Easter 3C, April 10, 2016
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
John 21:1-19

You’ve all heard this joke – don’t moan, yes, I’m opening with a joke.

It’s the one where the man is in the midst of a flood, and so as the waters started to rise near his home he began praying to God to save him. As he prayed, he had a vision of God’s providential hand caring for him and saving him from disaster.

As his neighbor was fleeing, she asked the man if he wanted a ride out of the area and the man said, “No, God is going to save me.” The waters continued to rise, and so the man went onto the roof.

A boat with rescuers came by and asked him if he needed help. He said, “No, God is going to save me,” so they left.

Finally, a helicopter came and offered him evacuation, but he again said, “No, my God is going to save me.” So they left, and the man drowned in the floodwaters.

When he met God at the pearly gates, he said, “I thought you were going to save me? I had faith in you and you let me down!” God answered, “I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter- what more were you waiting for?”

I like that story because it’s so true of the way I struggle with my own faith. I want God to act in the way I would like God to act using the ways I imagine God should act, and God should do that when and where I ask for it.

Control is a funny thing. The need to be in control is a pretty basic human need. Psychological experiments looking at random events show that humans believe in the illusion of control even when we don’t have any. The study found that we believe we are more likely to win the lottery if we pick our own numbers, even though statistically that is not true. The study found that we roll the dice harder when playing games of chance, believing we have some agency over the outcome. Of course, our actions do matter– but they matter in relationship to other actions outside of our control also. It is a very big system– or as I would put it in theological terms, we have a very big God.

I am not a big fisher. But there was a time in my childhood when I would go to Lake Travis outside Austin in the summers and my Uncle Jack would take me fishing. My cousins and I would all be on the boat, and after lots of excitement with getting the rods and reels ready and getting the worms on the hooks– which was somehow revulsive and appealing at the same time, we would start fishing.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And nothing would happen.

It was probably only about five minutes but it felt like five hours. The kids would be ready at that point to exercise some control. It wouldn’t take long before all of us would be crying to Uncle Jack to move the boat because there weren’t any fish in this spot. We wanted to move the boat so that we could exercise some control over which fish got hooked on our reel. Uncle Jack, who I was sure had some kind of secret information about where the fish were, would sometimes say, “no, just wait- they’ll bite.” And sometimes he’d move us to another spot. And usually we would catch a fish from following his advice. Of course the only option we had to not follow his advice was to jump out of the boat and swim back to the lake house.

The story in the gospel today reminds me of that experience as I picture the disciples fishing off their boat and not catching anything. The text doesn’t say anything about their emotional state. They may not have been frustrated at all at not catching anything. But I know I would have been, just as I was on that boat back at Lake Travis. They were doing the same old thing, sitting and waiting, assuming they knew where the fish were.

But all it took to fill their nets was receptiveness to an outside voice– the voice of the risen Christ. They didn’t even recognize who it was until they cast their nets on the other side, and suddenly their nets were filled! Filled with not just a few fish, but 153 fish! I don’t know why somebody thought they needed to count them, but there it is, right in the text: 153 fish came out of that net. And those 153 fish, after not catching anything, made them realize: that voice, it is the voice of our messiah, the Christ: Jesus!

So here they were, these disciples, and they were receptive to doing a new thing. And they pulled in 153 fish as a result!

And that is the good news! It is that the resurrection is not just some far away thing that happened in the past. It is not just some thing that is promised far away in the future. The resurrection is something that happens right here and right now: right across the street in the park and right here in the cathedral and right in the parking lot in showers of blessings and in small shanty homes and in giant estates and everywhere– every day there is a voice calling and offering a new thing. And it is the voice of Christ, not offering some remote intangible difficult to explain thing. But it is 153 fish when your nets are empty. It is a voice that offers a new thing, that says, “Look! Over here!” It is a voice that open passages when you have been running into dead ends. It is a witness to our suffering, a voice that joins in it and that doesn’t eliminate it but that offers hope to see beyond it. It is new life in the face of death. What a gift! What a sign of God’s love for us.

But if we’re intent to only look for fish in the same place we have already looked and found nothing, we won’t see the abundant offering that is laid out right around the corner. The poor man on the roof drowning in the flood was so intent on the hand of God reaching out from the heavens he couldn’t see the car or the boat or the helicopter right in front of him.

But resurrection happens!

And it happens here. And it happens now.

I learned something not too long ago from my spiritual director about fishing. She said this: the hard life lesson to learn is that we all get used to having just one fishing pole. We take one fishing pole, set it up, and we expect the fish to come to us. But the thing is this: we’ve got more than one pole. Our agency, our control, is that we are able to set up lots and lots of fishing poles. Our call in this metaphor is to be as creative as we can in setting up as many opportunities to catch fish as we can, whatever those fish might be in our lives: relationships, money, living arrangements, health, whatever. Then it’s up to God to let the fish bite where they will, and our job to watch with openness and curiosity to see what God will do- without expectations for the outcome. And that’s resurrection. And that’s new life. And that’s the love of God opening new doors, every day, giving abundant life where it first appears to be scarce.

Where will you find the risen Christ, where will you be open to that voice of new life, when you least expect it?


The Rev. Jeff Martinhauk


Works Consulted
Lewis, Karoline. “Resurrection is Abundance.” Working Preacher. , taken 4/8/16.
 Langer, Ellen. “The Illusion of Control.” Abstract. , taken 4/8/16.

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