Sermon preached by Good Shepherd Seminarian Josh Wullenweber on the text: John 21:1-19
I come to you in peace from God our Father and from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… Amen.
Now I’ve never had the opportunity to have breakfast on the beach, but I can relate to having meals at the dinner table. I have so many fond childhood memories that surround meals at the dinner table. One reason probably has to do with the fact that I was a chunky kid and thoroughly enjoyed supper time. In all seriousness though the true reason being the uninterrupted quality time we spent together each night.
For my family the dinner table was used as a place to share not only in a meal, but it was a place to reconnect a place to share experiences and to talk about our day. No matter what was going on in our lives, no matter how busy we were it was at the dinner table that we came together and spent time as a family.
School was of course a hot topic, we were always asked what we did that day or what we learned. I seem to remember the answer usually being nothing, but no matter the topic more importantly it was a place where our parents checked in. They made sure everything was ok in our lives and it was one place we felt their love.
The same is true for today’s Gospel message. We find Peter and the six disciples sharing one final meal together with Jesus. Sharing in the peace and love of Christ one final time, but before the meal what are the disciples doing? They were fishing.
At the beginning of the 21st chapter of John we find the disciples at the Sea of Galilee.
We find Peter leading six others out on the water. Now this seems familiar does it not, is this not the same thing Jesus found them doing three years earlier. You might think that after spending three years with Jesus, learning his teachings and witnessing miracle after miracle we might find them somewhere else. You might think that the disciples may have made it a little farther they should be out changing the world, continuing Christ’s ministry and witnessing to Gods people.
Why are they back on the boat? Why are they back to square one at the same exact spot where Christ found them three years earlier? As I studied the Gospel one thing I wondered about was what the disciples are going through now that Jesus was no longer there. Were the disciples scared, were they in shock, did they lose all hope, did they feel that God had abandoned them?
Its easy to speculate and its even easier to judge the disciples. It’s easy to say what they should be doing but that’s not really fair, I would bet that many of us would be in that same boat. Although today’s service is focused on discerning God’s call not all of us are at that point in our faith journey. Today I want to focus on what happens when we feel like the God we know and love is no longer there. For the disciples this was now true, Christ who was very real and showed himself to the disciples in a tangible form is now gone.
I think a lot of can relate to what the disciples are going through we have walked with Christ and felt him right by our sides, we hear his teachings and have felt the connection, we have prayed and known that He has heard our every word and we have been involved in his ministry and seen Christ at work in this world….. But just like the disciples for some of us lately somethings different, we can’t feel Christ’s presence.
When we pray it’s as if He doesn’t hear us….. When we hear the Gospel message it’s not the same…. When we receive communion and participate in the liturgy it just feels mundane.
We have no drive to serve and what used to make us happy…. what used to allow us to feel close to God no longer seems to work.
We are in a dark place…… for some of us this may be a new for others it may be where Jesus found us originally. This can be scary. Theologians call this “The Dark Night of the Soul” and many people attest to having experienced this state of spiritual being.
Many of you may be going through this right now.
Just as the disciples sat in their boat we sit waiting and longing, hoping for Gods presence in our life to return. Many of you may not know this but Mother Teresa who is known as a Pillar of Spiritual Strength actually spent some time in the dark. In fact she spent most of her life there. She is quoted as saying….
“There is so much contradiction in my soul. Such deep longing for God—so deep that it is painful—a suffering continual—and yet not wanted by God—repulsed—empty—no faith—no zeal. Souls hold no attraction. Heaven means nothing—to me it looks like an empty place.”
This can be a time of doubt, of frustration, of longing… or this can be a time when you question your faith and lose sight of God in your life.
This time can feel overwhelming…. if you let it.
St. John of the Cross a Carmelite priest and 16th century mystic spoke on overcoming this issue stating.
“If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark”
John of the cross tells us that sometimes its ok to be in the dark because when you’re in the dark your always searching for the light. There can’t be darkness without light.
As we celebrate the 3rd Sunday in Easter we have to remember the Easter Promise, the tomb was closed but now is open and darkness was present but light over powered it. Christ is the light and His presence is what we seek.
Peter who was also dealing with darkness and confusion was seeking Christ. Peter was seeking the light to bring him through his struggles. One thing that I need to highlight though is that in the gospel today it was not Peter who realized it was Christ on the shore. We are told it was the disciple whom Jesus loved.
Now who is that disciple… was it John, was it Thomas or was it Nathaniel? No one really knows and the name really has no importance. The important part to remember is that someone else helped Peter find Christ. Peter did not realize Christ was present until someone else pointed it out. Sometimes this is what it takes. It takes someone pointing out Christ’s presence in our life for us to realize He is there. The Practice of Spiritual direction is just that, it is the practice of helping someone work through their spiritual struggles…. helping someone who may be struggling with their faith life find God and His Grace in all things.
Spiritual direction is something that I had not heard about until I started my studies in seminary and I don’t think its presence is strong enough in the protestant realms, but what a blessing it can be. Spiritual direction is what we witness today between Peter and the disciple Jesus Loves. He showed Him Jesus on the beach and how relieved Peter was. We are told he wasted no time put on his robe and jumped in the sea to swim over to where Jesus was not even waiting for the boat to get to the shore. Spiritual direction is a beautiful thing, sometimes all it takes is talking through our frustrations, letting someone else point out Christ’s presence in our life.
John reminds us that when we cast our nets and get nothing and when we feel spiritually empty Jesus is still there. He is still there no matter how many times we question, doubt, deny or wander. Peter who denied Christ three times still found Christ standing on the beach.
John reminds us that even when we are lost, feeling forgotten and disconnected. When we are experiencing the dark night of the soul and we feel that we are back at square one… Jesus is still there! Just as Jesus was there on the beach Jesus is here with us. He is here to hear how our days going, what’s troubling us, what’s causing us pain, and what’s bringing us joy.
In a few minutes as we approach this table, as we share in another meal as a family
we are here together. No matter where you are in your faith journey whether you are working through some struggles or presently discerning a call, know that we are all here together.
Most importantly know that Christ is here sharing one more meal with us and letting us know that everything will be ok. Amen.