May 8, 2016 / Caught Any Fish? / Sara Wolbrecht / John 21:1-14
To get us started, a bit of conversation. A mundane question: What are some of the things we say when we greet someone?
And after HELLO, what usually follows? How are you? How are you doing? I like the question that the checkout person at the grocery store often asks: How’s your day going?
It seems to me that 90% of the time we ask each other: How are you? And what do we almost always say in response? GOOD.
And so I find this a funny reality we live in, because I wonder – do we really care when we ask this question? (Do you?). Is it just a social exchange we do to feel comfortable with each other?
I’ve been thinking about it and paying attention to how people answered the “How are you?” question in the past weeks – and often people do answer it honestly – which is always a bit startling and refreshing. I do believe that it is not actually a bad question – and even though it is to a certain extent a bit of a social script that we follow, at the heart of it is the desire for human connection. To connect with this person who stands in front of us. To hear about who and how they are and a bit about what is happening in their life. Because after all – human connection is what we want more than anything.
And when it comes to human connection, at the heart of it, that connection is sparked, ignited when we express genuine interest and care in how people are doing. So really, it’s a great question. And as a suggestion, an even better way to ask it, is to ask: What are you going through? I love that. The philosopher Simone Weil said somewhere that the only real question to ask a good friend is: what are you going through? File that one away for later. I know I want to try that.
I bring up this question – “How’s it going” because it is essentially what Jesus asks in our gospel today. We have been, in these seven weeks following Easter, (REAL Seven Last Words graphic) looking at the REAL seven last words, seven conversations Jesus had after the resurrection. Today is week six, word six.
And we are in John’s gospel. The final chapter of John, chapter 21. Chapter 21 was probably added after the first 20 chapters were written. Scholars believe it was likely John or one of his students who wrote it. Chapter 21 captures this unique commissioning of Jesus’ followers using images of fish and sheep. Today, we’re just talking about the fish part.
Let’s read that now. Here's what we're about to hear. Seven of the disciples decide to go fishing on the Sea of Galilee and don't catch a thing, Jesus shows up hollers at them from the shore (they don't know it's him at first) – he suggests that they try the other side of the boat, then it ends with breakfast on the beach. As we read, notice the conversation and details as much as possible – because remember – whenever the Bible includes a detail, you know there’s something going on there. What details do you notice?
John 21:1-14 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
So Jesus’ word for us this week is: “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” Anyone been fishing before? Consider themselves a fisherman or woman? How would it feel for some guy on the shore, after a long night of unsuccessful fishing, to be asked the question, “Caught anything?” Yeah, not great. But here's the thing: Jesus’ question is really one of: = How’s it going, guys? The Greek there almost translates to: fellas. Jesus isn’t just asking about their haul of fish. Really Jesus is asking: Hey guys, how’s it going out there?
So let’s notice here, that Jesus begins with that very basic form of human interaction that leads to connection. How are you? And it is in a fairly playful tone – indicative of how Jesus already knew the answer – alright fellas, how’s it going? But we notice the lovely place where this starts: Jesus cares. How’s it going? What are you going through?
Then notice what Jesus says next: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” This is really, Jesus saying, = Hey, I’ve got an idea! Try this!
And to these men, who have fished all night with nothing to show for it – can you imagine what they might initially think about this suggestion. You want me to put the net over there? Please note: the boat isn’t that big. The right side and the left side, not far from each other. No fish here probably means no fish right there, too. But they say the crazy yes (maybe with some eye rolling – the text doesn't say) and in the early morning light of dawn, they throw the nets in one more time, yes, on the right side of the boat.
And because the disciples said the crazy yes to Jesus, their bone-weary bodies can't even pull up the huge haul of 153 fish.
So my friends. This word from Jesus. This word that starts with the: How's it going? And moves to the crazy idea. Today, we stop and hear this as a question for us: what happens when we say yes to the crazy idea from God? I want to look at this question and the other questions Jesus asks his disciples, in two ways, first to consider this question as a community, here at Salt House.
What I love about our new community here at Salt House is that we consider ourselves "A Grand Experiment." We keep experimenting, creating, exploring. We get to push the boundaries of what “church is” and what “church does” and what “church is supposed to be.” Whether we’ve grown up in the church, been deeply hurt by the church, grown tired of the church, or are new to the church – there is room here for us. I love that freedom that we have and the innovation that is birthed out of it, and how it informs our creativity in our worship, how we try to build relationships, in how we respond with love to the needs of our neighborhood. My observation as we celebrate Salt House’s one-year birthday, looking back on that first year, I think, frankly, we’ve said a lot of crazy yeses to God, together...
We've had dinners together after worship. We've done yoga in this room. We've sat in here and cheered for the Seahawk's on our big screen with a 12 minute worship service at halftime. We've said yes to our basement becoming a day shelter for homeless families. We've lit candles and written down our prayers, and grief, and longing, and prayed for ourselves, each other and the world. And we've had Hawaiian sweet rolls and Champagne for Communion. We've said some great yeses.
It's good for us to name that, celebrate that – to pat ourselves on the back: "Way to say the crazy yeses to God, yo!" And then to also, today, recognize that we're still in the boat, we've spent the night working hard while fishing. And it is the dawn of a new day, (year number two for us) and we see this figure over on the shore and his question is a question for us, too – as Jesus asks us: How's it going out there? Hey Salt House, what are you going through? My friends, how would you answer that question on behalf of Salt House?
How are we doing, Salt House? We’re certainly thriving. We're having a blast. We're seeing God change lives.
And yet we are also still slowly growing. In many ways we're also like those disciples in that we're waiting for a big haul of fish of our own. We're discerning where God is calling us, and who God is inviting us to be. Like those disciples, And that puts us in this exciting place of needing to be like those disciples – who desperately need the direction, care, crazy ideas of Jesus. We tune our ears to Jesus’ words as he says: Hey, I know you've tried fishing on that side of the boat. I’ve got an idea! How about this?!
Friends, we need you to continue to help Salt House depend on and listen for how God is inviting us to say yes in year two of Salt House. God is doing beautiful things in this place, in the world, and we want to continue to be a part of it. I am overwhelmingly grateful for how so many of you, the people of this community have poured out love and care and time and food and innovation. How people step up. To care for our kids, to make food, to set up, to clean up, plan events, to sing and lead us, to serve with the New Bethlehem Project, to pray for one another and show up with each other and carry each other. Thank you for all the crazy yeses we have said together. It is awesome.
And guess what? We're not done. It is dawn and the sun is rising on day two, and we've got more fishing to do. It is not a coincidence that Jesus returns to fishing in the final moments of John's gospel. Maybe you've already made the connection. How Jesus, just three years earlier, walked along these same shores of the Sea of Galilee, and called to these men as they were fishing, saying, "Come, and follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people."
Friends, we've got some fishing to do, too. We need you. There are new crazy yeses from God for us to consider. In year one, our nets have been filled in so many ways – and praise God for that. But Jesus continues to (and always will) point Salt House – you and me – to the new and fresh ways to drop those nets in the water. We need you, everyone – in order to hear what Jesus’ next crazy yes is for us. To intentionally pray for that, ask God for that, join our teams and serve and get into the conversation for that. For we’ve got some crazy yeses ahead of us to say together.
Now I want us to look at this in a second and final way. We take a moment to hear this and ask about this also, as spoken personally to each of us – you are invited to hear this for you. That's what we do, right? We let the life and words of Jesus to meet us as a community that is always a work in progress through the grace of God, and as individual people who are a part of that movement – we recognize how we're a work in progress and let Jesus meet us. We dare to let Jesus ask us today: Caught any fish? My friend, what are you going through? How's it going out there?
What would be your real, honest answer to this – not the scripted, its all good, response. What are you going through? Particularly, where are your nets empty? It’s Mother’s Day – which can bring up a lot of stuff around family dynamics. Maybe there is something within the relationships of your own family that you’re going through. Maybe it is a desire for a partner to form your own family. It is the month May – Jason and I often refer to May as Mayhem, because with the end of the school year, with graduations and transitions that happen for folks, it is a busy time – even without kids that just seeps into the culture. And change always brings up grief, the stirring up of unrealized dreams and hopes, the letting go of how things have been. My friend, what are you going through? In what ways are you weary, tired, you’ve been working hard for a long time with nothing to show for it?
Name that thing. And then, my friend, is there someone standing off on the shore – yes, the one whose hand made the sunrise this morning. Can you hear what crazy idea he speaks to you today? Is it time to try the other side of the boat (even though – are you kidding me – the other side looks like it's pretty much in the same spot as the side you're on)? Is it time to say the crazy yes – a yes to doing something different, even if it doesn’t make sense? To leaning into the help you need? To taking the risk? To throwing out those nets – not because it is logical and foolproof and you have a back up just in case – but doing it only because the God of the universe thinks it’s a good idea?
As our band comes back up, we have a moment to pray, to make room to listen and respond. And I want to leave these questions on the screen:
We love to ask two questions:
God, what are you saying me/us?
What am I/are we going to do about it?
And we'll continue to frame it through this piece of John 21, asking alongside these questions:
What am I going through?
What's the crazy idea?