We have come to the final story and the final sign that Jesus performs in the Gospel of John. This then is also the final installment in our sermon series on John. And in this final chapter 21 John brings everything together for us and focuses us on the two most important and central themes in the Gospel. And these are…
First – God loves the world! God loves the world and all that God has created more than we can even find words to describe; accordingly God loves you. We see this love of God’s in the incarnation – the en-fleshing of God in Jesus - and in Jesus’ giving up himself in love at the end in the crucifixion. And the subsequent resurrection proclaims and celebrates that it is love that will always win in the end. Nothing is stronger than the power of God’s love. And as long as we remain attached to the Vine we are always connected to the source of God’s abundant love.
2nd – This unconditional gift of love, this gift of grace upon grace, this love that is showered upon us so freely calls for a response. What kind of response? It calls for us to love – to bear fruit; to wash the feet of others; to feed and touch and heal and love just as Jesus did for us.
When the chapter begins it is night – now it should not be a surprise that this final story begins in the dark. We should remember that Nicodemus first came to Jesus at night, he was in the dark; and when Mary Magdalene first goes to the tomb it is also dark. Neither of them understood, neither of them could see and the disciples here still don’t quite see or understand either.
“I’m going fishing,” Peter announces and all the others decide to go with him. They all return to their ordinary lives – their pre-incarnation lives. But of course you can never go back and their efforts are unsuccessful until they hear a voice calling to them from shore and encouraging them to try throwing the nets over the other side of the boat. And when they do, they catch some fish – lots of fish – 153 fish to be exact! They have caught an abundance of fish. This final sign at the very end of the Gospel should remind us of an earlier sign from the very beginning of the Gospel: “We have no wine” Jesus’ mother says, and Jesus then transforms the water in 6 very large jugs into the lots of very best wine – gallons and gallons of it – an abundance of wine; more than you would ever need or know what to do with. This is what God does, this is one of the characteristics of God’s love – it is super-abundant – it is mind-bogglingly super-abundant.
“It is the Lord!” Of course! The abundance of the catch is a give away. Only God through Christ is so generous and so obvious. And Peter is so excited he jumps into the sea and swims to shore. And, we are told, he is naked – he has stripped himself of all of his pretensions, of all that stands between him and God.
And when the disciples return to shore they find Jesus cooking breakfast for them. Jesus is the host and Jesus will serve them one more time; Jesus will feed them once more – just like Jesus fed the 5000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and in the end had left overs in abundance; And just like Jesus hosted them and fed them and washed their feet at the last supper.
And so they join their host, they accept the gift of bread and fish from Jesus one last time as they sit around that charcoal fire. This should remind us of the last time that we encountered a group of people sitting around a charcoal fire. It was the night of the arrest of Jesus, and Peter was warming himself by the charcoal fire when he is recognized and confronted – “Are you not one of that man’s disciples?” “I am not!” Note in John, Peter denies his discipleship and this happens three times. And here we are again sitting by a charcoal fire and Jesus asks Peter a simple question – “Do you love me?” Peter is taken aback by the question, “Yes, of course I love you!” He says. “Well then,” Jesus says, “feed my sheep!” This happens three times. Peter had denied his discipleship 3 times and now he is called upon to affirm his discipleship 3 times.
This final exchange is so important, because it defines discipleship for us. God loves us, God gives us Jesus who demonstrates God’s abundant and overwhelming love for us and then calls on us to “come and see,” to follow and to serve – “to wash the feet of those whom we encounter” and to feed the sheep of the Good Shepherd, whose love for the sheep is beyond our comprehension.
Do you love me? Feed my sheep! These words are words that are spoken to each and every one of us here! Do you love Jesus? If so, then you are called to respond – to serve those whom God loves and whom God places in our paths during our lives. That now that the incarnation, the en-fleshing, of God has come to an end and Jesus has ascended to the father it is now up to Jesus’ followers – Jesus’ disciples of every time and every place – it is now up to you and me to be the incarnation of God’s love for the world in the way that we reach out and love and care and serve.
The Gospel leaves us with this calling and with the question of whether or not we are willing to embrace our own discipleship. Do you love me, Jesus is asking you – if so, then feed my sheep.
One last comment – the very last verse of the Gospel leaves us with an important and necessary reminder of the gift of God’s abundant love. And so I would like to conclude this sermon series by first reading this very last verse and then reading Karoline Lewis’ comment on this verse:
John 21:25 - But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.