John 21:1-15 “Uprising of Discipleship”
Anybody here remember that great 1965 hit movie with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello? It was called “Beach Blanket Bingo.” For some reason, I remember that movie even though I was very young when it came out. During that period of time, there were so many beach movies. With all of the turmoil and upheaval of the 1960’s, going to the beach was just the perfect form of escape.
Here on Kauai, still to this day, we use the beach as our escape hatch when things in our lives begin to weigh a bit too heavily. I love going down to the ocean and just swimming for an hour. Not too long ago, I was able to swim with a monk seal down at Salt Pond. He came right up to my face. He was just a very friendly seal. I also had a sea turtle swim with me once. Then, there was that 15 foot tiger shark once, too. Fortunately I only ever saw the dorsal fin. You see, we all just kind of forget about all our other troubles when we see that dorsal fin in the water with us.
The other thing that I really enjoy while at the beach is when I can mix ministry with the sand and sea spray. This is in fact what Jesus does with His disciples at Easter. As for me, even before I went to seminary and became a pastor, I would go down to the beach with my friends and have bible reading sessions. I would call this “Beach Blanket Bible.” Kind of named after the Frankie and Annette’s escapades.
I noticed two weeks ago that there were two people with a mobile bible cart down at Salt Pond. They were in the shade of a couple of palms not far from the parking lot. They were seated and looking away from the ocean. They looked like they were bored and not having any fun. Normally I would have gone over to talk with them, but they looked simply bedraggled. I just did not want to engage them. The cart had a handle that pulled up like carry-on luggage that had a sign “The truth is found herein.” They were conveying an interesting truth: the Bible is nothing unless it is being opened and shared. In fact, it needs to be taught.
After seeing this, I was heading down to swim in the ocean when I heard my name being called from afar. “Pastor Olaf! Pastor Olaf.” I turned around to see that a woman from another church was calling after me. She ran over to me very excited to see me. She said that she had had a conversation with a friend about the story of Gideon in the Old Testament laying down fleeces. She wanted to know what I thought about that. For a moment, it was “Beach Blanket Bible” all over again! We talked for about half an hour about other Bible things before she apologized and let me get back to my swimming.
About a year ago, the West Kauai Ministers’ Association also started meeting at the beach! In fact we met this last Thursday again on the beach. That is the best! We actually were meeting in a restaurant and each other’s churches before. Being at the beach is somehow freeing to all of us. It reminds us of Saint Paul when he was shipwrecked on Malta. You will recall that the entire island of Malta accepted Jesus then. It reminds us of Jesus coming back to his disciples, more importantly.
We can disciple others anywhere. We can teach the word of God anywhere. It is like that Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs & Ham: “You can disciple with a fox, you can disciple in a box; you can disciple on a plane, you can disciple on a train; you can disciple in a boat, you can disciple with a goat; you can disciple here or there, you can disciple anywhere.”
You will recall of course that Jesus did not tell us or his own disciples that we must go out and convert everyone we see. The Great Commission is, as we find it in Matthew 28:18, “Go therefore and . . . .make disciples.” This does not mean that we wheel a bible cart to a parking lot and hope that someone will trip over it and suddenly find God. We are actually supposed to teach the world about Christ wherever we find ourselves. Again, it is not our issue at all to coerce confessions of faith from people through conversion; Jesus simply commands us to make disciples—that is to teach the Gospel. All that other stuff is between the Holy Spirit and the individual.
I deem it noteworthy that in our text for today, John calls the followers of Christ “disciples.” Jesus calls them “children.” They are back in the Christianity 101 course it seems. They are not called “apostles” here. Now they are once again as they were when Jesus was first with them. They are the students, and Jesus is the great teacher.
After Easter, we see an amazing uprising of discipleship that starts right there on the beach. It does not start in the Temple in Jerusalem. It does not start in a synagogue. It starts with a group of people early in the morning having a breakfast on the beach.
Let us look at this story closer: Simon Peter, who is now the designated driver of the new church, does not immediately start his new discipleship training program as we would expect. It seems he does the exact opposite. He goes back to the life he knew before meeting up with Jesus. He tells his fellow Christians, “I am going fishing.” For a brief moment we are encouraged that maybe Peter is doing what Jesus tells him in Matthew 4:19, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” We want to cheer Peter on as we think he might be starting a real ministry now. Nope. He is not using the metaphor at all. He is really going fishing. He is going back to what he knew before he knew Jesus.
Some will defend Peter by saying: “Well, he has got to make a living.” And, yes, fishing is a fine way to make sure that you will be eating a dinner in the evening. If you do not sell your fish, then you simply eat them yourself.
The problem is that Peter is not catching any fish it seems. What is he doing? Could it be that he and the other disciples are out on the boat talking about Jesus? Are they having a mini-worship service out on the boat that goes all night long? Maybe they were praying for the fish to come into the nets.
This seems unlikely for the simple reason that we read that Peter was naked out on the boat. You see, in those days fishermen would take off their clothes so that they would not get ruined by the work. Many people then only had one garment. If there was heavy work to do, one would set the garment aside and do the work naked. So, the mention of Peter’s nakedness is merely to make sure that we (the reader) understand that Peter had been really hard at work at the task of fishing. He was not therefore running a discipleship training course on the boat. He would not have presumed to teach the others while he was naked.
If you recall in Genesis 9:22, we have a story of Noah being naked and his sons walking backward with clothes to cover him up again. The old Testament equates nakedness with not being presentable—or with shame. This idea goes right back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve suddenly look upon their own nakedness and react with shame. God responds: “Who told you were naked?” So, in this same vein, we should view the fact that Peter was naked to mean that he was not teaching the Gospel but rather working hard and disregarding whatever shame their might be in his being naked while doing it. When he sees Jesus, he dons his clothes and jumps into the water.
Meanwhile, Jesus has been on the beach for a while. We know this because he has been cooking fish that are now already prepared and doing this over a charcoal fire. The fact that the fire is already at the point of charcoal is significant. Jesus has probably been there all night long. He has been watching his disciples. He may have been making the fish stay out of the nights. Jesus almost taunts the disciples: “You didn’t catch any fish at all, did you?” Jesus knows this because this was what was supposed to happen.
“Cast your nets on the other side of the boat.” Jesus calls to them. They do and they catch more than they can haul in. We know exactly that they caught 153 fish. Isn’t it strange that that number would be cited so precisely?
To be sure, at this point we all must assume that we are not talking about fish. Now Jesus’ metaphor seems to be in the story. The 153 were people. One can count up all the people whom Jesus blessed in the New Testament, and that number come up to exactly 153. I like to think that there were the 7 disciples listed at the start of the story and then 153 others at the breakfast on the beach. 160 people at what must be called the first public worship and calling of disciples in the history of Christianity.
The lesson then that Jesus teaches to all those there. He asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” In other words, are you going to follow me or go back to being a fisherman again? Peter answers that he will follow Jesus because he loves Jesus more than fish. And with that, the uprising of discipleship starts among those who will follow Jesus.
When we leave here this morning, do we go back to the same life as before? Or, do we love Jesus more? It is our call to teach this world the ways of following Christ. So, we go our from here as true disciples of Christ.