Following Jesus

PFM – May 3, 2020 – Cathy Harris – John 21:1-25

Tom enjoys going fishing once in a while, and when we lived in my grandparents farm house in Greenfield, sometimes he would go fishing after dinner – he would walk over to my mother’s lake and drop a fishing line. 

One evening last summer – after he got back from fishing, I asked him how it went – if he had caught any fish.  He said nothing was biting.  As we were going to bed that night, I asked him what it was about fishing that he liked.  He said he enjoys fishing because it’s peaceful, relaxing, and a chance to be outdoors – and he likes trying to catch fish.

Now – I don’t mind putting a worm on a hook or taking a fish off a line – but I’m no serious fisherman.  I’ve never thought I had the patience for it – but I love going with Tom when he goes fishing – because I’m usually taking walks, reading a book, taking pictures, or simply enjoying being outdoors. 

The thing that stands out to me about going fishing – over the long haul – is that often times a day of fishing can end in failure. 

You can go out at the break of dawn … full of hope and expectation – you can use a good pole and a good box of flies – good equipment – & do everything right – and yet – as the sun is setting, you might not have much to show for all your efforts.  In that sense, I think fishermen have to learn to be good at failure.

It’s strange that – here, in the Gospel of John – right after the Easter story – of Jesus’ resurrection – is this story of failure – Easter is a joyous time of victory over death and sin!  And yet – here is this story of failure. 

Jesus had already appeared to the disciples – twice! – behind locked doors – twice they had encountered the living/resurrected Christ – and what did they do?  They went back to fishing!  I would have thought that they would have been out rejoicing or telling everyone what had just happened.

But here they were – out fishing.  Fishing is what is familiar to the disciples – that’s what most of them did before they began following Jesus. And, so – after Jesus died – even after they saw him twice after he was resurrected –they did the only thing they knew to do – they went fishing.  They fished all night from their boat.  But their nets were empty.

The sun was beginning to rise.  I’m sure they were tired and hungry, and they hadn’t caught a thing.  The empty nets probably reminded them of the way they were feeling inside – empty, defeated.  Jesus died and – yes, he was resurrected, but how were they supposed to move forward?

…And that empty fishing net must have reminded Peter of his failure – when Peter had promised Jesus that he would follow him no matter what – even if everyone else ran away, Peter promised to be the one to absolutely be there for Jesus.

But we know that’s not what happened.  Peter ended up denying being a follower of Jesus 3 times – and he broke down in tears at his broken resolve to be a steadfast follower of Jesus. He tried his best, but he was afraid – not only for Jesus, but for his own life. 

Here are the disciples – in their boat – having fished all night and caught nothing – and then they see a man standing on the shore – we know it’s Jesus – but they don’t know who it is – yet.

Jesus called out to them and asked if they had caught anything – “No”, they said. Then Jesus told them to throw their nets over to the other side of the boat – and immediately the net is full and overflowing with fish! 

In that moment – John realizes it is Jesus – because this very thing had happened to them before – when Jesus first called them to be disciples. 

They were excited, and began to make their way to shore – and when they got to shore, they discovered that Jesus was cooking breakfast over a charcoal fire – cooking fish and bread. 

They’ve been out fishing all night and caught nothing – until Jesus told them to cast their nets to the other side – and yet, here was Jesus cooking a meal of fish and bread – and when the food was ready, they share a meal together. 

After they’re done eating, Jesus calls Peter aside – seeks him out – to talk with him.

Peter was probably very nervous – he had promised Jesus he would be the one to stick with Jesus and not betray him, and yet – in the midst of fear, his resolve had been broken and he denied Jesus three times. 

I’m sure Peter felt guilty about disappointing Jesus – not only did he let Jesus down, he let himself down, too.  And yet – Jesus seeks Peter out.

It’s interesting – that on the night that Peter denied being a follower of Jesus 3 times – he had been standing by a charcoal fire that night that Jesus died … now, here are Peter and Jesus – standing again near another charcoal fire –


And Jesus asks 3 times – Peter do you love me?  Yes!  I do love you!

Then feed and care for my beloved sheep. 

I don’t know that Jesus ever doubted Peter’s love for him – I think he was reminding Peter that he was forgiven, and Jesus was encouraging Peter.  

Jesus recommissions Peter – calls him again as a disciple – he’s giving Peter a second chance – and a fresh challenge – to learn how to be a shepherd, to feed his lambs and sheep and to look after them. 

Standing there by that charcoal fire, Jesus called Peter again – 3 times.

Jesus called Peter to show Peter that he was still loved – no hard feelings – Jesus had not only forgiven Peter, Jesus commissioned him – giving him the assignment to feed and tend his sheep.  Despite Peter’s failure – he trusts Peter to tend his sheep and to feed them.  After Peter’s failure – Jesus puts him in charge of his flock!

Peter, the failure – Peter, the one who was charged with tending the sheep, and Peter would prove to be completely steadfast and true to Jesus.

Easter concludes with Jesus calling us – inviting us to “FOLLOW ME!”


This is how it works for us, too – we love Jesus, and even though we’ve let him down enough times, he wants to find that love we have for him deep inside of us – and give us a chance to express it, to heal the hurts and failures of the past, and give us new work to do.

In the days following Easter, Jesus’ death and resurrection doesn’t mean that everything will be glorious in the world and in our lives.  In fact, today’s world these past several weeks – have been difficult, scary, and not at all “hunky dory”. 

But – Easter concludes with Jesus’ call to:  Follow me! 

Jesus’ death and resurrection didn’t end or erase all failure, disappointment, frustration, discouragement, pain from our lives – and in this story of Peter – we are reminded that -even when the resurrected Christ stands before us – it’s still possible to misunderstand

It’s still easy to fall away and make mistakes.  Christ seeks us out amid the routine of our everyday lives – the risen Christ appears to us – and he not only appears to us, but he also calls to us – “Follow me” and “Feed my sheep”.

Christ’s calling to “Follow me” and to “Feed my sheep” – what God expects you to do will be different from what I’m called to do. And – to be followers of Jesus might have different meaning at different stages and ages of our lives. 

As a child – it might mean just trying to get along better with our siblings or to always tell the truth.

As an adult – it might mean that we are faced not only with questions about our attitudes and behavior, but also questions about what kind of world this should be and how Christians ought to make a difference in it for Christ.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  It is expressed in the changed and changing lives of those who encounter Jesus personally and who are sent by Him as His partners in the world in his saving, healing, and redeeming work.

That’s what happened with early Friends – George Fox and other early Friends – had a personal encounter with Jesus – which changed and transformed them – and then they lived out of that transformation and that encounter with Jesus – as Jesus sent them out into the world as partners with Jesus to meet the needs of the world.

The Methodist pastor, Will Willimon says that, “The Good News is that – Jesus won’t leave us as we are – he comes to us and calls us, FOLLOW ME.  I hope in your times of failure – in my times of failure, when believing in Jesus is difficult for you/me, when we aren’t the follower of Jesus we intend to be – I hope you remember this post-Easter story – of how Peter is forgiven – how Jesus calls Peter again to serve him and follow him – — of how Jesus speaks to you, reassures you, and calls you to “Follow me” – and take heart.  Our failure does not negate our calling.  In our ordinary lives, Jesus is still calling us, forgiving us, encouraging us – “Follow me”.”


John 21  (NIV)

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.[a] It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus[b]), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.[c] 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

2 thoughts on “Following Jesus

  1. Bill Heald says:

    Thank you so much for your messages in this strange time. And to Cathy and Lloyd both: Thank you so very much for that beautiful song.
    Bill Heald

  2. Lynne Jackson says:

    Cathy, I have appreciated all of your messages through the pandemic, and continue to look forward to God’s Word as you share it with me each week. It’s great to hear a Quaker pastor from “back home again in Indiana”. I am the younger daughter of Myrtle Jackson (Spiceland Friends) and the lifetime friend of Betsy Miller Haines who lived next door to your mother & Everett on the Range Line Road.

    May God cover you with love, Jesus dwell in your heart, and the Holy Spirit surround you with protection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>