Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” It is a question that we ask ourselves over and over. Sometimes we can be absolutely clueless to what the question means. During a job interview at the 5 and dime store, a young man was asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” He answered honestly, “At the Dollar Store.” He got the job. Sometimes the question it can leave us hapless and resigned “I started out with nothing and I still have most of it. What more can I expect?” And sometimes the question can leave you simply witless, “If you can stay calm while all around you is chaos, then you probably haven’t completely understood the situation.” That state of not knowing what to do next applies to a lot of people, including Jesus’ own disciples.
They should have been ecstatic about the good news of their Master’s resurrection from the dead. They should have been excited by the possibilities of God’s amazing power for their lives, but instead, we read that they were afraid and bewildered. One night, they finally dared to leave the confines of the locked doors of Jerusalem’s Upper Room. Peter and six disciples went on a late night fishing trip on the Sea of Galilee.
And who could blame them? The disciples had been on an emotional rollercoaster with the events of Good Friday and Easter. They were at the point of exhaustion when they finally returned to the Sea of Galilee to do what they knew best-fishing. For the ones who were fisherman, it was where they toiled before Jesus entered into their lives. And now that Jesus was gone, they returned to that safe harbor of fishing. What else was there to do with the rest of their lives? The great three-year adventure with Jesus was now over and their thoughts were filled with regrets. They recalled their own moral and spiritual failure on that Good Friday.
Of course, they’re not alone. Men and women among us carry their own burden of regret even today. Reluctantly they hide away where they are neither challenged by their neighbors or the crowds. Perhaps, you count yourself in the lowly chorus. You have experienced the empty, dark night of the soul, when you wonder whether your life will ever be healthy and stable again, when you can hold your head up high. Poor choices, bad decisions, impolite words, and misdirected motives. You wish you could put them all behind you. But they still haunt you. So what are you going to do with the rest of your life?
If things hadn’t seemed bad enough, they had been fishing for hours and still hadn’t caught a thing. Nothing. It was as if after abandoning their master Jesus, they couldn’t even fish anymore. The one thing, the one skill, they always knew that could fall back on, their day job if you will, proved to be out of reach.
That’s when the stranger appeared on the shore directing them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. The disciples did not know who he was at first, but they went back out. Perhaps it was their desperation for a catch, perhaps a love of fishing and the desire for success. Or perhaps they felt a sense of renewed purpose being sent back. But for whatever reason, they ventured out and found huge success. Their nets were overflowing. They were challenged to get back in the boat and try again — in more ways than one. That may be the first great lesson this story offers. In order to determine what you are going to do with the rest of your life, you need to go out and face the possibilities.
When I was a chaplain at the University hospital 30 years ago, my supervisor said to a reluctant colleague on the early morning shift, visiting patients preparing for surgery, “You look like a man knocking on doors, hoping and praying no one answers.” Of course, that’s how many of us can act when Jesus calls us to be his disciples and to cast our nets again and again. Instead, we say, “Please let no one be home” or “Oh, I hope no one asks me about my faith.” Following the call of Jesus means casting your nets back into the sea even though you are tired and have had no success, it means knocking on another door even though you are hoping against hope that no one answers.
Curiously, and perhaps merely humoring the stranger, the disciple did cast their nets to the other side, as he said, and the suddenly they were unable to haul the net in because there were so many fish. It was at that moment, that moment of divine grace, that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, recognized their master, and cried out, “It is the Lord.” And at that moment Peter put his clothes back on and jumped out of the boat and into the sea.
That marvelous catch soon unfolds into two beautiful and poignant conversation on the seashore. The first is reminiscent of the miracle at the wedding of Cana at the beginning of John’s gospel. Just as Jesus turned the water hauled in by the servants into an abundance of the finest wine, the disciples’ simple actions and hard work, turned into a catch of 153 fish that could have torn the nets. Then once the disciples had hauled their catch of fish ashore, Jesus invited them to bring some of what they had caught and add it to what he had already been provided for them on the charcoal fire. “Come and have breakfast.” My friends, it is in that invitation that Jesus offers you the assurance that your efforts, your works and gifts, regardless of their size are important and worthy to God for his use- and to share with the world.
The second scene with Peter and Jesus is even more explicit and powerful. Three times Jesus asked Peter to confess his love. Three times Peter did this, though by the third time he was disheartened, and even hurt. Peter didn’t quite catch the poignancy, but as witnesses of the resurrection, we surely do. You see, the last time Peter stood beside a charcoal fire was when he was huddled in the high priest’s courtyard and denied his Lord three times. So three times Jesus invited Peter to confess his sins, symbolically wiping away the three times Peter denied him. It was Easter’s word of forgiveness for a new beginning. Sometimes, you and I need that as well. Before we can figure out what should come next for our lives, we need to let go and forgive our past. We need to face our sins and errors directly, to confess them, one by one, face to face, so that we can let them go and then move on. That’s when you too can begin to listen and honestly to God’s simple directions, to let down your nets again, so that you can discover what God want you to do the rest of your life. what are you going to do with the rest of your life?
During the Second World War a church in Strasburg, Germany, was totally destroyed; but a statue of Christ which stood by the altar was almost unharmed. Only the hands of the statue were missing. When the church was rebuilt, a famous sculptor offered to make new hands; but after considering the matter, the members of the congregation decided to let the statue stand as it was-without hands. “For,” they said, “Christ has no hands but our hands to do his work on earth. If we don’t feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, entertain the stranger, visit the imprisoned, and clothed the naked, who will?” Yes, who will feed his lambs and tend his sheep?
My friends, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? Ponder the secrets that God knows of you and your heart. Trust in his Easter promise of forgiveness. Consider his invitation, feed my lambs and tend my sheep. Then heed his voice, “Come, follow me.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.