Sermons That Work

Children’s Books with Names…, Easter 3 (C) – 1998

April 26, 1998

Children’s books with names like One Fish, Two Fish; Red Fish, Blue Fish. Screen savers on our computers that pretend to be an aquarium. Long weekends in the north woods, on silent lakes waiting for the first nibble on the line, or sea stories about “the one that got away.” It seems like fish turn up everywhere. Maybe that’s because fish are such fascinating creatures. Fish come in an amazing variety of shapes, sizes and colors, and they move so gracefully through the water. Watching them can be soothing or entertaining. They can be eaten in any setting, from around a campfire to the finest restaurants. Fish just never seem to be boring. From early childhood to old age, fish seem to be a source of wonder and delight for so many people.

Maybe that’s why, in today’s gospel passage, the words that really stand out are Jesus’ first words to the disciples: “Children, you have no fish, have you?” Such sad words. After trying all night, the disciples still have no fish. The people Jesus loves like his own children have no source of wonder or delight. They can’t even make a decent meal. In the ancient middle east, for a meal to be considered complete, you had to have bread and fish. Fish weren’t just part of a heart-healthy diet, fish were essential. No decent host would let even his guest’s slaves go without fish; to do that was to treat them as less than human, and risk being thought of as a poor host. So, without fish the disciples weren’t even human beings. No fish. A whole night’s work, and nothing to show for it. Just an empty boat. No wonder, no delight, and no breakfast.

We can almost hear Jesus’ sadness because his children didn’t have any fish. Wonder, delight and breakfast are some of the things that make life worth living. And the One who came so we would have life abundantly is naturally unhappy when we don’t have them. When the disciples thought that their Lord and Master, their teacher and friend had been taken from them forever, they thought that all the wonder and delight had gone out of their lives. So, they returned to their fishing boats, but couldn’t even catch breakfast. And Jesus met his friends in that hour of need and despair, and showed them that with him, they would have everything they needed. Wonder, delight and breakfast. But, Jesus doesn’t just give the disciples fish; he does something more. He helps them find the fish. Jesus leads the disciples to the place where they will find wonder, delight, and breakfast–everything that they needed in life, at least for the moment.

And, as the disciples are pointed to the place where they will find the things that make life worth living, they recognize their risen Lord. The disciples recognize the hand of God in providing them with such an abundant catch of fish, more than they could ever have hoped for. When the disciples finally realize that the stranger on the shore is the beloved friend they thought they had lost, they know that he is the true source of their wonder and delight, and everything else that makes life worth living. They are overcome with joy: one of them jumps out of the boat to swim to shore, the others paddle back as fast as possible to meet their Lord and their friend on the beach. As they go ashore to be with Jesus, he asks them to bring some of what they have caught. Jesus is the host of this breakfast, but the party doesn’t start until the disciples bring something to the table.

So, Jesus asks the disciples to bring some of the fish they had just caught. The Lord asks them to bring something to him which is fresh in the disciple’ minds, something that’s important to them right now. Something gives them wonder and delight. Whatever happens to be in their net is what Jesus wants. The disciples happened to make a catch of good large fish. But if all they had gotten was puny, bruised or broken fish, Jesus would have accepted those, too.

Whatever is in our nets is what Jesus wants. Whether it’s good large fish, or puny broken ones. Groupers or guppies, it doesn’t matter. The quality isn’t important, either. Jesus asks us to bring whatever we have — not to go down to the local seafood shop and get perfect fish. Whatever we have is enough–and good enough–if we bring it to our Lord. We will pray later on, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And Jesus will do that. But he asks us to look for the fish, and to bring that fish to him, each and every day. Somehow, if we do that in faith and love, we will not be disappointed. The smallest bits of fish, the tiniest glimmers of wonder and delight, these are not too small to bring to the shore. IT will be enough.

And Jesus takes our fish, our bits of wonder and delight that we have found in the lakes and seas of daily living–and lights a fire under them. In the fire of Christ’s love and concern for us, our daily pleasures, desires, and hopes are transformed into the fullest meal possible–our fish, and Christ’s bread. What we bring to the table, and what Jesus has already waiting there for us. But there are times when we try to fish, when we look for wonder and delight, and find nothing but confusion and despair. Our Lord wants those, too. He will light a fire under those as well, and on that fire of the Spirit, we may see our sorrows and troubles in a new light. And, at those times when we can’t find wonder or delight, Jesus already has something on the fire, waiting for us, because none of his children ever should ever be without fish. We are pointed to where we will find wonder, delight, and breakfast. And, when we find those things that make life worth living, we will recognize our risen Lord. Each day he points us to those wonderful delightful and satisfying things, each day he shows himself to be the source of all that is good. Jesus wants us to find what is beautiful, true and satisfying, but when that is beyond our abilities, he still invites us to his breakfast table. There, even when we have nothing of our own, he will provide us with those things that will sustain and delight us. And, on the beach with him, all that we find in our daily life on earth that is good and beautiful and fascinating, is served back to us with the bread of heaven, and washed down with living water. The fullest meal possible. And all that we have to do is accept the invitation: “Come, and have breakfast.”

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Christopher Sikkema


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