There has been a recent ad campaign by a major insurance company that says, "Sometimes life comes at you fast." One of the ads shows a lady, learning that she has won the lottery, running into the back of a truck filled with dirt. Another shows a man who gets in his car to start it, only to have it fall apart. It is true that sometimes life is more than we can deal with. There are those times we would like to step aside from the push of living and just be comfortable.
The disciples had been on an emotional rollercoaster with the events of Good Friday and Easter, and I'm sure they were at the point of exhaustion when they returned to what they knew best-fishing.
The very fact that you are listening to this program today shows that you have some interest in how God fits into this world. But be honest, many of us hope that God will be doing whatever God does without involving us too deeply. At times like those disciples in our lesson, we just want to step aside. But we're not called to live in safe harbors. We're called through the grace of another day to grow towards being the person God created us to be. God has not finished with us yet. God pursues us as Jesus did the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, calling for us to be about what he would have us to do in life.
The Sea of Galilee represented a safe harbor for the disciples. For the ones who went fishing, it was what they knew. It was what they had done for years before Jesus came and called them to follow him. After all, it was by catching fish that they had made a living. And now that Jesus was gone, they returned to their safe harbor of fishing.
Earlier Jesus had given Simon and the others another day when he called them to drop their nets and follow him. They had been witnesses to miracles as the lame walked, the blind saw, the deaf heard, and the hungry were filled. They had the scriptures opened to them through the teachings of Jesus. And speaking of another day, they had seen Jesus come back from the grave, the chains of death broken.
Jesus had given Simon a great new vision when he called him the rock on which he was going to build the church. But Simon had demonstrated he was anything but a rock when he denied Jesus three times. But here in today's lesson in John 21, Simon is being given the gift of another day. This gift would mean another day to start to be that rock, to fulfill the vision.
To claim the grace of another day, it is not enough merely to say what we will do; we have to begin to live in such a way as to be molded by our faith. It is not enough for Simon to declare his love for Jesus; he was told to feed the lambs of Jesus. We are given the grace of another day so that God's expectation for our lives can be met. We are given the grace of another day so that we can start anew to live out our hopes.
The grace of another day is repeated over and over again in scriptures: When Abraham and Sarah were beyond the age of bearing children, Isaac was born. Moses on the run from murder was called to go back and confront Pharaoh. Elijah at the point of suicide was challenged by God, and Paul was confronted as he was on the way to Damascus to persecute the church to be a church planter. Our Gospel today is a story of being given another day.
In the Methodist tradition there is the story of John Wesley. Wesley had tried all the normal ways of responding to God's calling. He had been a priest, a professor of theology, a missionary, but then he was given the grace of another day on May 24, 1738, at a quarter to nine when his heart was strangely warmed. Wesley was given the grace of another day.
When life comes at us too fast, maybe we too need to pause, to pray for and to seek the grace of another day. We need to have the courage that when the gift is given to use it as best we can to do the will of God for our life. There is no limit to when the gift can be given.
One of the shifts in the church in the last part of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st is the age of persons responding to the call to the ministry. The norm in the past has been for young people of college age to be in the majority of those called. Today, for example, in my denomination, the United Methodist Church, we have seen the average age go beyond 40. God's gift of a new day can come at any point.
I liked the title of a book on retirement a decade ago, "I Never Found the Rocking Chair." As more and more active boomers are entering retirement, the norm for what that means is changing as we see second careers, active volunteers, and people involved in their communities and churches. The years that follow retirement are being seen as the gift of another day, not as a time to withdraw but as a time to be open to where God might lead.
When God interrupts lives, as Jesus did the lives of the disciples early that morning by the Sea of Galilee, it has a way of bringing us face to face with what we should be about. Too many times we are like the man in a cartoon with hair frizzed, legs trembling, and shirttail out, saying, "Doctor, I would like to see things a little less clearly." We like to be comfortable in our safe harbors. We like to retreat into the comfort of what we know and do so well, as opposed to being challenged to grow and to follow. We like to look back instead of looking forward. Peter might have protested, "Let somebody else feed your lambs. I will be satisfied with the sentiment of saying, 'I love you.'" The gift of another day is the opportunity to put our deeds where our creeds are. The gift of another day is the opportunity to change.
I'm reminded of the story of a wife who put a little plaque in the kitchen that said "PRAYER CHANGES THINGS." Twenty-four hours later it was gone. She went to her husband and asked, "What is wrong? Don't you like prayer?" to which he replied, "Oh, I like prayer. I don't like change." When we come face to face with what we are running from, it changes how we see ourselves, how we see others, and how we see the potential of how God might work through us.
Mark Twain once wrote, "You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." When we have been overwhelmed in living, we can't depend on what we want, but rather must seek what God wants. Just as Jesus was waiting on the shore for Peter and the others, he's waiting to help refocus us. If I might paraphrase Mark Twain, "You can't depend on your eyes when your faith is out of focus."
The grace of another day brings with it the challenge to change. Peter could no longer be comfortable to ease back into fishing. He now knew the journey he had set out on was not over. He was being given the gift of another opportunity to become what Jesus had envisioned for him.
All of us on our faith journeys will need this gift of another chance. We need to stay committed until we grow to be more as God would have us to be. It is not the task of a day, but rather one of all our days. To be faithful is not easy. It is not merely wishing for a better world, it is being ready to work for it every day, to realize with each new day we are being given the gift of opportunity.
At some point we have to let go and try. Maybe you have heard the story of the pitcher in a tight game facing a great hitter, shaking off all the pitches the catcher called for. The catcher became very frustrated and finally approached the mound and said, "I have called on every pitch in the world. What do you want?" to which the pitcher replied, "I just want to hold on to the ball as long as I can."
Peter, if you really, really love Jesus, you are going to walk away from the safe harbor of that boat and tend his flock. You have to let go and let God be in charge. You can't retreat forever.
To claim the gift of another day does not mean that we are always prepared to charge full speed ahead. Many days we feel as Peter and the others did when they retreated back to fishing, like a comfortable favorite chair or pair of well broken-in slippers. We like the familiar, but if we want the full benefit of another opportunity, we need to push ourselves to go on. As in our lesson example, don't just say you love; show it by your actions.
Sydney Harris, a newspaper columnist in Chicago in the mid-part of the 20th century, once told about a time he gave a talk on creative writing to a group of amateur writers. Afterwards, someone asked, "Mr. Harris, what do you do when you don't feel like writing?" "I write," he answered. "That's the difference between an amateur and a professional. I write even when I don't feel like writing."
Commitment to the task, that's the difference between a nominal follower of Jesus and a truly dedicated disciple. You can see the word discipline in disciple. His call is not to retreat to our safe harbors, our comfort zones, but rather to use the gift of another day to be about the agenda he has for each of us.
Can you imagine for a moment as Jesus stood by the lake and looked out at Peter and the others fishing what he must have felt? Those on the boat were the heart of the team he had spent his ministry preparing to go to all the world with the Good News. Tears must have run down his face as he looked at them. He had formed them in the community to be his body. They were his plan to spread the word and what was happening. They were spending their night fishing. Had they not heard anything? Was it to all end here? If we count the number in the lesson, there were seven of the original twelve fishing. Of course, Judas was gone, but four others had gone their separate way as well. Jesus had to be worried.
As the disciples came near, Jesus asks if they had caught anything. They answered they had not. So he told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, which they did and were successful. Then they saw it was Jesus, and Peter in his excitement, jumped into the sea to get to Jesus, while the others brought the net filled with fish ashore. Jesus had prepared a fire to cook some of the fish for breakfast, and they shared bread and fish together. Then Jesus turns toward the boat and the fishing nets the disciples had been using. That boat represented a safe harbor for Peter and the others that had gone out that night. It had been their life before they met Jesus. And now they were being confronted by Jesus, "Do you love me more than these?" Of course Peter replied that he did. Then Jesus answered all three times, "Then show it." He called Peter to feed the lambs and tend his sheep. He was challenging Peter to be about what he envisioned when Jesus saw in Peter the potential to be the foundation of the church.
Peter had retreated to what was a safe harbor, and now Jesus was giving him the gift of another day to be faithful. There was still time for Peter to become the fiery preacher of Pentecost, to confront the high priest, the elders and the scribes as they assembled, to reach out to Cornelius, to be delivered from prison, and finally according to tradition, to be martyred in Rome.
We, too, are being challenged to believe that not only can we have the grace of another day, but in that day we can change and, in changing, change the world around us.
William Wilson was a drunk. In the middle of the depression in the '30s, he found himself in a hospital in New York drying out. He cried out, "If there is a God, let him show himself. I'm ready to do anything, anything!" This man was one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Through this group comes the grace of another day to countless people in 114 countries around the world. He now simply is known as "Bill," and those who come to the group as "friends of Bill." But what a powerful example they are of people being given another day.
Jesus makes it clear that the gift of another day is not to be taken lightly. There will come a day when there are no more days. Jesus says, "But then you grow old. You will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you to where you do not wish to go." He is saying to Peter now is your opportunity to get on with the mission I have given you. Take the grace of another day. He challenges him by saying, "Follow me." Jesus could have added, "I did not choose the safe way. I marched to Jerusalem and knowing what awaited me, I took on the form of a servant, one obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Drop those nets. Leave those boats. Get out of your comfort zone and follow me."
Would you please join now with me in prayer?
Gracious God, we confess that often we are tempted as Simon Peter was to retreat from what we know we must do. Give us the courage to answer again your call to be your people in this time and in the places where we are. Amen.