First Congregational Church
May 1, 2022
Third Sunday of Easter
John 21:1-19, Acts 9:1-20
“Not All Scales Are About Fish”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
One of the silliest jokes that always seems to make me laugh is the one that questions, what you call a fish with no eyes? Fsh. And what do you get when you cross fishing tackle with an old, smelly sock? Hook, line and stinker. And lastly, what did the pastor say when everyone was getting upset at her fishing puns? I really should scale back.
Before we get to this morning’s scriptures, there is a little clarification that may be a bit of help. There is a reference to someone called “the disciples whom Jesus loved.” We don’t know - exactly - who that is. I think most scholars figure the Beloved Disciple is John - one of the twelve disciples. But there are other thoughts - that it might even be Lazarus, Mary Magdalene or some other unknown priest or disciple, even James, Jesus’ brother or cousin, depending on how the word is translated.
In part because it’s not used in any of the other three gospels, there is thought that maybe the writer of John - used it in modesty. Martin L. Smith, a member of an Anglican religious order for men, thinks that it might be that the writer of John deliberately obscured this person’s name, so that the intimacy of the relationship with Jesus might paint a way for us to have such a relationship with Jesus. Whatever the reason, that’s who the Beloved Disciple is - or isn’t.
One of my own observations is that we catch Simon Peter jumping into the water in this passage, but we don’t always connect the dots that this is not the only time Peter is doing something in the water when Jesus is present, meaning Peter and Jesus “on” the water in a different scene.
John 21:1-19, Leo Hughes
Afterward, Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. 6 He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.
9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." 11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." 16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." 17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
18 Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"
Thank you, Leo. This passage made me think of a lovely little song from Fiddler on the Roof. Those able to have seen some of the Benzie County Community Chorus shows of yester-year may remember Dick Haan and Ginny Freeman singing “Do You Love Me?”
The main character, Tevye, is romantically nostalgic as his daughter, Hodel, is getting married. As he ruminates about the “new world” in which they live, in which love is a high priority in a marriage match, Tevye asks his wife, Golde, “Do you love me?”
Golde, in the midst of wedding preparations, plans and details, replies, “Do I what?” Tevye asks again, Golde begins to become exacerbated with his questioning, so she tells him that the - other - trouble in town is making him upset; that he should go in and lie down. That maybe it’s indigestion.
One of the best moments is when Tevye asks again, “Do you love me?” and she answers him, saying he’s a fool. Tevye - in Dick Haan’s rich bass voice and a half smile on his face says, “I know. But do you love me.”
Golde replies that for 25 years she’s washed his clothes, cooked his meals, cleaned “his” house, given him children, milked the cow, and that after 25 years, why are they talking about love right now.
They reminisce over their fear and shyness when they were married as their parents said that they’d learn to love each other. So Tevye asks again, does she love him. Golde’s answer, “I’m your wife” is not just about the obvious, but the experience of their time together.
But then Golde starts to think. For twenty-five years I've lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. Twenty-five years my bed is his. If that's not love, what is? Tevye continues, “Then you love me?” Golde: “I supposed I do.” Tevye: “I suppose I love you, too. Then, as only in musicals, they both sing to each other the same thing. "It doesn't change a thing. But even so, after twenty-five years, it’s nice to know.
Before Rob gets here to read his passage, I’ll point out that this passage takes place about three years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Early in the passage, there is a reference to the Way - the group of people who followed Jesus, even after his human life was over. I don’t know who coined the phrase, but one of the ways Congregationalists refer to our practice of following Christ is - the Congregational Way. Interesting….
Acts 9:1-20, Rob Jones
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's
disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. 6 "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered. 11 The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight." 13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. 20 Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
Thank you, Rob. I think it interesting, the pairing of these two fairly well-known passages that are such vivid scenes, even 2,000 years later. Jesus asks Peter and Saul to trust him - even when the possibilities are so crazy big, verging on the impossible. Even though Jesus “knew” everything as God's son, maybe his humanity “just needed to know” if Peter loved him - like Tevye. And maybe the divine Christ’s question wasn’t about Saul’s sight, but how far the soon-to-be Paul would go to ‘receive his sight’ - and I’m not talking about his literal, physical sight here.
So often, even in today’s world, I hear people wondering about the things that happen to them, linking them to a test that God is giving them, to test their worthiness. Truly - I think that’s the wrong way to approach those hard situations. I don’t think that the God of infinite love is about testing us, but about wanting us to know how much God loves us. I wonder if “our struggles” are really only about us struggling, rather than realizing that whatever is going on in our lives that we are sitting in the presence of God, however that is. Maybe the scales on our eyes are not about cataracts or character or how we see ourselves and others, but realizing - God. (pause)
Holy, Eternal, Gracious God, when we realize those times in which scales fall from our eyes and hearts, we are grateful. When we forget or are too busy to see you around us and in us, forgive us. In that strange way that happens when scales of our limits fall away and we can take deeper breaths, thank you. Enable us to help scales fall away - in all the big and little ways we can, especially as we live as Easter people of new life. And for the expansive sight that heals and restores, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.