When you put the sign on the front door of your shop or home business door that says: Closed! Gone Fishing! You lock the door and throw the fishing tackle in the back of the car or pick-up and head for the hills, freedom has set in, and its now R and R time, and the wonderful feeling of “it’s my time now and I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m going fishing”.
I used to do a lot of fishing. When I was growing up in the Rockies of Colorado, my dad and brothers and friends did a lot of stream, lake and river fishing. We fished for trout and we caught all kinds, rainbows, browns, brookies and cutthroats (native trout). We fished for other lake and river fish, but trout fishing was our focus. I loved to go fishing. Later on Naomi and I bought a house on a trout lake north of Grand Rapids, Michigan, a kettle lake, a small lake but over a hundred feet deep in some places.
One thing I realized after we moved into the country and we lived on a lake is that I was not so much in love with fishing as I was in just being away from the hubbub of people and noise. I love the birds, water, and the sounds and smells of nature at its finest. I would go out after work onto my dock, sit on a chair with my dog, a wonderful golden lab retriever, a book, or maybe a nwspaper and a cup of coffee, and I realized what I really liked about fishing. It really was not the fishing. It was the wonderful experience of enjoying the bliss of water, lake air and the experience of being ‘away from it all’. And, I quit fishing. I didn’t need to fish anymore. I lived on a lake.
I know some people really love fishing, and I have known people that fish every day. For them there is not such a thing as a bad day to fish. We had a neighbor like this. He took his boat out every day, and when he climbed into his boat it was like he entered into a different realm, and what is amazing is this retired neighbor did not know how to swim. He would go out alone on the lake every day, and if he ever went down it was a long drop to the bottom. Just being out and away from it all, ‘gone fishing’, makes a big statement about freedom from structure, an escape from daily routines.
In reality it was a different fishing story for these disciples. If you recall, all of these disciples in this story were professional fisherman. That’s what they did before they became disciples of Christ. They were not looking at fishing as a way to get away from responsibilities for a while, but they surely felt like they needed to make some money. After all, they were disciples but they needed funds to live on, and besides they were at a crossroads in their faith, not knowing what was going to happen next, and not knowing what God wanted them to do.
The disciples go fishing, and Jesus meets them there. He walks down to the edge of the lake as the disciples are coming in. They have fished all night and have not caught a thing. Jesus calls from the shoreline: “How’s the fishing”? “Not so good”, they answer. We have fished all night and we haven’t got a single fish to show for it”. Jesus responds with these words: “Throw your net on the other side of the boat”. They did not recognize that this was Jesus giving them direction. We don’t know what they were thinking, but perhaps it was with these thoughts: “Who is this guy. We have been fishing all night, and have tried a lot of different things. After all, we are professional fishermen, and who is this guy telling us how to do our job”?
They must have talked it over, and decided that ‘hey, it’s not going to hurt. Might as well give it a shot’. So they tossed their net over the other side of the boat, and to their astonishment, they caught a boatload of fish. They caught one hundred and fifty-three fish. We do not know what kind of fish they caught, but it was a bunch of fish. The load was so heavy that it should have broken their net, but the net did not break. This load of fish represented to them a lot of money. They bring their catch to shore, and you can imagine they are pretty excited. This is one of, if not the most, successful fishing trips they have ever been on. And, not only that, but someone is cooking them breakfast, and that someone happens to be Jesus, but they do not know that yet.
Like I said earlier, I used to really enjoy fishing trips, fishing with my dad, brothers and friends, but I enjoyed fishing alone most of all. A lot of times we would go into the rivers with a rowboat or canoe. I liked to ride the rapids, and I also enjoyed the peaceful waters of a slow moving river. I remember one time when I took my two sons on a canoe trip. We decided to take a two-day trip and camp out on the river. Our trip was on the Thornapple River. and we put into the water near the small town of Hastings, Michigan. Originally Naomi was going to make this trip with us, but she injured her leg playing softball, and she was not able to join us.
The Thornapple is a small river, and an easy river to maneuver a canoe in. So we took our time. We fished, and at larger and deeper areas on the river we swam, and we spent a lot of time just ‘goofing off’. We definitely did not make swift progress, and we also fished from time to time. We caught enough trout for supper, and after we pitched our tent on the side of the river at the end of the day, we cleaned our fish. We dug a little hole, put some rocks in the bottom of it, laid pieces of wood on top of the rocks, and put a small screen that we brought with us on top of that. We put our fish on the fire, added some salt and lemon, and I can remember and almost taste how good the fish was. We added some beans and bread, and we felt like heaven must be something like this. You ever cooked supper and breakfast on the side of a river or on the shores of a lake? We enjoyed our meal together, and we slept under the stars.
Gone fishing! These disciples had a wonderful time too, and they caught a lot of fish. They caught so many that their net should have broken. This gospel passage reminds us that there are times even when we do not comprehend or understand the significance of the timing, Jesus shows up. We talked last week about ‘thin places’ where our space and God’s space become intertwined. Then we recognize that God is in our midst, and then we know that we are not alone on our spiritual journey.
The disciples followed the directions of Jesus, and when they did their net was full of fish. When the Holy Spirit directs us to do something, and we follow that direction, God will provide. When we go fishing in the ocean of humanity, God will provide for our needs. And, there will be enough, even though our resources will be stretched. The work at times will seem too much to bear and seemingly not enough resources, not enough volunteers, and not enough time or talents to meet the needs. We will be challenged with the questions: “Are we doing this right”? Can we do this a better way”? How is this going to happen? Where do we find enough resources, talents and time to meet the needs”?
The net will not break. We will be stretched and challenged, and at times feel like we have gone as far as we can go with what we have to work with. But, at those times, Jesus shows up. We will be stretched, and our nets will be stretched, but it will not break us. Neither we or our nets will break when we follow His leading. God will provide. And, He will come to us and say: “Let’s have some breakfast. Bring me some fish. Let’s celebrate. Your needs will be met. You will be provided for. Go forward and continue to do what I have called you to do.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen