The Other Side

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John 21:1-14

What is life like, after resurrection?

Maybe you’ve been asking yourself that very thing.  We’re in a resurrection season, after all.  It’s the season of spring and Easter and vaccinations.  There’s new life all around us!  And new is the key word.  We’ve been changed – by the cross, by the pandemic.  We can’t resurrect by going back to what we were.  We resurrect by going forward. 

But how? 

If you’ve wondering how your 2021 self is going to be different from your 2019 self, today’s Scripture has something for you… because it’s the story of how the disciples started letting go of their old lives and living into resurrection. 

This story begins after.

After Easter morning and the empty tomb.  After Jesus showed up to the disciples – twice.  After he told them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 

What did the disciples do after all that?

They went to the sea of Galilee.

Or at least 7 of them did.  Galilee is a pretty place; green hills rolling around a lake-as-big-as-a-sea.  It’s also a good 80 miles north of Jerusalem.  In other words, these disciples didn’t just wander there; they went there, on purpose.  Why?  For a weekend at the lake?

No – I think it’s because 5 of these 7 were from there.  They were going home.

Jesus said, “I send you…” and they went home.

Having arrived at their old stomping grounds, they gathered at the edge of the sea.  I imagine them quietly looking out at the water, reflecting on everything that’s happened.  Just a week ago they went through a roller coaster of events, from the death of their messiah to his resurrection.  That’s a lot to process.  But let’s be honest, their whole experience with Jesus was a hard-to-process roller coaster.  It was awesome, but it was also confusing – never knowing what answer he wanted to his many questions or the point of his many stories.  And now Jesus has “sent” them – but where?  To do what? 

Here they are back home, and home feels good.  Peter’s eyes move from the sea he knows so well to the beach he knows so well.  Then he spies a most familiar sight:  a boat with a fisherman’s net lying in it.  Peter, remember, was a fisherman before he was a disciple.  The dots in his mind connect easily:  a boat; a net; 7 tired and hungry men?  That math just adds up.  He doesn’t know what Jesus wants him to do now but he sure knows how to get supper.

“I’m going fishing,” he says.  It’s not a question.  It’s a statement.

3 of the others were also fishermen before they were disciples, so this is an easy sell.  “We’ll go with you,” they say.  Without speaking they grab the boat and guide it onto the water.  They don’t have to talk; they just do it.  Muscle memory kicks in as they cut through the waves and ready the net; brain memory kicks in as they debate the best fishing spots.  They’re getting excited now – not just for supper, but to be doing something they know how to do for the first time in such a long time. 

This is who they are.  They are fishermen.

They cast the net into the first spot – Peter’s choice.  As Peter readies to haul it in, he puts his whole weight into it; he knows it will be full of fish.  He gives it a strong pull and –  

Nothing.  It’s light as a feather. 

No matter; even seasoned fishermen hit the wrong spot from time to time.  Move a little this way; yes, that’s it; throw the net in again, and –

Nothing.  Nada.  Nilch.

Andrew takes the net out of Peter’s hands.  “You’re rusty, bro!” he teases.  “Let me handle this.”  But the confidence of his fisherman’s throw is broken by yet another empty haul. 

Man by man, they keep taking turns.  At first they’re joking around, blaming each other’s technique.  Then desperation kicks in as they exhaust all their favorite spots.  Nighttime comes and goes.  Daylight starts to break.

One boat; one net; 7 men… and zero fish.

Not only are they hungry, they’re more disoriented than ever.  If they can’t go home, where can they go?  If they can’t fish, what can they do?

And then a stranger shows up.  A man standing on the shore.  In the pale light of dawn they can’t see his features, but his voice carries clear as a bell across the water:

“Hey, fellas – how’s the fishing?”

They don’t answer at first; the truth is embarrassing.  But the stranger is still standing there, looking at them, which irritates Peter.

“There’s not a fish in this whole stupid lake!” he yells back.

“Have you tried casting the next on the other side of the boat?”

Something inside Peter snaps.  The other side?  What difference could that possibly make?  So he responds with the passive-aggressive technique perfected by angry spouses and children everywhere:  I’m going to do what you said, but see?  See?  I am obviously unhappy.  This idea is clearly stupid, and you can tell by how I’m picking up the net, by the way I’m glaring at you as I cast it out on your ‘other side,’ by the way I pull it back in and its –

And it’s –

Wait – is the net stuck on something?

Oh – it’s not stuck.  It’s full.  So full, the 7 grown men can’t get it in the boat.   

And then John sees the man on the shore.  He really sees.  He sees with his eyes and his soul.  It’s Jesus. 

Jesus is the man telling them where to cast the net.  Jesus is the man whose direction Peter just followed.  Jesus is what made all the difference.

Where were they supposed to go after the resurrection?  In the disciples’ defense, Jesus’ instructions lacked specificity.  “I am sending you” isn’t an address.  Sometimes home is exactly where Jesus wants us to be; there are people who need Jesus, right here at home. 

And what were they supposed to be doing?  Sent – but to do what?  Fishing could be part of it.  So often God uses our everyday profession to expose us to people and situations where we can do God’s work.  You don’t have to be a full-time missionary or pastor to be “sent” by Jesus.

To be sent back home and to go fishing, those things aren’t necessarily wrong.  But here’s the danger – and it’s twofold.

The first danger is that we automatically revert to what we did before, just because it’s comfortable and familiar.  We decide to follow Jesus… but we act exactly the same way we did before that decision, because it’s what we know how to do.  Or the restrictions of this pandemic are lifted… and we pick up all our same routines from 2019 without really thinking about it.  We have to acknowledge that we are changed, we are different, we are resurrected.  If we return to some of our old ways, it should be with a purpose.

Which brings up the second danger:  making decisions without involving Jesus.  Yes, I know; it’s hard to listen for Jesus’ direction.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives us a quick, strong gut feeling – but more often listening to Jesus means spending more time in prayer, waiting a little longer to make the decision, consulting other Christians to see what they thing.  But remember how the disciples fished all night and caught nothing… until they were fishing at Jesus’ direction?  Jesus told them it would be that way:  “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

This is a story about what happens after.  It starts 7 men going back to their pre-disciples life, without Jesus, and coming up empty handed.  But it ends with 7 men following Jesus’ direction, and catching more than they would have dreamed of.

Let’s let this story be ours, too.  Whatever our “after” is supposed to be – may it be directed by Christ.

Amen. 

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