Breakfast with Jesus

Steve Lindsley
(John 21:1-19)

It had been, by all accounts, a wasted night of fishing. Seven of them, sitting on their boat all night, casting nets into the waters and hauling them in over and over again, each time their spirits defeated by the ease with which they were reeled back in – a sure sign they contained no fish. All night long, the nets came in like that.

The morning sun was starting to peak over the horizon, which meant it was time to pack it up and call it a night. The fishermen were weary and frustrated. And then, as the light crept out over the water and illuminated the beach in front of them, they made out the figure of a man standing on the shore. It was as they were hauling in the last of the nets that the stranger called out to them. “Good morning!” he said, with a cheerful voice. “Did you catch anything for breakfast?”

Peter mumbled his displeasure underneath his breath. Of course they had not caught anything – could he not see the empty nets? He wondered if this man had an agenda of some sort, or was just trying to be annoying.

The stranger continued. “Well, if you don’t mind my saying, I’d try casting your nets over that way – I think you’ll find some fish there.” He motioned to an spot in the water they had fished many times that evening – it seemed pointless to further this disaster. But there was something…..something in the man’s voice that compelled him – despite his weariness – to take him up on the suggestion. And so they made one last cast to the right of the boat.

They reached down for the nets, as they had done dozens of times that night, and began pulling them in. And almost immediately they felt that wonderful sensation of resistance, that “drag” that makes any fisherman’s heart leap for joy. The nets were full – almost too full! There were so many fish that all seven men on the boat couldn’t haul it in. They got what they could, which was still more than they caught in an average night. With one cast of the nets.

And it was then they recalled a similar set of circumstances a little over three years before – another rough fishing night, and a stranger’s voice imploring them to fish again, and the full nets that followed, and how he wound up asking them to follow him. It all came rushing back to them in that moment; and as they stood in their boat with the morning light filling the sky, they knew, they suddenly knew who this stranger was: it was none other than Jesus!

It was Peter who ran to him, jumped in and swam to the shore, not waiting for the boat to get him here. He just had to get to Jesus as soon as he could. Although he must’ve been a little anxious, don’t you think? After all, it had been a long, hard road for Peter that week. It had all been going so wonderfully – he had been Jesus’ right-hand man, he had heard all the things Jesus said and seen the things Jesus did.

And then one night, in the blink of an eye, it all came crashing down. And instead of kneeling at the feet of his Lord, he was running away from him and those who came to arrest him. Instead of professing faith in Jesus as he once did, he was now denying he ever knew him – three times, in fact. It was abandonment at its worst, and the guilt that weighed on Peter was surpassed only by the heavy news of Jesus’ death the next day. Even word of his resurrection was cold comfort – he ran, not walked to the tomb, only to find it empty. He was risen, but where was he? Would he want to be found?

And so now there he is, standing next to him on the lakeshore; and he is grilling the fish they had just caught, all for their little breakfast by the sea. They eat in silence for awhile, because sometimes silence is all that needs to be said. They eat their breakfast together, and then Jesus speaks words into the silence with a question:

Simon, Son of John, do you love me?

Three times he asks Peter this question. The triple repetition might seem a little strange, even unsettling. Then again, it was three times Peter denied Jesus, was it not? Absolution at its mathematical finest perhaps.

What probably makes less sense to Peter in the exchange – what he was not expecting that morning by the lakeshore – was Jesus’ response back. Feed my lambs, he says to Peter the first time. Tend my sheep, he says after the second. Feed my sheep, after the third. Strange, isn’t it? Strange commending the care of such to someone who abandoned you days before, who ran away when you needed him most. And strange to talk about lambs and sheep with a man who’d spent nearly all of his adult life not huddled on some mountaintop as a shepherd, but down by the seas and on boats as a salty fisherman. What in the world does a guy like Peter know about tending to and feeding a bunch of sheep?

If only Peter had known what a young boy named Jonathan once learned. Jonathan’s father, a lifelong ranch-hand, had been passing on to his son the ins and outs of keeping the farm into the next generation. One day they made their way to the sheep pen. As Jonathan’s father unlatched the hook and swung the gate open, all the sheep came out and gathered around Jonathan. He was fearful at first that the sheep would scatter and run away, but much to his surprise, they stayed right with him.

Jonathan looked at his father, not sure what to make of this. And his father said, “Don’t worry, they just want to be fed. Come, walk with me.”

And so the two of began walking, and as they did the sheep followed right with them. His father explained, “They’re following you because they know who you are and know you’ll take care of them. They trust you, Jonathan. Keep walking.”

Jonathan and his father walked down this dirt road for about half an hour, the sheep walking with them every step of the way. Eventually they came to the end of the road where they found a huge field with tall grass and a stream running through. It was sheep paradise! The field was fenced in, so Jonathan’s father opened the gate and told his son to walk in a ways. Jonathan did as he was asked, and the sheep obediently followed him in. Once inside, they all began to graze among the grass and drink from the stream.

Jonathan looked at his father. “Now what? Do I have to stand here all day??” His father laughed and called his son out of the pen. He closed the gate and said, “You don’t need to stay in there. Taking care of sheep isn’t all that difficult, when you think about it. All it really involves is bringing them here in the morning and taking them home in the afternoon. If you do that, if you lead them to green pastures, they can feed themselves. If you show them the way, they will follow your lead.”

I wonder – I wonder if Jonathan’s father and Jesus might’ve been thinking the same sort of thing. Feed my lambs, Jesus says. Tend my sheep, Jesus says.   Do you think Jesus, in the brilliance that the gospel of John portrays him, do you think Jesus somehow knew it would be Peter – the one who’d abandoned him days before – who’d lead his sheep? Who would show them the way so they could follow his lead, through the gates that hold in fear and despair, out into the big wide world?

If you lead them to green pastures, they can feed themselves. If you show them the way, they will follow your lead.

Is that what this little breakfast with Jesus was all about? Leading us in so we can lead others out?

I think of how Jesus met those along the seashore three years earlier and moved them to change the course of their lives with two simple words: Follow me. I think of how Jesus met Zacchaeus in a tree one day and turned a dinner invitation into a springboard for new life. I think of how Jesus met the Roman guard as he hung on a cross, dying, and still somehow led him in that encounter to make the very “anti-empire” proclamation: Truly this was God’s son.

Even in this season of Easter we continue to live in, even in this season of new life, Jesus is leading us in so we can lead others out. Jesus led Paul to his moment of conversion on the road to Damascus. He led a 16th-century German theologian to become Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the Reformation. He led an ordinary Albanian nun tucked away in an Indian abbey to become Mother Teresa, one of the 20th century’s greatest champions for the poor and marginalized. And he led a Baptist preacher from Atlanta to become Martin Luther King Jr., tireless proponent of the American civil rights movement.

And today, on this Confirmation Sunday, he leads Jackson, Molly, Hunter, Edward, Hank Ball and Hank Smith, he leads them in so they can then lead others out. He has led them into a period of discernment and discovery, paired with a mentor, where learning and growth take place on both sides. He has led them into a variety of worship experiences, he has led them into mission and service, he has led them into questions upon questions upon questions that far outnumber the answers.

Jesus leads us in – in to each other, in to this community of faith, this church, into the questions and discernment and glorious messiness of the kingdom of God on Earth. Jesus leads us in so we may graze off green pastures and drink deep from cool waters.

And then Jesus leads us out with these commands: feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Lead my people. Love those who know little of love. Make a difference in your corner of the world. Don’t be afraid of change. Take care of this planet. Choose peace and love over hate and violence. Forgive someone who has done you wrong. Heal the brokenness. Hold on to hope. Follow me.

On this Confirmation Sunday, to our six newest church members and to all of us: the world needs your questions and curiosity and faith. The world needs your ideas and beliefs and doubts. The world needs your light shining into the darkness, the kind of darkness we saw on full display this past week just up the road at the university – the world needs your light there and everywhere. The world needs everything you can give it, more than ever before, it needs it. Which is why this journey of confirmation that concludes today, of making a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and joining his church, this journey over the past four months is not the end of your journeying. Not even close. It’s only getting started.

The nets were full that morning after a long night of emptiness. Jesus leads us in so we can lead others out. Tell me, friends, what new and amazing things await us on the lakeshore?

In the name of God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.