After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,* Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

Last year I started listening to a podcast by Nora McInerny called “Terrible, Thanks for Asking”.  Nora was inspired to start it after a year in which she suffered 3 significant losses: a second miscarriage, the death of her husband and the death of her father.  Her introduction to the podcast reads: “you know how every day someone asks “how are you?” And even if you’re totally dying inside, you say “fine.” So everyone can go about their day?  This show is the opposite of that.”

I commend it to you.  It’s honest. It’s heartbreaking.  It’s real. It’s really, really helpful in learning to talk about our pain, our awkwardness, the complexity of being human.  

There is also a TED talk that she did.  I’ll put the link in my sermon posted on the web.  It’s just 15 minutes and well worth the watch.  In it she tells the story of asking other widows what were some of the things they heard the most and hated the most after their loved one died. One comment rose quickly to the top:  when people spoke to them about moving on. Nora makes it clear: you don’t move on from losing the person you love. You move forward with. Grief doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s not a moment in time—and neither is the life and death and love of someone you’ve lost.  Grief gets mixed in with everything else.

We all know this.  We all live this. It’s different for everyone. For some of us gathered today—grief is raw and very present; for others you might be in a place where it shows up like an unexpected wave, washing over you in hearing a particular song or having a memory suddenly come to mind. What is certain is that everyone us knows the pain of loss—it’s a guaranteed part of life.  

A poem by W. S. Merwin:

Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

In today’s Gospel story, the disciples often get a bad rap.  They’ve been through so much with Jesus. They’ve walked along side him—heard him teach, seen him heal, experienced miracles because of him.  And then, there’s also the events of the last 2 weeks to consider: tension-filled moments, emotional highs of their entry into Jerusalem, followed by a one of a kind Passover meal, an unexpected betrayal, an armed arrest, a series of denials, a mock trial, a jeering mob, a bloody execution.  All this and then news of Jesus raised from the dead.  Last Sunday we heard the story of Thomas who insisted on seeing Jesus’ wounds for himself.  And so Jesus complied. But he didn’t stick around. His absence continues to weigh heavy for them.

So what do they do?  Maybe not what you’d expect.  But it’s hard to know what we would do if we were in their sandals.

They go back to what they did before.  They go back to what’s familiar–fishing.  We don’t know why. We don’t need to know their why.  But because of their story we learn something about the resurrected Jesus.  

This story teaches all of us who follow in faith, that Jesus shows up where and when you least expect him.

The disciples aren’t looking for Jesus or expecting him.  They don’t even recognize him at first. But there he is. He shows up and speaks into their disillusionment, their pain, their fear, their grief.  Jesus speaks, telling them how to move forward with the reality that he died and now he lives. “Cast your nets on the right side” which would be the other side from where they had cast their nets earlier and had caught nothing.  

But because of Jesus’ resurrection everything was different.  Life after the resurrection results in a new perspective, a fresh approach, a new way of being in the world.

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection changes them.  They can’t move on from it. But they can move forward with him.  And it will make all the difference—for them and for the world. Without him, they’ll catch nothing.  Moving forward with him, nets will be full. Moving forward with Jesus makes transformation possible. Miracles happen.  Hope lives.

This word, this promise, this Easter life is for you.

SING

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

There’s just so little that’s earth shattering about this scene.  Compared to other miracles—this one seems kind of “meh”—turning water into wine?  Giving sight to a man blind from birth? Walking on water? Raising Lazarus from the dead?  Feeding 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish? These miracles are impressive. These acts are amazing! All of them are signs of the abundance in God’s kingdom.  

But this story seems such a contrast!  In this story Jesus has 153 fish—and only needs to feed 7.  Seems upside down for God’s Kingdom—until, you consider the leftovers. It’s the abundance theme again.  In this story there’s an abundance of leftovers—which is good news for all of us who live these many years since.

Leftovers.  We might think there’s nothing special about them but then we might miss Jesus.

Jesus meets the disciples on the beach and they have breakfast. There’s nothing extraordinary in being “lake-side” and sharing a meal.  But this is where Jesus shows up. And isn’t that exactly where we need to encounter our Savior too? So much of our life seems ordinary but it’s in the meals we share, in the work we do, in the people we encounter, in places that are familiar where Jesus shows up and provides what we need.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and Bethlehem is deeply invested in work that seeks to provide resources and support to those with mental health challenges.  Through our ministry and Mental Health Connect we are collaborating with 14 other congregations of different faith traditions in the metro. We’re making a difference.

I spoke with Bethlehem member Nicole Claeson who works in this ministry. She’s passionate about all people needing to be seen, heard, supported and understood. This is the ordinary work that results in extraordinary encounters.

Board member and Bethlehem member Dan Abdul shared with me from personal experience about the isolation people feel when they’re struggling with Mental Health.  He’s adamant that the way he sees Jesus is through people who show up, who listen, care, connect. He’s experienced this first hand. He also tells the story about a client who didn’t know what she needed but after receiving support from someone through Mental Health Connect, she commented:  “I’m feeling something and I think it is hope. I’ve not felt this before.”

Miracles happen.  Hope lives. Moving forward with Jesus means transformation possible.  This word, this promise, this Easter life is for you.

SING

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

So this is the end of today’s story.  Except, did you notice? It doesn’t end with a conclusion.  It’s ends with an invitation.

After breakfast Jesus connects with Peter directly.  Remember, that before Jesus was crucified Peter was asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples—and Peter said no—3 times.  He wasn’t one of them. He denied his identity. And yet here he is in today’s story, by the grace of God. He’s right in the middle of the mix, at the campfire, sharing a meal, in the presence of Christ.  

Jesus seeks him out.  Assures Peter, he belongs. And as part of the fold, there is work to be done.

We show up in this community with our whole selves—shortcomings, misgivings, doubts, fears, joys, struggles and all.  Here Christ meets us—in water, word and meal. Ordinary things transformed by God’s extraordinary grace.

Be assured that you belong to God in Christ Jesus and nothing can separate you from that.  You’re a beloved child of God, a member of the body of Christ. And as part of the fold we’ve got work to do.  

God invites Bethlehem Lutheran Church Twin Cities into particular ways of showing up in the world—has been that way for the last 125 years!

We worship and we serve.  We worship and we follow Jesus who sends us into the world to pray and work for justice and peace.  This year the outreach team is focusing efforts for local impact around housing and caring for creation. The housing and climate challenges that are confronting us need our attention. 2 things for you to pray for and to consider how you might participate:

1) 2 weeks of Habitat for Humanity this summer.  One week in June. One week in July. And 2)

We’re planting a pollinator garden, a visible sign in our neighborhood that we are a community standing in defense of our planet, bringing beauty into the world, and growing fresh food to be shared. What would it look like if you showed up in one of these 2 ways in the coming months:  Habitat for Humanity or the Community Garden? I don’t know the answer to that but I do know that our combined efforts would send a message to others that we’re paying attention, that we’re concerned and that we care. So check your calendars. Offer your gifts of time, expertise, financial resources and prayers. Make a note on the back of the welcome card in the pew rack, put it in the offering plate, and someone will contact you.  Whether this is your first time here or too many times to count here, you’re invited, you belong. As part of the fold, we have work to do.

That’s how it is in God’s kingdom. Miracles happen.  Transformation is possible. Hope lives. Not just for you but also through you.  By God’s grace, may you move forward with faith trusting that the Living Lord calls you by name, inviting you to follow him.  Amen.