This time last year, my husband, Tenny, and I were in the middle of a project that took the rest of the year to complete. It was called downsizing! We were moving from a house that we had lived in for 20 years; and the fact that we were downsizing meant that there was no way we could bring all of our stuff with us into our new house (although my husband tried his best to do so!). We had to decide what to keep, what to give away, pack away or sell. It wasn’t easy because we had accumulated things from our own marriage but things that our parents and even grandparents didn’t know what to do with and ended up passing on to us.
Figuring out what to do with the pictures was the biggest challenge. It was easy to keep the ones of us and our children, but then there were some faded pictures of people who had lived so long ago that we had no idea who they were. Why were we still holding on to them? If we couldn’t answer that question, how could we expect our children to know what to do with them? Then we both thought: how many generations would it take before someone would look at faded pictures of us and wonder who we were?
What we just heard from John’s gospel this morning was part of what is known as Jesus’ farewell address or prayer during his last meal with his disciples. The timing is a little out of order since we’ve already celebrated Easter but the message is timeless. After Jesus and his disciples had finished eating their Passover meal together, I can imagine that there might have been an uneasy lull in the conversation giving the disciples time to wonder what was going to happen next.
What happened was that Jesus looked to heaven and prayed one last time with and for them. And from what we heard of the prayer, it sounds like Jesus was wondering who would remember him generations after he was gone. His disciples were the closest to Jesus; they were his eyewitnesses, and the survival of his memory and message would depend on them – which may be why Jesus was understandably concerned.
Biblical commentators on the book of the Acts of the Apostles always point out how one of the great themes of this book about the birth of the Church is that God the Holy Spirit is the main actor in what we read there. It isn’t Peter or Paul. It isn’t the sprawling cast of characters with names like Cornelius and Lydia and Dorcus and Titus. The Holy Spirit of God is the headliner, the star, the one who’s responsible for setting peoples’ feet moving down the road, and blowing ships on just the right course, stirring up dreams and visions, building bridges, opening doors, and generally stirring the whole pot. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift of himself “that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, [as his own first gift] to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all”. As I read these stories of the church’s first beginnings – including this story of a tense meeting between Peter and the other apostles – I can’t seem to shake the image of God the Holy Spirit as a divine but clearly meddling and persistent matchmaker who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. The lead up to the confrontation between Peter and his brothers back in Jerusalem is a series of visions and the appearance of an angel and words from above that say ‘you really should meet so-and-so, they’re just perfect for you. I know you don’t get out much but it’s time you did. I tell you what, don’t you worry about a thing, I’ll arrange everything’.
And everyone involved is more than a little reluctant for the match to be made. There are lots of protests, like, That’s really not my thing. I’m not really ready. I like my life the way it is. I’m fine on my own. But there is the divine matchmaker, the Spirit insisting: ‘Trust me. You’re perfect for each other. You just show up where I tell you to and I’ll take care of all the rest. You absolutely belong together.’
The passage from Acts we just heard is the climax to a whole series of events. So let me just recap how we got here.
When I was younger, my parent’s, like any parents do, tried to expose me to as many hobbies and experiences as possible. Sometimes these experiences did not go so well. My father really enjoyed fishing and well, he thought I might too. When I was about 10 years old, we went deep sea fishing. The fancy boat, the beautiful sea, and a time to spend with my father…I was so excited for the day ahead. We all loaded up on a big boat and sailed out into the ocean. Unfortunately, at that time, both myself and my father had no idea what the day had in store for us. It was finally time to fish, everyone found their spot on the boat, casted their lines and then the waiting happened. I was ABSOLUTELY miserable. Why were the fish not biting? and why was it taking so long? You would think this would be the worst for my father that day, having his impatient 10-year-old daughter bugging him constantly while trying to relax. Well then, the fish started to bite, and I quickly learned that we were keeping these fish. Looking in the cooler filled to the brim with fish devastated me. The tears started running. Crying, for the rest of the trip, I begged my father to throw each fish he caught back in the water. I am sure this is not the kind of father daughter bonding time he had in mind when planning this adventure. And let’s just say I had not been fishing since.
In the gospel today Peter and the disciples go out fishing. Every time I hear a passage about fishing in the bible, I immediately remember my own fishing experience. Now I do not believe there were any tears over catching fish for the disciples, but I can imagine on this particular trip they felt their patience tested as I had waiting. They fished through the night and yet they caught nothing. I do not know about you, but I would have given up after a few hours.