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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 3, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 10, 2016

Acts 9:1-6 (7-20); John 21:1-19

‘No going back to mere fishing’

“In a curious as well as delightful way the Fourth Gospel is at its most ‘human’ when describing the risen life of the Lord. We have seen this already in John 20, especially in the appearances to Mary Magdalene and Thomas. It is even more so in the case of Jesus’ final appearance, which takes place in Galilee in an extended single episode by the sea of Tiberias … The shyness of the disciples as they accept Jesus’ breakfast invitation; the impetuosity of Peter as he jumps into the sea in his eagerness to meet his risen Lord; above all his deep emotion as Jesus draws from him a triple protestation of love …” (Brendan Byrne, Life Abounding, 2014, pp. 341-342). God be with you

One of the interesting and unique features of John’s Gospel is the character called “the Beloved Disciple” – “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. The one who reclines close to Jesus at the supper table. The one who races ahead of Peter to verify Mary Magdalene’s account of the empty tomb. And, in today’s reading, with six other disciples aboard the fishing boat on Lake Tiberias, the one who cries out to Peter, “It’s the Teacher!”

The Beloved Disciple is the one who discerns the presence of the risen Christ.

Scholars deduce that the Beloved Disciple was the leader of the early church community known as the Johannine community. He or she was the one to whom that late first-century community looked for encouragement and wisdom. Some scholars take at face value the claim in John 21:24 that the Beloved Disciple was the author or editor of the Fourth Gospel. John 21, it seems, connects the Johannine community with the early Christian community founded on and oriented to Peter’s apostolic leadership. We are given a glimpse here into early Christian spiritual and cultural development.

Brendan Byrne writes: “Looking back over John 21 as a whole, we can appreciate the attempt it represents to bring the witness of the Beloved Disciple that the community treasured into alignment with the tradition concerning Peter that prevailed in the wider church. Where Peter represented authority and unity – albeit founded totally on love – the disciple’s witness, in a complementary rather than a rival way, brought a sense of intimacy between the divine and the human without which Christianity would be greatly impoverished” (p. 354).

It has been suggested that most faith communities have a Beloved Disciple, someone around whom the community was established – and someone who helps bring peculiar treasures of the community into alignment with wider (catholic) traditions.

In the past I’ve suggested that Trevor Davies might be our Beloved Disciple – that Trevor, founding editor of the SSH and first chairperson of the Church Council, had introduced many of us to one another – that Trevor, in his own way, had discerned for us the presence of the risen Christ – in strong and hopeful currents in South Sydney – in stories, if not fish, worth catching and sharing.

The text tells us that the disciples caught 153 fish – the number presumably some kind of symbol for plenitude, for diversity. It’s roughly the number of stories gathered so far this year by our news editor Lyn Turnbull, who speaks of a commissioning in the wake of Trevor’s life and example. And still the net is not broken … This November will see issue 153 of the South Sydney Herald.

The text also tells us that Jesus invites the disciples to contribute their fish to the fish and bread he has already grilled for them. What does this mean to you? I’ll return to this question at the end …

Most faith communities have a Beloved Disciple. Moreover, Heather once wisely suggested that any one of us might be a Beloved Disciple for others. Each of us is a Beloved Disciple, with some kind of responsibility, in some way, at some point, heightened at some point, to accompany another like Peter who struggles with failure and loss, guilt and shame, or confusion.

Ananias is such a Beloved Disciple for Saul.

The image of the charcoal fire is a poignant one – for it was by the fire that Peter denied three times his friendship with Jesus – the Teacher to whom he now swims – all arms and legs, heart and hopefulness.

Each of us is called to bear a gospel of second chances, a gospel of compassion, a gospel of hope.

Peter is led into an encounter with Jesus that he might understand the deep implications of his love. That’s something we can trust to the One in whom love is flesh and life-giving Spirit. Three times Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?” It’s not a test, but a threefold forgiveness that erases the threefold denial of friendship, as well as an opportunity for Peter to grow into the responses he gives.

It can hurt, this kind of growing. And there is sadness in the text’s undertow – Peter’s love will provoke violence on the part of those offended by Christ-like compassion and hope. He too will be crucified (“you will stretch out your hands”).

“Do you love me?” We note that in Mark’s Gospel (14:72), following Peter’s third denial and the second crowing of the cock, Peter breaks down and weeps. Friendship with Christ – and with all the friends of Christ in need of physical and spiritual sustenance – means living and dying for the kindom of peace. There’s no going back to mere fishing.

Psychotherapist and theologian, Tomas Halik, offers these words on the Easter texts – on what he calls “reading with the eyes of faith”.

“Faith,” he says, “means two things: on the one hand, the realisation that the [Easter] story is paradoxical (that the other aspect of the story, ‘the resurrection’, is a reinterpretation of the first, not its subsequent happy outcome); and on the other, the determination to link that story to the story of one’s own life. That means ‘to enter into the story’ and in the light of it to understand and live one’s life afresh to be capable of bearing its paradoxical character, and not to fear the paradoxes that life presents.”

“The second interpretation of the Easter story does not involve ‘optimism’ (the opinion that everything will somehow turn out all right), but rather hope – the ability to ‘reinterpret’ even things that ‘don’t turn out all right’ … so that we may accept reality and its burden, persist in this situation … and where possible be useful to others also.”

There’s no going back to mere fishing. When it comes to love, there is hope for the whole world – creative, restorative hope. On the basis of his love for Jesus, Peter is to have leadership and authority in the church. On the basis of this love, Peter is re-commissioned a pastor, a shepherd after Jesus’ own good-shepherding heart. And there you too will be, there you are, all arms and legs, heart and hopefulness, swimming ashore. “Do you love me more than you love your own possessions and resources, the past to which you cling?” “You know everything, Rabbi. You know that I am your friend.” 

Jesus invites you to contribute your “fish” to the “fish and bread” he has already grilled for you. What does this mean to you? … Amen.