This Business of Going Fishing

Revelation 5: 11-14      Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

John 21: 11-19              April 10, 2016

 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.

Prayer:  Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto you, O Christ, forever and ever!  Amen.

A recent ad on TV for an allergy relief medicine boasts that it addresses 6 symptoms instead of just one… and then comes the tag line: “This changes everything!”  and, I’m like, “Wow!  This changes everything?”  Really?

 The only thing that I know of that really “changes everything” is the Easter message…. the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  What Jesus’ resurrection means for the whole human race is that he has forever changed humanity’s relationship to God.  He has set our relationship with God in a way that is forever redeemed, forever renewable, forever able to have the Holy Spirit that lived in him regenerated in us.

Jesus’ resurrection to new life means that we are no longer held in the grip of the oppressing thought that once our bodies die, that’s it for us.  We are no longer held hostage to the cruel idea that God will forsake us because our free will choices cause us not to measure up.

Our ability to make a mess of our lives, our ability to wander away from God, these are no longer the basis of human life; the basis of human life is we are a redeemed people. That means that God’s love and grace keep coming to us because God treats us as redeemed!  That’s the truth at the very basis of our lives—and no other truth.

 So, now every human being can get through into the presence of God both today and in the day when our bodies die because of what happened to Jesus on Easter.  And, that changed everything.

Is it any wonder that all of heaven’s angels and living creatures are singing in full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!”  Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto you, O Christ, forever and ever!  Amen!” Everything changed.

It changed for the disciples, too. The interesting thing to me is that while everything had changed for the disciples when they saw Christ alive in Jerusalem, the meaning of that moment was only beginning to dawn on them.  Yes, they were amazed that Jesus’ body was gone, even more amazed that Jesus showed up behind closed doors that evening and a week later.   But now, at least a couple of weeks after that, they find themselves at the Sea of Galilee, about 80 miles north of Jerusalem, (guess how long it takes to walk 80 miles) wondering what to do next.  Jesus said he would see them in Galilee… well…  They were there at the Sea.  Where was Jesus?

Often when waiting for someone or something to happen, don't we likely can get impatient and give up?  The next thing we might likely do is something very familiar.  Something we know and is within our comfort zone.

Peter, always the impatient one, pipes up and says, “You know what?  I’m going fishing.”  “Good idea,” the others say.  “We’ll go with you.”  And, with that, they went back to what they knew… back to the family business of catching and selling fish to the local fish distributor.  Back to their livelihood in the days before they met Jesus.  Back to what was familiar.

But, remember—everything’s changed.  So, even what was familiar (fishing) didn’t work right—their nets were empty that night and on into the morning.  But, at daybreak, some guy standing on the beach with his back to the morning sun, called out to them, “Hey guys… any luck?”  No.  “Well, try the right side.  Toss your net over; you’ll find some fish.”  They did, and wow!  Fish everywhere!  Their net was so full of fish it was too heavy to pull on board the boat!

This had to be a sort of divine déjà vu—the last time Jesus told them to let down their nets, they caught so many fish that the net was beginning to break!  And, echoes of that miraculous moment was not lost on them because immediately the disciples recognized that it was the Risen Jesus on the shore calling to them!

Once on shore, they saw he had a fire going; he had some fish and bread ready for them, and with some of the fish they caught, he invited them to eat breakfast.

The next part of the story is important, too.  Let me read for you the next five verses from John’s gospel:  

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Peter 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.  18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished.  But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”  19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)  After this Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me. (John 21: 15-19, NRSV).

Quite a few biblical scholars suggest that this was Jesus’ way of forgiving and restoring Peter three times for his three-time denial right at crucifixion time, which is a good way to   interpret the passage.  This business of going fishing is sharing the God’s Good News that we can be restored, empowered, commissioned to express that God views us as redeemed people!  We are a forgiven people!

 A man by the name of Bob Ebeling was one of the engineers on the 1986  space shuttle Challenger which exploded minutes after liftoff.  He has carried a load of guilt ever since, even though he and other engineers discouraged the launch, saying that the weather was too cold.  After his story was shared on NPR on January 28th, the 30th anniversary of the catastrophe, he received an outpouring of letters and emails of support.  His burden didn’t ease, however, until he heard from a NASA official, George Hardy who absolved him of guilt, and from NASA itself when Acting Press Secretary, Stephanie Schierholz made a press statement recognizing Mr. Ebeling who had the courage to speak up concerning the safety of the astronauts.  Mr. Ebeling is now 89 years old (http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/25/466555217/your-letters-helped-challenger-shuttle-engineer-shed-30-years-of-guilt, retrieved April 8, 2016). He just experienced God’s good news that he is forgiven.

 For our purposes today, I wonder if it could be also said that Jesus’ dialogue with Peter brings full circle the original call upon Peter’s life.  Remember when Jesus told them to let down their nets and they caught so many fish that the net was beginning to break?  Right after that Jesus told them that they would be catching people from now on. (Luke 5: 10c).

You see, a meal prepared by Jesus leads to feeding others.  Loving Jesus leads to loving God’s sheep.  This business of going fishing moves the disciples from economic livelihood to other’s spiritual livelihood.  It moved them from individual faith to sharing God’s good news with a starving world.

We hear the Easter message about the resurrected Jesus, and it changes everything in our lives.  We still live our lives, but we move from a focus on the self to tending to others. We do this in our personal lives, our marriages, in our work settings, in our church, in our community, wherever.

 A young man working at a drive-through in Portland, Oregon noticed, as he handed a woman’s order out the window that she was really upset.  When he asked what the matter was, she told him that she had just lost her husband the night before.  The kid at the window—he was 19—asked if he could pray with her.  And two of his co-workers saw what was happening and came over to join them.  In a picture, captured by the driver of the next car back in line—these three young men are bunched together, leaning out one small window together at the drive through, and clasping the hand of this grief-stricken woman; all their heads bowed together in prayer.  One of the men later told an interviewer that he doesn’t consider himself to be religious in anyway.  “But in that moment,” he said, “if that lady had told me she’d wanted an apple?  I would have gone to plant a tree” (http://www.oregonlive.com/faith/2016/03/dutch_bros_prayer.html, retrieved April 8, 2016).

So friends, this business of going fishing is our call to share the Good News of Christ.  We can move from woundedness to health and wholeness.  From a self-focus to a focus on others.  From exclusiveness to inclusiveness.  From guilt and fear to empowerment and strength.

Why?  Because in Christ, everything has changed!  Thanks be to God!  Amen!