April 15, 2018

Easter 3   April 15, 2018   Psalm 8, 1 John 3:1-3, Luke 5:1-11, John 21:1-14

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As a fisherman I find it rather amazing – that Jesus, Savior of the world, who knows all about us – nonetheless chooses fishermen, of all people – as his first apostles. How weird is that? The first disciples Jesus calls in our reading from St Luke are all fishermen – people notoriously stereotyped as habitual exaggerators, even outright liars.

Yet now here again at the end of St John’s gospel, here’s Jesus – who we might think would have reconsidered choosing fisher-folk, after fisherman-apostle Simon Peter famously denies he even knows Jesus three times in one night.

But here again is Jesus – not sending his fishermen back to the minor leagues, nor trading them to Cleveland for players to be named later – but instead putting together almost a re-run of his first calling of his first disciples. Again – how weird is that?

St John’s gospel includes only a very little of the content of the other three gospels. And John’s gospel tells the Jesus story in a very different sequence, with some very different emphases.

Yet John shares some stories, characters and situations with St Luke in ways that suggest these two gospel writers felt a close gospel kinship, in spite of their different styles of communicating. I’d guess they probably shared drafts of their gospels with each other as they wrote. Since, as any fisherman would notice–

All four gospels feature fishermen disciples – but only Luke and John describe the fishermen actually catching fish. And John’s concluding fishermen-fishing story sounds an awful lot like a sequel to Luke’s earlier fishermen-fishing story. Noticing again, how –

In both Luke and John disciples have been fishing all night without catching. In both cases Jesus tells them try again. In Luke they’ve quit for the day and are cleaning their nets, when Jesus asks Simon Peter to let him use his boat as a preaching platform. Call it a generous tip, call it paying-it-forward, call it whatever, but – when he’s done preaching Jesus tells Peter – “put out into deep water, let down your nets again.” Now Peter and his partners James and John are into a net-busting catch of fish.

In John’s gospel the fishermen, Simon Peter again in the lead, James and John sons of Zebedee again – with last week’s disbelieving Thomas, and Nathanael of Cana who we haven’t seen since chapter one – and two others, un-named – plug-in your name and mine – seven together in the boat – John’s favorite number – seven fishermen together in the boat – likely ready to quit as day’s breaking after a long-fishless-night-on-the-water – when Jesus calls out from shore – “Cast your net to the other side of the boat.”

Now in Luke and John alike, huge numbers of fish come flooding into the net when fishermen do what Jesus says. Notice in John’s account, doing what Jesus says works, even when we don’t know yet it’s Jesus we’re listening to. We could say again “how weird is that?” Or – figure there’s authority in the sound of his voice that makes fish and fishermen obey.

In each case, when fishermen do as they’re told their nets are filled to overflowing. In Luke nets are starting to tear under the weight of all the fish. Perhaps a signal to disciples – their old lives are going to be stretched beyond  present capacity… In John’s narrative we’re told even though nets are overflowing with fish they don’t tear. Perhaps signifying that now with the resurrection our gospel nets will be able to catch more and withstand more… In each case, the details probably carry symbolic weight…

Since fishing in the gospels has all sorts of parable overtones. And gospel fishing isn’t primarily really even about fish. As Jesus says – it’s about fishing for people. And of course I’ve stretched fish stories and fishing metaphors so often it’s a wonder I don’t see more of you rolling your eyes… And yet – none of this was really my idea.

Fishing is the metaphor Jesus himself chooses – long before I came along… And if we take our Thought for the Week from Genesis chapter one seriously – having dominion over the fish is part of God’s original plan and part of our spiritual DNA. As people made in the image and likeness of God – our first developmental task is to have dominion over the fish. (One of the few commandments I’ve been diligent about keeping.) So let’s examine again the gospel of fishing… especially for folks…

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And at the risk of seeming ridiculous – doesn’t Jesus seem a bit like a mother here – calling her children – “come home – come home – have breakfast.” Doesn’t Jesus sound a little like a spouse, arranging to meet up with his or her beloved partner in the place they first met – implying without having to say a word – don’t you remember when we first met? Isn’t it special being here? Don’t you remember?

And doesn’t the reaction of disciples, slowly recognizing Jesus here…  remind us of friends who haven’t seen each other for a long time… Reuniting –  joyful, yet with all kinds of doubts and questions, unspoken – ‘Is this really you? –  is this really me? – are we dreaming? – or is this really happening?’ Don’t these disciples almost seem to be sleep-walking on their way to breakfast on the beach with Jesus? As they celebrate the ancient Methodist sacrament of a potluck meal.

Remembering – Jesus has already cooked fish and bread. There’s probably plenty already for everyone. But Jesus says “bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” The sacrament isn’t complete till we bring ourselves and our offering to the table… Even if it’s just showing up – we do need to get ourselves together for a meal.

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And in the tradition of potluck gospel sharing – just this past Friday night I was blessed to be a guest at one of several dinner parties arranged and hosted by church members (of our Bourne church). The objective was getting to know each other. The ground rule no talking about politics or religion. (No politics I  understand and appreciate. No religion I’m not so sure I understand – considering we’re in community together because we share in our religion of following Jesus). But – to keep our focus on getting to know each other better – we probably do need guidelines and ground rules. And so we played a game in which we each took a turn telling four things about ourselves nobody else was likely to know  – with the catch – one of the things we say about our self should not be true. After someone tells four things about themself, others take turns guessing – what’s the one thing said that isn’t true. Which was fun. And a nice way of getting to know each other better.

One true thing I told about myself was that a fishing trip with me was once auctioned off by a non-profit organization. What I didn’t say – and what everyone was too polite to ask – was that my friend Danny who won the auction didn’t have to spend much…. And even though fishermen are supposedly good liars, my mandatory fib was quickly detected…

What was especially wonderful about the evening – was all the true stories that were shared. And of course I was particularly intrigued by true-life fishing stories told by others. One of our members was once actually Miss Rhode Island Fisher-person. Ocean State Fisher of the year, state-wide. True-story.

Another member of our church family – true story again – once towed a whale by the tail… out from where it washed ashore by the Coast Guard Station at the Canal. That same whale took a dive and nearly took our guy and a boat load of Coast Guarders to the bottom of the canal. Think Moby Dick, The Sequel. But Tom Duce, our street- smarter-boat-wiser-than-Captain-Ahab-guy was ahead of the curve, doing creative catch-and-release whale fishing – cutting the tow rope before the boat sank. And the whale turned and swam out into the Bay spouting – Happy ending! Scaring just a few fishermen. Making it clear…

My fish stories pale next to some of yours. And I bet many of you can likewise top my fishing-for-people stories…

Like gospel fishermen of old, I too have plenty of stories of fishing for a long time without catching… Before finally experiencing… someone on the line for Jesus….

As a new Christian in my early twenties I remember once watching a Billy Graham event on tv. My youngest brother, eleven or twelve at the time, came in the room while the altar call was happening. I said “you could do that” – trust Jesus to be your Savior. He said, “alright.” Beginners’ good fortune…

I’ve prayed with many people since over the years, seldom with such quick results. Always trying to invite people to believe in Jesus, put their trust in Jesus. Sometimes hearing what sounds like “yes.”  Sometimes hearing nothing. I’ve spoken and prayed with people in all sorts of life situations…Trying, always, to be speaking about letting Jesus be center of your life. Seldom if ever really knowing what’s going on in the other persons’s heart – whether they say “yes” to God… or say nothing…Perhaps still thinking about it.

And I remember hearing that Billy Graham said much the same – saying only God ever really knows what any other person is actually saying and meaning in their hearts. Our part is to do all we can to connect people with Jesus. Not to know ultimate outcomes. And of course…the Word of God who became flesh and lived among us is always about more than words… And making Jesus known always depends on more than just saying the right words…

And the truth is… I’m not all that great of a fisherman… But I usually do catch fish… Because I keep showing up on the water, rod-in-hand – keeping my line and hook in the water… Fishing to the left side, right side, any direction there is… Keeping my line in the water long enough so any fish even a little hungry sooner or later’s likely to take a bite.

And of course I talk with other fishermen, comparing notes, learning from others… Of course I read books and blogs and try to keep learning more about interspecies dialogue with hook, line, and fly rod… I’m still no great fisherman… but I catch fish… and keep learning… And…likewise…

I’m not a great pastor, preacher or teacher… But I keep showing up – casting the line – preaching and teaching the Word… Praying… Studying… Talking with other believers across the spectrum…. Reading the Book. Reading blogs. Trying to read and understand the cultures around us… Begging, borrowing, adapting ideas and insights from anywhere that might work.

And in accordance with the best traditions of gospel potluck – it’s always good to pause and ask – do we, any of us, have a fishing-for-people-story to share today? A story of learning by doing… Or learning with others? If so, please share…

(If not – please keep thinking and praying about how we communicate the gospel – and come back with stories to share…  I will ask again…)

Now it’s time to say – Thanks be to God. Amen. Let’s sing.