The Holy Gospel according to John, the 21st chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
1 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, 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 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. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me.”
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We all have different stories of how God has called us to be a Christian. Some stories are dramatic. They would make a good movie of the week. Some stories are more ordinary. They only seem to matter to the people involved. All these stories have something in common, though. When God calls you, your life will never be the same.
Today we heard stories about some of the saints of the church. We heard about Paul, Ananias, and Peter. God called them and their lives were never the same.
Let’s look first at the story of Paul. Our first lesson calls him by his Hebrew name, Saul, a name he shares with one of the great kings. The Saul we hear about today was obsessed with Jewish religious purity. He is the king of making sure his religion is not polluted, not watered down, not ruined, not changed.
Saul becomes furious when he even thinks about people changing the way his faith is taught and understood. He doesn’t want anyone re-interpreting the holy scriptures in any way, shape, or form. Saul just loves that old-time religion.
As far as he is concerned, his way of understanding the scriptures is the traditional way, the right way. His way of interpreting the law is the right way, the one and only way.
No wonder he is furious. These followers of the “Way” are invading the synagogues. They are teaching the faithful people a different message. They are perverting the ancient teachings that he is so protective of. He becomes so concerned that he becomes a bounty hunter for the high priest.
We meet Saul as he is on the road to Damascus. He is heading to the capital of Syria to go to all the synagogues and round up all the Christians.
Jesus has a different plan for Saul. Jesus decides he can use that kind of enthusiasm. Jesus has a real sense of humor about these things. He likes to surprise us. So he shows us again how he can turn great evil into even greater good.
So Saul gets to tell one of the most dramatic conversion stories ever. Jesus appears to him and speaks to him on the road. Saul is struck blind for three days. He has to be led by the hand into the city. He can’t eat or drink anything during those three days.
Three days. Does that remind you of anything? God can do a lot in three days. God called Saul, and his life was never the same. Saul starts using his Roman name, Paul, and brings the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole gentile world, including us.
Now, let’s look at the story of Ananias. Ananias is already a faithful follower of Jesus, a member of the Christian community in Damascus, probably a leader of that community, possibly their pastor. We don’t know his conversion story. We don’t know if he has been a believer all his life, or if he became a follower of Jesus as an adult.
Ananias has a dramatic story to tell, too. He also has a vision of Jesus. Jesus gives him very explicit directions, what street to go to, what house to look for. But Jesus tells him to do something that feels very dangerous. He is supposed to seek out the very man who would like to have him, along with his whole congregation, arrested and killed.
I love Ananias and his story. I always thought it would be great to get such detailed directions from Jesus. Every time I have been between calls, I asked God for more specifics, but in my case, the Holy Spirit guided me to work hard to figure things out.
Ananias gets specifics, but then he argues with the Lord, which is probably what I would do, too, in his case. He tries to tell Jesus that these instructions must be a mistake. Jesus must have the wrong man. Saul is a bad guy, a persecutor of Christians.
But the Lord said, “Go,” so Ananias went. He was probably terrified, but he obeyed Jesus anyway. What an example for us! Ananias was faithful when God called him. Not just his own life, but many lives were changed.
Our gospel lesson tells us something of the story of Peter. Peter was always the impulsive disciple. I think of him as something of an extrovert, the kind of person who thinks out loud, the kind of guy who doesn’t really know what he thinks until he hears himself saying it. He’s the leader of the group. People just naturally follow him.
It was a couple of weeks after the resurrection. The disciples were out of their locked room and things had calmed down in Jerusalem. The crowds who came for the Passover holiday had gone home. People had gone back to work.
The world was anything but normal and ordinary for the disciples, so maybe they thought doing something normal and ordinary would help them feel less strange about it all. Many of them had been fishermen before Jesus called them. It would feel good to fish again.
So Peter said he was going fishing and several of the disciples said they would go, too. Their attempt to feel normal didn’t work, though. They didn’t catch a single fish. Now that they knew Jesus, there was no way they could go back to their former life. Everything had changed and there was no going back.
Jesus had another surprise for them, too. He was already on the shore cooking fish. So the carpenter told the fishermen to cast the net on the other side of the boat. I don’t fish, but even I know this sounds totally ridiculous. But they obey Jesus even when it sounded completely absurd.
One-hundred fifty-three fish - some scholars say 153 is the number of nations in the known world at that time. In any case, the disciples' vocation and their lives had totally changed. Jesus had called them. They could never be just fishermen anymore.
Jesus fed them that day. After breakfast, Jesus talks to Peter. If you love me, feed my lambs, tend my sheep. Jesus is very clear. We show our love for him when we feed and tend the flock. Jesus called Peter, and his life was never the same. Peter became the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
These stories I shared sound like they are about Paul and Ananias and Peter. But they are really stories about Jesus. He is the main character in all of them. He is the primary actor. He calls us. He invites us to follow. After we hear Jesus, our lives are never the same.
I don’t have a dramatic story like that to tell you about when I became a Christian. When I was growing up in the Bible belt, I used to feel bad about that. I thought I should have a story of a specific time when Jesus spoke to me, a time when I first heard him, first answered the call to believe. But, I don't have a story like that.
Most of us don’t have a story like Paul, Ananias, or Peter. We do have a
story, though. There is a hymn in the old Junior Hymnal, the one my Sunday School used. It’s a song that tells my story. Maybe this is your story too. It's a hymn about baptism. It reminds us that when God calls us, our lives will never be the same.
1. I became a Christian, when an infant mild,
At God’s holy fountain, I was made his child.
In the name of Christian, I will glory now,
Evermore remember my baptismal vow.
3. All a Christian’s blessings I will claim for mine:
Holy work and worship, Fellowship divine.
Father, Son, and Spirit, Give me grace that I
Still may live a Christian, and a Christian die. Amen.
(The Junior Hymnal, hymn 170, Augustana Book Concern, Rock Island, IL 1928, 12th edition, 1953.)