I call this An Ordinand’s Sermon Part 2, because it follows on from a sermon I preached to my formation group at college in February last year. It’s funny, because whilst this sermon is not on the same passage of scripture, it seems (to me, anyway) to be the perfect part 2. God’s funny like that, isn’t he?
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
(John 21: 1-19)
“I’m going fishing,” says Peter, utterly fed up and craving normality. Life has not turned out the way he had thought, when he said ‘yes’ to following Jesus 3 years earlier. He had said ‘yes’ to becoming a fisher of men, ‘yes’ to being taught, ‘yes’ to an adventure with Jesus. And yet, here he was, despondent. “I’m going fishing.” Peter’s urge is to get back to normality, back to reality. So, he goes back to what he knows best. Fishing.
But God has other plans. As they are fishing on the boat, having caught nothing all night, someone calls out from the shore, “Put your nets out on the other side.” They do. And the fish fill the nets. And then it comes. The whisper. “It’s Jesus.” Overjoyed at the sight of his friend, his teacher, his saviour, Peter jumps out of the boat and rushes to meet Jesus on the beach. The others follow as quickly as they can. They drag their enormous catch ashore, but there’s no need… Jesus has already prepared some for them. He smiles and says, “Alright lads… fancy some breakfast?”
They sit and eat, and then we see the remarkable encounter between Peter and Jesus, with Peter’s reinstatement mirroring his denial of his friend. It is beautiful to see Jesus once again stretch out a hand and ask Peter to follow him. And nerving, no doubt, as Peter is told that one day he will go where he is led, and not where he wishes. Still, it’s clear. In the person of Jesus, Peter encounters God on that beach. And in that encounter he is transformed once more, before being sent out.
But this isn’t the first time. If we look back at John 20: 21-22, Peter encounters the risen Jesus and he transforms him with God’s peace and with the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Encountered. Transformed. Sent.
When I preached previously from Luke 5: 1-11, we saw how Peter had an encounter with Jesus, that led to his transformation and a sending out. There is no doubt, that Peter has already been called out of his old life, into a new one. It’s like an old pair of boots that have been worn out and are no longer wearable. We get a new pair of boots. But we can’t put the new boots on over the top of our old boots, nor can we put the old boots on instead of the new boots. They might feel comfortable at first, because we’ve worn them in, but our old boots are no longer fit for the purpose for which they were made. They’re broken. Our new boots, as strange as they might feel, these are the boots which are fit for purpose. Peter went back to the old, back to the comfortable, the fishing. But he is no longer a fisherman. His old life is no longer fit for the purpose for which he has been transformed.
Encountered. Transformed. Sent.
Of course, the same goes for us here today. We were all called to St Mellitus in September 2018. We could have gone to countless other colleges, or put training on hold a few more years. But we didn’t. God called us to train together at the same time as each other. And in that training he has been forming us. Of course, the forming and transforming continues, but this time together has been key to forming us for ordained ministry in the Church of England. The late night bar chats, the 2am McDonalds runs, the worship, the prayer, the tears and snot, the dodgy vegetarian options and the mind-melting bogglement of theological education have all formed us. And if just 1 of us hadn’t been here for the journey, it wouldn’t have quite been the same. We were called together for this time, we have been transformed, and now you are being sent.
So, as you leave college – some of us have another year, because we need that extra bit of formation – and step out into your new lives as ordained disciples of Jesus Christ, shake off your old boots and slip into the new ones. Your old lives are no longer fit for the purpose for which you have been called. And when the discomfort hits, as it usually does with a new pair of shoes, remember Jesus’ words to Peter: “Someone else will take you where you don’t want to go. Follow me.”
I would want a boat, if I wanted a
boat, that bounded hard on the waves,
that didn’t know starboard from port
and wouldn’t learn, that welcomed
dolphins and headed straight for the
whales, that, when rocks were close,
would slide in for a touch or two,
that wouldn’t keep land in sight and
went fast, that leaped into the spray.
What kind of life is it always to plan
and do, to promise and finish, to wish
for the near and the safe? Yes, by the
heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want
a boat I couldn’t steer.
(Mary Oliver, If I Wanted A Boat)
That is my prayer for us all. As we encounter God, he transforms us and sends us out. May we follow him, even to the rocks. May we get into that boat that is his alone to steer.