What is a long day like for you? Is part of the day spent asking yourself if you’ll have enough? Will you make enough to cover your family’s needs?
I imagine Simon the fisherman had lots of long days, days where he could help but ask, will I have enough to care for my family? He had just had another long day, well, night actually, for that is when he did his fishing. It had been a long, fruitless night. A night with little to show for his efforts. Resigned, he, his business partners, and his crew have beached their boats and begun the task of cleaning their nets and equipment.
Now, after a long night, Simon can anticipate a long day fretting how to meet the needs of his family. Into that anxiety, Jesus sticks his nose, “can you take me out in your boat? Now that we’re out here, cast your net over the side there.”
I wonder if Simon thought, “What does this carpenter know about fishing?” “I’m exhausted, I fisher these waters last night and the last thing I need to do is climb back into this boat. I just want to go home.”
Did he sigh, at Jesus’ request? Did he roll his eyes, at Jesus? He protests a bit, “Look, we worked all night and caught nothing.” Yet he acquiesces. “If you say so…” Simon is not happy, but he does it anyway.
Not long ago I ran across someone whose spouse advised her not to do something if she didn’t have a happy heart about it. Think about that. If that were the criterion for making decisions, it could lessen the to-do list quite a bit. It is akin to the popular minimalist movement, the KonMari Method of cleaning up. The method instructs people to get rid of any items that don’t spark joy. Does that mean we can give away our vacuum, our rakes and mops? Can we pitch the toilet brush and the lawn mower?
Thankfully, regardless of whether or not Simon had a happy heart, or if his boat sparked joy, he did as Jesus directed. He pushed away from the shore, he dropped his net, one more time. And the carpenter’s advice transformed him. The net had so many fish it almost broke. The haul threatened to swamp the boat. Did they catch enough? They almost drowned in their abundance.
You know, if Simon had given in to his skepticism, or if he had only thought about what gave him warm feelings, he would have missed the miracle. He would have missed the multitude of fish that would answer the question of enough for the next week or so. He would have missed the power of his Lord. He would have missed the call to fish for people for the Son of God.
Simon shows us the trouble with life today. We live in an age of increasing eye rolls, entrenched self-certainty, endless skepticism, harsh cynicism and easy dismissal of anyone other than those in our tribe. It is worrisome. I’m worried that our culture encourages us to do only that which sparks joy or gives us a warm fuzzy, a happy heart. I’m worried that we are encouraged to accept only those relationships, moments and things that unquestionably affirm us, or offers us self-fulfillment. Listen from the minimalist movement to the myriad of self-help schools to the relentless machine of consumerism: it is all about you and what makes you feel good, no matter what impact that has on anyone else or on the world.
There is a website dedicated to decluttering. It says that a cluttered hallway means that one’s life’s path is not clearly thought out. A cluttered bathroom means one lacks self-worth. Do you have messy closets? You will be unable to see into yourself, thus blunting intuition.
A recent article in the marketing magazine of a big box store advises us to set an intention for each room in our homes. Doing so, it claims, creates an environment that supports “your best life.” It goes on to tell us to cherish and honor our home. And we should ask of each item in our homes, if it makes us smile.
At the center of all this advice is you. The other day, as I browsed Valentine’s gifts, I spied a set of wineglasses with the motto: “I’m not much, but I’m all I think about.” Forty years ago, the boomer generation got labeled the “Me generation.” Even, so, it seems we are now living that motto on steroids.
SO what does Simon’s fishing have to do with this? The singular point of this story is Jesus’ power over not only demons and sickness, but the sea and all creation. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth and exhibits a power never before seen or known. He calls forth fish from the ocean, supplying the needs of people. He bestows the ability to catch people upon disciples. And the contrast with our culture is striking. Followers of Jesus are just that, followers. They follow Jesus, and they are sent out to catch people for Jesus. Their lives are not their own. Our lives, if we are to be followers of Jesus, are not our own. And on this fishing expedition, our personal fulfillment is secondary to fulfilling God’s purposes.
In this context, Isaiah’s words, “Here I am send me!” reminds us that to go where God tells us does not allow us to choose our own itinerary. Think about what Isaiah is told to do” “Make the minds of the people dull, and stop their ears.” That is not a journey filled with affirmation or success. It does not spark joy, engender a happy heart of create an environment that supports my best life. At least as the world defines it anyway.
New Testament scholar Eduard Schweizer tells us that faith “does not come as assent to statements previously preached, but as trust in Jesus’ call to try once more, contrary to all dictates of reason.” Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury puts it this way: “to say that we believe in Jesus is the equivalent of saying that we have confidence in Jesus above all things; Jesus is where we belong, the one to whom we belong.”
To know ourselves as those who belong to Jesus before we belong to anyone, or anything else, including ourselves, is the beginning of understanding discipleship.
And the thing of it is, so often the cost of discipleship does not come off the top of what we have, or who we are; it is demanded of us after we have given everything that we can give. Jesus did not show up after Simon and the guys had a good night sleep and a hearty breakfast. Jesus showed up when they were at the end of a long day, after backbreaking labor, and he told them to keep on working.
To be a follower of Jesus, to be a Christian, to be a disciple, to be a member of CPC, requires a bit of dogged obedience. Lord, we’ve been here since 1868, and still we’re unsure. Lord, we cared for the homeless, but then Caritas moved away. Yet still there is need in our community. Lord, we tutor children, but still there is a need. Lord, we make twenty meal backpacks a week, yet there are more children hungry.
Lord, we worked all night long and our nest came up empty, but if you say the word, we’ll get back in the boat and go out again. We’ll keep praying, teaching, serving, fishing for people, trusting you will call forth abundance in due time” bursting nets, overflowing cups, justice rolling down like water, baskets of food left over and the grace extended to s not in vain.
The irony is that in focusing on Jesus, not ourselves, in obeying his word, not justifying ourselves, and following Jesus, not going our own way, we will drown in abundance. An abundance of mercy, grace, love and joy. Even, or perhaps especially, at the end of a long day.