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Shining from Shook Foil

Homily for Easter Three, May 4, 2019

John 21:1-14; Acts 9:1-20

Jesus breaks into routines and transforms lives.

As a boy, I would sometimes visit my grandfather in the summer. Early in life, he owned Seattle’s Maple Leaf grocery store, and he and my grandmother settled on five acres with a sparkling stream in Lake Forest Park. By the time I came along, life had taken a new turn and Gramps lived alone in a gravel-parked Shasta Airflyte on the McCaw reservation in Neah Bay, the remotest Northwest point of the Continental United States. He had a white Chevy Impala with red vinyl seats and a Beagle, and spent his days working a tackle shop on the docks and his nights smoking menthols and playing five-card stud.

One summer, Mom sent me there for a two-week stay. There was a lot to love about that place. As a sixty-pound youth, I saw a sixty-pound king salmon come off a thirty-foot Sea-Ray there. Cousin Mark and I caught a seagull with fish entrails on sixty-pound test, and he flew it like a kite. Cruel—but a vivid experience for my ten-year-old self! One morning my grandfather sent me out on a charter with one of his buddies. We fished with two big hooks and cut herring, and the rig flashed in the sun just below the surface until it had the line length to descend to where the salmon swam. I returned with three big Chinook—more than my weight in fish! As we disembarked, Gramps confronted the captain, “I thought I told you not to let him catch anything!” He had to pay by the pound.

His poker games happened on the fold-down kitchenette that became my bed, so he would send me out into the waning sun with a sleeping bag to attempt slumber in the gravel. I was more than a little exposed—people milling a stone’s throw away on the road!

My six o’clock bedtime made it easier to rise for a favorite part of that Neah Bay summer: Gramps made breakfast before dawn, the smell of bacon filling the trailer, then clanked down the folding stairs to open the store as the fleet headed out.

Jesus breaks into routines and transforms lives.

Today we heard two stories: one of dejected fishers gently joined by Jesus in their disappointment; and another of an overconfident reformer knocked off his misaligned zeal by Christ in shining glory.

Precisely thirty-six months ago—the last time we were exactly here in the three-year cycle of the lectionary—I was deluged by watery sermons about casting nets. It was a moment of wrenching transition, and I had some decisions to make. Tina and I were planning a wedding, and I was facing a long-overdue job change.

It began with an unexpected oracle in the parking lot of the Fife Jack-in-the-Box with a six-foot-three Pentecostal prophetess in a track-suit foretelling a whole new ministry for me. Then, wearing a daisy-patterned stole, the minister of the quirky Congregational church in our town slew me with a magical John 21, cast-your-nets-on-the-other side message, complete with Tibetan singing bowl. As if that weren’t enough, I was teaching Homiletics at Northwest University, and my students could choose any gospel passage for their final sermon. Almost half of them chose John 21! Eight other-side sermons later I was like: “Okay, God, I get it!” But what other side?

Given all that, I will lean into the Sea of Galilee passage, but with both stories in focus.

Note that for the seven disciples and for Paul, they were simply doing what they did. Paul was a fiery reformer; he was out fierily reforming. That was his life’s mission. In an uncertain moment, the seven disciples simply went back to what they knew best: They were fishers; they went fishing. This is how God works: we’re going along doing what we do—then suddenly God is there, in gentle invitation or in blazing fire, but there.

Jesus breaks into routines and transforms lives.

Open yourself to God’s Spirit now. Lean into these stories. Might Jesus, in your sadness, confusion, or boredom, be gently making breakfast on the shore, inviting you to recognize his presence in your mundane? Might the mighty blazing Christ be flashing in to dramatically alter your course of life, healing and redirecting you? Maybe it’s both.

Our passage is organized around four single sentences from Jesus.

In the first, Jesus enters their story: The old Living Bible renders his words better than any of the modern translations: “Any fish, boys?” The first light of morning is filtering through the rising mists; they have been fishing since dusk—and not a nibble. Since they’re shouting over a football field of water, words are succinct.

In the second, Jesus offers guidance. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” He doesn’t command; he suggests—and in desperation they take his advice. Why not?