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May 1, 2022: Not So Subtle

Sunday School Activities

John 21:1-19

In one of the churches that I served, there was a preschool in the house that was at one time the minister’s manse right beside the church. The school often used the church gym for concerts and special occasions and a number of our church families attended the preschool.

There was one child, let’s call him Jack, who very insistently invited me to their end of year concert. I told him I would do my very best to be there and later let his parents know that I would subtly slip in so I could surprise him afterwards.

The day of the concert came and just before it began, I slipped in and grabbed a seat on the aisle towards the back. As the preschoolers came out onto the stage for their concert, there was Jack, beaming and scanning the crowd. Within seconds, his eyes locked with mine and stepping forward away from the rest of the children, he pointed right at me and proclaimed loudly for all to hear, “That’s MY minister!”

So much for my subtle entrance!

Jesus was not exactly subtle when, after his resurrection, he appeared to the disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias in this story from the Gospel of John. He not only yelled out to the disciples in their boat from the beach, but he also pointed out the fact that the disciples had not caught any fish.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Have you caught anything, friends?” “Not a thing,” they answered.

And yet, the disciples’ fishing skills was not the reason Jesus appeared to the disciples that morning. For all intents and purposes, Jesus appeared to the disciples so he could welcome them into his midst, make them breakfast and share a meal with them.

This story comes from the end of the Gospel of John, the very last chapter. This is the third and final time that Jesus appears to the disciples and when you read this story, there is something very familiar about it all. Jesus’ actions in these moments with the disciples remind us of stories from his life, poignant pieces of his ministry. When Jesus takes empty fishing nets and yet cooks an abundant breakfast of fish and bread for the disciples, we are reminded of the story of the loaves and the fishes. When Jesus says to one of his disciples, “Follow me,” we are brought back to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, where Jesus called his disciples into ministry with him and said those exact same words. Jesus asking Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” three times draws a striking resemblance to the Passion Narrative, where Simon Peter denied Jesus three times.

It is almost as if these verses, this interaction between Jesus and the disciples, are a flashback to what had happened in the Gospel of John and in Jesus’ life and ministry; like when a musician runs offstage at the end of a show and then runs back on for an encore medley of the best songs of the night to give the audience just a little bit more. Here it is A not-so-subtle appearance of the resurrected Christ, showing off his best stuff, giving his audience just a little bit more.

Some scholars believe that these verses were not actually in the original version of the Gospel, that they were written by an anonymous author and added later as an epilogue. I have no idea whether that theory is true or not, but regardless, it kind of begs the question: What is the point? What is the point of Jesus, not simply appearing to the disciples, but reenacting pieces of his life? There are so many things that Jesus could do when he appears to the disciples. Why does he recreate things that have already happened?

Perhaps this was intentional. Perhaps this was meant to show us that Jesus’ grace and blessings were not just intended to be showered upon those in the past, those that lived and dwelled with Jesus, but also those in the present and future. Perhaps this was meant to assure us that the resurrected Christ appears to all of us – even those of us hearing this story 2,000+ years later. Perhaps this was meant to open our eyes to the possibility that these stories are more than simply words on paper for us, that they actually do give us hope and meaning to our lives.

We are in the midst of the Easter season, which is the season between Easter Sunday and Pentecost; a season marked with themes of resurrection and new life. We celebrate Easter as a season and not just as a one-day holiday to remind us that the resurrection of Jesus was not something that happened once, but something that is continuously happening. The resurrection of Jesus is not something that happened simply for the disciples then, but also something that happens for us now. This scripture brings light to the mysterious, but amazing truth that Jesus’ life can be lived in all of us. We experience resurrection in our lives.

And there is nothing subtle about it.

If you really look for it, resurrection happens all around us. Resurrection happens when we find a community of faith that loves us, cares for us and supports us. Resurrection happens when we have the opportunity to worship in a way that is alive and vibrant and interesting. Resurrection happens when we see grace in unexpected ways and places.

Resurrection happens when justice shines boldly in the midst of oppression. Resurrection happens when our hearts and minds are opened to new truths and understandings. Resurrection happens when we serve others and also allow others to serve us.

Resurrection happens when we read ancient words of scripture and find ways for them to be meaningful, relevant, and accessible in our lives. Resurrection happens when we pray in big and daring and courageous ways.

Resurrection happens when we learn something; when we learn something about ourselves, about our faith and about others.

Resurrection happens when we learn how to care for ourselves; to quiet the noise in our lives so that we can finally hear the divine voice speaking to us. Resurrection happens when – against all odds – we see the face of Christ in others and let others see the face of Christ in us.

Resurrection happens when, like the disciples hauling in their nets full of fish and going ashore for an abundant meal, we recognize the Resurrected Christ in our midst.

The Resurrected Christ is not supposed to come into our lives in a subtle way. The Resurrected Christ is, in fact, supposed to come into our lives in a way that inspires us, teaches us, heals us and transforms us. The Resurrected Christ is supposed to come into our lives in a way that will change our lives; in a way that will take the pieces of us and find a way to make us whole. The Resurrected Christ is supposed to come into our lives in a way that will move us to go out into the world and make it a better place.

We are invited to open ourselves to the bold and radical truth that God’s work is not done yet, that these words of scripture are still speaking and that we are part of a story that is still being written.

So don’t be subtle. Don’t let your faith be subtle. Don’t let God’s work in your life be subtle. Let yourself be transformed by it all. Let your faith help you change the world and make it better. Don’t sell yourself short; do the impossible and see what it means to truly live out the good news of the gospel.

Just like my appearance at that preschool concert many years ago ended up being anything but subtle, Jesus was anything but subtle when he appeared to the disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias. But it was authentic, it was powerful, and it was holy.

So may your moments with the Resurrected Christ be just as authentic, just as powerful, and just as holy. Subtly may have its moments…but now is not the time to be subtle my friends.

May it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Heather Power