Karen Swenson made a conscious decision in picking the music for today’s service by trolling through the hymnal and related source material to find songs that were written by Baptists. And we’re not talking about just the words. That’s cheating. We needed the words and the music. It’s kind of like casting the nets on the other side of the boat. Looking for God in all the right places.
Sacred Harp singing is not for everyone. But we don’t know who will be drawn to it unless we cast the net and see who gets caught, hooked by the majesty, the sound, the thrill and even the bawdiness of singing full-throated and not worrying how we might offend our neighbor. Here’s the key, if everyone sings really loud, you can’t hear a distinctive voice, even an off-key one. We all get our voices sucked into the sacred vortex here in the center. And that’s how we get the sacred harp feeling.
In today’s scripture reading, we see the third or fourth appearance of Jesus to the disciples. It’s three times if you think of the 11 and four times if you consider Mary a disciple, which I do. This is a pretty comical story. Just think about it.
The pitiful disciples, at least 7 of them, decide that they are going to go back to going fishing. Having left their nets aside three years earlier when Jesus first said follow me, they were back in their boats again, even though he had appeared to them three times. They were back to their pitiful denying, betraying simple ways.
How many times does God need to speak to us before we listen, I wonder. Perhaps it takes a whole lot of creative reception. Perhaps we need to sing the sacred songs over and over again before it takes hold of us and doesn’t let us go.
One of the great things about Jesus is that he still comes back to us and urges us to keep moving forward, often in spite of ourselves.
Jesus appeared to them on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He sees their pitiful attempts at fishing. Maybe after three years, they were a bit rusty. Maybe they were iced-out. It was April after all. Anyhow, the people are not catching anything. But they are getting back in touch with their routine. They were used to this—the disappointment of not catching enough fish. It fit like an old glove. They didn’t have to think. So what if they didn’t catch any fish. At least they were out of the discipleship business.
That’s when Jesus taunts them from the shore: “Children, have you caught any fish?”
“Well, no, but we’re trying real hard,” they lied.
You know what happens, at the suggestion of the stranger on the shore they cast their nets over the right side of the boat and sure enough, they caught so many fish that the boat almost capsized. I wonder who counted all 153. Some commentators say that the number 153 represents all of the different kinds of fish in the world at the time and therefore this is a metaphor for the entirety of creation.
All of a sudden, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the writer of the 4th gospel, figured it out. “That must be Jesus.”
Then Peter, Petros, old rock-head himself, probably upset that he didn’t figure it out (he was always a slow learner) what does he do? He tries to make up for lost time and perhaps lost faith. He puts on his clothes and jumps in the water. I don’t know about you, but I usually take off my clothes before jumping into the water, not the other way around. But you know old rock-headed Peter-often doing things backward, always taking the hard way, always showing off with a flair for the dramatic.
On shore they shared a meal with Jesus, but no one dared say the obvious, who they were with. We often share meals with those we love. We seldom state the obvious. We seldom say that we love the people at the table. We seldom say everything we want to say.
My parents both drove me two and a half hours to college as I began my first year thirty-something years ago. We listened to the radio a lot. We spoke about the countryside. We talked about my roommate and what he might be like. We talked of nothing very substantial. We quickly unloaded everything and they got into the car and left. My mother wrote me a few weeks later that she felt like she had wasted that time by not saying the things that were on her heart as her oldest son left home.
I wonder what the disciples wanted to say to Jesus that they didn’t have the guts or the urgency to say.
As the story unfolded in Boston this past week, we thought about how many of us have been in a crowded sporting event, and wondered how quickly joy can turn to sorrow. Did any of you think of unfinished business you might have with someone else? Did any of you think to call a loved one, just to hear their voice? To reach out over the Internet to connect with a person in Boston or someone who knew someone in Boston or Texas? Didn’t you want to connect and make up for time that might be lost?
I think sometimes, we spend our time phishing (with a p), hoping to land the big fish, that great surprising triumph that will make all things right.
But might we be better off spending time with proven people, with faithful friends, with family and singing partners who call out the best in us?
That’s why we sing together, so we can experience something transcendent. So we can see all of the 153 varieties of people, of interpretations, of perspectives. And when we join in union, we make a joyful noise that brings us closer to where God wants us to be.
You know, at UBC, we sometimes close our worship services by holding hands. We look at each other, we feel the warmth and connection with the people in this room, the body of Christ. We are the only body that Christ has in the world. We are Christ’s arms and legs and feet. We look at each other and remember that we will need each other to face whatever the world throws at us today, tomorrow or the next day. The good news is that we do not do this work alone. We do it together and when we are joined with this great cloud of witnesses, we can run the race set before us and no obstacle is too great for us.
Let us sing “Sweet Union” number 424 in the Sacred Harp.