Third Sunday of Easter
April 25, 2004
The Gospel: John 21:1-14
Sermon: "The Abundance of God's Grace"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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.
The Abundance of God's Grace
Third Sunday of Easter - April 25, 2004
Over the last few weeks I have received between six and ten offers for credit cards. Some are platinum cards. Some are gold cards. All of them have various offers particularly for transferring money.
The offer begins on the envelope. You are pre-qualified for our low interest rate of 0%. Make no payments until August 2005. Yet, these lines only tell part of the truth. The 0% interest rate is only for a fixed time, August 2005. Also, the offer is only good if you meet all of their criteria. There can be no late payments. There can be no returned payments. The monthly balance on new charges must be paid in full or be subject to an interest rate of 9 to 18%. If any of these guidelines are crossed then the interest rate automatically goes to the highest rate possible on all monies even those promised to have no interest rate until August 2005. Reading the fine print is very important. The promise looks good on the outside, but once you get into there are lots of ways to fall short. If a person does fall short there is no grace period. In fact, you are stuck forever.
Credit card guidelines might seem like an odd way to start a sermon. The guidelines on the credit cards are actually very rigid. There is no grace. Grace is the way we are treated by our loving God. Not only is God's grace present in our lives but God's grace is abundant. The abundance of God's grace is one of the clear aspects of the story from John this morning. After Jesus had appeared to the disciples and Thomas, the disciples left Jerusalem and went to the Sea of Tiberius. Peter decided to go fishing. After fishing all night and catching nothing, Jesus appears to the disciples. He is on the beach and has prepared breakfast. He sees their predicament concerning no fish and tells them to cast the nets to the side of the boat. When they do, when they follow Jesus' words, they find the net is full of fish. John and Peter figure out it is Jesus. Peter, impetuous as always, jumps overboard and swims to shore. He leaves the other disciples to bring in the boat and the nets full of fish. Now, after they get the boat to shore, one of the disciples had to stop and count the fish. The catch was extraordinarily large. The net held 153 large fish.
We have all heard great fishing stories. We have heard of the large number of fish caught or we have heard about the one that got away. My grandfather was a great one for building fishing tales. He took two doctors fishing one day on the shrimp boat. They were going to set some fishnets and wait for the tide. While they waited the two doctors were going to fish off the side of the boat. Right after they set the nets, some very large fish started tearing the nets to pieces. While the fish were tearing the nets they were still getting wrapped in the twine. They pulled the fish aboard and they turned out to be large tarpon. While they are plentiful in Florida they are rare in South Carolina. By the time they got back to the dock, my grandfather had worked out quite a tale with the doctors. The fish were not caught in nets but on hook and line. The doctor who landed the fish had fought it for hours. The lure used was made of chicken feathers he had picked up off the ground that morning in my grandfather's chicken yard and tied onto a hook on the way out to the fishing hole. This story was believed. In fact, there was an entire story written about the catch of this tarpon and printed in The News and Courier in Charleston. My mother has a copy of the article and a picture of the fish and the doctor to go with it.
We could think this story is just a good fish tale. We could believe one of the disciples just had to know how many fish were caught. The story of the fish has deeper significance for us, theological significance. This fish story teaches us about the abundance of God's grace. God's abundant grace is a major theme of the scriptures and particularly of the Gospel of John. In John's Gospel, Jesus' first miracle is about the abundance of God's grace. Jesus goes to the wedding in Cana. At the wedding he turns water into wine. It would be miracle enough to turn any amount of water into wine. However, Jesus turns six large water jars into wine. When the steward tasted the wine it was of excellent quality. The miracle is one of abundance and quality. Jesus shows with his first miracle that God's grace is abundant and always for our good.
Would God's grace change as a result of the crucifixion and the resurrection? Would God not be as graceful or would it be of lesser quality? The answer is in the catch of the fish. The catch is abundant with 153 total fish caught. The catch is also one of quality. They are not minnows. They are not small fish. They are 153 large fish. Jesus' first miracle after the resurrection shows God's grace has not changed towards us. God's grace is like an artesian well. The water is free flowing and plentiful. The water is so sweet and cold that is incredibly filling and refreshing. God's desire is for us to receive that grace continually.
The best part is that there are no hidden charges. There are no late fees. There are no penalties for being late. There is one possible misfortune. The misfortune is not a penalty or punishment from God. The one possible drawback or misfortune is that we won't recognize God's grace for what it is. See the other aspect of this story is that God's grace comes to us in the every day aspects of our lives. These men were fishing. Jesus, the Son of God, came to them when they were fishing. They were not doing incredible physical or mental feats. They were not solving world problems, feeding people, or finding cures for diseases. They were not wearing out their knees on hard floors or cushioned kneelers. They were doing an everyday work activity. God came to them. God showed them the extent of grace. It is always more wonderful than we can imagine. It is always more overflowing than we can understand. It is always given to us by God freely. The last miracle of Jesus is just as wonderful as the first. For God's grace is extravagant. The hard part for us is to see it sometimes. We sometimes walk around like we have blinders on. We don't see the wonder of God in the world around us or recognize the beauty of God in our lives. Yet, God is always there, always present, never changing, constantly loving.
There is an old saying that grace is free but not cheap. God's grace is free. There is nothing we can do to deserve it. The disciples did not do anything to deserve the catch of those fish. God's grace is not cheap. It takes open eyes to see it. It takes open ears to hear it. It takes open hearts to be filled with God's grace. It takes open arms to share it. To see it fully, to hear it continually, to be filled to overflowing, to open up ourselves requires us to die to ourselves and follow God first. Dying to our own selves is not cheap. It isn't easy. Think about it in this way. What would have happened if the steward had not filled the jars with water? What would have happened if the disciples had not thrown the nets back into the water as Jesus commanded? We wouldn't even have the results to read. Are we willing to follow Jesus? If we are, even for a moment, who knows what grace we might see in our lives? We might, we just might see the presence of God in our lives in ways beyond our imagination. AMEN