Fish for Breakfast
RUMC 10 April 2016
The great artist Michelangelo painted the many biblical scenes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. To do this, he had to lie on his back on a scaffold (68 feet high). It took five years to finish that great work of art in a space of 12,000 square feet. Centuries later, Michelangelo’s frescoes had significantly faded. Because of this, Vatican officials decided it was time to clean and restore the entire ceiling. So in 1981, the nine-year restoration work began. Restorationists cleaned and restored the frescoes to their original beauty. What is noteworthy is that it took twice as long to restore the ceiling as it took for Michelangelo to paint it.
Today’s scripture passage is also about restoration but it is not with furniture or artwork. The scripture shows how Jesus restored the Apostle Peter. This story makes it clear that one of the functions of the resurrection is restoration of relationships, deep forgiveness and subsequent service.
My text is the gospel story of breakfast on the beach, John 21:1-19.
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon 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.
4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He 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. 7That 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. 8But 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.
9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So 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. 12Jesus 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. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15When 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.” 16A 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.” 17He 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. 18Very 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.”
This is the word of God. Thanks be to God.
His name was Simon Peter. We remember him as the disciple who tried to walk on water, but started to sink when his faith had faltered. He was the one who testified that Jesus was the Son of God, yet denied him three times in a single night.
It was now the second week, Jesus had already appeared to his disciples on two occasions and here he stood on the shore. It was in this third post resurrection experience that Jesus had some unfinished business to attend to.
In what may have been the first Christian prayer breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus turned to the fisherman and begun to question him. You see, our Lord’s purpose was not to punish, but to bring Simon Peter back into a right relationship with God and the community of faith.
And that is what Jesus does with us; he will do all that it takes to get us back on track. His desire is to restore us to the person he intended us to be.
One example of a person who needed restoration is Bill Wilson. Bill’s problem was that he was an alcoholic who spent much of his time under the influence or in a hospital detox. And it was in desperation that he cried out, “If there is a God, let him show himself to me. I’m ready to do anything, anything.” Then Bill experienced a sensation of bright light and a feeling of ecstasy and peace. God answered his prayer and he was restored. That experience changed Bill and in gratitude for this new life, he became the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Through this group, comes the grace of another day and countless people in 114 countries have experienced sobriety. I would say that 99% of the AA meetings take place in churches.
Peter had denied our Lord three times, and it appeared he was at the point of no return. To restore Peter, Jesus had to confront him; he did it through the method of question and answer. Each question began with Simon, Son of John. It sort of reminds me of when my mother wanted my complete attention; she would say in a rather demonstrative voice Paul Richard O’Neil.
- Question 1. Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? In other words, is there anything between us? Such as position, title, spouse or child?
- Question 2. Simon, son of John, do you love me? In other words, will you deny me again at the first sign of trouble like you did a couple of weeks ago?
- Question 3. Simon, son of John, do you love me? In other words, have you placed yourself before me? Am I first or second in your life?
The issue of what happened in Peter’s life had to be dealt with before he could move forward. The questions were for Peter’s benefit. And in the process, Peter was restored and was commissioned to take care of the souls of other people, to feed and tend to them.
A few years ago, Pastor Bob Ahlberg of the Hope Evangelical Church in Roscoe, Illinois faced a situation in his church that caused confusion and hard feelings. A church member under their church polity and discipline was removed from church membership for repeated and unrepentant adultery. I must say that something like this is extremely rare.
When the man heard of the church’s decision, he had become so angry that he said, “I know what you have to do, so do what you must, because I don’t care. I plan to never darken the doors of this church again.” The man divorced his wife in civil court and they went their separate ways. However his ex-wife continued to attend worship services. At cell group meetings and Bible studies, church members prayed for this man that he would be brought back into a right relationship with God.
Two years later, the ex-husband called the pastor and asked to see him. In the office, the man deeply chastened, had said that the “Hound of Heaven” had been on his trail for nearly two years and he couldn’t take much more. He wanted to confess his sin, turn from his wicked ways, and renew his marriage. Even his ex-wife who said she could never trust him again, was amazed at the change in his life.
Let me explain what led to this. After the divorce, this man who was in the Army Reserves was sent overseas and was assigned to the Graves Registration team. His job was to process the remains of soldiers who died in Iraq. Every day he was confronted with the brevity of life and the permanence of eternity.
When this man returned home after his tour of duty, he was guilt ridden; he decided to meet with the pastor and elders of the church. There in the pastor’s office, he confessed his sin and asked to be forgiven of his arrogance and the impact that his life had on others. He was warmly embraced and in time, his marriage was restored as well. That is a true example of what happens when a person gets right with God; they often become reconciled with each other.
Today’s scripture is not only about Peter, but it is also about us. We may not deserve mercy, but God loves us and it is in his best interest to get us cleaned up, straightened out and brought back into God’s good graces.
I believe most of us can testify to God’s forgiving grace when he restored us just as he did with Peter, Bill Wilson and the church member from Roscoe, Illinois.
UMC Hymn #394 is one that we sing from time to time. It is called Something Beautiful. The words are, “Something beautiful, something good; all my confusion he understood; all I had to offer him was brokenness and strife, but he made something beautiful of my life.”
As Christian believers, we may be involved in helping those who have failed, whose lives have been ruined, shattered or messed up. For those who have fallen on hard times, we need to be there for them, not to enable them, but to get them back on the right track. When we do that, we do God’s work.