Missing the past

Apr 21st, 2007 | By | Category: Sermons

Sermon at Saint Matthias’ Church on Sunday, 22nd April 2007

“This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to his disciples after he was raised from the dead”. John 21:14

Do you ever wish you could move back in time? Maybe back a year, or five years, or whatever time it is to get back to a time when life seemed better, when the days were happier? Most of us probably have such thoughts at times, even clergy, (maybe, especially clergy). Wouldn’t it be easier to be in a former time?

The Church doesn’t seem to be what it used to be. When we look back things seemed different, people were firm in what they believed, people said their prayers, people believed in God. There is a feeling that we have lost something.

Looking backwards can leave us feeling depressed because we can’t recapture the days when everything seemed simpler.

The Gospel reading this morning, the story of Jesus at the lakeside, makes us look back, not at our life, but at the life of Peter.

Peter has gone back to the old life, gone back to try to recapture secure and happy days.

Jesus asks them if they have any fish, “no” they reply. “Well”, says Jesus, “throw your nets out on the other side of the boat”. This is Jesus risen from the dead, but it is as though a circle has been completed. The disciples are back where they began and Jesus meets them where he first met them.

Jesus first met them at the lakeside. The crowd was so great that he got into Simon Peter’s boat and Peter put out a little from the shore, When he had finished his teaching he said to Simon, “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch “,

Jesus is back with them again, meeting with them on safe and familiar ground. They have gone back to their boats because it is here that they felt secure.

Peter needed to feel secure; he needed to be back in Galilee, because things had gone wrong in Jerusalem. He had been a failure and like many of us when things go wrong, he had gone back to the things he knew.

But we can never really go back. We can’t wipe things from our memory, much as we try.

Peter has gone back to his old way of life, but he has not gone back to his old self. Peter knows he has been a failure and it has made him a different person. He is older and wiser: the Peter who was so willing to be the first to speak is now quiet.

Peter’s faith has grown in steps. There was the first step when Jesus went through the land teaching and healing – a time of great excitement and optimism. Then there is the difficult step: the realisation that following Jesus is about the way of the cross, the days in Jerusalem. And now there is a new step, exciting but also frightening.

I wonder how far we have gone in Peter’s steps. Most of us will have grown up with the Christian faith, with the stories of Jesus, with Sunday School and confirmation class. Most people in our parish have never moved beyond that first step, they come to church only at Christmas because their faith is at the level of the stories we heard as children.

The fact that we are here this morning suggests that we have faced the difficult step. We know the story of Good Friday, we know about the Cross and the tomb; we know that faith isn’t always an easy path. We have held on when most people have let go.

We are like the disciples back in their boats in Galilee. We gather here for security and reassurance. We go over the familiar stories, we say and sing the familiar words and we remember the Lord. We need the sense that it has all been true, that it has been worthwhile.

The challenge to us is to become like the disciples. They gave up their security to go out with the good news of Jesus Christ. We have to become the evangelists, the carriers of the Good News in our own time and in our own community. That’s not easy for us. The Church of Ireland has been about caring for a community where we all know each other. Ireland has been a country where everyone has been part of a faith community. There has been no need try to reach out to those who have no faith.

But the times have changed; many people have turned away from the churches. No matter how much we wish it we cannot return to former times.

The disciples could have stayed on their boats in Galilee, believing in Jesus, but doing nothing about it. We could carry on here a while longer, reciting our faith each Sunday, doing nothing to share the Good News, until our numbers fell and we were put in with some other parish.

Peter takes the third step – the step out into the world to care for Jesus’ flock. Jesus wants us to take that same step.

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