May 5, 2019: "The Grace of Another Day"
“The Grace of Another Day”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
May 4, 2019: Easter 3
Several years ago Nationwide Insurance Company came out with a brilliant marketing campaign called, “Life Comes At You Fast.” In one of the commercials for this campaign, we watch as a butterfly settles gently on the sideview mirror of a large SUV suddenly setting off the alarm. The alarm is so loud that it startles a squirrel in a nearby tree, and the squirrel falls out of the tree and onto the back of a woman sunbathing on her deck. This causes the woman to jump up screaming from her deck chair without a bathing suit top on, which causes her neighbor who is hosing off his soapy car to become very distracted and shoot water into the face of a bulldozer operator who is digging a hole in the next yard over. The bulldozer operator, with a stream of water in his face, makes a sudden move with the bucket, sending a whole lot of dirt flying through the air, which lands on the hitch or another neighbor’s boat trailer. The weight of the dirt catapults the boat off of the trailer, sending the boat flying through the air where it eventually crashes through the roof of the house where the butterfly landed on the SUV mirror. The voice over says, “Life comes at your fast. Better have Nationwide.”
The disciples of Jesus in our gospel text today knew just how fast life can come at you. It is now about two weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, and even though Jesus has appeared to the disciples several times, they are still quite unsettled. The events of Palm Sunday of Holy Week are still very much in the front of their minds. The trauma of watching their friend be executed rests deeply within their bones, and so on just an ordinary day, the disciples go back to doing what is most familiar: fishing. The sea, the boats, the waves, the smells and sounds and fish nets—all of it was a safe harbor for the disciples. For years before Jesus had called them to follow, these faithful men and women worked the waters and made a living by fishing. Now that Jesus was gone, they returned to their safe harbor. I can’t really imagine what they were thinking as they let down their nets into those familiar waters. They had followed this man, this prophet, this miracle-worker for three years, and now he was gone. Can you really go back to life as normal after coming face to face with Jesus?
Before we go any further into the text, I think it is important for us to stop here and recognize just how much we have in common with the disciple at this point in the story. We all have our safe harbors, don’t we? These are the places that we go and the things that we do that help us to step away from the reality of things. In many ways, these are good things. After all, Jesus stepped away frequently during his ministry to rest and pray. I know some of you here today love to garden and find a lot of peace and joy in working the soil in the midst of a hectic life. I find solace and comfort in music, so when I’m having a bad or confusing or hard day, I sit myself down at a piano and play my troubles away. Whatever it may be, we all have those safe harbors that help us to step away, regroup, rest, and prepare for just how fast life comes at us.
There is a danger in the safe harbors, though—if we stay there too long we will never fully realize the abundant life God has planned for them. This is why Jesus shows up and stands on the beach while the disciples are fishing. If they had had their way, they probably would stayed out on the sea for the rest of their lives. Jesus shows up on the beach because God has so much more planned for the disciples. Standing on the beach, Jesus calls out, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” Of course, he knows the answer—they’ve been at it all night and they have nothing. Jesus instructs them to pull in their nets and cast them on the other side of the boat. When they do, they catch so many fish that the boat almost capsizes from the weight. One of the disciples says to Peter, “It is the Lord!”, and Peter is so excited to see Jesus that he jumps into the lake and swims ashore without a single stitch of clothing on his body.
The catch was so big that the disciples had to have other boats help bring it in. When they finally get all the fish ashore, Jesus asks that they bring some of the fish so that he can cook for them over a charcoal fire on the beach. John tells us that no one said anything. They were probably stunned, exhausted, confused, still a bit foggy from everything that had happened, so they sat in silence and ate with their Lord. Jesus broke bread with them and served each of them some fish, and they ate it. When they were finished eating, Jesus took Peter on a walk down the beach where he asks Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter answers each time with, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” To each answer, Jesus commands Peter to feed his sheep and his lambs. The whole scene ends with Jesus issuing an invitation he had issued many times before: “Follow me.”
This is a story of God interrupting lives and bringing people face to face with what they should be about so that they can experience the fullest life possible. Let’s call this The Grace of Another Day. Jesus interrupted the lives of the disciples that morning by the sea, and with a miraculous catch, a little breakfast, and walk down the beach he helped them too see that God had so much more for them than they could possibly imagine. The disciples liked their safe harbor. The disciples liked to retreat into the comfort of what they knew and did so well. The disciples were not really keen on doing the challenging work Jesus had called them to do during his ministry. The disciples liked to look back instead of forward. Peter may have even protested Jesus’ command by saying something like, “Let somebody else feed your lambs; I’m fine with just saying ‘I love you.’” But Jesus changes all of this. Jesus graces the disciples with another day, he feeds them and then calls them to feed his sheep. He invites them to follow and they do. And in all of this, the abundance of God’s divine life is something they can fully experience.
We are given the grace of another day, too, my friends. Each day, actually. Each day we are alive is a gift from God. Every breath we take is a gift from God. Just by virtue of the fact that we woke up this morning, came to this sacred and beautiful place, and have energy and joy and strength to worship is a testament to the Spirit of God that fills our lungs and brings us to life. Every day we are alive is a gift from God to be used for God’s purposes and glory. Every day we are alive we have the opportunity to love as much and as frivolously as God loves us. Every day we are alive we have the opportunity to share our abundance as freely as God shares with us. Every day we are alive we have an uncountable number of moments to forgive, to show mercy, to speak the truth, and to have a positive impact on the lives of our neighbors near and far. God does not give us the grace of another day so that we can sleepily move in the time between when we wake up and when we go to sleep. God gives us each day as a new and wonderful opportunity to use our gifts and skills in partnership with God as God continues to transform the world all around us.
But to be certain, claiming each new day, taking hold of the chance we are given to do transformative work with God, will require us all to do something that does not always come naturally: we have to step out of our safe harbors. We don’t have to give them up—we don’t have to give up the things that bring us joy or comfort or peace. But cannot be locked away in them forever. If we really love Jesus—and the fact that we are here today is a pretty strong indication that we do—we have to be OK with walking away from the boat at times in order to tend Jesus’ flock. Many days we might feel as Peter and the others did when they retreated back to fishing. We like the familiar. Yet, if we want the full life God promises us, the abundance that comes with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to push ourselves to go on. That all sounds very up-in-the-clouds. It may even sound a little bit out of our reach at times. But the way we do this is quite simple: we show our love of Jesus through our actions. By showing the love of Jesus by our actions we experience the abundant life of God, and the abundant life of God calls us ashore, feeds us, and sends us back out to feed Jesus’ sheep.
Imagine for a moment what it was like for Jesus as he stood by the seashore and watched his friends fish They were his team, they were his heart, they had followed him for years as he preached and proclaimed the kingdom of God. He probably had a tear or two running down his face as he watched them. He had formed them into a community to be his body when he was gone. They were his plan to spread the word and what were they doing? They were spending their days and nights fishing. Had they not heard anything? Was it to all end here at the sea? If we count the number of disciples that John lists we get seven—seven of the original twelve were out fishing that day. Of course, Judas was gone, but four more of Jesus’ original followers had gone their separate ways. Jesus must have been a little worried.
I want you to think today of how Jesus might look on us as those who have heard the good news of his resurrection. How does Jesus see us now that he is gone and we have been sent into the world in his name? Is he proud of the work we are doing—is he proud of the way we are using the grace of another day? Would Jesus rejoice with us in our worship or would he look around and see a bunch of people just doing what they always do as they pass from one thing to the next? Would Jesus see himself in the way we interact with one another and would he see himself in the way we treat people outside these walls? Are we fulfilling the command Peter received to feed Jesus’ lambs? Of course, I think we do that quite well around here with meals and fellowship and community, but are we also feeding hungry minds and hungry hearts? If Jesus came back today and separated the sheep from the goats as he said he would do in Matthew 25, would he welcome us into God’s kingdom because we served him by serving the least among us, or would we be pushed away because we did not serve the least and therefore did not serve him?
You and I, my friends, have work to do when it comes to using each and every day as a grace and gift from God. This is a truth of our humanity and it is a truth of our faith—all of us fall short of the glory of God. But the good news of the Gospel today is that with every new day we have a new chance to take the gift and grace from God and do something amazing with it. We see that no more clearly that at this table today. At this table today, we sit and dine with the One who called us from the very beginning to be a unique and special. It is Jesus who welcomes us to this table and feeds us with his body and blood so that we have strength and courage for the journey. Jesus beckons us to come to this table not because we are strong but because he wants us to know just how much we are loved. Jesus does not invite us because we’ve done all the right things and earned a seat at the table—Jesus invites us here so that can tell us face to face that the past is the past, that yesterday is gone and today has so many possibilities. At this table, God breaks open the bread of life and pours out the cup of salvation to show a glorious future where there is a place for each one of us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as you come to this table today allow your past to be behind you. Allow your hearts and minds to be open to the today and the tomorrow that God has planned for you. Find those places where you are safe, that give you energy and rest, and stay there for a little while. But remember that you must leave those behind at times to fulfill Jesus’ commands. Remember that when you go out in Jesus’ name you are never alone—the Holy Spirit goes with you and so do the prayers and presence of Christ’s followers in all times and place. Eat at this table today, then drop the nets. Leave the boats. And follow Jesus. Amen.