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Finding A Safer Place
They went fishing. Seven of the original disciples, including Simon Peter, Thomas, and the sons of Zebedee--James and John, went fishing. Following the resurrection, a week after Easter, they went fishing. What an adventure they had had for three years, but then Jesus had been killed. They had gone to Jerusalem with Jesus, where he was received by huge crowds of people. But Jesus disturbed the temple authorities by overturning some tables of the money changers. Jesus challenged their authority by attacking the sacrificial system. Subsequently, Jesus was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed on a cross.
These disciples had let Jesus down. They had run, instead of standing with him. They had sworn allegiance and loyalty at the last supper, but when the soldiers arrested Jesus, they all fled. Peter followed him and was recognized by a woman as a follower of Jesus, but Peter denied three times he even knew Jesus.
Then, to top it all, the tomb was empty on Sunday morning. Some of the women claimed they had seen Jesus, now resurrected from the dead. And that evening, Jesus appeared to the disciples, and wished them peace!
No wonder the disciples were bewildered, confused, and frightened. Their world had come crashing down around them. Hopes, dreams, goals--all gone. They felt guilty. They could have done so much more. They had let Jesus down. They were frightened for their own future, frightened even for their own safety. Would they also be arrested and crucified--executed? Then, after Sunday Jesus seemed to be alive; but in spirit, not in flesh. What were they to do? What was the future? How would they cope?
When the world crashes in, when the clouds darken and a storm brews, when the tension a stress level beyond control, when the light at the end of the tunnel is out, or obscure, when you feel alone, dejected, frightened, confused, bewildered, unsure--then you need a safe place, a retreat.
Seven of the disciples went fishing. You've heard the saying: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And the amended version: when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. According to John, chapter 21, when the going gets tough, the tough go fishing. They went back to the familiar. They left Jerusalem and went back to Galilee. They went home, back to Mom and Dad, back to the brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces. They went back to their business--fishing--back to the lake, the blue, rolling water; the cool refreshing, renewing water. On the first Sunday after Easter last year, when tradition tells us this incident occurred, several of us from this church worshiped on the shore of Galilee, right where tradition tell us this all happened. We too were there early in the morning. It was a warm, bright day, and just for our benefit (so we thought), two men were fishing just off the shore. Probably the only change in all these centuries was the addition of an outboard motor. The disciples went fishing, back to what they knew.
Where do you go when you need a safe, place, when you need to retreat? We all need safe places at times. There is no way we can live in this modern age with all the changes, confusion, rapid pace, stress, uncertainty, unfairness, without occasionally needing a safe place.
Some of us can't go fishing. We can't go back home. We live too far away, and when we do go back, it has all changed. Life in our century is not standing still. It is very difficult to go back home to the familiar. That is why the Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keilor, was so popular on public radio. He "made up" Lake Woebegone, so we could go back into time, back into memory.
Some people find a retreat in memories. Some like water. Some have a favorite chair, or room, where they retreat. Some can find a safe place inside themselves, and retreat through prayer and meditation into a quiet place. Some find the Bible--reading, studying, reflecting on the Bible--to be a renewing experience. In our church, you have the opportunity and privilege to participate in a Covenant Group, where a time of sharing, fellowship, and prayer give you that renewal. Hopefully, the weekly Sunday worship service is an occasion to leave the world, come apart for an hour, worship God, and go back into the world a stronger person. Whenever and however you discover safe places for yourself, the story this morning gives an image of an ideal safe place, a picture of what should happen on your retreat.
First, relax, let go of the worries, cares, and trust that Jesus will be there. Wherever you go, Jesus will meet you. There is no place you can go, where God cannot go. "I am with you always," Jesus promised.
The disciples had fished all night and caught nothing. At daybreak, a man on the shore hollered and asked them how they were doing. "Lousy," they cried. He told them, "Put your net down on the other side of the boat." They did and could barely haul in the net for all the fish. Then they knew the stranger was Jesus. They experienced "de ja vu", remembering how they first met Jesus. Jesus told them at that time how to catch fish!
Now the disciples had again gone fishing, back to the familiar, back home and again they met Jesus, at the same lake, in the same situation. Jesus not only met them there in their safe place; he met their need! He helped them find fish. When they landed, they found a charcoal fire burning and a loaf of bread. Jesus took some of the fish they had just caught and made breakfast. Jesus met them in their safe place, met their need, waited on them, cooked breakfast. Jesus tenderly, lovingly cared for them. Have you experienced Jesus this way? Jesus will not let you down. He will meet your need. Jesus will give you stamina, strength, endurance, direction, and sometimes, even understanding. When you ask, "Why?" sometimes you understand; most of the time you don't. When you go into your safe place, trust Jesus to be there with you, to care for you, and to meet your need.
Secondly, in your safe place, after you have relaxed in the presence of the Holy Spirit, take time to examine your life. Look at yourself. Ask yourself some difficult questions: What am I doing? Where am I going? There, on the lakeshore, after breakfast, Jesus confronted Peter with some difficult questions. Jesus confronted Peter with his life. I can see the setting so vividly: the Mount of Beatitudes in the background, where Jesus taught so often; the blue, rolling, serene waters of Galilee; and the shore on which they sat.
After breakfast, the men relaxed in the presence of Jesus. But, Jesus doesn't let you relax too long! You can't live in the state of cosntentment forever. Jesus looked at Peter and asked, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Curiously, Jesus used his former name, before Jesus changed his name to Peter. He used the formal name. "Son of John" was his last name, like saying "Douglas Irwin Norris."
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Three times he asked the question. Three times--one question for every time Peter denied knowing Jesus back in the courtyard when Jesus was being tried. Three times, like a knife, like a hammer pounding on the nail. And three times Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." I wonder how Peter handled himself. How would you? Was Peter humble, quiet, with eyes down, looking at the sand? Or, did he have his head erect? With his shoulders back, did he look Jesus straight in the eye, with resolution in his manner, and answer, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you?"
When you are in your safe place, in retreat from the heavy cares of your life, after you have enjoyed and relaxed in the presence of the Holy Spirit, take time for introspection and reflection. Ask yourself the difficult questions: What are my priorities? Do I really love Jesus? Is Jesus really my Lord, first in my life? What am I doing with my life? Where am I going?
Thirdly, after communion with God and self-examination, resolve to go back into the world, back into your life, with new determination and new vigor to serve, to be and do what God is calling you to do. There on the beach, after Peter vowed again his love of Jesus, Jesus said to him three times, "Feed my sheep." Go into the world and do my work. Be my man, or be my woman! Take care of my creation. Take care of my world. Be good to the earth. Save it for the future generations. Take care of my people. Take responsibility. The book of Acts tells us that Peter indeed took responsibility for Jesus' work. He became a leader in the early church. Tradition tells us that Peter went to Rome, became the first bishop of the church in Rome, and met his death. Tradition tells us that when he was martyred, he argued that he was not worthy to be crucified like Jesus, so they accommodated him by hanging him upside down on the cross.
When you leave your safe place and again enter the world, you will not get through the day before someone needs your help, before someone asks or is in obvious need. You will not get through the day before hunger, homelessness, injustice, drugs, violence, war call for your attention, call for your action. Jesus says, "If you love me, take care of my world, take care of my people."
Yes, we all need safe places. Life gets to be too heavy at times, too much. We all need to find a safe place, maybe even daily. Go apart, physically or emotionally, go apart, and relax in the presence of Jesus because Jesus will meet you there. Jesus will care for you and meet your need. Then, let Jesus ask you the tough questions of self-examination: what are you doing with your life? What are you doing with your time? What are you doing with your money? Then, Jesus will kick you out of the nest, out of the safe place, out of the cozy, quiet, safe place, back into the real world, out into life where you are needed, so desperately needed by someone.
ã 1988 Douglas I. Norris