Friday, 8 April 2016

Fishing, fires & faith

Going fishing or gathering around a fire

I wonder what your expectations of coming to worship this morning were.

It might sound a strange question but I wonder whether you were going fishing or coming to sit by the fire?

In the story that we heard from John’s gospel that we heard today we encounter Peter and some of Jesus other disciples making what might seem a somewhat bizarre decision to go fishing.

In the previous verses of John’s gospel we have seen Peter run to the empty tomb and encounter the risen Christ in a locked room. Not once but twice.  Jesus has breathed on him with the power of the Holy Spirit and uttered those words of commissioning “As the Father sent me so I send you”.

Do we expect that Jesus was sending Peter back to his old life – fishing?  Really?  But that’s what Peter decides to do.

Peter has just spent the last three years of his life away from the nets and the boats to follow Jesus.  He has walked with Jesus, following his itinerant teacher.  He has seen his miracles; watched healings; seen the dead raised; heard parables; done miracles himself; and, been amazed at the presence and power of God.  He has also denied Jesus and seen him die.

I have a sense that Peter was so overwhelmed with his encounters with the risen Jesus he wanted to get some perspective, to do something he knew and understand.  ‘Let’s go fishing’.

And the other disciples jump on board, quite literally and they head out onto the sea.

Fishing, especially fishing overnight, is one of those occupations that creates space for a person, creates time.

These were fisherman by trade and so probably by birth.  Fishing for them was natural.  Fishing involves patience and boredom and stillness and probably companionship as well.  There is time to think and to just be.

In some ways it was a good choice for Peter to make.  To be with his friends on the water through the night may have been like wrapping an old security blanket around himself.

There was time to reflect and maybe talk but possibly also to just be in that comfortable space of silence and companionship.

Of course we hear that these men out on their boat did not catch anything, which makes this a fishing story I can relate to pretty closely but maybe catching something wasn’t really the point.  It was more about being together in the face of trying to understand God and the world and death and life and resurrection.

And maybe for some of you this is what worship is life sometimes.  A space that involves patience and boredom and solitude and silence and companionship and grounding in something familiar.  A place in which you through the line in or the net overboard and ponder God and the world and death and life and resurrection.

Maybe the disciples were wondering where Jesus was, maybe they were still trying to process whether they could trust their encounter and maybe we wonder too.  When will we experience Jesus, when will see the divine.

‘Let’s go fishing’. 

While Peter and his friends are out on the water something else quite astounding is occurring.  On the beach Jesus, resurrected from the dead, is doing something very earthy.  Jesus is collecting kindling, making a fire and preparing a meal: bread and fish on the beach.

It struck me this week what an extraordinarily ordinary thing this was for the resurrected Jesus to do.  He prepared a meal for his friends.

Whilst the miracle of the catch and Peter’s reaction, diving off the boat to come and join Jesus on the shore, speak of the wonder of the resurrection the invitation of the fire is a moment for us to think upon a bit more closely.

As the disciples come and gather on the beach they come into a place of companionship with the risen Christ as the disciples are confronted once again by the mystery of life after death.  Here by the fire the disciples continue to display a level of reticence to name the mystery of Jesus presence with them as he offers to them: hospitality, friendship, warmth, welcome, teaching, presence and resurrection.

In this moment of mystery and grace Jesus offers something entirely worldly as well as a glimpse of the mystery of God’s love: death is not the final word.

For me there is a sense that gathering in worship as we do some of us may also be coming to sit by that fire.  Not knowing quite what to say because we are in presence of the mystery f the risen Christ. But, wanting to bask in God’s hospitality, to be in the presence of the risen Christ, to gather by the fire with our friends and listen to Jesus.

Jesus is present here now and offering that hospitality and this space and time in which we gather should always have a sense of the warmth and welcome of the fire on that beach so long ago.

Yet as Jesus followers, sitting on the beach with Jesus is not all that it is about.  When Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked room Jesus empowered the disciples with the Holy Spirit in order that they might be sent into the world and also on the beach Jesus confronts his closest follower Peter.

Peter do you love me? Yes Lord? Feed my sheep!
Peter do you love me? Yes Lord? Feed my sheep!
Peter do you love me? Yes Lord? Feed my sheep!

Jesus injunction to feed his sheep is an injunction to carry on Jesus ministry.  A ministry that involved reconciliation, healing, forgiveness, mercy, compassion and resurrection!

One could even argue a ministry of fire making.  The hospitality shared on the beach with the disciples is the hospitality of God that stretches out to all people.

As followers we are called to the task of gathering wood, lighting fires, creating a space of hospitality where others might also encounter the risen Christ.

So I wonder where you at today in your faith? Are you going fishing? Sitting by the fire in awe? Or ready to go out and make fires elsewhere? Or at the least to invite others to gather here with us.

Wherever you are at, know this, the resurrected Christ is already at work.  Preparing places for us to meet with him and experience God’s love and hospitality.

This is indeed good news.