Saturday, April 9, 2016

Let's Go Fishing: Reflections on John 21.1-19 (RCL Easter 3C, 10 April 2016)

Let’s Go Fishing
Reflections on John 21.1-19

RCL Easter 3
10 April 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

            Have you ever had the experience of committing yourself to a project or an enterprise that promised to transform your understanding of who you were and what you were meant to do with you life?  Have you ever had the experience of this life-changing project or enterprise come to a crashing end?  If you have, then you have had an experience of what some might call ‘a dark night of the soul’.  It’s not so much an experience of depression as it is the realization that our goal of personal maturity is often only reached after experiences of loss and uncertainty. 

            What helps us through a dark night of the soul is hope.  If we do not have hope that our goal is at least partly achievable in this life, then the darkness continues.  Sometimes, in order to renew our hope, we have to re-envision how we will journey towards our life’s goal.  Re-envisioning the future may mean that you and I go back to basics, go back to what we know we can do well.  That foundation may give help plot a new route towards our life’s destination.

            For three years Peter and the other apostles had set aside their familiar lives, occupations and families to follow Jesus of Nazareth.  They had experienced the excitement of travelling beyond the limits of Galilee and encountering the crowds who swarmed around Jesus.

            Then came that week in Jerusalem.  The thrill of the triumphal entry into the city was quickly chilled when they realized the growing hostility of the Jewish authorities.  When they gathered for supper on Thursday night, they could not have known what would follow:  an arrest, a trial and then an execution at the hands of the Roman authorities.  Most of them had fled and only came out of hiding Sunday morning.  Their fear was compounded by confusion and surprise when the women came to tell them that the tomb was empty.  Mary Magdalene even spoke of meeting Jesus near the tomb.

            Despite their various experiences of the resurrection Peter and the apostles were entering a dark night of the soul.  Their future had collapsed and their hope lacked confidence.  Darkness had descended.  So Peter and the apostles decided to go back to Galilee, back to the beginning.  I can almost hear Peter say, ‘I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going fishing.’  And as he is fishing, Jesus comes to meet him.  Light enters their darkness, the future re-emerges and their ministry as witnesses to the resurrection truly begins.  Hope is renewed and a new path is revealed.

            There are times when I, as an Anglican Christian, living in Metro Vancouver, feel that I am living in a dark night of the soul.  I have memories, as perhaps many of you have, of pews filled with young and old, men and women, new-comers and old-timers.  I even remember when hospitals provided visiting clergy with reserved parking spaces or complimentary parking passes.  Here I am, almost thirty-five years after ordination, facing a future that I did not imagine in those heady first months and years of ordained ministry.  But Bishop Melissa and today’s gospel remind me that the way forward is simple:  go back to what we do best and what is at the heart of our faith.

            We gather.  Early in the third century a group of Christians in Asia Minor were arrested and brought before the local Roman magistrate.  They were charged with violating the imperial edict forbidding the gathering of illicit religious sects.  The magistrate asked them to recant their faith and to obey the imperial edict.  Their answer was simple, “Without the Sunday gathering, we cannot exist.”  Their execution followed immediately.

            We can lose sight of the power of gathering together in one assembly.  The most important thing we may do as Christians is to continue to gather together for worship throughout the world, to hear the Word proclaimed, to offer prayer for all of creation, to share in the bread and the wine, and to be sent forth strengthened and renewed.

            When asked what was the glue that held the Anglican Communion together, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said this, “We gather.”  Despite all the forces that conspire to prevent our gathering, we gather.  Despite all the temptations to do something else with our time, we gather.  We gather because we know what our sisters and brothers knew in the first centuries of the church’s mission and ministry, “Without the Sunday gathering, we cannot exist.”

            We tell the story of God’s love.  At an early point in his public ministry Jesus travelled to Nazareth, the town in which he had been raised.  He entered the synagogue and was invited to read the appointed reading from the prophets.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus read, “because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”  After sitting down, Jesus said to the assembly, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[1]

            When the reader proclaims the texts appointed for the day, it is tempting to forget that he or she is speaking God’s Word to us.  Like the people in the synagogue in Nazareth, we have heard all of this before; the words roll off the surface of our minds and hearts like rain rolling off the roof of a building.  Yet, we never know when there is someone who needs to hear the Word of God again --- perhaps for the first time.

            We pray.  When I was first ordained, it was my responsibility to travel with the Bishop and the Suffragan Bishop of Colorado on their parish visits.  On one such occasion, I accompanied the Bishop, Bill Frey, to a parish in which there was considerable dissension.  I joined him as he listened to three representatives of the congregation give their interpretations of the situation.  After each one had spoken, the first asked the Bishop, “Well, what are you going to do about this?”  “The first thing I am going to do is pray,” responded the Bishop.  At this the second person turned to the other two and said loudly, “See, I told you he wasn’t going to do a damn thing about it!”

            There are, no doubt, many people who share this view.  To some of them, prayer seems more like shouting into the wind rather than entering into conversation with the living God.  I confess that I do not know if prayer changes the eternal purposes of God.  I do know that prayer changes the one who prays.  Prayer orients us to God’s purposes and opens us to God’s grace working through us.  God responds to our new-found awareness of the needs and concerns of the world by offering us the means to use the gifts we have.  We discover new avenues and ways that seemed obstructed are re-opened.  This is God’s work, not ours, but we are the agents of God’s purposes.

            We make new disciples.  Each one of us knows someone who needs to have a community.  Perhaps all this person is waiting for is an invitation to come here.  Each one of us knows someone who needs to know that he or she loved and that he or she has a purpose.  Perhaps all this person is waiting for is to hear our stories of God’s love.  Each one of us knows someone who needs to have a relationship with God.  Perhaps all he or she needs is know that we, as imperfect as our prayers always are, know how to forge just such a relationship.

            So let’s go fishing.  Let’s return to doing what we know best:  gathering, proclaiming, praying, incorporating.  Who knows whom we may catch?  Who knows who might be waiting for us on the beach?

[1] Cf. Luke 4.16-21.

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