Two weeks ago we celebrated Easter. A highlight of the year. Our church benches were filled with people. For a moment we all felt the wonderful joy of new life. But unfortunately for most of us this feeling has already gone, replaced by our everyday tasks and worries. The minute we don’t pay attention anymore, the problems of our everyday life seem to overpower that feeling of joy; almost as if Easter did not happen this year.
This also happened to the disciples. After the death of Jesus Christ they returned to their old jobs too. They went fishing, although without success. The fishing nets remained empty. Suddenly someone was standing at the shore. Try to do it differently! That is what the man at the shore was trying to tell the disciples. Maybe you should try to fish on the other side. Starboard. This was odd, because one normally does not fish on the side where the ship’s wheel is attached. The nets could get caught up there. It just would not make sense to put the nets on that side! They obey the advice of the man at the shore. And surprisingly the net gets full. Then they recognize that it is the Lord. Jesus Christ seems to ask them to do something the opposite of what they’re used too. It as if he is trying to tell them to let go of the old and known ways and just trust the advice he is giving.
Break the old habits in which you are caught. These habits inhibit the change and growth of what could be. These days we could say he was telling them and us to think out of the box and let go of what we are used to and what feels safe.
Sometimes I, Jeroen, feel the desire to change my tack too. I’ve been a preacher for 25 years now. I do feel connected to the disciples. Every day, I try to realize the dream of the Messiah with my work in the church. Together with the volunteers I fish on the lake of Tiberius. We as a church are trying to grow, both in terms of quality and quantity. But I have to admit; it often feels as if our nets stay empty, and as if our hard work does not pay off.
The past few years one could definitely observe the secularization in the Netherlands. It gets for instance harder and harder to find volunteers. We see the share of young people become smaller. People are so busy. Most of the times both partners work. The church does not seem to fit in their lifestyle. Besides that, the image of the church is damaged. It is not trendy to be a part of the church. It is often considered old fashioned, too conservative. Lots of prejudices exist. The accusations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church bring suspicions to other churches too. This all-together does not always make it easy to be a preacher these days and can be discouraging.
The sudden voice that suggests trying fishing on the other side is telling us to try it differently. The voice gives me hope! Don’t choose the normal way.
When Simon and Caroline visited us last year in Elst and shared many enthusiastic stories with us, it sounded a bit like that voice on the shore. They told us to come and see for ourselves, to observe and experience their vibrant community. It might help you to think out of the box! New experiences help create new ideas. So Karin and I decided to pack our bags and go see the Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church here in Tampa ourselves and get inspired by what is going on. We want to open ourselves up to you, learn from each other and hopefully catch some fish and bring them home.
The last days here we have already caught some fish. For example: the way you try to give room for different forms of services. The children’s education program also impresses us. It gives us hope that there are still places as PCPC where all generations come together to worship the Lord.
Doing things differently. I, Karin, am throwing the net on the other side. There is no denying that the church in the Netherlands and also here in the United States is getting smaller and smaller. But I still believe that we as a church have a lot to offer to society. Plenty of valuable things we can contribute. So we practice what happens when we listen to Jesus and throw the net at the other side. We mention two examples from our church.
We offer silence, a moment to take a step back from our busy lives, reflection. People need this. We all seem to be in a hurry all the time. There’s always something going on; internet, social media, etc .We never get bored, there are distractions everywhere. But if we don’t pay attention we forget about ourselves. We do what we think is expected of us. To be good, work hard. Expectations are miles high. A lot of people experience burnouts. Young people too. The church is a place where you can find rest, a moment to sit down, breathe, take a step back and think about your life. There is space for self-reflection. To think about things you might want to change.
I found this beautiful sentence somewhere: Word and sacrament are standing on the shore of life, like the Sunday is standing on the shore of our week. If we don’t find the discipline to step out of our busy lives every now and then, for instance going to church or other ways that give us some peace and quiet, we put ourselves in a position in which we risk getting caught up in the rush of our daily lives and forget about the words God gave us.
I really do notice that people need this moment to take a step back. And there are other ways to achieve this than by going to church on Sunday. I know for instance people who like to go on a retreat in a monastery. In Tiel, the city where I work, we’ve started a project with the name: Silence in the city. It is a small chapel in the city centre, open during lunch time. People can go there to find quietness. They can read inspiring texts, light a candle. Sometimes we organise a small meditation session with music.Silence and awareness can also be found during a movie night or a hike. We really try to find other ways that appeal to people these days.
Here is another example. The Messiah asks his disciples to approach life from a different angle. In our society we can observe a growing individualization. The idea that we are responsible for our own lives has become more and more popular. Independent young people with their small start-ups have to make life work by themselves. We used to be more attached to a company or organisation. Nowadays more of us have to take care of our own social security. The concept that we as society are responsible for each other is disappearing more and more. The feeling of union in a community in which we take care of each other is a feeling of the past. As a result people who can´t stand up for themselves are getting lost in the crowd. No one is listening to them, no one can hear them.
Moreover we see people more as a contributor to the economy, as a tool. We are becoming numbers. In the Christian community we don´t give each other numbers, we all get our own name. We give each of us a chance to be seen, to be heard. We make meeting each other a priority.
We as church go our own way and choose community. Jesus Christ makes us a community: as the body of Christ. It might sound old fashioned but together with Christ we believe in our community, we believe in helping each other and taking care of those who need it most. We believe we should invest in our relationships.
In that sense the church thinks a bit differently than society. We don’t just think about us as an individual, but also give importance to our community. That is why we for instance organise meetings and activities. Thankfully we notice that people show up and participate. We can reach a lot of people during lunches or a meal and movie night.
To get back to the Bible text. When the nets are full, when we have a good catch, the Messiah shares bread and fish with his apostles. He organises a meal, a meeting. The Messiah does not leave them all alone on the lake of the world. He appears unexpectedly. Inviting us to do things differently. To think out of the box. I find the text of John filled with positivity. It tells us our community has plenty of opportunities to grow and welcome new people. There are so many possibilities. We just have to think out of the box. So we can fill our nets with ideas, belief, hope and love.
It is a comfort to know that Jesus never leaves us alone in our lives and in our communities. He is always standing at the shore. When our nets are empty he will help us to find new ways.
Karin and I thank you all for helping us to fill our nets with ideas and believe. We hope to go home with a full net. Thank you for giving us a grateful time in your community.