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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

2010-02-07 Lk 05 01-11 Laughter & Fish

2010-02-07 Lk 05 01-11 Laughter & Fish


Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

I tell
this story as a public service announcement, and as preemptive
pastoral care for all the married males in the congregation. Please
remember, Valentines Day is next Sunday. For your own sake, and the
sake of your marriage: Prepare thyselves.

week, Rhonda got an email she thought was really funny. So she
forwarded it to Kristen, who thought it was really funny. Kristen
forwarded it to me. And I didn't really get it. But I am told the
females of the species find it humorous.

A man was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching his wife, who was looking at herself in the mirror. Since her birthday was not far off he asked what she'd like to have for her birthday.

'I'd like to be six again', she replied, still looking in the mirror.

On the morning of her Birthday, he arose early, made her a nice big bowl of Lucky Charms, and then took her to Six Flags theme park. What a day! He put her on every ride in the park; the Death Slide, the Wall of Fear, the Screaming Roller Coaster, everything there was.

Five hours later they staggered out of the theme park. Her head was reeling and her stomach felt upside down. He then took her to a McDonald's where he ordered her a Happy Meal with extra fries and a chocolate shake. Then it was off to a movie, popcorn, a soda pop, and her favorite candy, M&M's. What a fabulous adventure!

Finally she wobbled home with her husband and collapsed into bed exhausted. He leaned over his wife with a big smile and lovingly asked, 'Well Dear, what was it like being six again?'

Her eyes slowly opened and her expression suddenly changed. 'I meant my dress size, you idiot!!!!'

According to the email, the moral to the story is, “Even when a man is listening, he's still gonna get it wrong.” I think the moral should have been, “It's good to be able to laugh at your spouse. It helps lower the murder rate.”

It's a proven fact, laughter helps you live longer. Being able to laugh at your family members helps them live longer. Being able to laugh at yourself isn't only healthy, it's godly.

The story of Jesus and the fishermen isn't funny in the HaHa sense, more like in the ironic sense. Appreciating the humor and laughing along, or at least smiling and nodding along is a sign of health.

There are parts of the Bible that are dark and serious and even frightening. There are stories in the Bible that even the wisest of scholars can't understand. And then there's the story of Jesus and the Fishermen. If ever there was a part of the Bible meant to be read with a smile, with a child's wonder, and maybe even with a wink, Jesus and the Fishermen is it.

The disciples must have been awful fishermen. Jesus always had to tell them where to fish. They would've starved to death if Jesus hadnt been there. “Throw your nets over here. Throw your nets over there.” These fishermen would have gone out of business if not for Jesus.

Actually, it's more correct to say that the disciples WENT out of business because of Jesus. After failing at their job, being bad fishermen, suddenly, there at their feet were enough fish for three or four month's wages. Imagine, suddenly and miraculously all your dreams finally come through. You're on top of the world. You're number one. And then you just walk away from it all. Imagine if the Colts win the Super Bowl tonight, and Peyton Manning says, “OK. I quit. No more football, no more commercials. I've made up my mind and I'm not looking back. I'm going to fulfill my boyhood dream of becoming an accountant.” With Archie and Olivia standing on the sidelines, wondering, “Where did we go wrong?”

The point when the disciples had their hands on their greatest success, was the point when they walked away from it all, leaving behind the piles of fish, wealth and fisherman fame. I wonder if their parents and their friends thought they were crazy, leaving everything like that. There probably was some anger. Father Zebedee and his wife, Olivia, watching the family business go up in smoke. There was probably some snickering from the other fishermen, maybe even outright ridicule. If the disciples felt themselves being laughed at, then maybe at least they could find some comfort by laughing a little at themselves. The preacher gave the fishermen a fishing lesson. Who'd a thunk?

When I think of professional fishermen, I think of that show on the Discovery Channel, “The Deadliest Catch.” It reminds me of the reasons I became a minister instead of a professional fisherman. Namely, I get seasick very easily and I can't grow a beard. I also really dislike the part of fishing when you have to take the hook out of the fish's mouth. I guess you could leave the hook in. They'd look like the employees at Starbucks. I prefer fish in their later stages, like when they're sticks and come in Mrs. Paul's box.

I don't even know any professional fishermen. Apparently, not many are Presbyterian. I know some people who'd like to be be full-time fishermen. And I can imagine the response I'd get I, the preacher, were to sit on the shore at their favorite fishing hole and presume to tell them where the fish were biting. The very idea is ridiculous. Laughable.

Simon-Peter, James, and John were professional fishermen, who came from a long line of professional fishermen. They'd likely spent their whole lives on and around the Sea of Galilee or Lake Gennesaret, catching fish and telling the fact-filled stories fishermen do. These were guys with calloused hands and deep red, sun and wind-baked skin. These were Deadliest Catch kind of manly men who could go, “Arrrgh,” and make small children cry.

So you can imagine their response when a land-lubber preacher walks up to the toughest of the tough guys and says, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets.”

Oh really? Mr., uh, didn't quite catch your name, Jesus? Of Nazareth? You presume to know the sea, do ye? You think you know fish better than we who make our living on these waters? Mr., Preacher-man?

When you think about it, the whole concept is ridiculous. Jesus is a preacher. At best he had apprenticed as a carpenter. Not exactly how you get your sea legs.

I imagine the fishermen raising their eyebrows and shooting glances at each other. Maybe chuckling under their breath, or even laughing outright.

And then when the nets were drawn in , when the fishermen found themselves knee-deep in fish upon fish, when sarcastic chuckles turned to howls of amazement at their ridiculous good fortune, only then, did Simon-Peter set his sights beyond the ridiculous, to the divine.

God works in mysterious ways. And, very often, God works in ridiculous ways. God does the wrong things turn out right.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the mighty.” The more I read my Bible, the more I come to believe that one of the most telling differences between God's nature and human nature is that God isn't afraid of being laughed at. While we twist and turn to avoid any position that might make us even slightly vulnerable to other people's laughter, God consistently and boldly makes friends with the ridiculous.

If you look through your Bibles, you will find them: those who laugh, and those who, see beyond the ridiculous to the divine.

You'll find Isaac, whose very names, Laughter. You'll hear his 90 year-old mother, Sarah, laugh when the angels tell her she's going to have a son. You'll hear the laughter of Goliath as the boy David steps into battle before him. You'll hear the jeering of the crowds as the one whom they called, “King,” carries his cross through the streets of Jerusalem. You'll find fishermen, told to cast their nets in the least likely place to find a fortune in fish.

As it is in the Bible, so it is in life. When we have to laugh to keep from crying, when we laugh because people are so crazy, when we laugh because we find ourselves listening but still getting it wrong -

… these are the times when our laughter turns into a prayer. Our laughter prays for us, “O, Lord, I am a sinful man.” “I am a sinful woman.” “I'm a big goofy nutcase.” That kind of cleansing, prayerful laughter makes the world bounce off our shoulders - instead of weighing us down. Prayerful laughter helps us accept our weakness and turn the craziness over to God.

Back when I was in seminary, I had to spend a summer as a hospital chaplain. May as well have signed up to be an Alaskan fisherman, I was that scared to death. One day I was called to a room where a woman was to receive the news that her condition was beyond any treatment. The doctor and I reached the room at the same time. I sat in a chair while he stood at the end of the bed. The woman and I listened quietly as he explained, very quickly and in very technical terms that there was nothing anyone could do. And then, as quickly has he had explained, he ran out the door, leaving me alone with the woman.

My first reaction was to be furious at the doctor for dumping this news without any hint of bedside manner. And then when I realized he was gone, I was furious at him for dumping me with the situation. Both the woman and I were sitting there in shock, just staring at the door, as if expecting the doctor to return. He didn't. The woman looked at me, the chaplain. What could anyone say that wasn't ridiculously inadequate? I glanced at the door, I looked back at her, and I said the only thing I could. “Wow,” I said. “He seemed more scared than you did.”

She nodded, and cracked a smile. And then she began to laugh. And I started laughing with her. And then we cried. And then we prayed.

I have no doubt that because we were able, somehow, to laugh, both of us were just a little more able to see the face of God, there in the room with us. I know it sounds ridiculous. But it's true. It's no more ridiculous than the sound of a Nazarene preacher telling a bunch of fishermen where to go fish.

Jesus and the Fishermen. If there is any Bible story that should be read with a smile, it's this one. We can laugh at the fishermen. Laugh at the crazy-huge piles of fish. Laugh at the fishermen who think they know how to run their business.

We think we know our stuff. We think we know how to run the world. We think we know how to save ourselves. We certainly think we know how to solve other people's problems and what they really meant to say. And when we get hit with the shock of what we'd don't know, our prayers of holy laughter connect us to God's ear. When you realize how small and powerless we are, and when you see how big and abundant God's love is, you have to laugh. And cry. And pray.

“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful little human being.”

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don't be afraid. From now on you will catching people.” Catching what they say. Catching what they mean. Catching what God says and what God means, too. Not because you're the greatest, but because you aren't. And you know it.

If you can't laugh at yourself, you're missing the good news of the gospel. If you can't cry at yourself, you're missing how much you need the good news of Jesus Christ. If you don't do a little of both laughing and crying at yourself, you're wading in the shallow waters, when you could be catching the deeper meaning of God.