In Monday’s edition of the Daily News, the comic strip Pearls Before Swine ran a lampoon of our Presidential debates. One of its characters, Rat (or in this particular case, Mr. Rat) has decided to run for president. The comic strip begins with Mr. Rat standing behind the podium, between the other two candidates.
The moderator asks him, “What do you hope that people will learn about you in the course of tonight’s debate?” Pointing to either side, he answers, “That I can lie as well as these two.” The moderator follows up with “So lying is now a virtue?” To which Rat replies, “Who said anything about lying?”
Distorting the facts, or simply making them up for your advantage, seems to be the norm these days. Now more than ever people, and especially politicians, are almost cavalier about it. It’s as if it doesn’t matter. And, in the case of politics, does it?
This November we can pretty much guess 48% of our country will vote Democrat, and 48% will vote Republican. If my math is correct, the fate of our country rests in the hands of roughly 4% of the population. To think that a small minority can have such an enormous impact on our lives.
If you find this information alarming, consider the entire mission of the church was entrusted to only a few, unqualified people. I believe that when Jesus handed his disciples the keys to the Kingdom, he did so knowing God would be doing all the heavy lifting. All they had to do was trust and remain faithful to God’s faithful Word.
God continues to put his faith in us, with all our brokenness and sin. And God still entrusts us to care for the fate of his church. The Good News, we don’t do it alone. God comes to us in his incarnate Word, Christ Jesus, and empowers us with the Holy Spirit to get the job done. God is in control, but still calls us out to do our part.
John’s gospel paints a beautiful picture of such a calling. Lets return to chapter 21. The story really begins in verse four. At daybreak on the beach, Jesus gathers around a fire with his disciples to eat breakfast for the last time.
Having grown up on a beach, I imagine Jesus looking out over the sea. The water is glassy and still, and the morning mist gives it an eerie calm. A light chill sneaks around in the silent breeze. Along the shoreline you can almost hear a slow, melodic heartbeat; the rhythm of small waves lapping upon the rocks and shells.
I like to imagine Jesus standing there barefoot. With the damp sand squishing between his toes, the resurrected Christ calls out to his disciples fishing about 100 yards offshore. In verse seven, (and children cover your ears) it is a very naked Simon Peter who first notices it is Jesus. Without hesitation, he immediately jumps overboard and rushes towards his friend. The others are quick follow.
By verse nine, where our reading began this morning, there are some subtleties we might overlook as we hurry to get to the moral of the story at the end. But with a close and careful read, we might see some amazing symbolism that gives us insight to the ways God works in our lives today.
First, lets step back and recall what Jesus is doing. He is waiting for his disciples to come home from work, which by the way isn’t going so well. Seeing this, Jesus intervenes. He helps them out by nudging them in the right direction. What does this say to you about how Jesus works in your life?
Here’s what I see. Jesus is waiting for me by the celestial seaside. But while he waits, he’s guiding me and helping me to navigate the treacherous waters and the hard work he has called me to do. And so the first thing we learn is God is intentionally present in our lives; working and caring for our success.
But Jesus is doing more. He is not only helping but also preparing a charcoal fire for his friends’ breakfast. This mundane task is actually very interesting, and one of the keys to understanding the final scene where Jesus forgives Peter. In scripture, fire is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. You might recall it was a pillar of fire that led the children of Israel through the wilderness, and tongues of fire that leapt from the mouths of the disciple on the day of Pentecost.
But this is a particular kind of fire. It was not made with pieces of driftwood found along the beach. Jesus had to provide the materials himself. He had to carry the dirty, bulky charcoal with his own hands. Now here’s an interesting fact I did not make up. There are only two places in the New Testament where we find a charcoal fire. Both are in John’s gospel. The first time is in the courtyard of the high priest where Peter denies Jesus three times. The second is on the beach here, where Jesus redeems Peter three times for his betrayal, commissioning him to “feed my sheep.” So we see that God is intentionally present in our lives, and his Spirit is always ready to redeem those who seek forgiveness.
The next clues might seem obvious. They are the fish and bread being prepared by the fire. Where have you seen these two before? When Jesus feeds the multitudes, right? Remember when ten’s of thousands of people gathered to hear Jesus speak and no one brought anything to snack on?
Jesus sends the disciples out to the people to gather what little food they had, a few fish and a couple loaves of bread. That’s barely enough for one family muchless 5,000 families. What happens next? Jesus does the impossible, a miracle that, as far as I know, has never been replicated. The disciples witness first hand how God takes care of us, feeding our hunger with such great abundance that there’s enough left overs to feed the entire world their daily bread.
Another interesting thing about this beach breakfast is Jesus doesn’t feed them his fish. Instead he instructs his disciples to bring theirs to him. Why is that? Did he not prepare enough? No. Does Jesus wants to see the results of their labor? Perhaps. After all, he has called them to be fishers of people.
Again, Peter is quick to respond. He runs to the net and hauls the bounty across the sand by himself. And although there were so many, 153 to be exact, the net did not break. What does this mean to us? That we too are called to be fishers of people? And one day we too will be accountable to Jesus?
I don’t know about you, but I have never brought 153 people to church. It’s hard enough to get my family here on time. But just as intimidating as our call might seem, we are given this assurance; the net of God is unbreakable. God is intentionally present in our lives, always redeeming us and faithfully equipping us so that we can do the work he has called us to do.
Lastly, there is the beautiful symbolism of the bread. Bread has a rich history in Israel’s past. From their exodus out of Egypt to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness to the Last Supper, bread always symbolizes something greater than physical food. It represents God’s Word. The Bible states, “People do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” The Word of God is the Bread of Life.
In the beginning of John’s gospel, Jesus is described as the perfect embodiment of God’s Word. And so when we see Jesus and bread together, we know we are being called to a heavenly feast were God’s words nourishes us and instructs us to love and serve God and one another.
As the world gathers to partake in this holy feast, we are reminded that Jesus is the bread that is broken for all who seek to feast on God’s abundant life and salvation. Through Jesus, God is intentionally present in our life, always ready to redeem us, equip us, and feed us along the way.
Whatever your need is — relational, spiritual, physical, or emotional, — God is waiting for you, ready to take care of you. God’s redeeming love transcends all our human brokenness and sin. It frees us from all our burdens, and fills us with all life. God calls you and frees you for a purpose, which is to carry the bread of life out into the world where love is so desperately needed.
Recall the words Jesus says to Peter in the final verses, “If you love me, feed my lambs and tend to my sheep.” This is the most honest and honorable political act that still rings true today. Care for others.
Do not be a wolf in sheep clothing, deceiving them for your advantage. For “Love is patient; love is kind; it is not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. It does not insist on its own way or rejoice in wrongdoing. Love rejoices in the truth.” The Word of God is love.
Today, we are called to God’s table to remember and receive the sacrifice that was made for us, and for our salvation. It is here we feast on God’s incarnate love and saving grace. As we celebrate Worldwide Communion Sunday, we do so with Christians from around the globe, and across a wide spectrum of denominations, political alliances, and socioeconomic levels. Today, at this table, we stand united, as one people; speaking one truth with one universal language, God’s love.
We are diverse and different, but together we share the same bread and cup, a meal prepared for us by Jesus Christ our Lord. This is his body broken and his blood spilt; the symbolic reminder of God’s abundant love that is calling out to you. Come to this feast, not because you have to, but because you want to. This is God’s table. There is enough for everybody, no one will be sent away hungry.