My question for us today is this: Are we fishing naked or jumping in for Jesus?
Wait, what? Did my pastor just ask me if we’re fishing naked or jumping in for Jesus?
Listen, little details in scripture can fly by us so don’t worry if this one flew by you. Maybe because we were distracted, or these days having a Covid brain moment, or maybe because we’re so busy trying to be proper church people that the mention of someone being naked makes us say “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!”
But, in fact, the gospel text of John says that when Jesus appears to the disciples for the third time, the disciples had gone back to doing what they did before Jesus called them to follow him and become fishers for people. The disciples were out on a boat fishing for fish. And, as numerous works of art from the time period when Jesus was born, lived, died, and was resurrected show us, fishermen (and they were all men at that time) would often fish au natural – naked – or in a loincloth. So, when Simon Peter hears that it’s Jesus who is calling them from the shore, we read that he puts on clothes (probably an outer robe), and jumps in the lake to swim to Jesus.
Are we fishing naked or jumping in for Jesus?
Simon Peter is nothing if not extreme in his reactions. At the Last Supper he tells Jesus that Jesus will never wash his feet, and moments later, begs Jesus to wash not only his feet, but also his hands and his head. As Jesus is being taken away to be put on trial, Simon Peter tells Jesus that he will never betray him, but then, later on, when those around Peter ask if he is one of Jesus’ disciples, he exclaims not once, but on three separate occasions that he is NOT Jesus’ disciple. Then falls down and weeps when the rooster crows and Peter realizes what he is done.
So maybe we are not entirely surprised when the disciples begin to realize that it is Jesus who is on the shore calling to them, Jesus whose direction to these professional, and very experienced, fishermen to put their nets in on the other side of the boat yields so many fish that the boat nearly begins to sink; that when Jesus is calling to the disciples from the shore, everyone else makes their way to the shore with the boat and the catch of fish, but it is Simon Peter who hastily clothes his naked body and dramatically jumps in the water to go to Jesus.
Which brings us back to my original question…are we fishing naked or jumping in for Jesus? Or in other words, now that we have heard again this Easter season that Jesus has not only died but been resurrected so as to take away our sins and make possible the powers of restoration for us and through us in this world, have we gone back to business as usual? Have we gone back to doing what we always did before we first started to know Jesus – the Jesus who has always known and loved and been rooting us on to lives that matter, to know that our lives might be vehicles through which others come to know of God’s love and desire for restoration that has come near?
Have we gone back to business as usual or are we all in for Jesus?
In the wonderful workshop we held here at Redeemer yesterday morning, with Reverend Doctor Donna Schaper, Rev. Schaper shared that for congregations our size, the number one mistake she has seen is that they do not devote enough energy and resources to developing bold ministry soon enough. Rather than praying and discussing and discerning their call to develop Christ’s church for the sake of the world as it is - not as we wish it were or as it used to be; rather than jumping in boldly and with exuberance like Peter to follow Jesus, we all too often go about business as usual. Continuing to do things as we have always done them.
Once on the shore and gathered with Jesus, the disciples in today’s gospel lesson hear Jesus ask Peter if he loves him three times. Some commentators have speculated that this three-time questioning of love is Jesus’ way of erasing Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus after Jesus had been taken away by the authorities. In any case, Peter says again and again – of course I love you. Of course I love you Jesus. And Jesus’ response? Then feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.
Feed this world of which you are a part. Don’t go back to fishing as you always did. Don’t go back to doing life the way you’ve always done it. I have a new way of life for you to learn. Someone else needs to guide how you dress yourself and someone else needs to direct your footsteps.
So how will we dress ourselves dear church? How will we attire ourselves as Redeemer, New Paltz so as to feed God’s sheep – ourselves and the rest of the world in need? How is Jesus calling, seeking to help Redeemer, New Paltz to become church for the present and church for the future?
Down at Judson Memorial in NYC, where Pastor Donna Schaper served for 15 years before heading to her present call out on Long Island; down at Judson Memorial they took a leap of faith and used what was left of their endowment ($150,000) to hire a score of interns – young people - to start community ministries. This led to a partnership with a Foundation that continued to fund this approach at Judson, and it became a cornerstone of how they got involved in the community around them in the city, and changed the church to be ready to minister and welcome that community. And they grew, from 25 on average in worship to over four hundred in fifteen years. They have 3,000 people coming through their church building in a week – most of them part of secular and other church groups that needed space, that needed a church community with a bold enough vision to see that God was working through these other groups in other and different ways. Judson grew into a church that was meeting the world as it is and as it is becoming – sometimes in ways that truly challenged their notions of what being church means. They got a van to drive around the neighborhood and provide respite and education for prostitutes. They had an artist use red jalapeno lights to create a mural of the baby Jesus at Mary’s breast that everyone walking through Washington Square Park could see. They were jumping in for Jesus, feeding God’s sheep – the people of the world – and definitely not going to back to business as usual.
Pastor Schaper had concrete suggestions for us as a Redeemer community to pray and discuss. Creating a business plan for expanding Community Partner Building Use. Canvassing the community to learn about who might need space and what kind of space. Creating an efficiency apartment to house a spiritual entrepreneur who could help open and close the building for groups, clean up, and communicate about all the good stuff that’s happening here with others. Challenging ourselves to think big and act boldly sooner than later.
In other words, don’t go back to business as usual, fishing in the boats – clothed or naked. Don’t wait for the boat to make its way slowly to shore – jump in for Jesus. Jump in for Jesus Redeemer. Just jump. Amen.