Christ Reformed United Church of Christ

This Sunday's Sermon

Message for Sunday, April 18th


John 21:1 – 17


     Have you ever noticed how a particular sound or smell can trigger powerful memories and feelings associated with the distant past? The sound of distant, calling crows does it for me. When hearing it, I almost feel as though I’m being transported backward toward a care-free summer day walking the dirt lane from grand-ma and grand-pap Dibert’s house to Uncle Paul’s near-by dairy farm; accompanied, as I was way-back-when, by raucous crow song. There – on the farm with my cousins – I am, in my mind’s eye, having once again the time of my life leaping out into the open air to grab hold of an old car tire hanging by a rope from the rafters high above the hay loft. After that, we’d sit behind the farm tractor, in a wagon, being showered by freshly cut Alfalfa being harvested as cow treats. On hot summer days, we’d go hunting for crawfish in Snake Spring Creek. Late in the afternoon I’d be helping to round up the cows for milking. And ALL those cherished memories are unlocked by sound of calling crows.


     How enchanting it must have been when a handful of ex-fishermen experienced sensations that jarred them with memories of the most significant day in their lives. Having spent three years in service to the Good Master, they decided one day after this death to try their hand – yet again – at fishing. Now some preachers might have you believe that Simon Peter and crew had given up on Church and gone back to their former way of life. Really? Are we to assume from three little words – "I’m goin’ fishing” – that these guys are making a mid-life career change? Sometimes, when a soul gets sucked up into a whirlwind, they simply yearn for something safe and familiar – like fishing.


     As the light of a new day rises, the fishermen turn their boat for home with nothing to show for their long night of labor. As the lakeshore draws near, a stranger – veiled, perhaps, by a light morning mist – directed them to steer starboard a short distance and try throwing their net one more time. It’s stupid request, to be sure, because any Galilean fisherman with half a brain knows that if you don’t catch em’ by night, you’re sure as heck not gonna get em’ by day. And yet… what have they to lose but a few more minutes of sleep? So the fishermen give it one more heave-ho; and… well… you know what happened! The sound and smell from a ton of fish – combined with the familiarity of the stranger’s voice – aroused memory of a life-changing morning from a few years back.


    Simon Peter, along with the brothers James and John, soon enough recall that they HAD, in fact, hauled in a whole boat-load of fish on one other occasion. Look for the story in Luke, chapter 5. Having not yet met them, Jesus of Nazareth borrowed their fishing boat and used it as a pulpit. At sermon’s end, the Good Teacher – still in the boat – commanded Simon Peter: "Put out into deep water and let down your nets…” The fisherman’s reply is a familiar one: "But we worked all night long and caught nothing. Yet… if you say so...” And Luke’s story ended in this way: "[Simon Peter] and all who were with him were amazed… When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.”


     Gospel John’s telling of a similar fish story happens at the other end of the Jesus story – after he’d been crucified. Now think on that for a moment! If a Hollywood script writer were telling the story, wouldn’t he or she be tempted to shape a resurrection appearance as something extraordinary? Wouldn’t it be presented as a scene accompanied by explosions of supernatural light and thunderous noise from heaven? Yet in John’s telling, the Glory of the Risen Christ is unveiled in the ordinary work of common fishermen and in the simple, mundane experience of friends having breakfast together.


     I don’t know how it’s been for you, but most of my Christian testimony relates to experiencing the Living Christ in what’s otherwise ordinary and simple. The Son of God was working when – more than a’ half century ago – Mrs. Lawyer’s first grade class gathered after lunch to enjoy Fudgesicles and Dreamsicles. Thing is, anyone who wanted the tasty treat had to have forked over an extra dime with their lunch money. It was, of course, an insensitive practice insofar as children born into poverty had to sit apart watching the rest of us enjoy what was inaccessible to them. Amongst the impoverished children were the sons and daughters of Black migrant workers who were in town just long enough to bring in the sweet corn and green bean harvest for processing at the canning factory.


     Years later, the local volunteer fire department was asked to destroy with a controlled burn the old, abandoned migrant workers’ military style barracks. Before setting it ablaze, my dad – the fire chief – walked me through the place. I found myself thinking at the time that maybe slavery hadn’t ended after all. The little boy in my first grade class lived in that place where there was no running water – no heat, air conditioning, comfortable bedding or even privacy. How could little Jimmy’s parents have afforded extra cash for ice cream? And yet… my mom made sure I carried TWO dimes – one dime for me, and other for him. When I asked mom about it not-so-long-ago, her memory differed from mine. She claimed that it was MY idea to take an extra dime. Yet from where in the world does a five-year old child get such notions of sharing and caring for ALL of God’s children if not from a Christian home and Sunday School teachers?  


     When I see youngsters playing Little League ball, I thoughts go to a one of my Little League team coaches. There was a game during which he gently chided a teammate who thoughtlessly and angrily blurted out the name of Jesus Christ after having struck out. "Please don’t say his name that way,” he said, "unless you see him.” Do you think my ol’ coach had any idea that he’s made such a powerful impact that I’d be telling you about it more than a’ half century later


      The singing of a particular hymn often evokes my memory of a worship space that was more spartan then anything you can imagine. The church building – located high on a mountain in the nation of Haiti – was constructed of cinder blocks. It had a dirt floor, and crude, wooden benches for pews. The piano was woefully out of tune and missing a number of hammers, so that any song played was missing a few tones. Yet Jesus showed up in what turned out to be the most beautiful and inspiring praise music I’ve ever heard – sung without the accompaniment of any instrument save that of the Holy Spirit. Though the Haitian worshippers were as dirt poor as those migrant workers already mentioned, they exhibited a Christ-like joy, hope, humility, and confidence in the midst of hardship and loss that put us American seminary students to shame. Their worldly possessions were so meager; yet their Christ-like faithfulness and hospitality was extravagant and abundant.  


     It’s important that YOU, too, be able to give witness to Christ crucified and Risen who comes to you in the simple, ordinary things of existence. Your friends, colleagues, neighbors, and classmates may be searching – even now – for some hope, some joy, some deeper meaning to life that has thus far eluded them. Your sharing with them of Jesus revealed in the simple things of life may have a similar impact on them as did the Sunday School teachers, Little League coach, and Haitian worshippers have on me.


     Can you tell them of a time when the Living Master ministered to you through someone who was there to simply listen; or through someone who shared with you a simple smile, encouraging word, guiding correction, empathetic gesture, or meaningful story? YOU may be that person to them! Can you tell them how often some ordinary "coincidences” seem to have happened when you’ve prayed? Would you speak of guidance, hope, or joy coming to you in common, unanticipated ways when "tuned in” to God’s promptings? Have good things from on High happened to you in ordinary, yet well-timed phone calls, or in something honestly spoken by a child, or by way of a single, remarkable sentence in an otherwise unremarkable sermon? I once knew a guy who, in response to one line heard in a Sunday message, left behind his work as a financial advisor to the end that he could go back to college and become an educator of little children in an urban elementary school.     


     It’s as important that we discern Jesus’ at work in the ordinary events of our day as it was for a small bunch of fishermen to have experienced Heaven’s Glory at a breakfast table. It was during that plain, simple meal that Jesus offered to Simon Peter the gifts of forgiveness, restoration, and a new destiny: "Do you love me?” asked Jesus three times. "Then feed my sheep.”


     Will you recognize Jesus in moments of Grace that happen in the work room, the classroom, the family room, or the sick room? It so happened in the early 1900’s that a world-class university professor, theologian, author, and famous musician was sitting in his study, sorting through a big pile of mail. Therein was a magazine that that had been misdirected to him. As he moved to throw it away, it fell open to an article titled THE NEEDS OF THE CONGO MISSION. It read, in part, "It’s my prayer… that God will lay his hand on one - one on whom, already, the Master's eyes have been cast - that he or she shall be called to this place to help us." The professor closed the magazine and wrote in his diary: "My search is over." He studied hard and – in remarkably short order – became a medical doctor. With his new-found and life-saving skills, he gave himself to medical ministry among the poorest of the poor in Africa.


     The man was Nobel Peace Prize winner, Albert Schweitzer. In one of his better known books, he wrote this: "He comes to us as One unknown… As of old, by the lake-side, he came to those…who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: 'Follow thou me!' and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who [Christ] is." So it was for Simon Peter. So it’s been for me. So may it be for you and for all of us together.