Peter has seen some topsy-turvy tings lately. First he leaves everything to follow Jesus and he sees these astounding signs, ways of showing what God is like. He hears this mind-blowing teaching of Jesus. Then everything goes way south. Jesus is under threat being tried for blasphemy at the High Priest’s house. Peter is scared, warming himself by charcoal fire. Someone recognizes him as a disciple. Peter loses his nerve. He doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want to be crucified. He’s seen people crucified. It takes days for them to slowly suffocate to death. You are humiliated in front of everyone. He says “No, I’m not a disciple. Three times he says it.
Then Jesus does die on a cross. Everything comes crashing down around his ears. His hope is crushed. His dreams are destroyed.
And then, even more disorienting, Jesus rises from the dead. The regular routine of life and death is broken. It’s wonderful. It’s joyful. But it’s really topsy-turvy.
So Peter does the most familiar thing. He goes fishing.
He would have enjoyed the feel of the fishing line in his callused hands, the pull of the line in his shoulders as he drew it back into the boat. He would have loved the “toc, toc” of the waves slapping against the outside of the hull, and the nearly psychic sense of current moving beneath his feet.
Familiar. Familiar is okay. It can be healing. Sometimes even holy.
But sometimes the familiar also comes up empty. The disciples cast their nets all night and catch nothing at all. By dawn, their shoulders would be tired from pulling the nets in. their finger joints would ache. That’s when Jesus shows up on the seashore. He asks them to do something slightly different. “Throw your nets in on the other side. “
That’s a silly suggestion. The other side of the boat is five feet, maybe ten feet away from this side. If they’re not catching anything on one side of the boat, they’re not going to catch anything on the other. But they do it. And they catch so many fish they can’t even pull them all into the boat.
That is God’s abundance. And it shows a pattern in the Gospel of John.
At the wedding at Cana near the beginning of the Gospel of John, they had run out of wine, and Jesus changes a hundred and twenty, maybe a hundred and eighty gallons of water into the richest, most potent wine.
Later on, Jesus finds himself out in the wilderness amidst a huge crowd of hungry people. They have no food except what a young boy offers, five loaves and two fishes. Jesus gives thanks for the five loaves and the two fishes, and shares them. And look, thousands and thousands of people are fed. God’s abundance.
Now, the disciples have been fishing all night and came up with nothing, till they get this catch. God’s abundance again.
The Psalm for today reflects the same theme. “You have turned my wailing into dancing. Tears come in the night, but in the morning, Joy!”
The book of revelation sings of God’s abundance. Book of Revelation is written for people who live under the fist of Rome. Rome’s power seemed unassailable and eternal. But Revelation says that a greater power than Rome will prevail. Revelation says the same thing to us when we live under the fist. The fist of addiction, the fist of depression the fist of illness, the fist of societal oppression. The fist of hatred, the fist of fear. Revelation is not a fortune-telling document by which to see the future. It is a song of hope. Like any song of hope, it is best understood when it is sung, like part of today’s lesson is something we sing:
“Worthy is Christ the lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.”
Now, God’s abundance often comes to us in ways that we did not expect. Maybe even in ways that we did not at first pray for. We pray for an advancement in our career, and instead we find our family relationships growing deep and rich. We pray to be healed of an illness, and sometimes we are healed and sometimes not, but we come to know how sweet each breath of air is, how unimaginably sweet, each breath.
Gospel lesson for today, Jesus asks Peter, “Peter, do you love me more than these?” Talking about the fish. Peter says “Yes, Lord,”
Jesus asks him twice more, “Peter do you love me more than these?” Peter is hurt because Jesus had to ask three times. And yet, Peter denied his commitment to Jesus three times, back there by the charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard. Now Jesus asks for his commitment again, three times, by a charcoal fire on the seashore.
Peter gets so much more than fish. The signs God does through him. The blessing.
Same thing with Saul in our first lesson. Saul has set out in the service of God, to do away with these heretical followers of the Way. These people threaten Saul’s way of life, his understanding of God.
Jesus appears to him. Notice, Saul has an open mind. Saul does not pull out a clipboard and says “Now, let me make sure you meet all my specifications. You eat shellfish? Can’t eat shellfish. Handle any dead bodies or animal carcasses lately? No. Okay. How about healing on the Sabbath? Healing is a kind of work, you know. You don’t heal on the Sabbath, do you? Hmm?”
No, Saul trusts Jesus. Even though he can’t see and has to let his companions lead him into Damascus.
Ananias also has to trust Jesus. Jesus tells Ananias to go to Saul. Ananias says, “I heard about that guy. He has attacked my people and dragged them in chains to Jerusalem. And you want me to go and help him?”
Jesus will send us to help people that we don’t trust. Maybe that we don’t like. Ananias changes. That’s another thing about God’s abundance. God will send us people to share the work of showing God’s love in the world. But they’re not going to be the only ones who change. Whenever you have new people become a part of a witnessing community, the community itself will change. As people are joining us, we are inevitably changing.
But look at the abundance. Before, the hope of God passed among Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, then to half Jewish Christians in Samaria. Now, through Paul, it goes to the Gentile world, to us, it spans the globe. God’s abundance.
So if things seem topsy-turvy to you, and you feel like something familiar, go on back to it. That is fine. The familiar can be healing, even holy.
Just watch for Jesus standing there by the lakeshore. Be ready for him to ask you to cast the net out on the other side. Be ready for God’s abundance.