John 21 is one of my favourite resurrection stories. It has everything – there is the reminder of God’s abundant grace and enduring presence. There is a meal of broiled fish and bread – that reminds of the meal we share with bread and wine. There is an invitation to follow Jesus. As our congregation took a big leap of faith in setting up Cochrane Centre and building housing, other churches started asking what we were doing and why. We went to share our story with them. At the end of each presentation, I would share this story of Jesus’ invitation to follow.
Jesus had died and the meaning of the resurrection still had not sunk in with the disciples. They still didn’t really know what to do or how to live now that Jesus isn’t with them in the same way. They know that Jesus lives but they don’t know what it means. Discipleship is new work for them – it’s only been three years. They had a lifetime of fishing. Peter finally says to the other disciples, “I’m going fishing.” Maybe because there is comfort in the familiar. Maybe because at least he knows he can fish. Maybe because he does not know what else to do. Peter and the disciples spend the whole night fishing. The dawn is breaking and they’ve caught nothing. A voice calls from the shore, “Put the nets on the right side and you will find some.”
The disciples had nothing to lose at this point. All night they caught nothing. What harm would it do to cast their nets on the right side of the boat? And when they do. Amazing. They catch 153 fish. That is a lot of fish. The disciple whom Jesus love cries out, “It is the Lord!” And they disciples know it can only be Jesus. Peter jumps out of the boat and walks to shore. The rest of the disciples bring the fish in. The fire is burning. There is fish. There is bread. Jesus invites them to a feast. Not one person asks, “Who are you?” because they know deep in their bones that Jesus is with them.
After breakfast, Jesus pulls Peter aside and says, “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter says, “Oh, Jesus, this is amazing. You are back. What are we going to do next? Do you have a plan? What did ask? Do I love you? Of course I do. So tomorrow we’ll put all the fishing gear away and get back on the road. Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Then Jesus grabs Peter by the shoulders and says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter thinks he’s already answered that question. And says with a bit of impatience “Yes, Lord of course I love you.” Jesus says “Tend my sheep.” Peter is starting to wonder about this conversation with Jesus. It seems to be going be going in circles. Jesus keeps asking him the same thing. Jesus looks Peter in the eyes and asks a third time, “Do you love me?” Now Peter is frustrated. Peter says, “You know everything about me. You know I love.” Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”
That is our calling as a people of faith. To love God, care for others and follow in Jesus’ way. It is not new. The church has been doing it in different ways over the past two thousand years. This city is filled with places that remind us that churches are about caring for others. Whether it is schools, or hospitals or seniors homes. In our daily living and community work we lived out this calling to care for others.
Today the first tenants are moving in at Cochrane Centre. Today ten people have new homes and it started with your firm conviction that God that was not yet done with this congregation, that we have more work to do as a people of faith. This congregation said no to dying. This congregation said no to selling its building. Instead you did something no other church in the city has done. You said yes to letting go of how it’s always been. You said yes to a new creation – Cochrane Centre an incorporated ministry of The United Church of Canada and not-for-profit. You said yes to a new way of living out our faith and following Jesus.
The last several years have been filled with those moments when the Holy Spirit’s presence is so strong that we had the courage to try something different and then the come the reminders that we are on the right path. There have also been challenges. We haven’t always agreed on the best way forward. There are faces we don’t see as often. Sometimes the path ahead hasn’t been clear. Somehow, through the challenges, the hard conversations and difficult decisions, we’ve kept at the heart Jesus’ invitation to “feed my lambs.” We’ve kept at the heart of the abundance of God grace. God’s grace and guidance has been with us through the whole process.
Caroline Lewis writes what grace upon grace can really be, “-- a hell of a lot fish, … when you least expect it, just like the wine at Cana, when all hope is gone, when you wonder what you are doing, when you think there is no future, when your well has dried up, when you doubt that grace is true, when you question if grace is for you. This is the resurrection story we need. Desperately. All of us. That we will, indeed, experience the truth of the resurrection beyond the empty tomb. That Jesus will always show up on the shore [and] will invite us to share a meal once again” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4583)
Today we are standing on the shore and once again Jesus invites us to a simple meal. As we taste gifts of bread and wine we are reminded that our God’s grace never runs out. There is new life for all. After the meal, Jesus pulls each of us aside and says, “Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Follow me.” Amen.