May 7, 2006
It was after Easter, and the disciples had gone fishing. In fact, this story takes place in John’s Gospel, right after the story of Thomas. We read that one a couple of weeks ago.
Just think how much these disciples had gone through, particularly in the past month! They had seen the wonder of the ministry of Jesus, the drama and the tension of the confrontations with the religious authorities. They had felt the anticipation on the road to Jerusalem and thrill of Palm Sunday. They had experienced the crushing defeat of Good Friday, the thrill of Easter morning, and the amazement of seeing Jesus alive again. Now they are going fishing together. What does that mean to them?
I think there are two ways of looking at that. And both are very important to understanding our lives as Christians. Because this story is about the next stage of life for these disciples, and it has important implications for own encounter with Jesus. As we see what was next for them, we should ask ourselves, “What do we do next?” Let’s try to answer that question by looking at this story.
The disciples went fishing. The first thing we might say about that was that these men had gone through a lot, and they needed a break. If you think about it, many people in our world equate “going fishing” with “taking it easy.” We might express this in modern language by the words, “Relax and chill.”
Do you like the cartoon Beatle Bailey? Beatle was always a more lazy soldier than his sergeant liked him to be. I remember one of his comics in which he was sitting with his back against a tree fishing. And Sarge came up and said, “Beatle you’re doing that all wrong. You’ll never catch anything that way.” And Beatle said with a smile on his face and his eyes closed, “Sometimes the object of fishing is not to catch anything.”
Was that the kind of fishing the disciples were doing? Were they going for the “relax and chill?” Was Peter’s decision to go fishing born of the feeling that they “needed a break” from the craziness of the past 3 weeks, the last three months, and the last three years since they had taken up with this new rabbi? Did he feel the need to “relax and chill?”
Do we as God’s people ever live our faith in the “relax and chill” mode? And don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about “Sabbath” here. We need that! And God has always been very specific about that need for rest! Too many people ignore the Sabbath to their detriment. (And I would say to their extreme detriment!) But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about what we might call “Lazy Christians.”
Did you ever try to get a teenager up in the morning? I raised teenagers. Believe me, I know! I don’t know if it’s physiological or what. And with all the changes they’re going through in those years, I suspect a lot of it is. But they’ll sleep late if they can. And it’s hard to get them up. Am I right? (Can I hear an “Amen” from the parents?)
Well, I always tried to make a distinction with my teens. My daughter would be laying around in bed and it was hard to get her moving, and she would say she was tired. And I would tell her. “It’s ok to be tired. It’s not ok to be lazy.” You know what I mean don’t you, don’t you? There’s a difference between Sabbath rest for a believer, and spiritual laziness.
Yet, how many Christians are ineffective and stagnant in their faith because they are lazy Christians? And how do we get out of our lazy mode if we find our selves there? Anybody who has had trouble getting themselves out of bed knows the answer to that question. You drag yourself out of bed. Even on good mornings it is the rare person who bounces out of bed all cheery. And we hate those people, don’t we?
Sometimes we may need to “drag ourselves out of bed” spiritually. We may need to find ways to get off of square one, and to get on with the business of spiritual growth and Christian maturity. That’s what God wants for us. And many believers resist doing that – like a teenager resists getting out of bed!
Now, there’s a further dimension to this “relax and chill” understanding of the disciples going fishing. There’s an aspect of this that is not about spiritual laziness. And be ready, because I’m going to step on some toes here. Many Christians who have “been around a long time” are tempted to get into the mode that says, “I’ve done it all, it’s time to let someone else do it now.” And that’s ok in a way. In any church more people need to do more. But we can’t allow ourselves to get into what has been described as a “Christian retirement” mode. For some people “going fishing” is like having that retirement kind of attitude in their faith. God wants more for us than that!
I love the attitude of Chuck Yeager. Do you know who he is? He’s the pilot who first broke the sound barrier. In thinking of getting older, he said in his book, “The important thing is, you do what you can until you can’t do it any more, then you do something else.” The same advice would be consistent with the Christian faith. You do what you can in God’s kingdom, until you can’t do it any more, then you do something else. For all of us, there will come a time when we are not able to do what we did before, but that’s ok! We can do something else.
So, part of this story of the disciples “going fishing” is about avoiding
”spiritual laziness.” There’s another way of thinking about the disciples “going fishing.” What was the “occupation” of these disciples? (Pre-Jesus) Many of them were what? They were fishermen! That was their stock and trade. So, if they said they were going fishing, yes, they might have been wishing for the solitude of the lake and the distraction of the water and the fishing. Like Beatle Bailey, they may have wished not to catch anything – and from the results, you might think so, for they indeed caught nothing. However, that may not have been the case at all.
For these fishermen to say they were going fishing, was for them to say they were going “back to work.” In other words, they were going back to life as it was before. This business with Jesus was past now. It was all over. And they weren’t sure what to do. So they went back to what they were doing before. They would still be good Jews, mind you! But this chapter of their lives was done and now for them it would be, “life as it was before.”
Jesus had other plans. And in this story we learn that for them – and for us – life would never be the same again. Jesus met them at the lake, and sent them on to do his work. It was not the end, it was only the beginning. When we come to God through the living Christ we are changed, too. And life for us will never be the same. That’s what Paul meant when he wrote these words to the Corinthians. “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The past is finished and done, behold, the new has come.” (II Corinthians 5:17) (That’s one we should all memorize!)
That’s a passage each one of us should think about. So ask yourself, “Is your life different than it was before you came to your faith?” Have you ever thought about going back to “life as it was before?” And when I ask that, I’m not necessarily talking about going back to a bad life. (Though for some people I supposes it might be.) But for many of us, life “before Christ” might have been a fine life. We may not have been saved from a life of terrible brokenness. It just might have simply been a non-God focused life.
Yet how many Christians live their lives just like that? Their lives are no different than they were before they first came to God, and that’s just fine with them! “If anyone is in Christ they are a (what?) new creation. The past is finished and done and behold the new has come.” We cannot “put our hand to the plow and look back.” If we do, Jesus says we are not fit for the kingdom! We cannot return to life as it was before and be any kind of effective disciple, let alone live a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control that are the marks of life in the spirit of God.
My friends, you are new creations! You are new creations in God! Let us live as new creations. Let us not be in the “relax and chill” mode spiritually – accept for the Sabbath. Let us not be in the “spiritual retirement” mode. And let us not think that life will ever be the same again. The world was never the same again when God stepped into it 2000 years ago. May our lives never be the same again either.
Eternal God, you have called us to be your people. You have made us new creations. You have entrusted to us the ministry of Jesus Christ our Lord. Help us as we strive to be like him, to love as he loved, to reach out to the downtrodden, to support the weak, to befriend the friendless, and to live as the light of the world – as he was, and we are. For this we pray in his name, Amen.