Getting Back to Normal – August 16, 2020
Isaiah 43:14-21, John 21:1-14
August 16, 2020
“Getting back to normal?” Who knew how relevant that phrase would become?! That’s like the perfect sermon title for our time, isn’t it? We’re all anxious to “get back to normal.” Of course, now we have to ask the secondary question – one we may never have thought of before! “When we do get back to normal, what is ‘normal’ going to look like!”
We’re asking that a lot these days, too, aren’t we? That’s a huge thing in our pandemic world today, isn’t it? And don’t we long to “get back to normal?” Don’t we just want to get back to doing the things we’re “used to doing,” that maybe we’ve taken for granted? Don’t we long to do the things that are just part of our “daily routine.” It’s been hard, hasn’t it? It’s been hard to be patient!
It’s funny, I love this passage from John, but at first, I wasn’t going to look at this story this year. Yes, it is one of the usual “post Easter” stories. But I don’t always do all of them. And I was thinking of moving a little bit farther ahead this year. But then I realized this one just might be one of the most important stories we could look at in light of the current world situation! So, let’s take a look, shall we?
This story takes place several days after the Resurrection, several days after the disciples had first seen Jesus alive again. And a group of them were together. And John tells us here which ones. He gives us their names. And then he tells us that Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” And the others said, “We’ll go with you!”
Now, I want you to notice, this wasn’t just a day’s “outing.” It wasn’t just recreation for them. It wasn’t just them seeking a distraction from all the stress they had experienced in the last couple of months. In other words, they weren’t just going out to “drown a few worms!” These guys were fishermen! There were 7 of the 11 disciples there, and they were the ones who had originally been fishermen, before Jesus called them! So, to say they were going fishing meant they were going back to their former lives. They were “getting back to normal.” Do you see?
Well, in their case, back to normal also meant they weren’t catching anything. Now, I’m sure they were good fishermen! But in the Gospel accounts, we have stories where Jesus was teaching them something or making a dramatic scene, and they start out by catching nothing. In Luke 5, we find the story where Jesus called some of these fishermen to be his disciples. And there they had caught nothing, and he called out to them, and he told them to cast their nets in the deeper water.
So, as this story for today unfolds, there’s no doubt in my mind that they would have remembered, not only that story, but also the calling of Jesus to be his disciples. And I believe Jesus intended this story to be a similar time of “calling.” And I’m sure they knew it!
The other thing this story does is it echoes something I said a couple of weeks ago. And that is that God has a great flair for the dramatic! Not only does Jesus reprise his earlier story of telling them to cast their nets again, but he uses a similar “approach” of starting out “incognito.” The disciples don’t know who he was at first, although I’m sure their memory was sparked when he told them to recast their nets. And then, when they do, they realize in I think a dramatic way, that it was Jesus. For once again, they caught a huge quantity of fish – 153, we’re told. And yes, again I am glad to say, they caught a “plethos” – a “plethora” of fish! I love that word, and I was so excited when I read it in the Greek for the first time!
So, the disciples started this story by saying they were going fishing. And for them, it was a matter of “getting back to normal.” They were getting away from all the stress and pressure and exhilaration of the last three years. Maybe they were even stepping away from the worry about the authorities coming after them next. They were going back to fishing, back to what they knew before it all began. They thought they were “getting back to normal.”
But Jesus met them by the sea that day, and he showed them that he had other plans for them. Their normal would not now be the normal they were used to! This new thing called “the church” was before them. They would be its leaders. They would no longer be “disciples” or “followers” of their master. Now they were to be “those who are sent” – or “Apostles.” It was all so new to them. And I’m sure it felt strange! I’ll bet they were having many of the same feelings we’re having in our strange times!
I also read the passage from Isaiah today, which I think is a very interesting passage! In it, Isaiah said, well actually God said, through Isaiah, “Behold I am doing a new thing.” That’s not an easy scripture to hear. We don’t like “new things!” We don’t like the “C” word! We don’t like “change!” We like to think that everything with God always stays the same. But there have been times throughout the scriptures, and even throughout history, when God was “doing a new thing.” We have to remember that.
Think about Peter on the housetop seeing the vision where God told him that the dietary laws were now over. That was a new thing! And that was hard for Peter to take! He resisted it! And it wasn’t that what came before wasn’t right, or even a good thing to do, but now God was doing a new thing. And of course, as we will see when we look at that passage, it was also about the “new thing” God was doing in including in the Church those who wouldn’t have been included before – namely, the Gentiles!
“Behold, I am doing a new thing!” saith the Lord. I keep thinking that maybe things will be different when this pandemic is over and we “get back to normal.” At least for a while. But maybe some things will become the “new normal.” And maybe those will be good things! I keep hearing People talking about that. For one thing, a “recurring theme” in these times is the statement that “we’re all in this together.” They say that maybe the “new normal” will be that we will finally realize that!
As you know, I’m a space cadet! I’m all about space travel and rockets and NASA and Spacex. And one of the things that’s interesting to me about all of that – one of the many things – is that Astronauts who have been to space all say the same two things. First, they say that what they saw from up there is that the Earth is finite, and fragile. The thinnest blue shell around the earth is the extent of the atmosphere that contains all life. And they say, “There are no borders visible from space!” We are one planet. We are truly all “in this together!” We all have to share this planet! And it’s a closed system. There’s a finite amount of water, air, and other resources! We need to work together.
I think that’s a great reason to keep going into space. Some ask “Why?” “Why should we go into space?” “Why should we go to the moon?” We should, because scientists all say, that, when we went into space, when we went to the moon, that’s when we learned the most about the earth!
That’s when we started “Earth Day.” But do you remember? The first Earth Day was March 21, 1970. And what had happened just before that? Humans had landed on the moon. But even more importantly, humans had left earth for the first time. On December 21, 1968, a mere 65 years and 4 days after the Wright brothers first powered airplane flight, the crew of Apollo 8 left, what we refer to as “low earth orbit,” and headed to the moon.
And they took some amazing photographs of earth, including one of the most iconic photos ever taken, “Earthrise” – a picture of Earth from lunar orbit. That photo was credited with being one of the biggest inspirations for the creation of “Earth Day.” (And the “unofficial” flag of Earth Day was a picture of the earth from Apollo 17 called “The Blue Marble” photo.)
I told you I was a space cadet! And yeah, when I talk about space, I usually do talk too long about it. But that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. And it’s one thing I’m excited about in these crazy, uncertain days! I’m hoping that it will be part of the “new normal,” that the people of this planet will realize that we are all in this together, and not just say it. I’m hoping that the nations of the world will start to think a little more about “cooperation,” and a little less about “competition.” Just maybe that could be the “new normal.”
So, for the apostles, all things were new. They weren’t “getting back to normal” at all, like they thought. Instead, they were about to embark on an amazing, earth shaking, world changing movement called “The Church” – of which we are a part. They were still living in what was a stressful time for them. They would still face persecution. But God was with them, God was leading them down new roads!
We’ve been living in stressful, dramatic times of our own, haven’t we? Between the pandemic, the quarantine, the protests, the international stress, and the political climate of our country, it’s been crazy. It’s almost like “the new normal” is this upheaval! And, as we’ve been saying, “Who knew?” “Who knew it would go on this long?” “And when’s it going to end?” And “What’s next?” Don’t we just feel like “chucking it all” and “going fishing?”
I’ve been thinking, maybe that was the disciples’ mindset. I’m sure things hadn’t eased up for them. I’m sure they still felt like “wanted men.” And that wasn’t going to end, any time soon. But day by day, they became more sure of one thing. God was with them! Jesus promised to be with them always, to the close of the age!
That’s what I hope and pray for all of us. Whatever the “new normal” will be, whether it resembles what was before, and things get back completely to that, or whether life is very different, I hope we know, and that we have known all along, that God is with us.
Do you know that? God is not a destination we arrive at at the end of our lives. God is part of the journey of each day! Like those disciples, may we be more aware of his presence, his Spirit, and his peace, every day of this particular journey we’re on now, and always!
Eternal God, we ask that you would continue to guide us through these strange days. Help us to know that you are with us, and that. however life looks and however life may change, that our lives are in your hands. These things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.