Fully alive in our work

by susan on May 4, 2015

fishings stained glassAs we keep moving through the Easter season, this Sunday we explored a resurrection encounter that happened on the Sea of Tiberias.  The same group of friends who were called to follow Jesus while fishing were re-awakened to his presence there.  It’s more than a story; it’s an invitation for future followers to see their work as part of God’s much bigger, ever-unfolding story of new life…

Fully alive in our work
John 21:1-8

If you’ve seen the film Pursuit of Happyness, you remember the herat wrenching journey of Chris Gardner.  He and his young son are just trying to get by after a job fail and after his wife leaving them.  They bounce around from hotel to shelter. Yet, Chris refuses to give up. He learns about a position as a stockbroker with Dean Witter and decides to be part of a grueling 6 month internship.  One of the twenty interns will get the job.  After having no steady work for too long, this closing scene  is the beautiful climax of his powerful story:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJyJxD5WASo

When is the last time you or I had this kind of reaction to work? When is the last time we thought of work, any work, as a gift?

 Work like many things can be something we take for granted, until of course, we lose a job or our capacity to work. From homework to housework, mowing the lawn, making home repairs, part-time or full-time jobs, careers into which we feel called … work takes many different forms and work also takes up most of our time in a given week. Work can can consume us, sometimes with its drudgery, at other times with sheer delight.

The question, then,  for us to wrestle with is this: How do we become fully alive in the various forms of work that fill our days?

When we look to scripture, work has always been a central part of the story. In the very beginning, man and woman were placed in a garden to care for it.. Work was vital and meaningful and yielded tangible results.  Work contributed to the common good.

As the story continued, work had its challenges:
the Israelites were forced to work as slaves to an Egyptian empire,
some vocations became held in higher esteem than others causing resentment about work,
yet, when we fast forward we find that work was something even Jesus took part in, learning the trade of carpentry from his father.

 Then, we come to the disciples who are the key characters in our scripture reading.  They are called to follow Jesus during the daily grind of their fishing business.

Work, we discover, has always been a central part of human life and an important way that we know and serve God. Perhaps that’s what makes this story surrounding resurrection so powerful.

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,* Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.3Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 6He said to them, ‘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.7That 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. 8But 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.

 The disciples have returned to the less exciting work from which they were called by Jesus. It’s likely their work helped to reorient them to their lives after the devastating loss of a teacher and friend.

On this occasion though, they are likely tired and disappointed. It’s not been a good night of fishing. Their work has been unproductive and has yielded little results.

We know those days all too well, don’t we?  Maybe we lost our motivation or became tired or frustrated or just constantly allowed ourselves to get distracted. In any case, we did not accomplish the main task on our to do list.

 Into the middle of their unproductiveness, there stands Jesus, and for whatever reason the disciples do not recognize him (even though this is his third appearance to them). He instructs them to try again.  He gives them specific instructions as to the next step. You’ve tried casting your nets on the left side of the boat ; now cast them on the right side.

The results are astounding  They haul in such a huge catch up fish that they can hardly get them back to shore.

 Now, before we all go home determined to make Jesus our boss (although he may be preferable to the list of bad bosses you have experienced), this is not a story telling us that with Jesus on our side, we will all be more instantly successful in our work.

 The gospel of John is all about symbolism and one of sets of symbols we find throughout the story is that of darkness and light. Several times in the gospel of John, in darkness, people are kept from seeing things. They are confused, unaware & unenlightened.  In the light of daybreak, though, the situation changes.

For the disciples, a nighttime business as usual fishing endeavor had failed to deliver so at daybreak something new is revealed. The haul of fish is not a roadmap for future success, it’s an invitation to learn a new way, an invitation to see their work as part of God’s great work in the world.

Whether in fishing boats or folding laundry,
whether sitting at our computer screens or in a local coffee shop,
whether writing checks or pulling weeds,
work is an opportunity for us to know & serve God.
And, it may not only happen in ways that meet the eye.

When we are answering a phone call, we are not just doing a job. We have the opportunity to practice patience and to respond to a need.  When we clean up our homes and yards and neighborhoods, we are being stewards of the resources God has given us.  When we make hospital visits, deal with customers, work with a team, we are not just doing assigned duties, we are part of something much bigger.

When Jesus first called these fisherman, do you remember what he told them?  He said, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’  (Mark 1:17, NRSV).  They would later play a fundamental role in sharing the life-giving power of Jesus in the lives of many people.  They were the bedrocks of the early church and they faced great hardship and persecution because of it.

God did not rescue them from work; he transformed their work and connected it to his mission in the world.

Although the disciples had already encountered the risen Christ, they did not recognize him.  Their work lives seemed miles apart from the revolutionary and miraculous way of Jesus they had experienced over the past few years. Yet, there he was standing on the shore transforming the mundane into the miraculous.

Work is a gift. Work, like all of life is a place where we can anticipate encountering Christ.

When is the last time we viewed work this way?

How can viewing  work (whatever it may be) as part of God’s work in the world impact us and the work we do?

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