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From Fishing to Feeding

Some people have the knack of being able to sell you anything, even if you never intended buying something. A sales assistant in a department store had broken a long-standing sales record. "How did you do it?" his boss asked. "Well," the assistant said, "a customer came in and I sold him some fishhooks. 'You'll need a line for those hooks,' I said to him, and he bought some line. Then I told him, 'You'll want a rod to go with that line.' So he bought the rod. So I said, 'You ought to have a boat so you can use your rod in deep water,' and the man bought a boat. When I told him that he needed a boat trailer, he said, 'Well, I'll take one of those, too.' Finally, I said, 'How are you going to pull that boat without a car?' and guess what! He bought my car, too!" The manager said, "But I assigned you to the greeting card department." The salesman said, "I know that. The chap came in for a get-well card for his girlfriend, who had a broken hip. When I heard that I said to him, 'You haven't got anything to do for six weeks, so you might as well go fishing.' "

Going Fishing
St John tells us that Peter and the others went fishing. After Jesus had risen from the dead and only encountered his disciples infrequently they felt that there was nothing better to do than go fishing. The story I’ve just told is about hobby fishing and Peter and his friends went fishing for a living. Not knowing quite what to do with themselves the men who had left their nets to follow Jesus returned to familiar occupations. It took time and eventually the coming of the Holy Spirit to make the real difference in the lives of that mixed bunch of taxmen, patriots and fishermen. Although Jesus had risen from the dead and showed himself on a number of different occasions to his followers, they were in a transition period. The reality of Easter had not fully sunk into their minds and hearts. They still had to get used to the idea that their Lord had risen again and that they could not simply go back to their old ways of living. They had to learn what would really drive their mission.

Keeping Busy
A common reaction to loss in our lives is to occupy ourselves as fully as possible. Indeed, we often say with some pride after bereavement that we are keeping busy. We think we mustn’t mope around, that we’ve got to keep ourselves cheerful. We are prone to do so in order to avoid feeling too much pain. We all do it because, quite naturally, we prefer to avoid feeling the pain. Returning to Peter and the disciples, apart from reverting to the comfort of the familiar, why Peter and his companions may have gone fishing was that they preferred to pre-occupy themselves. Along with all the trauma of his dear master’s trial and death, Peter was haunted by his denial. In order to avoid dwelling on the shame and the pain he must have felt, Peter kept himself busy.

However, that morning by the lakeside, Peter discovered that neither reverting to familiar patterns of behaviour nor keeping himself pre-occupied were the real answer to the complex pain he felt – that potent mixture of grief and shame. In his spontaneity he showed his love for his master by jumping out of the boat and going to greet him on the seashore. But a strange silence fell over the barbecue breakfast – none of them dared ask Jesus who he was. They thought he was their Lord, yet an uncertainty hung over them. Moreover, Peter needed to be reconciled to his Lord after letting him down so badly.

Afterwards Jesus tackled the very thing of which Peter was afraid. Three times Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” The pain rises in Peter until he loses his composure and bursts out: “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you!” It is only then that the wound is lanced, the pain is dealt with properly, and Peter receives direction for his future. He no longer need revert to his former occupation – now he is to feed the flock, after the example of the Good Shepherd. He will no longer be haunted by the memory of his denial – he is forgiven. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him in a mirror image of his thrice repeated denial. Peter was not able to follow his master all the way to death on that occasion on the eve of Good Friday. But now, because his love for his master is certain, one day he may well be led where he was unable to go before.
His love for Jesus would lead to his own martyrdom.

Divine Generosity
We have been concentrating on the intense action between our Lord and Peter. But if we draw our attention back a little, we can see the wider scene. This wider scene is breakfast on the beach. When the fishermen came ashore, hauling the miraculous catch with them, they were invited to share a meal which had already been prepared. Inspite of the provision, Jesus still invites them to contribute some of their own catch. Here the bewildered and hesitant disciples are entertained by the Lord. His hospitality is generous and open and it reflects the loving and forgiving way in which he treated Peter who had let him down so badly before.

Let us widen our perspective even further. The miraculous catch of fish in this resurrection story echoes the miraculous catch of fish related by St Luke at the first calling of the disciples to follow Jesus. As we look at the wider sweep of Jesus’ relationship with the disciples we see more clearly what it is all about.

Let me illustrate from a recent experience. On Thursday evening Rob and I went on a tour of the stadium.mk down at Denbigh. We met the Manager and his assistant Martin Allen and Adrian Whitbread. Martin Allen was passionate about the Dons and the potential for their future. He said that meeting Pete Winkelman, the chairman, made all the difference to his accepting the position of Manager of the Dons. At times when he talked to the little crowd surrounding him I felt that he had the passion and fervour of a religious preacher. He exuded a tremendous sense of privilege which evoked his own commitment to the cause.

First meeting to last meeting
When Peter first followed Jesus to become a fisher of men, he may have responded from a sense of hero worship or because he would have some of the glory for himself.
Then it was easy and he had Jesus around to rescue him from mistakes or difficult situations. But now, after all that had gone on in the suffering and death of Jesus, following him takes on a completely different nature. The encounter between Peter and Jesus is crucial to the founding of the Church and that by which Peter, the other disciples and indeed, Paul (whose conversion experience we have also read this morning) were to be motivated.

As Jane Williams comments: “Jesus does not say, ‘I love you and trust you’ to Peter before telling him to feed his sheep. “Instead he asks, ‘Do you love me?’ It is only when Peter acknowledges that loving God is about giving, not just about getting, that he can play the part that God has for him.”

Each eucharist is a reminder of the breakfast by the lake where the Lord himself is the host. “Come and eat!” he says. It is also a memorial of his death on the cross where he gave all for us. This is the point of Christian living: that all we live and die for, all we may give, all we may sacrifice is to be in response to our Lord’s generosity.

We have launched Under One Roof as a means by which we can care both for the fabric of our building and the life of the congregation that finds its spiritual home here. We depend on the generosity of many people and organisations to contribute both to the repair appeal and to the support of the ministry of this church. But I would have no one give, however small or great, if they are not giving in response to God’s generosity. The resurrection stories in the gospels give us a clear picture of Peter’s relationship with Jesus. After his denial he thought that things had ended. First his going to the empty tomb and then his reinstatement by the lake showed him that he could continue loving Jesus. Because of his renewed love for Jesus he was able to carry out the mission to which he was called. So let us hear the voice of the Lord, standing, perhaps only half-recognised, in the morning mist of our uncertainty. He is calling: “Come! Come and have breakfast!” And then after the meal he speaks words of challenge and reassurance: “Do you love me? . . . . Feed my sheep!”



After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?"
"Yes, Lord," he answered, "You know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Take care of my lambs."

John 21.15