Grilled Fish with a Message

John 21: 4-13, 15-17 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish? “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

We continue with the theme of Life is better at the beach. Two weeks ago, we were looking at and reminiscing about what it is like to walk along the beach – the warm water – a time of rest and a time to savor the beauty of God’s creation. Last week, we looked at the uniqueness of the seashells. Each is different from the other. They are small or large, rainbow colors. We also understand that we, each of us is made in the image of God – and God’s creation is a rainbow of colors for humanity. God declared his creation as good.

Today, we continue to work with the theme of life at the beach. This time it is a beach barbecue – a grilled fish breakfast – sounds good doesn’t it. But, like most Scripture there is a key message from Jesus to each of us. Peter is the main character in this post-resurrection story in the Gospel of John. Remember — in the Gospels — Jesus calls Peter the Rock on which Jesus will build his church upon. But some rock Peter seems to be – actually before the trial of Jesus — Peter would be found three times denying his relationship with Jesus.

So, now we are back to the post-resurrection story about fishing. Seems that when things really go wrong in our lives, we tend to revert to those very familiar aspects of our life that reflect stability. It is our human nature to want stability in our life and our reactions to crisis causes us to seek more stability. Peter’s stability is fishing. Mine is pizza.

Last year, when Ann was having those major health issues that put her into the hospital twice in two months, each for a week. Have you tried Blaze Pizza in Westminster — thin crust, ample toppings and flame baked. Um! Pizza is my comfort food — good hot pizza – thin crust – peperoni and mushrooms are a prerequisite for me. – it calms me down and causes me to slow down from the anxious of the moment. Same with Peter — and the disciples had been through the difficult times — Jesus had been killed — but he was alive – and occasionally Jesus was with the disciples. But Jesus’ appearance could never be anticipated — and it was still a miracle that he appeared in the flesh.

So, today, we pick up in the 21st chapter of the Gospel of John. Peter has decided to go fishing — this was his occupation – this was his comfort food – this enabled him to separate from the troubles– and after a long night in the sea — no fish — all that work and no fish.

I know that well — when I go fishing – seldom do I catch anything. I try all the proper techniques – the good lures and special flies — look for pools where fish would be, but I have little luck. I have caught several rainbow trout — but it takes me hours to catch a fish — Just like Peter. And Jesus appears in the dawn and tells Peter to fish on the other side of the boat. He does and catches many fish.

Now it is barbecue time. Have you ever barbecued a fish? It is harder than you think.  You must be careful that you do not overcook it. Olive oil and peppercorns and lemon help to make the fish just right. Jesus is having a barbecue — a breakfast barbecue on the beach – and the men finally had successful night fishing. Not only that, but once they have hauled their catch ashore, Jesus invites them to bring some of what they have caught and add it to what he has already provided for them.

I think there is something powerful here, as Jesus not only provides the barbecue breakfast for the disciples –– but also invites them to contribute what they have. The scene with Peter is even more explicit and powerful. Three times Jesus’ asks Peter to confess his love. Three times Peter does, though by the third time he is disheartened, even hurt. But what Peter doesn’t quite catch in this moment the reader surely does. The last time Peter was gathered around a charcoal fire was when he was in the high priest’s courtyard and denied his Lord three times. So, three times Jesus invites Peter to confess, symbolically wiping away the three times Peter denied.

Anyone working or living with children knows that: Messages, directions, orders, everything must be repeated multiple times before anything seems to register. Has anyone ever taken out the garbage after being asked only once? How many of your children or grandchildren clean their rooms after one invitation? How many of you write thank-you notes after only one entry in the “Things To Do” list you make up every day?

But instructions aren’t the only things we need to hear more than once to take them to heart. All of us who have ever loved or been loved, know that the words “I love you” can never be spoken too often. For some of us who have weathered the hurts of broken relationships, saying, “I love you,” for the first time again is one of the most frightening things we will ever do.

Saying “I love you” out loud is an important milestone in any relationship — whether you are: whispering it to a new sweetheart, promising it to a new child, admitting it to an estranged parent, offering it to a lonely friend, revealing it to a rival sibling. Saying “I love you” once is never enough. It is just the beginning. We must say “I love you” over and over again — we must hear “I love you” over and over again — before we begin to trust the reality of those words and before we can feel the weight of the love that lies behind them.

In today’s gospel text, Jesus asks Peter three separate times, “Do you love me?” In part, we can understand this as the canceling out each one of Peter’s shameful denials of Jesus on the night Jesus was arrested and betrayed. But Jesus’ persistence demonstrates more than a tit-for-tat scorekeeping of rights and wrongs. The risen Christ ties each of Peter’s confessions of love for him to a repeated command — “Care for my sheep.”

What took Peter three times to get –and what takes all of us a lifetime to practice – is that Jesus’ question about “loving” and his command about “feeding” are one directive. Peter didn’t understand immediately the implications of what it means to love Christ. Truly loving Christ means feeding the sheep — it means loving, protecting, caring for all those whom Christ loves. “Peter do you love me?” — “Then feed my lambs”; “Peter do you love me?” — “Then tend my sheep”; “Peter do you love me?” — “Then feed my sheep.” Loving Christ and loving and tending Christ’s flock is one and the same thing.

The love confessed and the love expressed can take many different forms — and not all of them are pleasant. For every loving moment spent cuddling a new baby, there are an awful lot of equally loving but not so lovely moments spent changing smelly diapers.

Loving a spouse is planning a romantic candlelight dinner for two — and going to the symphony, when you would rather go to the Raven’s game (or vice versa). A loving friend gives you a comfortable place for coffee and conversation, but it also means being there for him or her at 2 a.m. when you are needed.

Tending sheep and loving Christ is sometimes messy, inconvenient, upsetting and uncomfortable. It takes more than just good intentions to make the kind of loving commitment Jesus was trying to get Peter to admit to — it takes habits.

As anyone who raises livestock for a living knows, caring for livestock is a daily, scheduled process. My steers are very demanding when it is feeding time. They do not care about the weather or my schedule. They let me know and my neighbors know that it is feeding time. Daylight savings time just slightly delays the time for feeding. Feeding the steers becomes a habit.

So, let’s move to the essence of the message that Jesus is imparting to Peter and also to us. Establishing faith and love as a habit of living takes commitment to the “three R’s”: Repetition, Routine and Reinforcement.

Repetition: Jesus repeated his question to Peter three times — not out of doubt or because of Peter’s denseness, but in order to strengthen the power of his words. With each “Do you love me,” the meaning and inferences behind this query seeped more deeply into Peter’s heart. There is another phrase children use to describe something they have committed to memory — through repetition, we “learn by heart.” All those prayers, those actions, those responses to life that we “learn by heart” through constant repetition become a part of our heart. “I love you” — “Our Father …” — “Praise God” — “God bless you.” All these phrases represent repeated expressions of love and faith in our lives — and they are no less powerful for having been repeated so often and so well that they are “learned by heart.”

Routine: Routines need not be mindless acts; indeed, routines rightly performed are mindful acts. We all have our personal rising routines: we get up, brush our teeth, take a shower, walk the dog, make the coffee, read the paper or do some version of this routine. The consistency is comforting and settles our systems before we launch into another busy, hectic day. Have you established similar habits, a pattern of faithfulness that serves the same purpose in your relationship to Christ? We need faith-routines to give us stability when everything else around us seems to be shifting. All faith routines need not be as formal as going to church or receiving communion.

A habit routine might be breathing a prayer of thanksgiving every time you enter into your home. It might be looking for your church’s steeple as you come down Dover Road. Reviewing the Scripture that was used on Sunday or having a daily time of reading and praying. Critical habits to our responsiveness to Jesus’ questions.

Reinforcement: It is so hard to stay on a diet when you hit one of those “weight plateaus” — where no matter how good you are, how many salads you eat, your scales refuse to budge. We need periodic positive reinforcement to keep the habits of our faith renewed and refreshed. This is why we need to hear “I love you,” as often as we need to say it. Practiced faithfully, a life with a fixed habit for God will create its own reinforcement. Well-loved and well-tended sheep respond devotedly to their shepherd.

Loving Christ, living a life faithfully, tending to Christ’s business becomes a reflex habit – all the time. – All of this from a morning barbecue breakfast on the beach. Life is best at the beach! Amazing!!!!

Thanks be to God!