May 2013: Think Outside the Boat

In seminary, my preaching professor compared delivering a sermon to giving birth. In his analogy, each Monday the preacher is pregnant and nurtures that new life within, doing what he or she can to develop it until it is delivered on Sunday. Of course, I know nothing directly of being pregnant, still I liked the metaphor. For that reason, a pastor is somewhat protective of that newborn child. It is the prophetic word offered to the congregation, but it is also open to feedback and even criticism. That said, I do generally appreciate thoughtful feedback on the sermon and enjoy hearing how you receive it and how it applies to your life. That helps me know that the Holy Spirit is at work!

Recently a group of us from church were having lunch at The Garlic Knot as part of a fundraiser for Elderhaus. During our conversation, we talked about the sermon from the prior Sunday which was from John 21 and the miracle of the large catch of fish. Normally as I prepare a sermon, it is not uncommon for me to read something new in the text and I wonder out loud how that got new verse got into my Bible! Reading the scripture passage for that particular Sunday was one of those times. As I prepared the message, I was impressed that Jesus asks his follower for their contribution of fish. Jesus has just provided a huge haul of fish for his disciples. But as they come to shore and see the fire and fish that Jesus has prepared for them, Jesus asks for some of the fish that he has just provided in their net. To me, that says that even with Jesus’ provision, he expects us to do our part in bringing something to the party, as it were. Our contribution might be our talents. It might be our time or money or energy. It might simply be ourselves. Also, from the reading, I was impressed that Jesus doesn’t express any disappointment with his followers. He doesn’t ask, “Where were you in my hour of need?” But he welcomes his disciples and invites them to enjoy breakfast after a long night of futile fishing. He is the gracious host of a meal with his friends.

As we discussed the scripture passage and the sermon at lunch, one person was impressed with the thought that Jesus asked the disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat. The group had fished all night off of one side of the boat with no results. They had thrown their net and been unsuccessful. They had waited but with no reward. They were discouraged and disappointed. But when the fishermen cast their net on the other side of the boat as Jesus asks, they bring in a haul of 153 large fish!

As we consider the story of the large catch of fish, it can be a metaphor for our lives and for our church. For the church member, the large catch was an encouragement to “think outside the boat” so to speak. A part of her point was that we humans tend to get stuck in old patterns of doing things. And those ways often don’t produce results or don’t produce the results that we desire. We get caught up in doing things the way that we’ve always done them! For instance, we approach problems in the same way and we think about our needs and wants in the same way. That reminds me of Albert Einstein’s quote which claims that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Our fellow church member summed up the lesson of this story by saying that “we need to free up our mind and be willing to drop our net on the other side of the boat.” That means that we must be willing to try something new and different. We must be willing to open ourselves to risk something new for the prospect of a tremendous bounty. If we can do that personally and in the life of the church, there is no telling where God might lead us.

– Pastor Bill

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