Summer Days: Gone Fishin’
This summer, we’ve been playing around with some of the fun summer themes we can draw from the scriptures: Eutychus and sleep, a picnic and the feeding of the 5000, (and a potluck of our own, of course,) a road trip with the Good Samaritan. Today, we’re going fishing with Jesus and the disciples. But I hope in the midst of these summer days, you’re thinking about our dreams at Apple Valley, God’s dreams for Apple Valley. I hope you notice that it’s been in the bulletin each week – a reminder of the dreams will be thinking about in more focus in the year ahead – an Apple Valley that is fruitful, and prayerful, and invitational, and missional.
This summer I’ve been working with another church in our conference helping them put together a strategic plan for their outreach ministry. We’re using a process called Asset Based Community Development – a way of planning for the future that starts by focusing on what you have, instead of on what you don’t have. It’s really easy in the life of the church to get caught up in what you don’t have. We don’t have enough money, or people, or a new enough building, or good enough facilities, or enough children, or enough volunteers, or enough activities, and so on. And pretty soon, despite our proclaiming that we have a generous God, we feel like we don’t have enough to do anything with at all, and we’re in big trouble. But in Asset Based Community Development, you start out by thinking very carefully about everything you do have – the people you have and their gifts. The space you do have. The finances you do have. The connections you have to other organizations and institutions. And pretty soon, you’ve got a huge list of things that are tools for ministry. And suddenly it begins to seem pretty silly to suggest that there is anything that, with God’s help, you can’t accomplish. It’s kind of like learning to see 5000 people and see them and the fives loaves and two fish and see such abundance, instead of panic-inducing scarcity.
What do you see, when you look at the assets we have here? Does it feel like we don’t have enough? Or like we have so much that there’re possibilities everywhere you look? When it comes to dreaming with God, I think we get from dreams to realities when we see how much we have already been given to do the work that God calls us to.
Today, as I said, we’re going fishing with Jesus. This is one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Remember, way back in the season of Easter we spent one Sunday looking at all of these appearances together – times that Jesus was present with the disciples after his resurrection, before he returned to God, in this forty-day span of time. This is one of my favorite post-resurrection scenes. There’s a small group of disciples gathered by the Sea of Tiberias, another name for the Sea of Galilee. They decide to go fishing, but they catch nothing. But then, at daybreak, Jesus stands on the beach. The group doesn’t recognize him. Why? We can’t be sure, but several of the post-resurrection stories suggest that Jesus is hard to recognize – at first. Jesus tells them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat, since they haven’t been catching fish. They don’t question him, but do as he says. And suddenly, there are so many fish that they can hardly haul them in. One of the disciples recognizes Jesus just from this – the abundance that suddenly comes where they thought they had nothing – it’s a sign that Jesus is in their midst. We read that Peter, upon realizing that it is Jesus, puts on his clothes, and jumps into the water to see him. How many of you have seen Forest Gump? I can’t help put but picture that scene in the movie where Lieutenant Dan comes to work on Forest’s shrimping boat, and Forest is so excited, so overwhelmed to have him there, that he jumps off his moving boat and into the water to get to him just that few seconds faster. That’s how Peter feels and acts when he realizes he’s in the presence of Jesus. Eventually, the rest of the disciples catch up too with the fish, and they come ashore.
They find Jesus waiting with a fire and fish and bread. He tells them to bring some of the fish they just caught. John, the gospel writer, tell us that there were 153 fish. For thousands of years, scholars have tried to figure out the significance of this number, to no avail. My personal take is that it is pretty simple – 153 is a lot of fish! Most people I know who fish know exactly how many they got. And the disciples: they got a lot of fish. John tells us that the net was not torn, despite the large haul. And Jesus invites them to have breakfast. They don’t ask “who are you?” Because they know now. It’s the Lord. It’s Jesus.
After breakfast, Jesus and Peter talk. Jesus asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And Peter answers affirmatively. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” This happens three times in a row. And with each exchange, Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs,” then, “Tend my sheep,” then, “Feed my sheep.” A few verses beyond our text for today, the gospel concludes, with John saying that the world itself could not contain the full account of all the things that Jesus said and did. He’s offered, it seems, what is most significant in his mind, what we most need to know.
I’m wondering if some things about this passage seem familiar to you, seem similar to you to other stories that we find in the gospels. I notice a lot of things in this scene that we’ve seen before. There’s Jesus and the disciples at the seaside, of course. There’s the disciples not recognizing Jesus until he does something special, so Jesus-like that they know it’s him. There’s Jesus, the carpenter, telling the group of fishermen what to do. There’s these fishermen who don’t catch any fish at first, and then catch so many it is beyond what they expected. That’s happened before around Jesus. There’s Jesus and fish and bread, again, like before. There’s Peter, having three opportunities to commit or deny his connection to Jesus – only this time he responds affirmatively, where once he denied even knowing Jesus. This whole encounter is echoes of former scenes from the gospel.
I don’t think it’s accidental, all these parallels. I think what we’re seeing is an intentional before and after. Think of all the things that are marketed with dramatic before and after pictures. This is your life without this essential product, and this is your life afterwards. What’s changed in the gospels from before to after? Jesus has been crucified and resurrected! Death has been conquered in life. And in this, in the resurrection, the disciples have the hope, the strength, the trust they need to start seeing assets instead of needs. From here on out, not without bumps and challenges, but from here on out what the disciples will do in the world is astonishing, as they go out into the world in the name of Jesus. Before and after, the results are convincing. Aren’t they?
Friends, we are already resurrection people. But sometimes I think we’re still living our faith as people in the “before” frame, instead of the “after” frame. Like we’re waiting for something that will make our dreams real possibilities. Instead, I think God is waiting on us! God is waiting for us to recognize Jesus, calling to us. Waiting for us to put our net out into different waters, if they keep coming up empty where we are. Waiting for us to sit down to breakfast. Waiting for us to say “Yes” where before we said “no.” God is waiting for us to get to the after, so that we can live into God’s dreams.
We’ve been blessed to have Laurel here today talking to us about imagining a world with no malaria. That’s no small goal. But people like Laurel and others who have been working diligently on this campaign have not let the magnitude of malaria stop them from acting, with such powerful results. Laurel is the kind of person that throws herself into whatever she’s doing with such heart, and I have admired the way she’s believed that an annual conference that often sees itself as without can do amazing things and commit themselves to a cause, a passion they didn’t even know they had until Laurel got to them! I think about this little congregation, and Liz challenging us to support our young people in going to camp – a challenge we will return to in September to tally our offerings – and beyond my wildest expectations we raised more money in a single special offering than we often do in several months at a time of mission offerings. I think about my garden, and plants that will take up as much room as I can give them. I’ve been surprised by some plants that will just get bigger and bigger and bigger if they can, bigger than I was expecting. Sure, sometimes space considerations require containers and small plots. But what does it tell us that our garden will grow into as big a space as we’re willing to give it?
Are we living as before people, or after people? Are we people with assets, or just needs and deficiencies? How much space are we willing to give to God’s dreams? We are blessed to serve at God who is a God of second chances. A God who will remind us with another feast about being the body of Christ in the world. A God who believes in trying and trying again, until we really see the difference that Jesus makes in our lives. God is dreaming for us, with us. I want you to help me not make the dreams we’ve been talking about just nice words for the bottom of our bulletin. I want us to live in the after. I want us to know, to believe, to trust, to act as people who know that this congregation can do all that God has called it to do, because our nets are full to overflowing, and our hearts are full of love, and God is calling our names. Thanks be to God. Amen.