“Follow Me”: Fishing with Jesus; Psalm 30 and John 21:1-19; April 14, 2013, FPC Jesup

“Follow Me”: Fishing with Jesus
Psalm 30 and John 21:1-19
April 14, 2013, First Presbyterian Church of Jesup

Slide01Last week I was in my hometown of Maumee, Ohio. A river, the Maumee River, borders the city of Maumee. Maumee was formed in the early 1800s and it grew as the Erie Canal was built up in the middle of the town. Water as a means for commerce and fishing made Maumee into the city it is.Slide02Last week as I traveled about town, I saw hundreds of fisherman lining the banks of the Maumee river. It was quite a sight to see, especially from a distance: all the people gathered along that river.

Fisherman will tell you that there are ways to fish, and ways not to fish. There certain types of baits and lures that will attract different types of fish.

The fishermen on the river were all hoping to catch walleye. Walleye have become somewhat of a mascot for the area.Slide03 The local hockey team is the Toledo Walleye.  Maumee has giant statues of walleye around town painted by different artists and groups.Slide04

Fishing could also be said to be a mascot for Jesus’ ministry. In fact, in the early church when Christians wanted to connect with each other they would draw out the symbol of a fish on the ground to identify themselves.

Slide05Jesus’ ministry was surrounded with fishing. Jesus’ discipleship recruitment began by the sea, in the well known story in  Matthew 4:18-23:

“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”SLIDE 12 - Jesus on Shore

Luke’s version of this story in 5:1-11 foreshadows our New Testament story with an overabundance of fish that nearly sinks their boat.

SLIDE 9 - Loaves and FishesEach of the gospels (John 6:1-15; Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17) tells the story of Jesus and his disciples feeding thousands of people with a few fish and loaves of bread.

SLIDE 10 - Jesus on BoatJesus preaches from fishing boats, sails on fishing boats, travels with fisherman disciples and chooses fisherman for the important job of spreading God’s kingdom and building the church.

Slide11 Our New Testament lesson today gives us another fishing story. Jesus had died, and his disciples were still traveling about together, likely bonded in their shared grief and distress. And so, in their grief they returned to what was comfortable and familiar to them: they went fishing.

This was not line fishing, but net fishing. Line fishing is about the single fish, the flick of the wrist, the pull of the fish, the design of the lure, the technique. Net fishing is a different story. It isn’t about enjoying a drink out on a boat with your friends with a line in the water. It is labor intensive. It is about hauling and pulling. It is strenuous and persistent action. There’s a comforting rhythm to that sort of work.

The disciples could’ve been drowning their sorrows in busying their hands, but as they worked at this business of fishing long through the night, they weren’t having and luck. Then, all of a sudden they hear this voice from the shore saying: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some (John 21:6a).”

I don’t know what Peter thought but I think I would probably be thinking things like:
“Aren’t I the fisherman here? I know what to do.”
“I’ve already tried that side. It didn’t work.”
“I’ve always thrown my net on the left side of the boat.”

SLIDE 13 - CastanetsI love this cartoon representation of one of the disciples mishearing what Jesus’ shouted from the shore.

Even if they may have been confused or doubtful, they were willing to give it a shot. They threw their nets onto the other side of the boat and were overwhelmed by the amount of fish they took in, verse 11 says that their nets were “full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.”SLIDE 14 - Net

There’s been some debate over the significance of this number 153. Some says it is indicative of the 153 known species of fish at that time or of the 153 known and recognized nations at the time. All throughout scripture representative numbers like this are used as a way to indicate a whole. So these fish signify that the disciples brought in a metaphorical amount of all the fish or all the people.

These were the same disciples who had been asked to set aside their nets and follow God, but when things had gotten complicated, they picked them up once again. And in that moment, Jesus calls them out of their complacency into an act of faith. Being told to throw their nets on the other side reminds them what sort of fisherman Jesus had called them to be: of people, not of fish.

Slide15After this enormous catch of fish Jesus gathers the disciples around a fire and they cook their fish together. In this community they were reminded of all Christ had taught, multiplying loaves and fish, breaking bread, they are re-commissioned to go out into the world fed and nourished.

This is the beginning of the church, a group of people, getting together, being reminded of whose they are called to be and reminded how they are called to serve.

This is what we strive to do here in worship each week: gathering together in the presence of Christ to be nourished and to be sent.

Matthew 18:20 says:

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

SONY DSCThat means, when we gather together as a worshipping community, when we gather in Bible studies or Sunday School we are in the presence of Jesus Christ! We are gathering ourselves around the same sort of warmth the disciples felt at on that beachside bonfire. What does it mean for us to be in the presence of Christ?

In our time together are you reminded of your great God who loves you and reminded how you are called to serve. Are you listening to the call to throw your nets to the other side? Or are you stuck in the comfortable, in the familiar, in the “we’ve always done it this way”?

Our Psalm today talks of how easy it was for the Psalmist to praise God when things were easy, writing:

“I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’” (Psalm 30:6)

It was easy for the disciples to talk about fishing for people when they had Jesus standing right there beside them, guiding them in their ministry, answering their questions.

But when testing comes, things aren’t quite so easy. When the Psalmist was tested he was full of frustration, writing:

8To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!’” (Psalm 30:8-10)

We see this with the disciples. When Jesus was arrested even Peter, nicknamed, “the rock,” denied Jesus three times. When Jesus was crucified the disciples were thrown into despair.

Our Psalmist gives us our happy ending in verses 11 and 12:

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.  O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Psalm 30:11-12)

Jesus at the shore side reminded them that his death was not an act of abandonment. Jesus is not stuck in the horror of death; he is resurrected! He walks around breathing grace and emboldening the disciples in all of those teachings he had laid out for him throughout his ministry.

Christ is resurrected; the world has changed! Are we changing too? Is our mourning turned to dancing? Are we clothed in joy?

Jesus is forever giving opportunity for us to seek joy over despair and action over inaction. This is worked out in his conversation with Peter, as Peter’s three denials of Jesus are redeemed in three calls to love, three calls to action:SLIDE 20 - Jesus and Peter

“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.” 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.” 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. After this he said to him, “Follow me.”” (15-17,19)SLIDE 24 - Follow Me

When big changes in our lives happen we need to learn to reframe our challenges to assets. If we get stuck in the hurt that has happened to us or the hurt that we have caused others we are unable to serve in the way God calls us to. Each week we pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This means that we need to seek forgiveness, and we need to give forgiveness so that we can move forward to serve.

As lose sight and gain hearing, when we suffer personal loses we are more attune to the grief of others. Job loss can create opportunity to reexamine our lives and seek something more life fueling. Age or illness might limit some of the things you might have done previously, but it can also provide a new way of serving others that you were unable to do before.

Bozo fisherman using a net on the River Niger, Mopti, MaliIn our time of offering today we will be doing something new, throwing out our own metaphorical and literal nets to think about ways that each of us can minister in this church. Sara McInerny will be providing instructions of some very specific ways that each of us can serve the congregation and community. I encourage you to prayerfully consider where God is calling you. Note that I did not say “if,” but “where.” There is a call for each of us, but it might require you to shift your thinking, shift your expectations, and throw your nets on the other side.

The disciple’s act of faith, throwing their nets on the other side of the boat, brought enormous results. When we are obedient to God’s will for our lives the results are greater than we can imagine. Sometimes that means doing something different and sometimes it means doing it again.

Know that Jesus is standing on the shore side of your life pointing you to the great catch He has in store for your ministry. Amen.

“Even the Wind and the Sea Obey,” Genesis 1:1-10, Mark 4:35-41; June 24, 2012, First Congregational Church of Williamstown

“Even the Wind and the Sea Obey”
Genesis 1:1-10, Mark 4:35-41
June 24, 2012, First Congregational Church of Williamstown

The other day I went for a hike on Mount Greylock, on the Bradley Farm trail. This trail is a “self guided trail,” with markers every once and a while. The numbers on the markers correspond with numbers on a brochure and each has information about that specific site.

One of the sites drew my attention to a big rock in the pathway. I looked at my brochure and it said, “The Mount Greylock range is made up of mostly grey-colored metamorphic rock (changed through heat and pressure), as in this boulder. According to geologists this rock here was created from what was once part of a muddy sea bottom hundreds of millions of years ago. Bands of translucent, white colored quartzite, formerly sand, are found here too.”

Reading this, I couldn’t help but laugh, you see, as I was driving up the mountain I was thinking about our scripture passages today, how to bring light and life to two very different passages. One, which we heard read from Genesis, discussing the formation of the world, and another, which we read together, speaking of a short narrative moment in Jesus’ ministry, both having to do with God’s ability to control the ocean.  And then my car stereo started playing a favorite song of mine, Paul Simon’s “Once Upon a Time There was an Ocean.”

The chorus to this song goes, “Once upon a time there was an ocean but now it’s a mountain range. Something unstoppable set into motion, nothing is different, but everything’s changed.”[1]

And now, here I was, about 3,400 feet above sea level, being told that I was much closer to being in an ocean than those 3,400 feet would have me believe.

Thinking of these large shifts in the ocean over a long period time I tried to picture the land around me in a new way. That the nearby butterflies were not butterflies at all, but rather they were seahorses, flitting about in a familiar way. And the fern along the path, bent in the wind as seaweed moved by a slight current in the ocean.

How different things seem when we look at them through the long lens of history. Amazingly, this is the very vantage point that God brings to creation and to our lives.

In our New Testament passage today, we read that Jesus and a group, widely assumed to be his disciples, are traveling across the Sea of Galilee on a boat, when a great windstorm arises and the water laps over the sides. While the disciples were frantic, Jesus was asleep on a cushion. They awake Jesus and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He wakes up, rebukes the wind and tells the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind stops and it is entirely calm. Jesus asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Nowadays the body of water they were traveling across is called Lake Kinneret. It’s a large, shallow body of water, prone to very sudden violent storms. West of the lake are mountains that form a funnel around winds blowing in from the Mediterranean, creating volatile weather over the lake.[2] By their nature, these storms don’t last for long.

Let’s be clear, this storm was frightening, and no one could fault the disciples for feeling threatened by this seemingly all-encompassing storm, but by Jesus’ reaction we see that this fear was greater than that. Pastor and author David Lose offers this perspective, he writes: “maybe the issue isn’t that the disciples are understandably afraid because of the storm, it’s that they allowed their fear to overtake them so that they don’t come to Jesus and say, ‘Teacher, we need your help,’ but rather come already assuming the worst, ‘Teacher, don’t you care that we’re dying.’ This isn’t a trusting or faithful request; it’s a fear-induced accusation.”[3]

God has the bigger perspective, has seen the other side and knows that this storm will end.

I am reminded of a slogan that arose out of a tragic string of suicides particularly among LGBT youth in the late summer of 2010. In response to a number of students taking their own lives after being bullied in school, author Dan Savage created a YouTube video with his partner Terry Miller to inspire hope for young people facing harassment. They wanted to create a personal way for supporters everywhere to tell LGBT youth that, “It gets better.”[4]

“It gets better.” What I appreciate about this slogan is that it does not seek to diminish the current pain that anyone is feeling, but rather strives to instill hope for the future. Living with bullying and harassment is indeed a very violent storm, all encompassing when it is around you. And when it is around you, you’re not sure that it will end. But Dan Savage and a great many people following his lead speak out from the other shore, beyond the crashing sea, saying, “It gets better.”

In Hebrew there is a phrase that I feel encompasses this all surrounding stormy-ness: toehoo vahvohwho. In a literal translation it means chaotic void. It is found in the second verse of Genesis, which was read for us today. Beginning at verse 1, we read:

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was toehoo vahvohwho and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This place of chaos, of desperation is our starting point. It is the raw ingredients from which our entire world came into existence.

Through God’s creation, this toehoo vahvohwho mess is separated out, dark from light, sky from water, land from sea. Creation, is inevitably an act of separating what is to become one from what is to become another. Even at a microscopic level we see this act, cells separating, particles pushing away from one another.

There is a story told that the great artist Michelangelo was once asked how he created his famous statue of David. He responded that he simply started with a block of stone and then chipped away everything that wasn’t David. And perhaps this is how we can view our own creation; our experiences sometimes chipping away at us, other times smoothing the rough edges, so that we can become fully who God created us to be.

Now, I am not going to stand here and say that our God is a God who would intentionally inflict pain to makes us better people, or to test us, or because we can handle it. But, I do believe that when we are in the midst of the storm we are to trust that it will indeed get better and to have faith that God’s will will be enacted by how we react to the storms of our lives.

There is an interesting moment in our Mark narrative today, where the disciples’ perspective is changed. In the midst of the storm they cry out to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Once he has calmed the storm they are filled with great awe and say to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

In Jesus’ transformative act they are moved from one type of fear, that of panic and fright to another type of fear, that brought about by the awe and reverence of encountering something greater than ourselves.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” It’s a good question. Why would the wind and the sea stop at the command of a man? Well, we know that Jesus was more than a man, he was part of the Trinity, He was God incarnate. The wind and the sea obey God because God was the one who created them.

In our passage in Genesis, starting in verse 9 we read, “And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.”

The ocean became ocean by being separated from the dry land.

The hymn we will sing at the end of this service, “God Marked a Line and Told the Sea,” expounds on the meaning of these verses in Genesis. While I won’t read you all the lyrics, the first verse paints a good picture of the text, “God marked a line and told the sea its surging tides and waves were free to travel up the sloping strand, but not to overtake the land.”

As we know all to well, the seas have borders, until they don’t. Tsunamis have killed thousands, wiped out villages, crippled countries. Levee walls have burst, taking homes and lives in the wake. And we don’t even need to look beyond the borders of this town to know the devastation caused by flooding.

Why couldn’t Jesus ask the wind and seas to stop then? Were our prayers not strong enough? Why do such disasters seem to affect the people and places that can least afford such destruction?

We’re not given those answers.

We are, however, given these words in Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult…The LORD of hosts is with us.”

“The Lord of hosts is with us.” These are not empty words, but a promise lived out through the redeeming life of Jesus Christ and the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. God is present in the midst of our suffering. God’s promise of salvation is an ever echoing, “it gets better,” “it gets better.”

Perhaps instead of being chipped away like Michelangelo’s David we could see ourselves like the ocean depth turned purple mountain range that surrounds us here in Williamstown. Maybe what we are undergoing is not a refinement, but a revelation. When we are able to trust in God’s greater perspective, God’s desire for good in our lives, we are able to see the possibility that though we may feel buried by oceanic depths, we are simultaneously a mountain range yet to be unveiled.

In both the joys and toehoo vahvohwho of our lives, all the raw ingredients of faithfulness are there. We must look to God’s creative hand, guided by eternal perspective to help us separate out what is to be from what is not to be. The words of Paul Simon might be right to call God’s great and beautiful act of creation, “Something unstoppable set into motion, nothing is different, but everything’s changed.” Glory be to God. Amen.


[1] “Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean,” by Paul Simon

[2] “Mark 4:35-41, Commentary on Gospel” by Sharon H. Ringe, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=6/21/2009&tab=4