The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - April 10, 2016
Scripture Reading: John 21:1-19


The Rev. Robert Vodra


     One summer I spent several weeks with my cousin, Uncle and Aunt driving across country.  This was just before his little sister was born, so he was an only child, splitting time between his father and step mother, and his birth mother.  I guess they thought it would give him someone to hang out with, close to his age, and get to know his cousin a little better.  We were following the Oregon trail, but we only made it to Colorado before my time with them ended.  While we were in Colorado, we visited our grandmother, and then spent time with my grandfather and his latest wife.  She decided it would be fun to bring us up into the mountains, where her brother owned a cabin, and her parents lived just across the street from that cabin.  So I guess they would be my step -great grandparents, or something like that. 

     At any rate, she, my step great grandmother would get up every morning, very early and walk past our cabin to go down to the lake.  She would throw in a fishing line and would catch several big fish.  I donít know what they were, but especially to an 8 year old, they were huge.  Just about the time we were getting up, she would walk back by the cabin and bring them up the hill to her cabin, clean them and put them in her freezer.  My goal became to catch one of those fish.  So one afternoon she brought me down the lake with my cousin and we tried.  Over here, over there, back over there, spent a couple hours and never even got a nibble. 

     She said that it must be the time of day.  So we agreed that she would come by our cabin the next morning, very early, and we would go down and catch a fish.  I donít remember the time, but remember the alarm going off, my cousin and I getting up, getting dressed in the dark and meeting her outside the cabin just as it was starting to get light enough to see.  We walked quietly down to the lake, same spot she always caught her fish every morning, using the same bait, even same poles.  And hour or two later we came back empty handed. 

     My grandfather decided that if I wanted to catch a fish, he was going to somehow get me to catch a fish.  We went to a stocked pond.  Well, pond is subjective.  More like a muddy hole, where you paid an admission price to get in, and you would get your money back if you didnít catch anything.  It still was not easy, other people were pulling in these large rainbow trout.  They would take their one or two, whatever the limit was, and leave.  More people would come, get their fish and leave.  Finally, I got a bite.  I set the hook, and I got it in.  That fish must have 6 or maybe 8 inches long.  No way I was going to throw it back, that was a meal, and I caught it. 
We went back up to the cabin, and my step grandmother cleaned it, got off every ounce of edible meat, and actually fried it up the next morning for me.  With eggs and bacon and toast, it made a full breakfast. 

     Now I still fish, I enjoy it.  Every year I get a license, and every year I go out and try.  I keep dreaming of finding that perfect spot, where I can catch several big fish in a few hours, maybe even up to the limit, bring them home and cook them up for the family.  But most years I get some sunfish, and they get thrown back. 

     So I can only imagine what it felt like for the disciples in the story from this morningís reading.  They were not fishing for fun, they were fishing for food, and probably their livelihood.  Several had been fishermen before.  Now this story occurs after Jesus had been killed.  They had chased their dreams, followed a dynamic leader, but now it was over.  Yes, Jesusí body was gone, that is that women said and even Thomas who went to check it out for himself found it gone.  But they didnít know where it had gone.  This resurrection thing was confusing to them, yes, Jesus said he would be resurrected, but was that his body, his soul, his spirit?  It was not like they had a book like the Bible to read.  There were no great theologians to tell them what happened, it was just their experiences to guide them.  And they thought it was over.  Good while it lasted, and maybe even they learned something that they could teach others, but for now they were going back to where they had been.

     This story always seemed a bit out of place for me.  In Chapter 20 of John, just before this, we hear the story about Jesus appearing to his disciples, minus Thomas, and then appearing to them with Thomas.  And then a possible ending to the book of John.  I wrote these things so that you would hear them and also believe.  That is paraphrased.  Yes, great, wrapped up neatly, and then you go into Chapter 21.  Also this happenedÖ wait a minute.  If we read your whole book, we got the story of Jesus life, miracles, death, resurrection and first appearance to the disciples and then, ďoh, I forgot, Jesus also appeared after his death to his disciples on the beach after his resurrection.Ē 

     We donít have a great sense of how long this was.  But the disciples had obviously gone back to what they were doing.  Now I donít know what I would do if Jesus appeared to me like he did to the disciples.  I am pretty sure I would be in shock, but that is not a good state to live in. 

     I am often surprised when I meet with a family after a loved one dies, or something tragic happens.  They clean.  Now I donít mean dusting, but I will go to their house and they will be washing the drapes, washing all the dishes, washing windows.  Or baking, they will offer me cookies and breads and other fresh baked goods.  I have come to realize that this is natural.  When we are faced with the loss of a loved one, or something tragic, we go into a pattern of doing what we know.  Sometimes I have heard of someone losing a loved one, and the next day they are at work, just like normal. 

     So I imagine that is what the disciples felt. Shock, loss, but they are going back to what they know.  They know fishing, they are going fishing.  And then Jesus shows up on the beach.  Tells then where to cast their nets, and the nets are pulled in, overflowing with fish. 

     I would like to suggest that this passage is about listening.  You see the disciples were throwing their net on the wrong side of the boat, over and over again.  I wonder how many of us do that. 

     When I was in high school we had a class we were required to take our freshman year called study skills.  The idea was that this class would teach you how to take notes, and then how to use those notes to study.  There was, in their mind, one way that this happens.  You take notes a particular way.  If I remember right, you start with a Roman numeral 1, for a title, and then you had subheadings with a capitol A, you could then go further down with lower case letters or numbers, until you got to a place where you would start with a Roman numeral II, or maybe it was a capitol B.  Each of these roman numerals or letters could then be transferred to an index card to help you to study. 

     I never got it.  Everyday through High School I would start my dayís notes with a Roman numeral 1, and then a capitol A, and then below that were just random notes.  The teacher would say something I found interesting, or they may say ďThis you may see on an upcoming testĒ and I would write it down.  But honestly I found no value in putting those onto an index card.  And there was never any letters or numbers below that single Roman numeral 1 and that first A. 

     It didnít work for me.  It was not until the middle of college that I realized that I really didnít need to write down something that I already knew.  If I was busy writing down things that I knew, because they might fit into that structure they gave us, I would miss important things that I didnít know.  I recently pulled out some notes I had taken last year during an EMT recertification class I took.  I had notes, and there was no structure to them at all.  I had little drawings I had made, which made sense to me.  I had little notes of things I found interesting, which I did not know, which I wanted to look into later. 

     And even in seminary, there is a formula for sermons.  Three points and a joke.  And there are many ministers who start a sermon by writing out their 3 points, might have illustrations for some of them, figure out a joke that fits in somehow with the sermon, and then they start writing.  If you try to take notes on my sermons, with the little Roman numerals, I donít think it will work.  Sometimes my sermons do have 3 points, sometimes they have more, sometimes they may have one.  Since I have written those 3 point sermons, often when I hear them I will be able to follow along.  OK, this is the third point, we are getting toward the end of the sermon.  And to the credit of those, you may leave with 3 things that you didnít know before, or that were reinforced for you.  But I donít think they work for everyone. 

     Sometimes I think it is necessary to break out of patterns we find ourselves in and try something new.  There is not one way to take notes in a class, or to write a sermon.  There is not one way to worship, or one way to be the church. 

     In just a few short weeks we are going to have our Spring Fling.  Hopefully most of you have heard about it.  We will be meeting on Saturday, April 23 at the Community House.  The actual event will start at noon.  We are going to have hot dogs and hamburgers, crafts, games, a bounce house, displays, music and more.  The first goal is to have fun, and invite others to have fun.  Secondary is to introduce anyone who comes by to what happens through the church, or through the community house, or both.  To my knowledge this has never been done before in this way, and I have no idea how it may work out.  It could end up being 40 people who are here this morning.  I may get some bounce house time, and even make a craft to bring home with me.  Or we might run out of food. 

     I think the scripture this morning is asking us to do things like this event.  We have been casting our net to the same side of the boat for a while now.  Sometimes we catch a fish, someone new moves into the community, we appeal to them, they start coming to church, get involved.  That is awesome.  But this is a chance to cast our net to the other side of the boat and see if there are any fish over there.  And the people who come to that event may not be interested in the way we worship, but may really want to help with our meals, or do something with the food pantry, or sing in the choir.  Some may need the food pantry but didnít know we have it.  Some may want to come to worship.  I donít know who will come, or what will happen, but we cast the net and see. 

     And I encourage you to look in your own life where you maybe casting your net on one side of the boat, doing something the same over and over, hoping for a different result, but not finding it.  I found that taking notes a particular way didnít work for me, but I figure out a way to do it so that it did work for me.  I found that my 3 point and a joke sermons were not reaching people the way I wanted, so I donít do that anymore, I try other things.   Perhaps some of my sermons teach you something or give you something new to think about, some probably donít.  I mend my net and try casting it out in a different way, hoping that will work. 

     I really do keep hoping that someday I will find that secret fishing spot where I will go, catch my limit, go home and have fresh fish for dinner.  I keep trying.  I will keep exploring ponds and streams, seeing if I have any luck.  And in my own life I will also follow that.  Keep looking for that best place to throw my net, keep looking in churches I serve, to what I may be able to offer them. Listening to Jesus, please show me where to throw my net, how to throw it, how to do what you are asking me to do, both in my church and in the world.