Discover Life, Again: Encouragement - John 21:1-8
Rev. C. Craig Topple
Commerce Presbyterian Church, GA:
- A community of believers
- A community of encouragers
- A community that believes in the goodness in you!
With this passage in mind, let’s use our imaginations for a moment and put ourselves in the Apostle Peter’s shoes; imagine you are Peter:
Three years. Hard work. Early days and too many late nights. For what?
You gave it your very best, you sacrificed your career, neglected your family, spent your resources, And when you had nothing left, you reached deep down, and kept going,
all in the belief that this man, this unusually gifted and inspiring man, whom you even called, the Son of God, would become – must become – the next great leader. But he’s gone.
The crowds are gone. The passion is gone. The vision that stirred your soul vanished,
What’s more; you thought you were going to make a big difference....But, in a panic you lied and denied.
Now it’s all meaningless. You’re simply numb.....
What will you do?
“I don’t know what you guys feel like doing, but I’m going fishing...” You declare.
“We’ll go too,” chime in six others.
Slide: Out on the boat
Ah the good ole days...fishing....Wind in your face. Waves rippling.
this is where it all began, how simple life was back then before Jesus...
You play the scenes over in your mind….
Remember when he first showed up on the seashore and called you to follow?
Remember when he was sleeping in the boat during that crazy storm?
Remember when he was like a ghost and walked on water?
Remember when he would mesmerize the masses with his teachings; he liked this spot right here….
You turn to the others…they’re faces are blank...
”Nothing… nothing but empty nets.”They nod…
Lacklusterly you keep at it, what else would you do? On into the night….(Adapted from Bob Lupton’s Urban Perspective publication “Let’s Go Fishing, (Again)! )
Now, emerge from the scene: What is going on? Kind of sad really….The risen Jesus had appeared to these disciples,
- Thomas had touched his feet and hands,
- Jesus had breathed Peace on them and commissioned them: Just as my Father has sent me, so I send you.
Even with all of this, they’re just not quite there...they’re stuck
Can we relate?
- Remember God’s calling in your life?
- You’ve tried to serve God because you thought you could change the world! ...
- You thought you’d make a big difference…..
But, sometimes you just get stuck… for one reason or another….I know I do.
A young mother, Emily Rapp, gave birth to a son with a terminal illness, and she cared for her boy knowing he would die soon, which he did at two-years of age....
She could only process this experience by putting pen to paper which resulted in a touching memoir The Still Point of the Turning World -
This devastated mother talks about getting stuck:
When we’re stuck, we give up a bit, become more isolated in our own little worlds.
She says... “even The idea of getting stuck makes me sad,”
“‘Don’t get stuck!’ we tell one another. Erase those old tapes about who you are and move on! But to where? And to what? And why?” (p.99)
Maybe when we get stuck, the only thing we can manage to do is try to get back to what we once knew... Pick up the shattered pieces in a familiar place and space. Maybe there we can find some solace and clarity..
Slide: Stuck disciples went fishing.
Empty nets; dawn was breaking.
A figure surfaces unnoticed on the shore. Another fisherman?
“Morning!” He shouts, “ Catch anything?”
“Naw,” they holler.
Slide: Cast your nets...
“Throw your net over the right side of the boat...” the stranger calls back.
What does this guy know? Oh well, Nothing to lose.
Almost instantaneously, the net started tugging with fish, big ones.
Seven weary fishermen become instantly wide eyed with excitement.
A catch this big! “No one will believe this?!
Slide: It’s like catching a 15 pound fish in the Commerce Watershed!
Who is that guy? pause
Slide: Peter rubs his hazed sleepless morning eyes. He squints…He looks....
“It’s the Master!” Says the disciple Jesus Loves
It has to be! - replies peter. Splash!
A wonderful story: A story for stuck disciples who get unstuck. From no purpose to great purpose. From listlessness, to life. Peter can think of nothing but going fishing; and months later he’s raising a woman from the dead!
How? A key encounter; a simple exchange of words.
“Morning! Catch anything?! “Nope... “
“Try the other side of the boat. “
He doesn’t scold and shame them: “Shouldn’t you be doing something else...that’s why you’re nets are empty…!”
He doesn’t become a drill sergeant: “Disciples, drop your nets and give me 20!”
He sees what they’re doing, and more importantly, he sees where they are…stuck.
And gives just a small word of encouragement in their fishing. “Don’t give up, don’t let empty nets get you down.” Another cast...then see.
A word of encouragement, and it makes all the difference.
Slide: The letter to the Hebrews says:
“Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds (10:24)
What a difference when you are offered encouraging words:
“Good job.” (be sincere). “Sister, you’re the best!” “Brother, you’re awesome!”
Especially when you’re stuck
Listen to something very important:
there is something within each of us that has the power to change the world…
Think of your faith. Jesus, the light of life, lives in you.
And what happens when we see that light of life within everyone? The goodness and life-spirit in all beings? Can we speak to others with nothing but encouraging words?
The power of a little encouragement--even over something a trivial as fishing--
“Brothers! Cast your nets again…” It makes all the difference.
SLIDE: The late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, a great encourager, loved telling this story about that power: A young man and woman, Yankel and Hannah, both orphans, were to be married. Neighbors in their small Ukrainian town had supported them along the way by finding work for the young man, clothes and food for the wedding, even a small room for them to live. It was time to celebrate!
But, the morning of the wedding the young man went on a morning walk; and
The chief of police was waiting outside. He immediately arrested the bridegroom and told the elders who were standing nearby that if they wanted the bridegroom to be released, they’d have to pay a bail of ten thousand roubles.
Ten thousand roubles!
The men didn’t even bother to ask the policeman what the young man had done.
Every few months the police would seize another Jew to get money to pay for gambling.
But, ten thousand roubles? That was more than the police had ever asked. How could they raise that much money?
Word went through the community: We need money, lots of money.
People looked through their homes for something to give—clothes, chickens, a pot, a pan, a candlestick, a goat. When they counted it up they had five hundred roubles.
They needed ten thousand roubles.
What to do?
Three rabbis were in the town.
One, a young rabbi called Alter, along with two older rabbis. The three rabbis consulted.
This was an emergency!
Suddenly, Rabbi Alter said, “There’s a solution. It’s Zev.”
“Zev?!” The elder rabbis exclaimed.
“Zev, the miser? He hates people.
He built his house on the hill so no one would bother him.
He has a sign in front of his house: ‘NO TRESPASSERS.’
He shoots if you come in sight of his house.
He converted from Judaism so he could make more money!
Why even consider him?”
“It’s not me who is considering,” said Alter. “It’s heaven who is pointing...
besides, who else in this town has ten thousand roubles? I’m going to see Zev.”
“You can’t go,” said the others.
“He’ll shoot you.”
“I’m going, says Rabbi Alter.
“ We’ll go with you and protect you...” They concede.
“On one condition,” demanded Alter,
“I do the talking and no matter what I say, you smile and nod.”
“Do you agree?” They agreed.
The three rabbis started up the hill and approached Zev’ s house together.
The first miracle of the day: Zev did not shoot.
They knocked at the door and Zev himself opens the door!
“Rabbis,” he said.
“My GOOD MAN,” Alter began. “What a blessing that you opened the door.
What a blessing to see you.” Alter poked the other two, who smiled and nodded.
“My Good man, we would never disturb you but it’s an emergency.
A big one.
Young Yankel, an orphan, who is to marry Hannah, another orphan, has been arrested, today, on his wedding day. He’s done nothing wrong, of course.
The police chief who arrested him gambled away ten thousand roubles,
so he needs to repay the money. That’s why we’re collecting money; we need ten thousand roubles. Can you please help? We know you have a good heart—” Alter took a breath.
“Emergency?” inquired Zev. “Young Yankel, the orphan?” He ponders a moment.
“You are fortunate. I have emergency funds. I’ll get them for you.”
He went into his house and returned with a penny. One penny.
“From my emergency fund,” he said, holding up the penny and handing it to them.
“Wonderful,” said Alter. “What an excellent beginning. We all thank you. Yankel thanks you. Hannah, his bride, thanks you. Each of us appreciates your kindness.”
As Rabbi Alter bowed, he poked his brothers, who bowed and remembered to smile and nod.
Zev shut the door...
The three started down the hill.
The others chided the young Rabbi: “What were you thinking?”
Suddenly, they heard someone running after them. Zev’s servant: “My master has more funds for you. Please return.”
Zev was waiting for them. “I have found more,” he said. He held out... another penny.
The eyebrows of the two older rabbis shot up in astonishment.
Alter, however, said, “How very wonderful.
Zev, you have a heart of gold.
What goodness, what a difference this is going to make to this young man’s life.”
He nudges the older rabbi’s who remember to smile and nod.
At that moment, the three rabbis saw a light go on in Zev’s eyes:
“Wait. Wait. I have more.”
In he went, to return with a rouble. One rouble.
Alter said, “Zev, what an extraordinary person you are. You are giving so much. Zev, we thank you.
We are so grateful to you,” he poked his brothers, who remembered to smile.
Zev said, “Okay, just wait here.”
Zev came back with another rouble.
They continued to smile. The older rabbis thought that this could take years, even centuries.
“Wait,” he said, and after a half hour he brought out ten roubles.
An hour went by and he gave them a thousand roubles,
then two thousand, then five, then....
Finally, the second miracle of the day:
Zev gave the necessary ten thousand roubles so that Yankel could be released from prison.
Then he stopped and said,
“This young orphan, Yankel, he doesn’t have a father... Who will be giving Yankel away?
What if I give him away? What do you think?”
“Wonderful idea,” they all agreed.
It was one of the happiest weddings anyone had ever attended.
There was singing and dancing. Zev danced with the bride. He danced with the groom.
In his happiness, he danced with almost everyone at the wedding.
Third miracle: the joy of giving overcame Zev and he realized that he couldn’t stop there.
Zev declares he will provide for the education of their children and for all the orphaned children in the town.
At the end of the party, in the early morning hours, the three rabbis returned to the synagogue. The two older ones asked Alter, “How did you know? How did you know it was Zev?”
“He was the only person with enough roubles to pay the bail was Zev,” reasoned Alter.
“Heaven knew Zev wanted to give.”
Every one of us wants to give of ourselves, but sometimes we don’t know how.
Our spiritual muscles are weak, untrained. We need some help.
Sometimes we think others aren’t doing enough but it may be that they are doing all that they can until they get the encouragement to build up their muscles and do more.
In the beginning Zev only knew how to give one penny.
We can help to open the hearts of those who don’t even know how eager they are to give.” Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement.
(Adapted from Diane Wolkstein adaptation from Shlomo Carlebach’s telling as found in Parabola Spring 2013 edition))
Morning! caught anything? Cast your net on the other side.
I love Peter’s reaction…SPLASH! He Jumps in the water to get to Jesus.
“Swim, Peter, Swim!
His buddies are thinking: “Don’t mind us and all these fish!”
In our baptisms, we have touched that water...Water that reminds us again and again. I’m on your side...I’m with you...I’ll never leave you...I promise. .
There on the seashore, they break bread, they eat fish. They can breath again.
Here at this table, we are fed, and filled, and encouraged to go fishing!
Fish for people by sharing God’s love for the world …I promise you, you will discover life, again.