"A New Body: Abundance"

Enrique Guzmán Egas on Unsplash

 The First United Presbyterian Church of Loveland

“A New Body:”

Rev. Amy Morgan

April 25, 2021

John 21:1-17

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.

 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.

 3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

 5 Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No."

 6 He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.

 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

 9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.

 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught."

 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

 12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord.

 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."

 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep."

 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.

I wanted my body back. That was my refrain toward the end of my pregnancy, when it every part of me felt alien. I was thrilled to be able to participate in the creation of new life, I was excited to meet my son, but I really wanted my body back. I was tired of sharing it. 

But when I left the hospital with Dean, I quickly realized there was no going back. Holding my newborn infant in my arms, I was filled with joy, but also a tremendous sense of uncertainty. That feeling of alienation from myself applied not only to my body but expanded to my entire identity. Jason and I had read books and articles and made decisions and plans all through my pregnancy about our son’s birth. But we’d neglected to look beyond that moment. Until Dean was safely delivered into the world, we couldn’t start putting together the pieces of what parenting him would actually look like. It wasn’t real to us until he was there with us, until we could see his face and hear his voice.

I couldn’t go back to life as I’d known it before. But that didn’t keep me from trying. In the days and weeks immediately following Dean’s birth, I tried to finish writing my final papers for seminary, to meet up with friends for coffee, to prepare for my last semester of classes, fill out forms for the ordination process, and set up meetings and interviews for potential ministry positions. 

It didn’t take long for me to become completely drained of energy and sapped of life. My papers were all turned in late, and I felt that they were far from adequate. Get-togethers with friends were either focused entirely on my adorable child or made awkward by the distance between my previous passions and new responsibilities. I couldn’t get excited about my upcoming classes and decided to take them all pass/fail out of a fear that I would not be able to tolerate the sub-par grades I was sure to get because of my new life situation. I struggled mightily to sort out what my new identity as a mother meant as I tried to imagine identifying as a pastor, and in the process, I sabotaged many an interview and chose not to apply for promising positions. 

When life’s circumstances are fundamentally altered, even in wonderfully positive ways, the disorientation can alienate us from our former selves and leave us longing to go back to what was. 

This is the state in which Jesus’ disciples find themselves after his first two resurrection appearances. They are overjoyed that their friend and teacher, who was dead, now appeared to be alive. It was a joy they could not have imagined. But it was also a future they had not contemplated or comprehended, even though Jesus had done his level best to prepare them for it. They had no roadmap for following a resurrected messiah. They didn’t know how to witness to what they had seen and experienced. They didn’t really understand it fully themselves. 

Now that Jesus was alive, there was no going back to life as they’d once known it. But that didn’t keep them from trying. Peter takes the lead in organizing a fishing expedition for several of the disciples, returning to the place Jesus had first encountered them, years ago, on the Sea of Tiberius in Galilee. 

It doesn’t take long for the disciples to become completely drained of energy and sapped of life. After a long night of casting heavy nets and dragging them up empty, their bodies are worn out and their souls are as empty as their nets. By daybreak, their attempt to return to some semblance of what used to be “normal” is a lost cause. But they still can’t imagine what a new normal might look like. So they drift aimlessly at sea. 

This is the state in which many of us find ourselves today, for one reason or another. The pandemic has upended all our lives in a variety of ways. Some of us have been disconnected from our former realities by health crises or job losses. The political shifts and social activism of the last year have altered our consciousness and conversations around race, policy, history, and national identity. Even those who have experienced welcome and joyful changes – the birth of grandchildren, kids transitioning to college, new jobs, new homes, successful health treatments and procedures, spiritual enlightenment – even in these positive changes there is disorientation. 

And so many of us long to go back to the way things were. Before the pandemic. Before we had to recognize our complicity in racial injustice and the overwhelming prevalence of it. Before we had to figure out how to re-emerge into society after a year of isolation and fear. Before our bodies betrayed us. Before we realized how precious and precarious life is. 

We want our bodies back. We’re tired of being stretched and weighed down. We’re exhausted by the burdens we’ve been carrying. And even as we give birth to something new and potentially wonderful, we are struggling with how to live into our new body, struggling with new responsibilities and ways of doing things, struggling to imagine what this new life in this new normal will look like. 

Many of us have tried to go back to the way things were, in some measure. Get together with friends and family. Maybe venture out to a restaurant or grocery store. Go to church, plan a trip. 

And doing these things is exhausting. Our social interactions are fraught with a sense of danger or awkwardness. Our conversations are weighted down with the baggage of fear and division. Our bodies don’t respond the way they used to and we are worn out by the slightest activity. Our relationships have frayed and it is such hard work to knit our social nets back together. Without a roadmap out of this pandemic, without tools to navigate our social divisions, without a clear understanding of our new body, we are drifting aimlessly at sea, exhausted and confused. 

Not long into my post-partum aimlessness, food miraculously appeared. Hours after we arrived home from the hospital, we heard a knock on our door. A neighbor stood there with a warm, delicious dinner. They set the table for us and left, but not before informing us that we would be receiving dinner every other day for the next six weeks. Nearly two dozen people brought meals, some of them were barely acquaintances. As I was casting about for my new identity, trying to make peace with my new body, Jesus was revealed to me in the form of abundant nourishment from the community of faith, the body of Jesus in the world. 

When Jesus appears on the shoreline, the disciples at first do not recognize him. But he sees their need, their deficit, and he names it. “You have no fish.” Fish meant more to those disciples than food. The story doesn’t say they were hungry or they needed money. They needed the normalcy of fishing. They needed their old identity as fishermen. But they had no fish. 

So Jesus instructs them to try a different way. He doesn’t tell them to give up, to leave their nets and follow him, as he called them to in the past. He just tells them expand their horizons a bit. 

And when they follow his advice, the abundance of their catch is miraculous. And that is when one of the disciples recognizes Jesus. Not because the light changes and he can see his face clearly. Jesus is revealed to the disciples in the experience of miraculous abundance. 

This is how the new, resurrected body of Jesus is made manifest in the world: through abundance. Jesus shows up in our aimless, confused, drifting lives and we can recognize him in abundance. 

We have come through a year of unprecedented scarcity. Scarcity of cleaning products and toilet paper. Scarcity of social support and connection. Scarcity of jobs and customers. Scarcity of hospital beds and vaccines. Scarcity of justice and peace. Scarcity of certainty and hope. 

And if we keep casting our nets in the same direction we always have, we will keep coming up empty. Jesus is on the shoreline, and abundance is waiting, if only we will listen to him follow his invitation to try something new, to move in a different direction. Maybe that means changing our thought patterns or the way we talk with each other. Maybe it means learning to socialize in different ways. Maybe it means reaching out to people we never would have thought to connect with. Maybe it means thinking differently about everything: health and relationships and justice and history and the future. Maybe it means constructing a whole new identity, living into a new body. 

When I started my last semester of classes a few weeks after Dean was born, I moved differently in the world. I pushed a stroller and carried a diaper bag everywhere. I stood at the side of lecture halls bouncing with an infant instead of sitting in a desk taking notes. I slipped into empty classrooms to feed. 

But everywhere I went, abundance flowed. Love poured out from everyone I passed – for my child and for me. Offers to hold him and give me a break, to care for him while I studied, to care for me, were abundant. Helpful advice was abundant. Joy was abundant. Encouragement and affirmation were abundant. 

We can’t go back to what we were before. In fact, our new body may be unrecognizable in some ways. But Christ will be revealed to us through abundance. We can see it unfolding around us already. In an abundance of caution giving way to an abundance of courage. An abundance of generosity is evident everywhere. An abundance of hope is emerging. 

We are a new body of abundance. And that abundance is meant to be shared. In Jesus’ final encounter with Peter in the gospel of John, he commands him, out of love, to feed and tend his sheep. The abundance of love we have received, the abundance of love we feel, leads to an abundance for everyone. 

And we are already beginning to see that abundance emerge, too. We have an abundance of space that we are beginning to share with the community. Scouting troops have begun meeting in our building. A song circle will start gathering here soon. In the coming months, we hope to open up once again to Night on the Town activities and more concerts and community groups.  We have an abundance of generosity that has fully funded our sound equipment campaign. We have an abundance of creativity and artistic gifts that bless our worship and community. We have an abundance of friendship and love. An abundance of faithful commitment. 

And with that abundance, we will continue to follow Jesus’ command to Peter: feed my lambs, tend my sheep. Our new body will not be afraid to give what is needed wherever it is needed, because God has shown us abundance and empowered us to provide abundance. 

To God be all glory forever and ever. Amen.


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