Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fish for Breakfast...

This coming week brings two unhappy anniversaries: the bombing of the Murrow Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, and the Columbine (Colorado) High School massacre on April 20, 1999.

That doesn't have anything to do with the following... or does it? Could a properly recognized life's purpose offer alternatives to the Kleibolds and McVeys of the world?

Acts 9:1-20

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight."
But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."

Revelation 5:11-14

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the elders fell down and worshiped.

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 sea.
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 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."

This is the Word of the Lord.

Fred Snodgrass was the center fielder for the New York Giants from 1908 through 1915. He played in three consecutive World Series, and after retiring from baseball in 1916, went on to become a beloved husband and father, successful banker, as well as a popular city councilman and mayor in Oxnard, California. He died in 1974, and he’s buried in Ventura, California, where he was born. I tell you all of that to tell you this: throughout Fred’s life, and even in his obituary in the New York Times, Snodgrass was remembered for one thing, and one thing only: failure.

In the 1912 World Series, Fred’s Giants were playing the Boston Red Sox. They were in the eighth and final game of the series, and had gone into extra innings. Clyde Engle, pinch-hitting for Smoky Joe Wood, led off with an easy fly ball to Fred Snodgrass in center field. Snodgrass dropped the ball, and Engle reached second base.
Although Snodgrass made a beautiful fly-ball catch for an out on the very next batter, he was forever marked. He had made what sportscasters at the time called, “The $30,000 Muff,” a reference to the difference in the winner’s share and the loser’s share in the Series.

I think Fred Snodgrass and the Apostle Peter have something in common, don’t you? Throughout the Gospels, we read about Simon Peter again and again – as one of Jesus’ inner circle of friends, present on the Mount of Transfiguration, boldly stepping out of the boat to meet Jesus walking on water, responding to Jesus asking “who do you say that I am” by confirming that He is the Christ, the son of the living God… yet when we think of him, and all too often when he is preached about, we remember not his faith in stepping out of the boat, but the fact that he sank. We remember not his bold affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah, but his denying Christ three times the night Jesus was betrayed.

Our Gospel reading today tells us, “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.’

It seems such an odd thing to do, doesn’t it, especially for someone like Peter, who doesn’t think of fishing as a leisure activity, but as a way to make a living. “Well, Jesus is risen. We’ve all seen him, even Thomas is satisfied with the evidence… OK, well, I’m going to work, y’all!” What’s even weirder is that they all said, “Great idea! We’ll join you!”

It is probably instructive to them that they spent all night doing the thing they were supposedly professionals at… and it took Jesus showing up for them to catch a thing! But at least they got breakfast out of it. And Peter got a lot more than just charcoal-broiled fish, as it turns out.

I wonder how heavily his failure, denying he even knew Jesus, weighed on Peter, even after having seen Jesus, risen from the dead. When I’ve preached about this passage in the past, I’ve focused on a lot of different things, like how Jesus uses a different Greek word for “love” than Peter does, even the significance of the number of fish that they caught, but I confess that it always kind of confused me that Jesus would ask the same question, and give a variation of the same answer, three times.

Hear the Word of the Lord from the 18th chapter of John’s Gospel:

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest's courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
You are not one of his disciples, are you?" the girl at the door asked Peter.
He replied, "I am not."
It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.
… he was asked, "You are not one of his disciples, are you?"
He denied it, saying, "I am not."
One of the high priest's servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, "Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove?" Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

David Lose of Luther Seminary says that the three questions relate to the three denials. Jesus is offering Peter forgiveness, absolution, if you will, for the three denials. More than that, with each word of forgiveness, Jesus gives Peter a commission, a purpose, a way to grow and go beyond mere forgiveness.

“Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
These aren’t just empty responses to Peter’s answer, and they are certainly not warm, fuzzy “caring for the cute little animals” phrases. Peter will go on from this point to be arguably second to the Apostle Paul in his influence in establishing and expanding the church. He will remain transparently human, still making mistakes and needing correction, but ever faithful, even to the point of dying for his faith.

Jesus didn’t just forgive Peter.

There’s been a lot of research lately on what, exactly, makes people “happy.” Once you get past the “enough money to pay the bills” stuff, two things appear to be absolutely essential to feel happy: a sense of belonging to a community and the belief that what you do matters. The key predictors of fulfillment and productivity are, simply stated, belonging and purpose.

That’s really what Jesus is giving Peter here, isn’t it? He is brought back into community and he is given meaningful work to do. Forgiveness always leads to mission, restoration to purpose, and inclusion to calling.

Now, it’s kind of unfair to talk about forgiveness, restoration, inclusion, mission, purpose, and calling against the backdrop of Saul’s dramatic conversion and Peter’s morning walk on the beach with the risen Christ. Very few of us have experiences to equal the drama and intimacy of these accounts.

Yet while few, if any of us, can point to a true Damascus Road experience, or boast about Jesus cooking us breakfast, each of us enjoys the forgiveness of the risen Christ, and a purpose, a mission, a calling exactly like Peter’s. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”

How feeding lambs and tending sheep looks in your particular corner of the Body of Christ will very likely be different than it looks for anyone else. According to tradition, the Apostles spread all over the known world, bringing the Good news to different people in different places. Even for Peter and Paul, who were martyred close to the same point in time in the same city, Rome, their paths crossed and diverged many times, touching different people, speaking to different issues and groups and belief systems in different ways, yet with always the same core message – the Good News of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

The same is true for each of us. However our paths may diverge from this place and time, whoever we touch, however we minister, we share that same great Good News of God’s love through Jesus Christ!


  1. Hey, I went to middle school in Ventura & hung out in Oxnard where my mother worked at Snooky's as a topless dancer. I must be a loser like him. Not many wise, mighty nor noble are called. The first will be last and the last will be first. Glory!

  2. As the saying goes, one has to take off their own shoes before they can take a walk in someone else's moccasins, and similarly, when it comes to a case of The Bible vs. Tradition, one has to be willing to let go of the traditions of men in order to see the truth that is hidden in plain sight in the text of scripture. has a free Bible study eBook that compares scripture with scripture in order to highlight the facts in the plain text of scripture that are usually overlooked about the “other disciple, whom Jesus loved”. You may want to weigh the testimony of scripture that the study cites regarding the one whom “Jesus loved” and may find it to be helpful as it encourages bible students to take seriously the admonition “prove all things”.

  3. bk, I'll take a look at it, but I tend to shy away from authorship disputes.