Last week, Maggie and I went down to Galveston for a couple of nights of vacation. One morning I rose early, and took a walk on the beach in a contemplative mood. The sun was just barely hanging above the horizon. The waves continued their ceaseless crashing. The wind wasn’t blowing too hard. It was a perfect morning on the beach.
As I walked along praying and meditating, I came upon a jetty, one of those long stony fingers that breaks up the waves and points out to sea. On this particular jetty there were two men fishing. The first man was fishing with a pole. His bait was out in the water and his rod was held upright by a stand. He was leaned back in a chair, sipping his morning coffee, not really actively fishing but rather hoping that one fish in the entire ocean would find his bait appetizing.
Now the second man was fishing with a net. I had never watched somebody fish with a net, and just watching made me tired. He scurried back and forth along the length of the jetty, casting his net out into the surf and then pulling it back in. Casting it out, pulling it in. Casting it out, pulling it in. This man was really fishing. He was getting after it. Like he really wanted to catch some fish.
Now conceivably, both men had woken early that morning and had decided to go fishing. They had crawled out of their cozy beds, out of their comfortable homes, and had walked out onto that jetty with the waves spraying them and the sun beating down on them. Home would have been more comfortable – but it was out here on the water, with the sea, and the rocks, and the wind – that they were going to catch some fish. Something had sent them out of their beds and onto that jetty. But one man had gone with a pole and a chair, and fishing seemed more like an excuse to sit outside. The other man had gone with a net, and he was intent on bringing home some fish.
On that first Easter night, the risen Lord sends his apostles out. He comes into their locked, cozy, and comfortable room. Jesus tells them, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathes the Holy Spirit on them. And, as the whole world knows, the apostles were sent out. They have preached the gospel and have spread the Kingdom of God in all corners of the earth. Now, it would have been easier for the apostles to stay in that nice, comfortable room they had. They wouldn’t have been persecuted, they wouldn’t have been mocked or embarrassed, life would have been easier. But if they hadn’t walked out of that room, neither you, nor I, nor anybody you know would have heard the good news of Jesus Christ. The apostles
were sent out to all the world – so that all the world might come to believe.
And Jesus is saying that same thing to us. He has breathed the Holy Spirit on us through baptism, by taking communion, by being confirmed. But along with this inspiration from the Spirit comes a requirement from Jesus. He sends us. In fact, this is exactly what it means to be an apostle. To be an apostle, means to be one that has been sent. Jesus sends us out into the world to forgive sins, to spread the good news, to help build up the Kingdom of God.
Now there are two types of apostles. There are apostles who use fishing poles. And there are apostles who use nets. Apostles with fishing poles have the right idea, but their equipment is all wrong. Think back to that first fisherman. His bait was in the water and he kept an eye on his line, but he was just chilling out, letting the world come to him. Sure, he had been sent out of his comfortable house, but he had taken a comfortable chair with him. He could have fallen asleep and never even noticed if he had caught anything. He sat there on that jetty, but it could have been any other spot in the world. He didn’t have to be aware of his surroundings, he just had to be near some water.
As apostles, as a church, we have to leave our fishing poles at home. Too often we have let the world come to us, because we have fallen asleep in the comfort of our pews, of our liturgy, of our music. And we aren’t really working, are we, if we just open our church doors hoping that the world comes to us? We might wear a cross around our necks, just hoping that somebody will come and ask, but we never strike up a conversation about our faith. Our bait is in the water, but we’re not doing much about it.
As apostles, as a church, we need to pick up our nets. In this world of ours, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ requires active work. Think back to that second fisherman. He was working his tail off scurrying up and down the jetty. But here’s the thing – that man with the net knew that jetty and that part of the sea better than his companion with the pole. The man with the net knew where the rocks were, where the shallows were, where the fish hang out.
We, as the Church, need to fish with nets. We need to know the world around us, where people are hurting or are in need. We need to know where they hang out and what they are thinking, where the rocks and the shallows are and where the fish like to feed. We need to cast our nets far and wide, working hard and often to tell people about the good news of our risen Lord.
We’ve been casting our nets far and wide at Barnett’s Pub. Last Tuesday there were 23 people studying the book of Revelation at Barnett’s. And let me tell you, when a church takes over the back half of a bar, people notice. They get caught up in our net. Regular patrons at Barnett’s, random visitors, even one of the bartenders has approached us asking, “so, where do you go to church? Can I come to your Bible study?” We are casting our nets far and wide out into the sea which is the world, from our jetty, which is this church.
Or, do you know that some people have come to this church simply because they heard the bells ringing on Sunday morning? Walking down the street they were caught up in the music that we send out over our neighborhood. We have cast our net far and wide because Jesus Christ sends us out there.
Now, here’s the real catch in the story. When we start fishing with our nets, when we start looking outward to this world and respond with the Kingdom of God, we will start catching fish. Our church will grow. But something else happens – we become better fishermen. In the process of doing ministry, we become more faithful and more loving Christians. If we hope to be spiritual, or rather, to be Holy Spirit-filled, we cannot look inward. Navel-gazing on Sunday morning will not help us be better apostles. Rather, it’s looking outward Monday through Saturday that will make us into better Christians. The church which ceases to be sent into the
world ceases to have any sort of spiritual life.
The purpose of Easter is not for us to bask in the glow of eternal life. Jesus Christ didn’t burst the bonds of death simply for us to sit in a comfortable chair with some bait in the water. The purpose of Easter is for us to cast our nets far and wide as we proclaim to the whole world that the Lord is risen indeed. From the empty tomb Jesus Christ sends us out with the Holy Spirit, he sends us out with a mission, he sends us out with a net, so that all the world might believe in him.