Two Sundays past Easter and the flowers have faded. Our story brought us back to the beginning, to the Sea of Galilee, where the disciples first met Jesus. They go fishing like nothing had ever happened. Read the rest of the story here and jump in with thoughts after the jump. As always, you can catch the podcast at bethanytacoma.org.
Our story today happens sometime after the events of the last few weeks. After it seemed it was all over, and then it wasn’t, and Jesus appeared to Mary, and then all of them, and then Thomas. After all of that, at some point, the excitement wore off. Our story doesn’t tell us how much later—days, weeks, months—the disciples eventually go back to Galilee, back to the lake where they first met him, where they had grown up and worked all their lives before they met him.
Do you think it felt like deja vu? Being back at the lake, like nothing had happened, when so much had happened? That must have been strange. To end up right back where they started. It must have been discouraging, to feel like nothing had changed.
We know how this is. It’s like going off to college or leaving home for the first time, and then coming back, and getting in the same old fight with your parents. It’s like taking a new job and thinking now, at last, the boredom and tedium of the old job is gone, and then finding that same boredom and tedium at this new job. It’s like retiring and thinking at last I’ll have all the time in the world, and finding your just as busy as before. It’s the feeling of the anonymous, wise and world-weary writer of Ecclesiastes who wrote, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl 1:9)
Did that come to Peter’s mind as he thought, I guess we might as well go fishing. We don’t know what to do, so let’s do what we know. Back to life, back to reality.
Even that doesn’t work out so well. They labor all night. And they don’t catch a thing. Not one single solitary fish. Did they begin to get scared as the night wore on, wondering how will we support ourselves? Did they begin to fear maybe they weren’t good for anything anymore?
All their old demons reared their heads—meaninglessness, aimlessness, scarcity, their own limits. It is a dark night on the sea.
And this is when they see the stranger on the shore. Not when they were on top of the world in Jerusalem, with it all figured out, but now, when they’ve come back to the beginning, when they fail and can’t catch a thing, when they’re lost and scared, when they come back home and face the same old problems, then he comes to them, offering them once again meaning and direction and abundance and ability, and breakfast.
And that’s how it is, isn’t it? We might wish that life were a straight line, that we start here, and learn and grow, and then end up over here. How lovely it would be if we didn’t have to cycle back through the same problems, same struggles time and again. But this is apparently not how the human heart works. We’re creatures who spiral through life—returning, time and again, to familiar shores. We can be changed, as these disciples were, but still we return to familiar ground.
Even in the details of this passage we see that return to familiar ground. Peter jumping into the water. Who knows why he put on clothes first! He wasn’t thinking—he’s always been a leap first, look later kind of guy. And here he literally goes overboard. He’s the same person he’s been all along—eager and impulsive. It’s true for all of the disciples. They’ve had the most life-transforming event imaginable, but they’re still the same people, just as God created them.
Some commenters criticize the disciples for going back to their old lives after everything that has happened. Everything should be different, they say, and instead, here they are treading the same old water. What losers these guys are.
But I don’t think this story calls for that much condemnation. They are, as they ever were, as we are, human. They get scared and lost. They have times of bleak meaninglessness. They have dark nights where nothing goes right.
And still Jesus comes to them. Just like he did at the very beginning. He finds them, just as they are, and he sees them and loves them and calls them, giving them meaning and direction and grace upon grace. He gets a fire started and fixes them breakfast. He fries up some fish, heats up some bread, and just like he said not so very long before to the thousands he fed with just some bread and some fish, he says, y’all come. I’ve got all you need. Follow me. And they do—as fast as they can. They turn and follow him once more.
So if you are struggling with any of what those disciples were struggling with that night—a sense of being lost, rudderless, without a clear destination, if things haven’t worked out exactly how you’d hoped they would, if you’ve been following the leadings of your heart and that still small voice as well as you can, and you’ve still lost your way, if you’re wrestling with scarcity and fear, if you’re treading the same old water yet again, hear this—God will come to you. Life will find you, as you toil at the same old stuff, as you do your best and find that it’s not enough, as you come back around to the beginning yet again—God will find you. Dawn will come. The sun will slip up over the horizon, as it has every morning since the world began, and one of those mornings that light will hit your heart and the Spirit will call to you.
If you are lost do not despair. Return to what you know—to fishing or gardening, work and family, all of the daily tasks of faithfulness. The God who makes breakfast for lost disciples will come and find you.
God will come to you because God’s love is as constant as the sun—rising new every morning and yet endlessly faithful. God will come to you, as God always comes, as a stranger, as One unknown, without a name. And the God who makes breakfast, who prepares a table for us, who seeks out the least and the last, who made the heavens and earth, and cares for the sparrows and the lilies, will come to us, invite us—just as we are—to a life of obedience and faithfulness, and will give us Life—Real Life—even in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings of this world, and this is how, as a mystery, we come to know, in our bodies and our hearts, in our own experience, who Jesus is.*
Just as the sun rises every morning, so too, Christ comes to us, and feeds us, and calls us yet again, to follow. May we dare to say yes.
***by Sarah W. Wiles April 14, 2013 Bethany Presbyterian Church Tacoma, WA
*This paragraph is indebted for its style and content to Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 487.