The Rev. Frank
Plenty of Room in the Net
I want to begin with a few quotations from the Cowboy humorist Will Rogers. First known for his trick lariat work, the Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma became better known for his homespun philosophy. Here is a sample:
They may call me a rube and a hick, but I’d a lot rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the man who sold it.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
If you get to thinkin’ you're a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.
When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or a person, don't be surprised if they learn their lesson.
Never miss a good chance to shut up.
It's great to be great, but its greater to be human.
Everybody is ignorant. Only on different subjects.
We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.
Of all his down-home philosophy, Will Rogers is best remembered by his saying, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I have over time compiled a list of people that I know for certain Will Rogers never met.
For someone to say, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” you would think they would have to be a homebody. Yet, Will Rogers traveled around the globe three times, meeting people from simple hard-working folks to world leaders. And still I am convinced that there are some folks with whom he never crossed paths.
We humans have a tendency to rub each other the wrong way, to get on one another’s last nerve. We step on each other’s toes and sometimes generally annoy each other.
You would hope things would be better in church, but us folks who come to church is just folks. We might want to do better, but we don’t have our acts together yet either. Christian community is messy.
Before you start to wonder what I mean and make a mental note to start avoiding coffee hour, let’s bring scripture into the mix. What was the church meant to be?
In this morning’s reading from
Revelation, Jesus is told, “You ransomed for God saints from every tribe and
language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and
priests serving our God.”
Now turn to the Gospel reading from John and we get a vision for the same scene told in a very different way. After the resurrection, John’s Gospel has already recorded Jesus appearing to his disciples twice, once without Thomas and once with him, and Jesus has given those disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit. But where are they? Not out in the streets preaching, but back on the sea fishing. These men who were told to become fishers of people are fishing for fish and they have had an unsuccessful trip up until now.
A man on shore tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. They do as told and a miracle occurs, there are so many fish that they can not haul in the net. As they are struggling with the great catch, the one John’s Gospel calls “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” tells Peter “It is the Lord.” Peter, dressed in nothing but a loincloth, throws on some clothes before jumping in the water. It would be an odd choice for a swimmer to make, but is probably a respectful choice for a disciple to make.
With the impetuous Peter paddling to shore, the remaining disciples struggle in the hundred yards with bulging nets in tow. One on shore we are told that they have caught large fish, 153 of them.
I want to pause here for a moment. 153 fish. Really. Who counted them. John, the future Gospel writer stops being the disciple whom Jesus loved long enough to turn into reporter. This will make a great scene in my book John thinks and starts stacking up the fish. “One, two, three, four. No Nathanael don’t move them, I’m counting. One, two, three, four.” And on he counts until “151, 152, 153.” So much for breakfast on the beach with Jesus.
The great commentator on scripture, Jerome, offered a different possibility. Jerome cites a source that Greeks taught of 153 species of fish. If Jerome is write, this number may be symbolic of what is actually happening on the beach that morning. When they followed Jesus’ instructions, the disciples did not just catch fish, they caught big ones. And they didn’t just catch a lot of fish, but all the kinds of fish there are to be caught. Now that’s the fishing story to end all fishing stories. They didn’t just have a good haul of fish, symbolically they caught them all. It is the fish story version of the line from Revelation that says, “You ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
What I think is going on here is that the spiritually-in-tune John is telling us what they really learned that morning they had the big catch, and it was not a fishing lesson. These men were apostles, which means someone who is sent out. Jesus was sending them out to start fishing for people in a big way and he provided an object lesson to bring the point home.
The Kingdom of God is not just for people who look like you, think like you, act like you. The Kingdom of God is for all the peoples of the earth. And the net is big enough to hold them all without tearing. John makes this point clear in writing, “Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though they were so many, the net was not torn.”
There is room in God’s kingdom for everybody, all kinds of people. In fact, the net won’t be full until it has every kind of person in it. Every tribe, language, people and nation. Don’t worry. It won’t tear. There is plenty of room in the net.
Then came breakfast. Jesus feeds his disciples again. Bread and fish, just like with the thousands on the hillside. This is making the message even clearer. See the net that catches all the kinds of fish and does not break. See the meal of bread and fish, just like before. Now remember that you are to go into all the world with this message of God’s love.
The hard part would have been leaving the beach. “Couldn’t life always be like this?” they must have thought. Hanging out on the shore with Jesus. A little fish, some bread, good company. What more could we need? For the disciples, the answer could have easily been “nothing.” We don’t need anything more.
But for Jesus, he desperately wanted more. The more he wanted was every single person in creation. Look at the nice, cozy scene in your mind. Friends hanging out by the fire, a successful catch nearby after a frustrating night of no fish. Their friend, Jesus, back from the dead. Everything is right with the world.
Yet, if those guys stay on the beach, then the Good News of Christianity never reaches you and me. Jesus longed for a relationship with all that he had made and the way to get it was for these guys around the campfire to get going. They would never quite have that easy fellowship of breakfast on the beach. Their little Christian community was about to get messy—lots of people who were not just like them. People like that Greek, Stephen, who had never been a Jew yet could preach a moving sermon on Abraham. And people like Saul, who would soon be hitting the road to murder Christians and stop this movement. There would soon be a lot more people in their nets and these people would bring change to the cozy companionship they felt that morning with Jesus.
It happens again and again. A church feels like a family. We all know and love each other. We may rub each other the wrong way now and again, but when it is family-sized, it feels like family. Every family has its little problems, folks who go on and on at family reunions and bore you with their stories. But, you just know that you took your turn with Uncle Joe at the last get together and so cousin Sally is taking her turn this time. It will be OK. Yet families grow. Folks marry, babies are born. Things change. But with churches, if we don’t watch it, we get that cozy breakfast on the beach feeling and forget that the net isn’t even close to full. We can look at a congregation and feel satisfied, everything is just about right. Jesus looks around and sees a lost and hurting world that needs someone to reach out to it in love and finds all the folks holding nets feel like their net is just about topped off. I’m sorry Jesus. This boat is full. No more room for smelly fish here.
There is a reason not to reach out. Not to love as Jesus loves. To do so is messy. I can guarantee that as you get more folks in the net, they will not be just like you and me. Thank God. If those disciples had only gone out to their own people, then only Galileans would have made it into the Kingdom of God. Those uppity folks down in Jerusalem and the ne’er-do-wells in Samaria would have been left out in the cold and Europe could have rotted in Hell. But that’s not what Jesus taught the disciples that morning by the fire.
He taught that there is always more room in the net, more room in the Kingdom of God. It is nothing for Will Rogers to say he never met a man he didn’t like compared to Jesus, who never met a human he did not love and was willing to die for. The love Jesus had was not just for those already gathered around the fire, but for those left out in the cold. We are supposed to feel and share that love.
Our loving God wants all creation to love like Jesus loves, and guess what? You are the one holding the net. Since the net is the Kingdom of God, you might not even be sure if there is a net, or if you are in the net yet. But God is still giving you the chance all the time to love as Jesus loves. You can sit back by the fire and decide to listen a bit more to the fish stories, or you can reach out in love with confidence that there is plenty of room in the net.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526