“This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to his disciples after he was raised from the dead”. John 21:14
As the move approaches, I am aware of a desire in me to move in time. I think we all have such wishes at times. If we could turn back the clock. Maybe back a year, or five years, or whatever time it takes to get back to a time when life seemed better, when the days were happier.
Sometimes there is that feeling in the church. 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. We feel we have lost something. Looking backwards can leave us feeling depressed because we can’t recapture those days when everything seemed simpler, happier, more certain.
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 bock 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 bock 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 or when we have been through painful times, he had gone back to the things he knew. But we can never really go back. We can’t wipe things 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 Ireland have never moved beyond that first step, they come to church 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.
But we can be like the disciples back in their boats in Galilee. We can come to church for security and reassurance. We can go over the familiar stories, we can sing our hymns and we can remember the Lord. It is natural to need the sense that it has all been true, that it has been worthwhile.
The challenge to us is to move on from where we might be; it 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 in the past was a country where everyone has been part of a faith community. Everyone belonged somewhere, but those times are no longer with us. And no matter how much we may 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 a while longer as we have in the past, reciting our faith each Sunday, doing nothing to share the Good News, and being part of a church that slowly disappears.
Peter takes the third step – the step out into the world to care for Jesus’ flock. Jesus wants us to take that same step.