|Walking along Lower Crab Creek|
Near Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
Monday, March 7, 2016
A Firm Foundation - Caught for Joy
Preached on Sunday, March 6, 2016
Scripture readings: Jeremiah 1:1-10; Luke 5:1-11
I remember my friend Dick Cochran saying that Jesus’ first true miracle was not when he turned the water into wine. It was when Jesus turned commercial fishermen into disciples.
Dick meant nothing critical by saying this. He just knew a lot of commercial fishermen, and he liked them, and he knew that they would have laughed to hear him say it. God has great saints among the fishing people. But they have a different way of life. They have a very salty way of acting and talking, and they are proud of it.
It’s one thing to have a real skill; to know how to something practical and essential, and to do it well. When you add to that pride the pride of knowing how to work well under extreme and dangerous circumstances, day after day, the results can be wild, and rough, and dangerous. That’s the pride of the commercial fisherman.
The small Oregon coast town of Lakeside, where I served for five years, had some recreation and retirement people in it, but it was mostly timber workers, and lumber-mill workers, and some fishermen. They were tough people. I’m sure that whenever they looked at me they thought how soft I was: even the ones who knew me and liked me. I’m sure that, in some way that I still can’t imagine, I was simply entertaining to them, and completely out of place.
My friend Hutch was my church treasurer. He had done that for over twenty years. He was almost eighty years old. But he was still a mill worker at heart. He had done that for most of his working life.
He would tell me about how, in his pre-Christian younger days, he would walk down the street with a pipe in his back pocket. He didn’t mean a pipe for smoking. He meant a metal pipe for fighting with. You would want to carry something like that on you, if you were serious about going to the mill town and fishing town taverns of Hutch’s younger days.
Hutch was a great Christian man, and a great Sunday school teacher, but I can’t help thinking that (even at the age of eighty) he still could have killed me, if it came down to that. Knowing Hutch, and many other mill workers and fishermen, I think I know what Peter was like.
I think that Jesus was well enough known, by the time Peter met him, so that Peter knew where Jesus came from and, more or less, the kind of man he should be. Jesus was a rabbi with a reputation for healing, but Jesus was also a carpenter. They shared the footing of being men who knew how to work, and how to do their work well.
Unless Peter thought that Jesus was a failed carpenter, who resorted be being a rabbi as a last resort, Peter expected Jesus to be carpenter-tough. But Peter was confident about being commercial-fisherman-tough and that made Peter the better man, the tougher man.
In Jesus, Peter met his match. Jesus was the tougher man. Peter was the catcher of fish. Jesus was the master of fish. Jesus clearly owned the fish and the sea they swam in. This was the first of what was going to be many lessons about who Jesus was, and is, and about learning to let Jesus have his way.
Letting Jesus use his boat when he had other work to do shows us Peter being polite and voluntary. Peter made it pretty clear that Jesus didn’t know what he was talking about when Jesus told him to take the boat into deep water to really catch some fish. Again, Peter obeyed Jesus politely and voluntarily, against his will and his own better judgement. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and we haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
Peter didn’t mean what he said, because, when the nets were full, he confessed and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) Jesus knew Peter’s business better than Peter did. Jesus was the better man. Jesus was tougher than Peter, and now Peter knew it.
Because of Jesus, the days of Peter’s life as a commercial fisherman were numbered. In his heart, he would probably stay a fisherman all his life, but he would be of use to Jesus by doing something completely different, and he had no idea how to do it.
Even we Christians don’t really know what it means to be Christian. It takes us half our lives, or all our lives, to realize that Jesus is not only a carpenter who builds things. It’s true that he does take charge of building us. But Jesus is also in the demolition business and we don’t cooperate with him in this business.
The gospels use Peter to teach us about ourselves. We are tempted to belong to Jesus by accepting his promises to us, and saying that we will do what he says because he says so. But that’s not enough.
It takes us forever to face the fact that we think we know best about our choices, even as Christians. We know best about where and how to serve and love Jesus.
If we could see ourselves as Jesus sees us, we would see that we think we can get our own way in the end, and that’s a way of thinking that we are really tougher than Jesus.
The great haul of fish told Peter that Jesus was smarter and stronger than him. This demolished Peter’s ego and even Peter’s identity. Jesus demolished how Peter thought of himself, and what he took pride in, and how he made his decisions about what to do next. Because of this, Peter was going to leave behind a kind of work that had been his way of life and his identity.
Being a fisherman had always given him his blueprint for relating to others and making his way in this world. Jesus took that away from him.
Both Jesus and Jeremiah were in the business of demolition and reconstruction. This is another way of saying that both of them were in the business of judgment and grace.
The Lord told the teenage boy named Jeremiah, “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10) In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus’ parents brought him to the Temple to be dedicated, the old man named Simeon spoke to Mary about her Son’s future work in demolition and reconstruction, in judgement and grace. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
Through the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from death to life we all become the objects of his demolition and reconstruction, his judgement and his grace. This is the power of the good news of the gospel. This is also called change. Since the beginning of the creation, the work of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit has always been about change.
A lot of the stress of our lives comes from our conflict with Jesus over what must come to an end within us. Something in us coming to an end is the only way for something we don’t understand to begin. God has wanted to plant and grow things in you and me that we think we don’t want. The thought of going through this scares us.
I’m beginning to wonder if growing old has something to do with accomplishing this. But it should happen long before we grow old.
Jeremiah’s ultimate goal was that God wanted him to build and to plant. That is God’s will for us in Jesus.
That big haul of fish that Jesus gave to Peter seems to have demolished something inside him. It cut Peter to the heart. He felt that Jesus should have nothing to do with him because he had behaved so badly toward Jesus.
This is such an odd thing. A big haul of fish was the very thing Peter lived for. It was his harvest. It was what made Peter happy. It was what gave Peter joy.
In a sense, then, Peter was demolished and rebuilt by the discovery that Jesus knew completely what gave him joy. The demolition that comes from Jesus is for building and planting. It’s for a new life. The demolition that comes from Jesus is for joy.
This calls for a kind of trust from us. It calls us to believe that Jesus knows and cares more about our own joy than we do. This is what Peter saw for the first time in his life with Jesus.
We say, “This is what I am. Live with it.” We think that we find our satisfaction in that. Or we might be tempted to think that being Christian means pretending to enjoy what we don’t in order to please Jesus. In either case we have no idea what Jesus has to offer.
I believe that Jesus is showing us every day that he knows what we really enjoy. He knows where our happiness is. We are like little children making mud pies and throwing a tantrum because Jesus is like our parent giving us a piece of apple pie when we want to pretend to eat our mud pies.
Fishermen catch fish to be eaten. Fishers of people should catch people for joy; only we haven’t learned enough about that joy yet. Christians think they are called to catch people to spare them from judgment, when those same Christians still need to accept God’s judgement for themselves, so that God’s demolition can proceed, and true joy be given to them.
I believe that those who aren’t with us see right through us. They see that (whatever we say) we really don’t know enough about joy.
Only when we learn and trust that we are caught for joy can we understand what God wants with other people. Only then are we truly qualified to fish with Jesus. Only when we know that Jesus has caught us for joy will we know what we have been given to share with them.