Sermon: Breakfast with Jesus

“Breakfast with Jesus”
Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron
Park Avenue Congregational Church, UCC
May 5, 2019

Psalm 30
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
   and did not let my foes rejoice over me. 
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
   and you have healed me. 
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
  restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you faithful ones,
   and give thanks to God’s holy name. 
For God’s anger is but for a moment;
   God’s favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
   but joy comes with the morning. 

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
   ‘I shall never be moved.’ 
By your favor, O Lord,
   you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
   I was dismayed. 

To you, O Lord, I cried,
   and to the Lord I made supplication: 
‘What profit is there in my death,
   if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
   Will it tell of your faithfulness? 
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
   O Lord, be my helper!’ 

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
   you have taken off my sackcloth
   and clothed me with joy, 
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
   O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you for ever.

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. 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. 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.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 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. 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 lake. 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.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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.’ 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.’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. 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.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

When I was a teenager, we made a trip to visit family friends at their home in Colorado. One morning we all woke up earrrrrly – about dawn – and drove to a nearby river where our host Jim taught us the basics of fly fishing. By the time the sun was beginning to warm the cool mountain air, my sister and I each caught a trout – and taken pictures of us – pointing to our catch and grinning like crazy – to prove it. Jim, meanwhile, had caught several, cleaned them all, made a fire and cooked them up for breakfast. I was just coming out of a childhood as a picky eater and thought I didn’t really enjoy fish, but something about that early morning breakfast of trout we had fished ourselves, cooked on an open fire and eaten just when our stomachs were starting to grumble, really hit the spot. It’s still one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever eaten.

This morning’s Gospel text must rank up there for the disciples as a memorable breakfast, too. It’s not long after Jesus appeared to his friends in the locked room, bestowing the Holy Spirit on them and giving them a mission. But Peter and some of the others have gone right back to fishing, the occupation they practiced before becoming disciples.

It’s understandable that they’d return to what they know – even with Jesus’ instructions to go out and share his message (which was rather vague, after all – “As the Father sent me, so I send you” isn’t exactly packed with details). If you recall, the disciples were often scratching their heads at Jesus’ teachings, trying to understand his cryptic parables and surprising commandments. They even got it solidly wrong several times – arguing about who was most important in their group or turning children away from Jesus so their beloved teacher wouldn’t be bothered. And now it’s all on them to pass all of this on to others, without the leader they’d relied upon for the last three years? No wonder they’ve given up before they even got started.

But then Jesus comes to the lakeshore to reassure them and remind them that they have a new job to do.

I love how he does this. Did you notice the disciples had been fishing all night, with nothing to show for their efforts? Jesus knows the futility of their situation without their having to say anything – “Children you have no fish, have you?” – reminding them that he also knows the sense of purposelessness and defeat weighing heavily on their hearts.

Then, with just a few words – “Cast the net to the right side of your boat, and you will find some” – he nearly bursts their nets with fish, more than they could sell in a day, as if to say “you’ll never need to fish again!” “Some” fish, indeed! Perhaps he’s making a point – with understated wit – that they’ve gotten as much as they ever will out of fishing, and now it’s time to take up a new calling.

Because it is by this show of abundance that the disciples recognize Jesus, perhaps he’s also reminding them that there will always be more than enough to meet their needs when they follow him instead of going it alone.

And when they’ve come ashore, dragging in their loaded-down nets, Jesus offers them yet more fish – let it never be said that Jesus has no sense of humor. He shares with them a freshly grilled breakfast to nourish them after their long night of work, reassuring them again that with him, no matter how difficult their toil, they will always be cared for.

It is only then, after showing how intimately he knows their struggles and how abundantly he loves them, that he elaborates on their new mission. It turns out that to be sent as the Father sent Jesus means to care for his flock, tending and nurturing them as they have been tended and nurtured by their teacher.

I love that wrapped up in the disciples’ mission is the promise that Jesus will provide all that they need. It’s not going to be easy – there’s that part about Peter’s martyrdom tucked in there – but they will never be left to fend for themselves. In the challenges of any job, in the ups and downs of life in general – is there any greater promise than to know we won’t go through it alone?

I have to say that as a pastor, this passage speaks deeply to me. And that’s not only because my daughter Davie has so often grabbed me by the rope tied around my waist and led me where I do not wish to go, often right in the middle of All Ages Together! (Seriously, I think of this passage every time that happens.)

This calling is hard sometimes: like Holy Week this year, when exhaustion stalked me through four worship services and the wrangling of a birthday party’s worth of sugar-crazed preschoolers in the span of five days. Or like this past week, when the heaviness of death and illness seemed to lurk around every corner. Or like any time I sit with someone whose pain is enough to break my own heart.  

I share the reality not to garner your sympathy or to be a martyr – Peter can keep that distinction! – but because I want you to know how I get through it, since I know each of you faces challenging missions of your own. Caring for an aging parent, raising kids, keeping up with a fulfilling yet demanding job, doing what you love while navigating a chronic illness, committing yourself to the hard work of justice – we all have good, meaningful callings in our lives that also come with difficulties.

But the good news, as Peter and the other disciples are discovering, is that Jesus is feeding us and shepherding us through it all.

I know I couldn’t do it without Jesus standing in the gap, walking with me and giving me the strength, the grace, the vulnerability to show up and to care. In those moments when I don’t know what to say but somehow find the words, in those moments when all the joy and dedication that you all have in caring for this community hits me, in those conversations when I’m talking to one of you and realize what a gift Jesus has given me in loving you – phew. It’s so clear that I’ve been equipped beyond measure to do this mission.  

What I’d love for you to ask yourself this morning is this: what does your breakfast with Jesus look like? How is Jesus feeding you, already and right now, so that you can do the joyful (if sometimes hard) work you’ve been called to? Can you call to mind the moments of pure delight in your willful child, or of grace in a difficult relationship, or of taking a break to run or read or do whatever it is that restores you – and see in them Jesus’ abundant love for you, and his invitation (fuel?) to share that abundance with others?

After that early breakfast of freshly caught trout, we hiked up to Lake Ptarmigan, a beautiful little gem of an alpine lake above the treeline in the Colorado Rockies. The 6 mile hike was no small feat – we hadn’t had long to acclimate to the 13,000 foot altitude, not to mention the 1,620 feet of vertical gain we had to traverse on the way up. The way down is when it got really tough, though: it began to rain, and soon we were wet through, cold, and discovering that going downhill requires a whole different (and sorely under-developed) set of muscles. As we slogged through the trail’s muddy gravel, though, I couldn’t help but feel warmed inside by the lingering memory of the morning’s fire and fresh caught fish. Fueled by our hearty breakfast, we eventually made it back to the trailhead, tired but glorying in the beauty we’d seen from the mountaintop.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

If you love me, feed my sheep.

First breakfast, then follow me. Amen.