seems turned on its side, seeking some modicum of peace and a sense of meaning for our existence. And that deep soul searching often comes when we are confronted with the things we have done and left undone. We have all been there.

The early church certainly remembered the night of Peter’s enormous betrayal. Warming himself beside a charcoal fire near the place where Jesus was on trial for his life, Peter denied knowing him on three distinct occasions. The story of Peter could have ended in that courtyard were it not for Jesus’ determination to bring about reconciliation and forgiveness for Peter. The early church remembered and recorded this important encounter because they saw themselves in it and so should we.

If we ever question whether forgiveness is possible, we need only think about Jesus welcoming his friend Peter on the beach that morning. What they first said to one another we don’t know but it is not hard to imagine them all gathering around the fire Jesus had prepared, smelling like the sea, letting the warmth of the flames dry them off, hungrily eating the food Jesus offered them.

Richard Foster, a Christian theologian in the Quaker tradition, suggests that when we read the Bible, we should try to “live the experience. Smell the sea. Hear the lap of water against the shore. See the crowd. Feel the sun on your head and the hunger in your stomach. Taste the salt in the air. Touch the hem of his garment.”

In other words, he is asking that we enter the Scriptures with all our senses. Today’s Gospel is very detailed with images of the sounds and smell of the sea, the aromas of food being cooked, even, a disciple frolicking in his birthday suit. Since I’m a breakfast kind of person, it is easy for me to engage my senses in this story except that I will be smelling bacon and eggs instead of grilled fish.

Sharing food is what makes us human. It is what brings us together and unites as a family or a community. The comfort of a good meal and conversation with friends or even strangers can be times of grace. How often do most people today sit at a table and share food together—as a household or family, as friends? Fast food, eaten quickly and often alone, is so much the order of the day and the technology of the internet and smart phone has made this more the case.

How often have you observed someone in a restaurant talking on a cell phone—ignoring, at least for several minutes, the person in front of them? Or an entire family on devices and oblivious to one another’s presence at the table?

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus follows each of the three times he asks Peter if he loves him –which mirror the three times Peter had denied him – by instructions about feeding and tending?
Then there is this fascinating detail that the evangelist John includes about the exact number of fish the disciples hauled in: 153. The back story? Greek zoologists of the day believed that there were 153 different kinds of fish. So they made the perfect catch of the day, one of every kind. Here is testimony to God’s desire for great diversity in the church.

The community God wants us to gather and to invite to be fed and taken care of is to be populated by all sorts and conditions and demographics of people. God did not intend the church to keep anyone on the margins because of race, age, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation or, marital status or for any reason. Jesus was always bringing people together—all kinds of people from all walks of life—most often to sit down together at a table and share a meal. He gave us this meal—the Eucharist— a holy repast for God’s household.

Author Fred Craddock writes: “Wherever and whenever, and for whatever the reason, anyone is not welcome to sit at table with you, to eat with you, then you do not have church.” We can never forget the power of radical welcome and invitation nor the importance of creating the experience of community for the next person who come through the doors.

When life gets tough, when we become disoriented, perplexed, and fearful, when the changes of life are not what we wanted, we tend to run away. We have a tendency to go back to the way it was before – to something safe, something familiar. Often we revert to old patterns of behavior and thinking. Even when we know better it seems easier to stick with what we know than moving forward.

It can even happen— especially happen—in the church where we so easily reach our comfort level with the ways things are, the people we already know, what makes us feel cozy and at home. Today the risen Christ is inviting us on to the beach, asking us to join the great movement of the kingdom of God, where we will be found putting our lives to work for the sake of all God’s people.

It’s about community building and sometimes it is as simple as making sure newcomers are introduced to others. Sometimes it means working on a larger scale to ensure our nation welcomes those in need. Sometimes it means doing our best to build inclusive churches, schools, and societies. How can we empower and lift up marginalized voices? How do we extend invitations to others to be part of this community? How do we convey the powerful message: You are not alone?

Like Peter we’ve all felt naked—vulnerable and fragile—maybe even in great need of reconciliation; like Jesus we’ve all been strangers in some place at some time hoping to be taken in and treated as honored guests and  like the disciples on the shore we’ve all been hungry and needing to be nourished.

There was a lot going on that morning on the beach by the sea of Tiberias: recognition of the power of the risen Jesus, forgiveness and mercy, welcome of the stranger, a holy meal, sending folks our into the world to gather others into community. And it’s still happens every week—right here.

Categories: Sermons