Sermon: Recasting the Church


There was a fisherman who always seemed to bring home a boatload of fish, every time he went out. It was really amazing, and people wondered how he could be so successful at fishing. Well, the local game warden heard about this man’s uncanny success and asked, without mentioning he was the game warden, to go fishing with him.

So the two men started out early one morning and went across the lake to a secluded area. The warden noticed that the fisherman did not have a fishing pole; just a net and a rusty old tackle box. But when they got to the appointed place, the fisherman opened the box and pulled out a stick of dynamite. He then lit, and tossed it into the water. It blew up with a great boom and splash; upon which all the resident fish began to obediently rise to the surface. The fisherman started dipping his net into the water and pulling the fish into the boat.

At that point, the warden then reached back and revealed from his hip pocket the credentials of a game warden!

Very calmly, the fisherman opened the tackle box again, got out another stick of dynamite, lit the fuse and handed it to the game warden. Then, as the fuse burned down, the fisherman asked the warden, “Are you going to fish or are you going to just sit there?”

Well, Jesus’ tactics are, perhaps, less coercive, but no less dramatic.

Today we catch up with the disciples as they huddle together once more by the Sea of Tiberias, in the aftermath of horrifying betrayal, violent prosecution and the brutal crucifixion of their Beloved Lord.

In was sometime after that first Easter Day, the disciples had left Jerusalem and made their long way home back to Galilee; back to familiar, reassuring ground; back to that place where everything had begun.

There were only seven of them left, says John, which meant that their little band was already coming apart at the seams. Some had gone off in one direction, while others had gone another. These seven remaining disciples deciding it was time to go fishing again, which probably makes sense.

It was the most natural thing in the world for them to return to familiar territory once they believed their glorious dreams had all come to an abrupt end and go back to fishing.

Even though, perhaps, their hearts were not really into it.

But, when we’ve experienced a crisis, an upheaval, or a trauma in our lives we find ourselves wanting to find something familiar to latch on to; to engage in some kind of normalizing activity; do something that brings about a reassurance that life as we know it, or remembered it, can indeed continue.

My Granddad Myron was a great fisherman. I’m not sure how many fish he caught. But he loved to go fishing. Mostly, I think, fishing for him was just a good excuse for sitting and thinking. Or maybe just sitting and not thinking much at all.

I remember many summer afternoons, emulating my Granddad, leaning back against a strong, well-rooted tree trunk, watching my bobber ride windblown ripples up and down, letting the quiet do its healing work in heart, mind and soul. Knowing that my line, like my thoughts, was drifting beneath with the deeper currents of life. Just sitting and watching and waiting to hook onto something to make it all worthwhile again.

Although, even if we didn’t catch anything, it was still worth it.

“The charm of fishing,” wrote Scottish Lord and novelist John Buchan, “is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”

Apparently, the disciples were not having much luck that day.

“But fishing has added meaning for these seven, because it is their occupation—or was, before Jesus showed up. They do not fish for pleasure; they fish for a living. They do not fish with lines and hooks; they fish with big, heavy nets that smell of seaweed and dried fish scales, hauling them out of the bottom of the boat with hands that are calloused from years and years of casting and knotting and straining against the ropes.”

“So when they decide to go fishing, it is not a decision to daydream but a decision to return to their former way of life, to go back to the only thing they know how to do without him…”

“So they go fishing, each of them sunk in his own thoughts as he climbs into the old familiar boat again, one of them reaching out to steady the prow while the others step inside and take their old familiar places, swamped with déjà vu.”[i]

And, yet, neither were these waters quite the same as before.

Because now these waters held such a greater depth of meaning for them; so many memories of him: as Teacher, transforming a wobbly boat into the sturdy platform of revelation; as Miracle Worker, calm center amongst the raging wind and waves; as a Mysterious Enigma, walking silently upon dark, formless waters to meet them in the middle of the lake.

All night long, so they fished, each one drenched in his own private longings until the faded colors of sunrise arose like an unfulfilled dream, and the shadow of empty nets were drawn at last into boats that drifted towards a gray, unknown future.

And that is when they hear him speak. They cannot see him in the dim gray of pre-dawn, but only hear the vaguely familiar command, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

So, reacting in hope against hope, they immediate obey, and the water begins to boil so thick with fish that they can hardly retrieve their nets.

It is déjà vu, all over again, as they suddenly come full circle, as it dawns upon them that this is not the end at all, but rather a new beginning. Or perhaps the end has led them back around to the beginning once more.

“Come,” Jesus says to his wet, tired disciples, “and have breakfast.”

`Let’s eat, boys!’ says this Risen Lord. And new hope starts to glow within them again like fanned embers of coals on a simmering camp fire.

`This story is teaming with clues for our faith; at those times when we too feel marooned upon the seas in the middle of night, afraid that we may have come to the end of life as we know it with no idea of how to start over again.’[ii]

Clues about how our view on life can suddenly change dramatically, when we are open to listening to the right voice.

Clues about how one minute everything looks hopeless, you feel helpless and lost, and the next minute your discover possibilities you never knew existed, and solutions that you were never able to see before’ suddenly leaping right into your boat!

One moment your nets seem void of life and meaning, and a moment later you feel a faint tug which suggests that something is moving in the depths of your being.

It may be just a little nibble, or it may be a huge strike. But something is now unmistakably alive where before there was only darkness, death and despair.

At the end of the long, often dark, season of Lent—that time of penitence and brooding introspection—we mark well the word: breakfast.

After forty long days of long preparation and building anticipation for the great feast of Easter, then comes an end to the time of a longing for grace. We have, at last, our answer to the gnawing hunger for the substance of forgiveness.

To `break—fast’: to take that first meal upon the dawning of a new day after the long, dark night of the soul. Here we bear witness to Jesus taking a first post-Easter breakfast with his disciples to let them know that he was a real, living, breathing, eating Risen Lord.[iii]

“Come,” Jesus says to us, “And make a new beginning with me.”

“I am alive and in your life. We’re not going back to the way it used to be. Together, we’re moving forward!”

Okay; we can get back to `normal’. But it will be a `new’ normal.

For see, I am doing a new thing among you.

Can you not perceive it happening; even now?!

Jesus returns to this small group of scattered, shattered disciples and recasts them into a whole new light: as a new community empowered by a Risen Lord.

Jesus recasts Peter’s broken identity, from that of a crumbling disciple who failed miserably in loyalty to his Lord, into the solid Rock upon which he built the church.

Jesus recast the fearful uncertainty of that little band of frightened men into powerful disciples with renewed faith and a bold sense of purpose.

And by the time he is done with them, Jesus has taken this little band of disoriented fishermen and transformed them into a powerful community of the greatest agents for positive change that the world has ever known. For they bring the good news of God’s redeeming love to all people everywhere.

You know, there are in fact, few meals more ordinary, more routine than breakfast. But that’s the way we like it. We rely on it’s predictability to nourish us, and help get us through the day. And that’s exactly what we are counting on. Indeed, that’s precisely why we can count on it.

Breakfast, is also that most important meal of the day that helps us to get through the rest of the day.

Today, Sunday, is an ordinary day, much like any other Sunday.

We get up. We eat breakfast. Maybe come to church.

Few days are as routine or as predictable as good old Sunday.

Sunday is a day we can depend on.

Because we know that can count on Sunday to start the week off right, and help us to get through every other day of the week: Monday to Saturday.

Many of us count on Sundays to do just that.

Just so, we can count on the love of Jesus Christ to get us through every day. From precisely those ordinary places and events, Jesus comes to us, feeds us, gathers us, strengthens us; is profoundly, quietly present to us.

There is an old saying that, “Every Sunday is a little Easter.” Because every Sunday is a day which should remind us that Jesus Christ has risen.

So don’t let the predictability of this Sunday routine lull you to sleep. For, while your head is bobbing up and down upon the waves of serenity, there may be dynamic new life simmering in the watery depths just beneath the surface, about to dramatically change your life.

Because our Risen Lord can take the most ordinary day and transform it into the Day of Resurrection for any one of us.

And not just Easter Sunday.

But also on Easter Monday.

And Easter Tuesday. And Easter Wednesday . . .

 

 

 

(Gratitude to Barbara Brown Taylor & William Willimon for much inspiration and some content.)

[i] Taylor, Barbara Brown, “The First Breakfast,” Gospel Medicine, (ed. Cynthia Shattuck) Cowley Pub., 1995

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Willimon, William, “Easter Brunch on the Beach,” Pulpit Resource, March 27, 2005, www.ministrymatters.com.