Sunday, April 18, 2021
Scripture: Luke 24:36-48 & Acts 3:12-19
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon

I believe that I am genetically required to live near water. Growing up, I always knew where north was because I just had to find Lake Erie. Summer holidays were spent on Findlay Lake, a small inland lake in southwestern New York. My first call landed me on an island. My second put me at a church that overlooked Island Lake. Now, I always know which direction west is because I have found myself on another lake.

You would think that I’d be a fisherman with all this water exposure. But you’d be wrong.

Sure, I’ve caught my share of panfish in Findlay Lake, but after a few minutes of landing those four-inch-long fish, I’d be bored and ready for whatever was next. The thought of sitting quietly in a boat for hours with my line in the water would have me wondering how quickly I could swim to shore for the boat. Fishing is just not my thing, but there are people in my life who make me wish it was my thing.

John Heritage is one of those people. Since I don’t have any fish stories of my own – I mean, you can only make a bluegill so big before people realize you’re embellishing! – I asked John if he had any. Within the hour, I had his story in hand, which I’ll share with you now.

John writes, “My Dad took me fishing on Fontana Lake in North Carolina for Largemouth bass. Just the two of us on the boat at the end of the day. Sun was setting behind the trees and we we’re making our final casts of the day when Wham! I hooked up on a BIG fish. It thrashed around on the surface and ran around the cove. Water was flying and I was excited! My heart was pounding. At that age it was the biggest fish I had ever connected with. After about a minute and a half the line just snapped. I slumped over. I was so disappointed. ‘I just wanted to hold it and see how big it was,’ I told my Dad.

“Sympathetically he remarked, ‘I understand, son.’ Then he told me something that has stuck with me and I thought about it last week. He said, ‘You know, sometimes the ones that get away end up being far more valuable than the ones you do get to hold. This will inspire you to come back here again and again.’ And it has…”

John’s story has all the elements of a good fish story. It has large fish that probably would have grown even larger in his telling had he landed it. There’s someone else in it who can bear witness to the almost-caught fish. Plus, there is a life lesson in it. It’s the kind of story that could turn me into a fisherman yet.

Perhaps as a biblical interpreter, I should get into fishing since it’s such a common activity for Jesus and his disciples. Luke likes his fishing stories. In Luke 5, which is Jesus first act after announcing his public ministry, Jesus goes to the Sea of Galilee, gets into Peter’s fishing boat, and starts teaching the crowds. Peter and his partners have had a terrible day of fishing. No matter what they tried, they couldn’t haul in anything. Still, Jesus finishes teaching and tells them to go back out and cast their nets. Peter is dubious about this but goes along with it. Wouldn’t you know it? So many fish fill his nets that he needs help from others to haul in the catch. This would have been quite a fish story to share in the marina, except Jesus calls Peter, James, and John to follow him as disciples, so they never have the chance to wow others with their tale.

Fast forward to our text, years later, and this remarkable teacher has died on a cross and his body went missing. Some women who were among the disciples reported strange happenings at the tomb, but Peter, James, and John had no such encounter.

In the time following the crucifixion, I wonder what stories the disciples shared among themselves. Perhaps some of them were fish stories. “Hey, Peter,” John would say. “Do you remember that day when we first met Jesus and he took us fishing? I’ve never seen so many fish before! I really miss being around him. I would give anything to have just one more fish dinner with him.”

At the close of Luke’s gospel, Jesus starts showing up again in a new but very physical and real way. He first appears to two of them on a walk between Jerusalem and Emmaus. Once they realized Jesus was alive they ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the others. Suddenly, Jesus appears among them. “Peace be with you,” he says.

They stare at him, jaws on the floor.

They think he’s a ghost. That is, they see him, but they don’t believe it can be him. After all, the dead typically do stay dead, don’t they?

The text is filled with so many questioning words. “Why are you frightened?” Jesus says. “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Seeing their struggle, Jesus gets flesh-and-blood real. “Touch me and see. I am flesh and bone. Look at my scars.” So, they move to this mixture of disbelief and hope – a move in the right direction. Jesus takes it one step further. “Do you have anything to eat?” Being fishermen, of course they have fish.

Ghosts don’t eat, but Jesus does. Ghosts aren’t alive, but Jesus is.

Luke tells good fish stories. Remember those three elements of a fish story? They’re hard to believe. They make witnesses of those who were there. They have a lesson connected to them. We see those elements in our texts today. First, they’re borderline unbelievable. Just imagine you were to go downtown this week and ask random people what they believe about resurrection. You’ll get all sorts of wild answers because resurrection is hard to understand in our present reality of birth-life-death. We see Jesus’ own followers struggle with his bodily presence among them after his crucifixion.

What I love about the pairing of our Luke and Acts texts is how it doesn’t take that long for the disciples to move from perplexity to powerful faith. Luke and Acts share an author, and this author writes that only days removed from encountering the resurrected Christ, the disciples are ministering and speaking in power. Like their first encounter with Jesus in their own boats, the encounter with Jesus has moved them powerfully to new life.

Second, they are not a passive audience to this. In both texts Luke calls them “witnesses.” That is, they have seen and heard and touched the power of God in resurrecting Jesus from the dead. They are charged with sharing that encounter, even if others find it strange or unbelievable. So too, all of us who continue to encounter Jesus through the church are witnesses today. Just like we might share the story of that amazing fish we caught, so too we get to speak the truth of our experience of the power of God among us.

But, finally, there is always a lesson involved. Like the disciples, we move from fear to faith. And we see, just as Luke is trying to tell us that “The resurrection isn’t just a surprise happy ending for one person; it is instead the turning point for everything else.”[1] It’s why both texts take pains to connect this unbelievable resurrection to the Scriptures. It’s the moment that makes everything else fall into line. It’s the pivot point of all history. It is the lens that brings everything into focus.

Some may think that this is just a fish story, but I think it’s more.

I believe it.

I’ve seen it.

It makes sense of everything.

Fish stories are really about something greater, and this is the greatest of them all.

By the way, trout season starts on April 24. So, let’s get fishing, folks.

[1] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 236.