Do you know what it is like to fish on the wrong side of the boat?
Peter knew what it was like to fish on the wrong side of the boat. His story of fishing on the wrong side of the boat is found in today’s scripture reading. To understand this story in the 21st chapter of John, you need to understand the reality in which Peter and the other disciples found themselves in the preceding 20th chapter of John. In this chapter Peter walks in the empty tomb of Jesus and with the other disciples witnesses the risen Christ twice. It is in the new reality of the 20th chapter of John that we come to the next chapter of Peter’s life in the 21st chapter of John as Peter reverts to the reality he knows best – fishing.
All night long Peter kept casting his net on the wrong side of the boat into lifeless water. As he was preparing to call it a day, perhaps Peter was even wondering if this was what Jesus had in mind when Peter answered Jesus’ call upon his life.
This July marks the beginning of my 47th year of being appointed to serve in the ministry of The United Methodist Church. During these years, I have been blessed to serve as the pastor of small, midsized, and large churches for a total of 28 years, as a district superintendent for 7 years, and as the Virginia Conference Director of Connectional Ministries for 11 years. I have learned a great deal about churches and fishing during these years.
In reflecting back over these years, I have heard fish stories that apply to any organization including congregations. One of the fish stories I heard as a district superintendent was about the preacher who got away or worse yet, the preacher that the conference took away. Part of this fish story includes how the memory of how things used to be in the past rather than how things can be in the present. As I heard this fish story, I grew to appreciate that a congregation fishes from the right side of the boat when they faithfully remember God’s past faithfulness, not as a collection of past stories, but as a call to tell the story of God’s present faithfulness.
I have heard fish stories from congregations that have wondered if it is time to pull up their fishing nets. They may even wonder if this is what Jesus had in mind for them as they cast their nets into waters that protect cherished memories of the past or cherished ministries of the present as they grow weary and talk about calling it a day.
I have heard fish stories about congregations that heard the voice of the risen Christ calling out to them from the shore asking the same question he asked Peter, “Do you have any fish?” Responding to this question of the risen Christ, they, like Peter, obey their risen Lord as they cast their nets into new water in the dawning of a new day.
That is what Peter did. Listening to and trusting in the resurrected Jesus, Peter cast his nets on the right side of the boat and into a new reality. Now, it may be tempting to think that Jesus simply had a better view of the water as he told Peter to fish on the right side of the boat. It is not uncommon for people standing on the shore to see schools of fish that people who are fishing from boats cannot see. That is a possibility, but I think there is more to this story than that. I believe that Jesus was inviting Peter to cast his nets into a new resurrected reality where resurrected nets do not break even when 153 large fish are caught as Jesus is recognized and confessed as the risen Lord.
When congregations begin to fish in the waters of this new reality, they no longer tell stories about the one that got away; they are too busy hauling in the nets of their present ministry. They no longer tell the stories about the past that got away because they are too busy hauling in the nets of their present ministry.
When congregations begin to fish on the right side of the boat, they listen for the voice of Jesus as their language is resurrected. Instead of saying, “We’ve never done it that way before,” they say, “Why haven’t we done it that way before?” In this new resurrected reality, they understand that Jesus has breakfast ready and waiting in the dawning of a new day as they plunge into new waters of faith and run through the waters of a resurrected reality to be greeted by their Savior.
When congregations are fishing on the right side of the boat, they begin ministries like the Blessing Box that provides food with no questions asked of anyone as the love of Jesus is extended to everyone. They begin a medical equipment ministry that shares the healing presence of Jesus. They form a missionary partnership with missionaries of The United Methodist Church who are in southeast Asia. They form an education partnership with Perrymont Elementary School that results in monthly expressions of support for the school. They have a Music and Arts Camp where 36 children from the greater Lynchburg community are scheduled to participate. They provide on-line worship and live stream worship so that persons may know God’s presence when they are not able to be physically present at worship on Sunday mornings.
How do you know if you are fishing on the right side of the boat?
Listen for the voice of Jesus.
Fishing on the Right Side of the Boat
by Pastor Marc Brown
July 9, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: John 21:1-14
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for July 9, 2023
Scripture Lesson John 21:1-14
The Good News “Fishing on the Right Side of the Boat”
Music “Your Will Be Done” by Johnny Robinson and Rich Thompson
Closing Music “Postlude in Folk-Hymn Style” by Lani Smith