On a dangerous sea-coast where shipwrecks often occur there was a once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost.
Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station. And it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little life-saving station grew.
Some of the new members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea.
So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they re-decorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club.
Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do this work.
The mission of life-saving was still given lip-service but most were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the life-saving activities personally.
About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people.
They were dirty, wet, injured and sick, and afterwards, the beautiful new club was a mess. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal life pattern of the club.
But some members insisted that life-saving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station down the coast. Which they did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. They evolved into a club and yet another life-saving station was founded.
If you visit that sea-coast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, only now most of the people drown.
Our passage today can be read at just a literal level, but some scholars believe that it should be read at a symbolic level.
The passage forms the epilogue to John’s Gospel.
Strictly speaking the final verses to John’s Gospel ends with the conclusion in John 20:30-31. Our passage seems to have been added on after the conclusion in order to answer the question: What is the role of the Church in response to the news of the Risen Christ? What should the disciples be doing? What should the church be doing?
The answer contained in the epilogue is two-fold:
1. “The Church should be fishing?”
2. “The Church should be shepherding”
1. “The Church should be fishing?” - The church should be catching people for Christ....drawing people into the community of Christ. The Church is one of those few organisations in the world that exists not for itself, but for people outside of it. It can be compared to a life-saving club. It is a strange life-saving club that would only be interested in caring for it’s own members. The church exists for others, for those who are outside of the church. One of our tasks is to be engaged in fishing for people. In this passage when Peter says: Lets go fishing, it is symbolic for the work of the Church in drawing people towards Christ. Peter is therefore fulfilling his original calling when Jesus said to him “I will make you fishers of people”.
An important job of the Church is to be fishing. To be reaching out drawing people into the Church community.
This is clearly not just the ministers job. One commentator makes some interesting observations:
In the story, Peter, the leader, initiates the fishing expedition, but he himself doesn’t catch the fish. He is the one who recognizes and points to Christ. It is the rest of the disciples who actually make the catch, although Peter does assist in dragging the fish to shore. Peter could stand for the minister and the rest of the disciples the congregation. The ministers role is to point to Christ, but it is the whole church who are called to draw new people into the community of Christ.
That is a very practical challenge that we face as a congregation over the next few years: to draw new people into this community of Christ.
2. The second purpose of the Church is to shepherd those who are in the church.
In the Gospel story, after the great catch of fish and the meal with Jesus on the beech, we read of the reinstatement of Peter. Just a few chapters before our passage, during the arrest and trial of Jesus, we read how Peter denied Jesus 3 times.
Now in this passage today, as Jesus reinstates Peter, Jesus asks him 3 times: Do you love me? Three times Peter replies: Lord you know I love you. And to each reply Jesus says: Feed my sheep. Take care of my lambs. Feed my sheep, and then finally the words spoken when Jesus first called Peter: Follow me.
While fishing is a drawing of new people into the Church, drawing people towards Christ, shepherding is a caring for those already within the Church. While it may be an important function of the minister, it is also true that the whole church community need to be involved in shepherding. It is very encouraging when I do hear of members of the church checking on the well-being of other members.
I have also heard stories, in this church but also other church’s that I have ministered in where a person stopped attending church and found that no-one contacted them to say: We have been missing you. Is there something wrong?
In a church community that is often called the family of Christ, this can be one of the most painful experiences: To stop going to church and to discover that no-one misses you and no-one asks where you are.
And so this passage asks us a few questions:
- Is this a community that you would feel comfortable inviting someone to be part of?
- If not, what would need to change for you to want to invite someone?
- In what way can you participate in caring for others in the community: Following up if you haven’t seen anyone for a while. Sending a text to say: We are missing you. Are you ok?