Fellowship Southwest Steering Committee reflects on resurrection
The Fellowship Southwest Steering Committee held its fall meeting this week at First United Methodist Church in Dallas. Two members (pictured below)—Andy Stoker, senior minister at the host church, and Victoria Robb Powers, senior associate pastor at University Park United Methodist Church in Dallas—offered devotional reflections to start each session.
Stoker shared this message at the outset of the two-day meeting:
Prayer for illumination
“Most high, most glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Grant me a right and true faith, a certain hope, and a perfect charity, feeling, and understanding of you, so that I may be able to accomplish your holy and just commands.” Amen. (This is the prayer Saint Francis prayed in front of the cruciﬁx in the ruins of San Damiano, according to author Jon Sweeney.)
[Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will ﬁnd some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many ﬁsh. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of ﬁsh, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
I so appreciate the church tropes: “We’ve always done it this way” or its correlate, “We’ve never done it this way.” How many times have we heard this in our common ministry together? We’ve always greeted guests this way. We’ve always worshipped this way. We’ve always given this way. We’ve always served in this way. I always seem to chalk it up to “institutional knowledge.” As a leader, I become trapped in the way it has always been done. If I am not careful, I will soon ﬁnd myself among the many who see difference as threat, who see renewal as danger, who see the miraculous as menace.
Maybe that is why I have become enamored by this fourth resurrection story of Jesus in the Gospel of John. The disciples have another ﬁsh-themed interaction with Christ. (It seems that the Gospel has moved from bread to fish; and that is for another time.) The disciples are ﬁshing as they always have ﬁshed. They drop their nets onto the same side of the boat, because they’d always done it that way. Maybe the boat had grooves for the net to be drawn easier. Maybe the lake was once teaming with ﬁsh on that side of the boat, in that time of day, for that type of net. Maybe the disciples’ seats on the boat had grown worn because that is where they sat, where they ﬁshed, where they felt comfortable. But on this particular day, the way they had always done it was not getting it done.
Then, the Resurrected One directed them to drop their nets on the right side of the boat. (Here the Greek is clear, the deﬁnition of “right” is the “opposite of left.”) It is the other side. The side that is less worn, rarely used and against the grain. As soon as the nets are ﬂush with ﬁsh, there is a recognition of Jesus. And Peter in his vulnerability, in his nakedness, recognized the miraculous. Yes, he recognized Jesus, and he was caught in his old ways. Strangely—and appropriately, since I am with a group of Baptists—he leaps into the water. As if renewing his covenant once again and now seeing Jesus face to face and having himself to be dragged back into the boat.
What about this moment of recognition of Jesus in this story? When lack is transformed to abundance. When despair is moved to hope. When abandonment is replaced with the restoration of relationship. It is the difference. It is a renewal. It is miraculous.
The whole Gospel of John is about abundant grace. Grace upon grace in John 1:16, but after the Prologue, no mention of grace ever again. Why? The whole of the Gospel is pointing back to grace, embodiment of grace, incarnated grace. This fourth resurrection appearance is to reveal that grace upon grace is true. By deﬁnition, grace upon grace cannot be restrained to a passage, to a Gospel, and that’s the point of our text today. To show, by a ridiculous amount of ﬁsh, that God’s grace cannot be limited to the incarnation, to the cruciﬁxion, to the tomb, to the resurrection, and certainly not to the end of a Gospel story called John.
Resurrection is abundance. We become the resurrection story. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for! I have been studying intently Saint Francis for the last few years. I spent 10 weeks of my summer on a study leave, mostly with Francis. I have found that Saint Francis, too, was met with signiﬁcant “we’ve-never-done-it-that-wayism” in his own ministry. He writes in his last testament: “And after the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I had to do, but the Most High himself revealed to me that I should live according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel.” Even the blessed among us struggled against the ways it’s always been.
So, take courage then: We are not alone. And we have each other. We are all on the boat together. Our Christ is coming face-to-face with us: Don’t jump in the water yet. Stay. Be. Listen. Maybe Jesus would have us here these words from Christian theologian and mystic Neale Donald Walsch:
“Yearning for a new way will not produce it.
Only ending the old way can do that.
You cannot hold onto the old all the while declaring that you want something new.
The old will defy the new; the old will deny the new; the old will decry the new.
There is only one way to bring in the new.
You must make room for it.”
We must make room for the resurrection. When we do, we will come face-to-face with the abundance of God’s grace.
Powers started the second day with a reflection that included the following passage from A Time to Live, in Robert Raines quotes and comments on legendary author E.B. White:
“E.B. White watched his wife, Katherine, planning the planting of bulbs in her garden in the late autumn of her life and later wrote about it: ‘There was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance. … The small hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the impossible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.” There is room for all of us in the resurrection conspiracy, the company of those who plant seeds of hope in dark times of grief or oppression, going about the living of these years until, no one knows quite how, the tender Easter shoots appear.”
“I just love that line—‘calmly plotting the resurrection,’” Powers said. “This is what we’re doing through Fellowship Southwest. And, yes, there is room for us in the ‘resurrection conspiracy.’ We are planting seeds of hope ….”