After Easter—Now What? — Meeting Jesus: Going Deeper

by admin on April 21, 2015

Reflections for 19 April 2015
John 21:1-14

In his compelling book, Life and Holiness, Thomas Merton writes: “Every baptized Christian is obliged by his baptismal promises to renounce sin and give himself completely, without compromise, to Christ, in order that he may fulfill his vocation, save his soul, enter into the mystery of God, and there find himself perfectly ‘in the light of Christ.’”

Wow….do you think that, too? I sure didn’t. In fact most of those ideas really didn’t cross my mind much in thinking about life in Christ….we usually call it something else church membership, going to church, being religious. These words open Merton’s book and it’s all downhill from there. In a nutshell what this Cistercian monk—a very silent Trappist of the strictest order—says is that to take on Jesus Christ is to take on an invitation to get a grip on yourself, to go deeper, to fish for the biggest fish.

Remember, it is Dallas Willard, whose writing have influenced my own journey with Jesus so much, who also advises that silence and solitude are the key spiritual disciplines of our age, primarily because only they can break the spell of our world. The spell of constant busyness, noisy chatter, heightened anxiety and the pervasive thought that somehow the world will stop if I don’t attend to staying in charge. Willard says in the middle of the silence see if there is anything to you.

Get a grip, head for deeper water, fish for bigger fish. Sounds like the gospel reading to me. To take on Jesus Christ, or more to the point: to be taken on by him—which is really the movement in John 21—to be taken on by Christ is to be invited to cast your net into deeper waters to see if anything of substance will emerge.

Within the past couple of months I’ve had some interesting conversations—interesting from the fact that none of them come here, one has heard me speak before, and all of them are people in their 20s. Here is a sample.

1. Young college kid joining a big box church: “Bill, the pastor told me it was a requirement to join that I had to tithe. What do you think? My mom said I already give plenty in time and ability, and even some money, but now they want more.” What to do? I told him that I couldn’t find any compelling argument in the New Testament that tithing was a requirement of joining the body of Christ and signing up to work the mission of God.

Generosity, I said was something that was caught and grown. “You need to pray about this,” I said, talk with a couple of other people and see what God says. But above all, see this as an opportunity to fish deeper into what really controls your heart. Luther said: three conversions: heart, mind, pocketbook. Jesus: where your treasure is, there is your heart. The fastest way to see if there is really anything to you is to investigate your relationship with money. If that kid was asking you, what would you have said?

2. A young woman calls to say she is wrestling with something…said she heard me preach once and I said in that sermon: the true mark of adulthood is the ability to forgive your parents. She told me about a desperate family history: abuse, distancing, emotional chaos. However now she thinks she might be ready to think about that proposition. “Bill, I don’t even know where to begin.” I told her that God was giving her an opportunity to fish deeper fish deeper, not so much into the realm of human power and ability, but into the truth of human inadequacy. She will need to look at pain and disappointment face to face.

“You can only do that,” I said “with God.” “I don’t know,” she said. “Sure you can. What’s impossible for you is right up God’s alley. He majors in impossibility,” I said. Can you fish that deep?

3. A third young person calls for help with his girl friend. What to do, she is driving me nuts, he exclaimed. The battle of the sexes? Or maybe it’s a life time wrestling match on the short end of the stick. His default option in every relationship is reptilian fight or flight. He really wasn’t seeking helpful hints on how to deal with chicks; he was asking for lasting change in his MO, his relational skills, his ability to genuinely deal with anxiety in a more adult way.

In a word, this kid was asking for spiritual direction.(Which I believe can be the course of therapy.) Here was a prime opportunity I said to fish around to see what you’re really made of; what is enduring and how much will it cost you to change? I simply said that one of the marks of a genuine mature adult was the ability to not allow someone else’s emotionality control yours. That’s what Jesus modeled, I said, and you can have that, too, if you trust in him.

What’s intriguing in all of these conversations was the invitation to consider a deeper, more profound foundation from which to live and work; but also the strong current of the default position—my usual way to respond to life’s curve balls. Couple that with the absolute necessity of a power greater than ourselves, in this case, the three college kids, to achieve this higher calling. Spirituality really is about holiness in relationships and orientation to living.

We have in John 21 these same movements. A post-Easter story; perhaps the glow of the risen Jesus was dulled; or more to the point in John’s words, the conclusion that the Jesus’ gig was over and the call to return to what we already knew was a sure thing. Standing in the midst of a failed attempt to get back to normal, Jesus summons the disciples to cast that net on the right side—the lucky side in ancient thinking. The right side is the deep side, it’s where the bigger fish are—and a lot more of them. It’s where the depths of human heart can be probed and the mercy of God can flood through.

A lot has been written on the significance of 153 fish—from the ridiculous to the sublime. Perhaps the best explanation is the simple one—lots of fish, lots of success, lots of Christian converts to Jesus Christ, not another religion, but the person whose mission was to bring to bear the presence of the God into the lives of real human beings. Too many fish to haul in, John says. Haul in = God’s divine action in drawing people to Christ himself. It’s in the deep water where the most fish are caught and where God does his greatest work of conversion.

It reminds me of the awesome mission this little community of faith has. Here we are tucked into the corner of a very unspectacular shopping strip. If Jesus’ mission was to bring God’s kingdom to reality, then that’s ours, too. We do what Jesus did. Proclaim the Kingdom—the presence of God right now; bring healing; good news; forgiveness; new life; and ministry to the real needs of people.

Are you fishing in deeper waters? Or are you mostly content to stick with your default positions in dealing with life’s little quandaries, curve balls, and pain in the neck people?

It was Rob Bell up at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids who opened my eyes and mind to the idea that the disciples here were really 15-year-old guys, probably no older than early 20s at the most. Near the same age as the young adults I talked to in recent weeks. Do you think that’s just a coincidence? How many of us older adults are still acting out of the life skills toolbox we got at that young age and never added to it since?

Two things draw this story together, and give us empowerment to live like Jesus. One, the fact that even before these young disciples even recognize or identify Jesus, they obey him. That is the elevator speech for discipleship obedience to a higher voice than my own. Two. The guys run, swim, haul the boat in and when they get there Jesus has breakfast—a meal—a table around which a community is formed.

That mission? Sacrifice, obedience, prayer, courage, perseverance and love.

It is only by the grace of God in this community that we can have mid-course correction. (which is another sailing term)

I hear many reasons as to why people reject Christianity. Truth is not absolute; intellectually untenable; emotionally codependent…I think the real reason why many people reject Jesus and his claims is that they are afraid. Afraid of fishing deeper; afraid of finding nothing to themselves; afraid of leaving the default position they’ve crafted for years; afraid to embrace Jesus because his way means Merton was right.

Where are you in your boat? Struggling all night and still coming up with empty nets? Try that other side….that deeper side, that invitation to see if there really is anything at all. Cast your nets with Jesus and you’ll need help to bring in an enormous catch of fish filled with the awesome power of Christ himself. Jesus is on the loose…. You be on the look out.

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