Six years ago, this week, I had the amazing opportunity to spend ten days in the Holy Land. And, as part of our pilgrimage, we spent an entire day on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We began that day with a silent prayer walk from the Mount of the Beatitudes where the Sermon on the Mount was preached down to the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. At the water’s edge, we came to a quaint, stone church dedicated to the Apostle Peter. It’s a small church, not much to look at, but it is significant because the church itself is built around a large slab of ancient limestone. In front of this slab of limestone is a sign that reads “mensa Christi,” which means “table of Christ.” That limestone table marks the spot where, according to tradition, the disciples hauled ashore their abundant catch of large fish (153 to be exact). That was the spot where the risen Christ set up a charcoal fire and cooked the disciples a breakfast of fish and bread. That was the spot where Jesus re-commissioned Peter, and said to him, “feed my sheep.” As I stood and stared at that ancient limestone table, I realized that that table was the place where those first disciples were fed, restored, and commissioned as witnesses of the resurrection.
But after our visit to St. Peter’s Church, our group of pilgrims got on a boat and we sailed out into the middle of the Sea of Galilee. And I found myself thinking about the disciples out on the water in their fishing boat. I thought about the fact that they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. But when Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, their nets are so full, the disciples couldn’t even haul their nets into the boat.
And as I was looking out over the water of the Sea of Galilee, it occurred to me that everything I had seen back on the shore at St. Peter’s Church, everything that happened around that limestone table, was dependent on what happened in the boat. The experience of being fed, restored, and commissioned was only possible because the disciples first obeyed the voice of Jesus and cast and cast their nets on the other side of the boat. In other words, it all started in the boat.
So, this morning, I want you to imagine that you are in that boat. I want you to feel the spray of the Sea of Galilee on your face. I want you smell the mustiness of the old, damp wood and the fishing nets that have been used for generations. And then ask yourself, “What does the experience in the boat teach us about our spiritual life as followers of Jesus?”
The first thing the experience in the boat does is remind us that we have a tendency to return to what is familiar. In today’s ‘gospel Peter says, “I’m going fishing!” Now remember, Peter has seen the empty tomb. Peter has encountered the risen Christ, not once, but twice. Peter has heard Jesus say, “Peace be with you!” and has received the very breath of the Holy Spirit. And yet, after all of that, he says, “Hey guys, I’m going back to work!” Why? Because we have a tendency to return to what is familiar. Peter is probably felt like his life was a bit out of control. And so, he returns to what he can control.
We do the same thing. We return to that which we know. We return to what is safe and predictable. When things are out of control, when life is crazy, we have a tendency to return to what is familiar. But God doesn’t let us stay there very long! Continue reading