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Got Fish?
Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000

Sandy Reimer and Larry Reimer

Sandy - From Mark 9 beginning with verse 10 - Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. The disciples saw Elijah and Moses come into view and talk to Jesus. Peter interrupted, "Rabbi, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials and stay here – one for you, one for Elijah, one for Moses." Then a light radiant cloud enveloped them and a voice said "This is my Beloved; listen to him." The next minute, the disciples were rubbing their eyes, seeing nothing but Jesus. Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. "Don’t tell a soul what you saw until the Son of Man has risen from the dead."" They obeyed his order, but the disciples did, however, question what this rising from the dead meant.

Now this is an interesting Biblical story. It takes place right in the middle of the gospel of Mark. Jesus has taken three disciples - Peter, James, and John - up to a high mountain for a retreat. You know what happens on a retreat. We leave the regular world behind. We enter sacred time and space, and we begin wishing we could keep the world this way. You’ve heard the children ask on our own church retreat, "Can’t we stay here for a week?" And perhaps late at night around the candles of communion, or early in the morning stopping to look at the sunrise over the mist on the lake as you grab a cup of coffee and head back to your cabin, you have a vision, and a part of you wants to linger in that moment.

Peter, James, and John had a visionary experience on their mountaintop retreat, seeing Moses and Elijah standing side by side with Jesus. Then Jesus tells them they have to go back down the mountain, into the ordinary world. Furthermore he says to them, "Promise you won’t tell anyone what happened up here until I rise from the dead." They nod to each other, "Oh yeah, we promise." And then there is this sentence, straight from scripture, "They did, however, question what this rising from the dead meant?"

Rising from the dead. What does it mean? Every year I come to this place at Easter, knowing the stories of Lent, of crucifixion and resurrection, and that is still my question: What does it mean? I think it is a question you may share as well.

Larry - The gospel of John has 21 chapters. If you read the last chapters closely, it seems that seems that the writer originally meant to end the gospel with Chapter 20. Jesus has appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples sitting behind locked doors, and finally to Thomas, who says, "I won’t believe until I touch the wounds." And Jesus says, go ahead, put your hand right into the hole in my side. Doubting Thomas turns into believing Thomas.

The final paragraph of chapter 20 says: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

That certainly sounds like an ending – a summary – like someone wrapping up a book.

But then, right after these words, comes Chapter 21. Do you remember the old Lt. Colombo shows? Peter Falk, a seemingly fuzzy, bewildered police detective in an old rumpled raincoat, finishes questioning his suspect. He starts to leave, and just before he goes out the door he turns and asks one more question. That last question is always the clincher. This Chapter 21 in John is in the same vein: "By the way, here’s one more thing I almost forgot." Most bible scholars agree that either John or one of his followers came back and tacked it on later to hammer home the point that nobody got, maybe the most important point.

From John 21: 1–12 - Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time at the Sea of Galilee. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the brothers Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter announced, "I am going fishing."

The others replied, "We’re going with you." They went out and got in their boat. They fished all night, but caught nothing.

When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him. Jesus spoke to them: "Friends, have you caught any fish?" They answered, "No."

Jesus said, "Throw your net off the other side of the boat and see what happens." They did what he said. All of a sudden there were so many fish in the net, they were not strong enough to pull it in.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, "It’s Jesus!"

When Simon Peter realized who it was, he threw on some clothes, for he was stripped for work, and dove into the sea. The other disciples came in by boat for they weren’t far from land, a hundred yards or so, pulling along their net full of fish. When they got out of the boat, they saw a fire laid, with fish and bread cooking on it.

Jesus said, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." Simon Peter joined them and pulled the net to shore – 153 big fish! And even with all those fish, the net didn’t rip.

Jesus said, "Breakfast is ready." Not one of the disciples dared to ask, "Who are you?" They knew it was their Lord. Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. (From The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Sandy - This is a story of the other side of Easter. Easter is over; Jesus has died and his body is gone. And we all know what it’s like after someone we love dies. We mourn for a while, and the folks around us support us, but then we are encouraged to get on with it, to do something, to get back to normal. So what do the disciples do? They are, after all, fishermen, so they go fishing. It is the only thing they all really know how to do.

The disciples fish all night and don’t catch anything. At dawn, they see someone on the shore. They don’t recognize him. This figure on the shore asks, like Colombo, "Catch anything?"

Jesus, like a good lawyer, doesn’t ask a question to which he doesn’t already know the answer. He knows there’s no fish in the boat. He asks if they’ve got fish, and they say "No." Peter Gomes, chaplain at Harvard, says there are three kinds of "No" to this type of question. There’s "No, and it’s none of your business." That’s the no of anger. There’s "No, and we are tired, broken hearted beyond anything you know about our life." That’s the no of frustration. Third, there is "No, but can you help?" This is the no that includes hope.

Nobody knows which "No" the disciples meant, but it’s probably true that all three - anger, frustration, and hope - were functioning here.

"Friends, do you have any fish?" That’s a wonderful question for us on the other side of Easter. Do we have anything to show for how we just spent the long night? Are we satisfied? Are we happy? Do we get pleasure from what we think we do best? Do we have anything to show for our time, for our efforts? Got any fish? And the disciples, of course, have to answer, "No, there is nothing in our nets." Like them, we often find we don’t have much to show for the arenas of our lives where we are working the hardest or pushing the most. Is there a place in your life like that?

Right here Jesus says, "Throw your net on the other side of the boat and see what happens." On the other side of Easter, on the other side of risen life, we can’t go back to the same old, same old things. We can’t just keep floundering in the same old routines, going around in circles on the same old issues. We have to cast our nets on the other side. And what happens?

They pull in a haul of fish – big fish – count them, 153 of them. The gospel of John, which is full of odd, mystical, theological material, also has the most concrete descriptions. It’s what makes Biblical scholars, who doubt everything, sometimes think that stories like this may be true.

Larry - Why 153? Three years after we were married, I finished Divinity school and accepted a job at the First Congregational Church in New Milford, Connecticut. Sandy quit her job teaching high school English in West Haven, Connecticut, cashed in her retirement from teaching, and we went to Europe for three weeks. Midway through the trip, we were walking in Amsterdam, doing the sightseeing thing, and Sandy told me she had blisters on her feet that really hurt. I said, "That’s too bad, we’re almost to the cathedral."

"I’ve got a whole bunch of blisters," she repeated.

I said, "It’s just a little farther to walk, you can do it."

Finally she said, "I have seventy nine blisters on one foot!"

I realized, rather belatedly, that this was serious and moreover, the point here was that I was supposed to listen. We got a cab and quit walking for that day.

From then on, when Sandy needs to get my attention, she uses the number seventy-nine to signal that something significant is happening.

Sandy - One hundred fifty three fish is a way getting our attention. This is a big change from nothing in terms of fish. It symbolizes abundance, an overwhelming fullness. It is a tangible experience of what can happen for us, with our faith, right now, here in the midst of life, on the other side of Easter. We do not have to wait until the Second Coming of Jesus, or until heaven, to experience this spiritual wealth. The post-resurrection stories of Jesus are not ghost stories or seances. They are told in the most concrete, earthly, every day fashion. Jesus appears around meals, around bread, around breakfast on the beach. Life on the other side of Easter is not a dream, is not a ghostly metaphor, but a real possibility for each of us. You do not have to die to know a resurrected life. You do have to change how you labor and cast your net on the other side of the boat.

Larry - Let us close with an example and one more clue. In our Ash Wednesday service, our Lenten devotional booklet and our Wednesday evening Taize’ services, we have prayed to release a bitterness and a healing for our sorrow. I have been thinking of my parents, especially my mother, both in terms of sorrow over their loss and some unresolved issues that I have held far too long. Three weeks ago, on Wednesday night at a Taize’ service I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done. I prayed to my parents for both healing and forgiveness. And I got this incredible surprise. I heard them say, clear as a bell, together, "Take it easy."

I wasn’t asking for this. I didn’t expect it. It’s not even something I recall them ever saying to me. In my rather intense life, the words from them, "Take it easy," are very much like asking me to throw my net over to the other side of the boat of my life.

Sandy - This of course is only one small slice of Easter. There are a host of ways we die and rise with Christ in this life and the next. But for today, on this Easter, let us watch and wait for the Jesus who appears as a stranger on the beach and asks, "Got fish?"

Let’s look at those places in our lives where we’re working all night and catching nothing. Where are we getting nowhere, in relationships, in school or work, in our spiritual journeys? Let’s listen to that voice of Jesus suggesting, "throw your net over the other side." Then let us be ready for new opportunities, something like 153 of them.

Oh, and we promised a clue as to where to look for these experiences of resurrection, these Easter moments of new life. In Mark, the oldest ending to the oldest gospel, a man dressed in white, sitting in the tomb, tells the women that you won’t find the Jesus here. "He is going ahead of you, to Galilee. That’s where you’ll find him. Tell the others."

May we leave here with the feeling that Jesus is outside the door, just ahead of us. And if we keep looking ahead, even if we don’t find him, Jesus will find us with one of those Colombo like questions.

"Got fish?" Amen.

(We acknowledge Peter J. Gomes’ book Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living for several ideas that contributed to this sermon.)


We begin our Time of Prayer with this poem by Rumi:
Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an ax to your prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.

O God, I come to this Easter morning a lot like the disciples of Jesus – casting my net, over and over again, hoping to catch an abundance of faith and a fullness of life. I am in need of resurrection. I feel the weight of responsibility and the fragility of life. I hurt from the raw wounded places of my heart. The dust of the world clings to me, haunts me, and I often feel ineffective, unable to see solutions to the violence and the polarization and the separation in our community and in our nation.

I need Easter light to flow into me – and my prayer to you, God, is that I can roll the stone away, that I will open my own tombs, and let your grace renew me: to lift my spirit, to lighten my soul, to bring energy to my commitments. I see resurrection all around me: in the new red maple leaves by my front porch, in the sweetness of holding my grandson, in the sharing of an elder friend, in my grandmother’s heavenly presence in my memories and in my dreams. Let me join the resurrection band; let me add my voice to the chorus; let me cast my net on the other side of Easter.

I pray for those who are dear to me: those who are far away in distance onthis earth, those whose love reaches to me from the highest heavens, and those who are close by my side today.

Together, we pray for this church: its past, its meaning to us today, and its vision for the future, as we read the words of our Compact:

We join together this Easter day as a spiritual community:
to worship God, however known;
to welcome into our church those of differing understanding and theological opinion;
to learn from our religious heritage, yet to grow by seeking new dimensions of truth;
to follow, even imperfectly, the way of Jesus in personal involvement with each other;
and, strengthened by this bond, to act in Christian concern for the welfare of all people. Amen.

"Got fish?"