Learning to Follow by Rev. Leah D. Rosso

John 21:1-19

A little league baseball coach recently said something that really stuck with me. He was getting his pitchers ready for the season, trying out some new kids who were interested but hadn’t pitched much before. And he said, “the mark of a good pitcher is to have a poor memory. You have to be able to forget the bad pitches and instead focus on the next pitch— making it a good one. If you have too good of a memory, you’ll be a horrible pitcher.”

As it turns out, there’s some research to back him up on this. An article out of the University of Illinois was recently published stating that forgetting things is actually good for our memory. In order to remember some things well, our brains have to let go of other things. In pitching, I suppose you have to choose to remember how you want to pitch instead of how you just pitched that last ball. In the article they gave the example of a list of things too numerous to remember them all. By focusing on remembering what you can from the list, say half of the items, you have to forget the other half— your brain makes room by forgetting half of the list so that it can remember the other half.

I think the same is true in discipleship— in being able to follow Jesus.

Our story this morning is one more story of resurrection. We’ve seen the resurrected Jesus appear to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. We saw Jesus last week when he appeared to the 12 disciples as they huddled in a locked room and he proclaims peace to them. And then this week, we get this quirky, fun story about the disciples going fishing and Jesus showing up on shore to make them breakfast.

What an odd story this is! The disciples aren’t sure what to do with themselves because they’re trying to figure out what is going on in their lives. First their teacher, friend, and Messiah Jesus died, which was completely unexpected, and then he started appearing to some of them, which is even more unexpected, so they’re trying to figure out what to do with all of this. And in this time of confusion, stress, and grief, Peter gets sick of being holed up in a locked room and decides to get some fresh air. He decides to go fishing.

This makes perfect sense to me. I don't know what you do to relieve stress in your life, but I think it makes a lot of sense that they go back to something they know they can be successful at; they go back to something that still allows them to be alone with their thoughts; they go back to what makes sense. It’s concrete; it’s simple; and it’s easy to feel that you’ve accomplished something when everything else is in chaos. Except that fishing, as many of you know, is not always a sure thing. And, in fact, this is one of those nights. One of those nights where they really need something to go right— they just want to catch some fish— and they don’t. Not one. Nothing. They fish all night long and they catch nothing. And then, as the sun is breaking over the horizon and they are sitting there dully watching the water and ready to go crawl into their beds, a stranger on shore tells them to try putting their net down on the other side.

Hah. What kind of a smart aleck who has just showed up tells fishermen how to do their job? But for some reason, they listen. Whether out of desperation or frustration or just to prove they’re right and they won’t catch a thing, they put their nets on the other side of the boat— and fish begin streaming in. It happens so fast that their nets are about to break— they can’t haul the fish in quickly enough!

And that’s when Peter knows.
When was the last time they saw nothing turn into something?
When was the last time they saw one fish turn into a multitude?
When was the last time they were looking despair in the face and found love instead?

“It’s the Lord!” the beloved disciple proclaims to Peter. And Peter instantly recognizes in this great abundance, that of course it’s Jesus standing on the shore. And he jumps into the water and swims to see him.

There are so many things that Peter has to forget in order to remember Jesus’ love. He has to forget the fear that made him cut off a soldier’s ear when they came for Jesus; he has to let go of the shame he felt when he realized he had denied knowing Jesus at a time when Jesus needed him most; he has to forget what he knows about death— that it’s final and that no one ever gets to come back. There are so many things that Peter has to forget in order to see that it is Jesus who is on shore, building a fire for them to come warm up by after a long night of catching no fish.

And instead Peter chooses to remember how Jesus called to them that first day to follow.
Peter chooses to remember that time and time again when he got it wrong, Jesus offered him words of grace and love.
Peter chooses to remember that he can trust this Jesus.
Peter chooses to remember that Jesus didn’t just tell them to love their enemies, Jesus embodied what it looked like.
And Peter chooses to remember and trust that Jesus will do the same for him.

What would it mean for each one of us to trust— beyond anything else we’ve been taught— that God loves us, forgives us before we ever ask, and welcomes us back time and time and time again?

I love that Jesus never asks the disciples to be what they aren’t. He doesn’t tell them to go out like a businessman and learn what the perfect way to market the Gospel is. He doesn’t tell them to teach Scripture to others with great lesson plans. He doesn’t even tell them to set up hospitals or abuse shelters. Why? Because they are fisherman. He tells them to share the gospel using the gifts they have— using the skills they are good at. Jesus invites them to be themselves in order to share the love of God.

And Jesus invites us to do the same. Maybe for you it is to teach; or to effectively communicate; or to build something that will care for people. Maybe for you it is to make a meal for a neighbor; or lead a holy conversation; or to sing your faith to the world. Jesus asks us to use the gifts that we have— not anyone else’s— and to feed God’s sheep— to serve God by serving those around us.

And just in case Peter had forgotten that part, Jesus asks him three times. Peter, do you love me? And each time Peter says he does and Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.”

It’s that simple.
Remember abundance. Remember forgiveness. Remember resurrection. Remember life. Remember who you are. Remember you are loved.

And when you’ve remembered all of that, you will have forgotten all of the things that are holding you back— the shame, the hatred, the fear, the shoulds of who you think you should be; and instead you will hear Jesus calling you to follow. Follow with all of who you are. Love God. That is enough.

Resources Consulted:

Huffington Post article by Amanda Chan on memory (backed up by the article by Ben Storm in Current Directions in Psychological Science.)

We Make the Road by Walking by Brian McClaren

Working Preacher blog by David Lose

Sermon Brainwave podcast out of Luther Seminary