This week I was at a Presbytery cluster meeting and we were treated to the wisdom and wit of Steve Taylor, our very own Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. Steve has a wonderful vision of the whole church, enabled and in mission.
He read John 21:1-14 through twice and asked us where we stopped, or where our attention was drawn to each time in the narrative. The first time I stopped where Jesus told the disciples to let down their nets on the right side of the boat. To me it seems logical that if there are no fish on one side of the boat, to try the other. I don’t know much about fishing so maybe there were good reasons to only fish off one side – weather, prevailing currents, customary practice?
And this wasn’t recreational fishing. The disciples had been going through a rough time so I imagine they were confused and fearful and by going back to the way things used to be, the trade they gave up for Jesus, there was a level of comfort. It was something they understood and were skilled at. However they were feeling, we do know they were hungry and if they didn’t catch anything there was nothing to eat. Very sensible of them to obey Jesus, I thought, he obviously knew something they didn’t so they would be pleased for the tip off.
Then we read the passage again. The fishermen didn’t recognise Jesus until they had brought their net in. That means they followed the advice of a stranger. Maybe they didn’t think they had any more to lose, maybe they were desperate enough to risk doing differently? Why obey a stranger, or take a stranger’s advice over their own seasoned judgement?
I wonder whether we listen to the voice of the stranger when we embark on our mission planning? Or do we just focus on the tried and true, the familiar, comfortable and known? In this story the stranger’s voice is Jesus’ which adds another level to the narrative. When God is ahead of us in the community surrounding us – how do we hear the voice of the stranger? How do we hear God’s voice? Can we truly listen for his voice when we have our own voice ringing in our ears? Or the people around us, who think the same as us. There are two things here – one is that we are as likely to hear God’s voice in a conversation with a stranger as with one of our members (maybe more so?) and the second is that if we haven’t listened to the stranger, then we haven’t listened to everyone.
I also wonder what spaces we make for the stranger in our meetings – maybe someone unalike us, maybe not a church member or maybe that discordant member.
What could happen if a church got desperate enough to listen to a stranger and do things differently?