A different kind of fishing story April 10, 2016 Rev. Anne R. Atwell When I was growing up, my father was one of the managers in the Computer Department of the main industry (which was the glass industry) in our little Pennsylvania town. He got that job right out of college, just as computers were […]
A different kind of fishing story
April 10, 2016
Rev. Anne R. Atwell
When I was growing up, my father was one of the managers in the Computer Department of the main industry (which was the glass industry) in our little Pennsylvania town. He got that job right out of college, just as computers were fairly new to the market. I remember as a child, going into the office with my dad and the computers were so large they filled an entire room! It was huge and with all the blinking lights, it was so impressive to me.
But what my father had to do for part of his career was to travel to the various glass factories around the United States and get them connected to these newly developed computer systems. This was back in the late 1960s or early 1970s and it was a big deal for these factories to be going through this kind of conversion process. A few years ago, my dad told me of someone who at that time was an Accounting Manager at one of the factories…and he was very unhappy, really, really unhappy, when found out that his group was the next to convert to computers. He didn’t like the idea that he would need to move from using paper ledgers to these “new fangled” computers. And he kind of began making excuses as to why he couldn’t do it. He told my dad that he was concerned about the people that worked for him, that they would lose their jobs. But my Dad assured him that the people would be staying in their jobs and would just have the opportunity to learn a new way of doing their job – they would simply acquire a new skill set! Well, that’s not what this guy wanted to hear. The conversion went through. His work was moved to the computers…and he stuck around the company for a few more months and then he left. He was just so uncomfortable with the idea of change that he left a very good job. He just couldn’t go beyond the “it’s never been done that way before” mindset. I think we all know people like that…and, if we’re honest, sometimes that is us – really reluctant to make changes in our lives.
A few weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, we heard quite a lot about resurrection. I mean, that is kind of what Easter is about! But think for a moment about what resurrection means. It means new life! It means new beginnings and new possibilities! Resurrection is about moving through something very difficult and into a place in which hope appears! And that’s where we are now. That is what it means to be an “Easter People.” We’ve been through the Lenten journey. We’ve been reminded that Golgotha does not have the last word. And now we are at the point where the rubber hits the road – where we step into the hard work of living the Easter message.
In the story that we just heard from John’s Gospel, the disciples are going through a tough time, as well. Their friend, Jesus, had been executed by Rome and this group were known to be followers of Jesus’ inclusive and welcoming message. We heard last Sunday, of the disciples locking themselves in a room for fear of what could happen to them! But they were offered a second chance. They got, what our Senior Pastor called, a second wind in which they could move beyond their fears and do the work they were called to do. And today we hear that the disciples have decided to go fishing. And there are a couple of points that I want to make regarding this really meaningful and power-filled passage.
First, we know from other readings that prior to their work with Jesus, many of the disciples made their living by fishing. Biblical scholars believe that by including this passage in John’s Gospel the writer was trying to convey what the Jesus community would be like after the execution of Jesus. This community probably felt very confused and disoriented – probably not sure what to do next. These same biblical scholars state that because the disciples reverted back to their old vocation, that they just didn’t have enough faith – that the disciples should be diminished or thought less of because of what they did. And I don’t really care for that interpretation. The biblical scholars don’t seem to be terribly forgiving. I think the disciples were simply being human. I think that after all they had been through, they probably wanted to go back to something that was familiar to them – something that would seem comfortable – something that seemed safe.
And I certainly understand their need for comfort for something familiar – we probably all do. But as comfortable as the past may seem for us, we really can’t go back. And quite honestly, I don’t want to go back. It is great to remember the wonderful things that have occurred in our lives and it is really important to honor them. I remember with love and affection some of the events that have occurred and have made me the person I am. Though, we may pine for the past, it is gone. It is done. And we cannot go there again. It is very easy, though, to make the past seem like just the best time ever – to remember only the good things – and to want to go back again. So it is good to remember but we can’t stay there.
“Nostalgia is powerful. It is natural, even human to long for the past, particularly when we can remember our histories as better than they were.” (Roxane Gay)
“The past can teach us, nurture us, but it cannot sustain us. The essence of life is change, and we must move ever forward or the soul will wither and die.” (Susanna Kearsley)
If we can move beyond the past…the way we’ve always done things…then it is quite possible we will encounter the richness of new experiences and new opportunities…our own personal resurrection experience.
And, a second point. What happened when the disciples did go fishing and they cast their nets into the water? Nothing. That’s what happened. Nothing. They caught no fish. But then something pretty incredible happens in this story. A stranger tells them, “Try something different. Try fishing from the other side.” Whoa…what a revelation that must have been! And often that is the simple reminder that each of us needs…A reminder to try something new…a new way of doing things!
How often in our lives, do we feel stuck, like maybe we’re just going nowhere – when really nothing positive seems to be happening? It may be the thought that this relationship isn’t working or this job just isn’t doing it for me or I’ve put on some weight and I feel disheartened and maybe a little bit lost.
I felt that way about a year ago. I knew I had put on some weight and I needed to do something about it. I felt unhealthy and my clothes felt tight…and I just didn’t feel good. I really wanted to do something about it, to make a positive change. But it is so easy to just keep doing what we’re doing – doing what we know best. And in my case, eating and sitting around too much was what I knew best. I excelled at it.
So, I tried something new, something a little different. I began eating a little less. I stopped with the Snickers bars and the potato chips and I began to integrate a few more salads into my diet. And, yeah, I lost a few pounds but not a lot. I felt a little disappointed. Nothing was really happening. A friend asked me how the weight loss was going and I told her that I was little disappointed. I truly thought that I would have lost more. She asked me how much exercise I was getting. Ah….none. So, I cast the net on the other side – I started doing something different. I began taking a walk every day. Not a lot – not at first. I walked 20 minutes a day for the first week or two. And then I increased it a bit up to 25 minutes…and then 30 minutes. And I began walking more and exercising more and I continued with the better eating habits. And guess what happened…doing that new thing worked! And here it is almost a year later, but doing that new thing, I’ve lost over 40 pounds.
If something isn’t working, try something new – try something different! Cast the nets on the other side of the boat and see what happens! It could be the miracle you’ve been waiting for! But you will never know unless you try.
It is a miracle when disappointment turns into accomplishment. It is a miracle when lack is replaced by abundance. When we can focus on the positive that is in our lives and when we are willing to move beyond what frightens us most, the scarcity…the nothing, can be replaced by abundance.
There is a book, which is currently on the New York Times best seller list that I am really enjoying. The title is On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life and it was written by John O’Leary. He has a really powerful and interesting life story. As a 9 year old child, there was an accident in which 80% of his body received 3rd degree burns. He survived with the help of his family, medical personnel, and others who encouraged him whenever fear would threaten to overtake him. He spends his life now as an inspirational speaker helping people live more profoundly and with more passion. There is a chapter in his book about how to move through stagnation and into a deeper growth experience. He invites the reader into a thoughtful place of reflection and questions.
He writes, “What’s really possible through your life? This is a question that can’t be fully answered if you’re looking down at your feet. Anxiety and fear will keep you stagnant. What if I fail? What if I am too old? What if I never walk again? In looking down, all you see is your shoes, the dirt; all you feel is discouragement; struggle. But you can instead look up, stretch, and breathe life and possibility into every moment. This is your day! Remember the powerful possibility that lived in your heart as a child. Put your superhero cape back on! Begin daring to dream again. What if this is just the beginning? What if I actually could succeed? What if I can make a profound impact in another’s life? What if I stretch actively forward each day? Isn’t it time to risk it all in order to build something, inspire another, and become someone great? Isn’t it time to stretch courageously toward the limitless possibility of your life? Isn’t it time you get moving, start dreaming, and begin growing? Growth is the only evidence of life!” (Taken from On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life by John O’Leary. Page 160)
My friends, our choices make up our lives. We can choose to be happy – or not. We can choose to be grateful – or not. We can choose to make a positive change in our life – or not. We can choose to let go of the past – or not. I truly hope that each one of us will make the choice to grow – to be open to change – to cast our nets and to fish from the other side of the boat. Because that is when the most abundant miracles can occur.
And this is the good news – Amen!
I choose to be happy.
I choose to be grateful.
I choose to let go of anything that is holding me back.
The past is the past and the future has infinite possibilities!
And so it is!