Fish on the Other Side of the Boat: Message at Las Pinas UMC

Text: John 21:1-19


Have you ever been to a Worship service that’s not United Methodist? Ecumenical? How about one of those CF’s: VCF, CCF, GCF?

Try attending one worship service at CCF in Ortigas or pretty much any VCF in Metro Manila, and I bet that you could see 3 or 5 Methodist young people in attendance.

Or, probably, try watching the Social Media accounts of our young people, and you’ll see them Checking In and talking about the worship services at any of these “new” and very dynamic churches.

I grew up a United Methodist. I was probably singing in the choir already when I was still in my Mother’s Womb. Attended Sunday School, and ditched several episodes of Voltes V. I attended School for Christian Youth Development for three years, and since 1993, I’ve been a regular delegate of Christmas Institutes, except for about 3 years of College, where I grew my hair long, listened to screaming metal music, and tried to make sense of my faith, my life.

Right off the bat I could say that the United Methodist Church has a solid Children’s ministry and an awesome youth ministry which produces leaders in the church and in the society. But after that period of involvement with the UM Youth Fellowship, something happens.

Either there’s a hunger among young professionals/young adults we can’t address or their commitment to church gets buried in an avalanche of new experiences, new experiences, and ‘new’ expressions of faith.

And yes, I confess, I attend Bread of Life Crossroads 77 occasionally, when I feel like it.

What do they have that we don’t? Why are they able to attract more people while we seem to be floundering, declining, even?

Or maybe, those are not the right questions to ask at all?

Catching Nothing

In John 21, the disciples were still reeling with the events of the past several days. Imagine, the person whom they thought to be the Messiah get crucified and buried. But then, he rose from the grave and he went to God-knows-where. And so, they were back to their old lives, to how they used to be before getting caught up with the troublemaker Jesus.

And so, there they were, back in their old routine. And so, Simon Peter, being the good fisherman that he is, went back to fishing, and Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and two other disciples went with him.

They were probably rusting. After all, didn’t Jesus told them that they were supposed to be fishing for men, already? After a night of fishing, they caught nothing. Nada. Kaput. Awan. Wala.

And when Jesus asked them “have you caught any fish?” they answered with a resounding No.

That pretty much sums up our complaint. Like the disciples, we complain that we haven’t caught any fish. Our boats are empty.

But then again, when we see the boats of other emerging churches, we stare in envy at the boatloads of fish that they have.

Have we been fishing from the same area over the years? What about our fishing nets? Are they still the same fishing nets we have since the 1960s, 1970s?

As a local church, what ministries have we done over the years? Are they still the same? Have we been faithful to the challenge of reaching out to other people?

What’s the result so far?

If we’ve been doing the same things over and over again, we can expect the same results over and over!

Albert Einstein defined “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Try Fishing from the Other Side

When the disciples complained, the advice of Jesus was pretty simple: “Let your net down on the right side of your boat, and you will catch some fish.”

It was actually common sense. Try something else. Try something new. But there’s an additional element: there’s Jesus who guided the disciples.

There’s a similar passage in Luke 5:1-11, actually. After a full night of fishing, Simon Peter complained to the Lord when the Lord told him to cast off his net.

[4] When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

[5] Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

[6] When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. [7] So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

– Luke 5:4-6

There’s obedience. When the Lord said so, the disciples obeyed.

Our church has identified four areas of focus for this quadrennium:

The growing belief is that these areas of focus provide that answer. They are:

Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world. The church must recruit young people for ministry and provide them with the skills necessary to be effective in this new time of opportunity. That includes women and people of color the world over. Similarly, we must offer leadership training for lay people who are in ministry in countless ways.

Creating new places for new people by starting new congregations and renewing existing ones. If we are to remain faithful to our commitment to transform the world, we will reach out with genuine hospitality to people wherever they are. We will make them feel welcome as we start new faith communities, seek to renew existing ones and inspire faithful discipleship.

Engaging in ministry with the poor. As an expression of our discipleship, United Methodists seek to alleviate conditions that undermine quality of life and limit the opportunity to flourish as we believe God intends for all. As with John Wesley, we seek to change conditions that are unjust, alienating and disempowering. We engage in ministry with the poor, and in this, we especially want to reach out to and protect children.

Stamping out killer diseases by improving health globally. Conditions of poverty cause illness and death. The lack of access to doctors, nurses, medications and appropriate facilities is deadly, especially among those who live in conditions of poverty. But the diseases of poverty are not inevitable. We believe the people of The United Methodist Church can play a significant role in educating others about diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, and treating and preventing their devastating effects.

I’d like to focus on the 2nd one: Creating new places for new people.

In case you didn’t notice, the world of 2013 is very different from the 1990s. Heck, I could even remember the first phone I bought — a Nokia 3210, and that was just in 2003. After 10 years, mobile phones have morphed into cameras, game consoles, and handcuffs–the last thing we look at at night, and the first thing we reach for in morning.

There are new people among us. New, not because they were born yesterday, but we are being made aware that, surprise! not everyone is like us! There are new kinds of young professionals, new kinds of oppressed, marginalized peoples, and people suffering from different kinds of problems. Yes, there’s such a thing called Internet Addiction now, and they even have therapy centers in China now.

The world has changed. The programs and strategies of the church in the 1970s probably worked for that period. But if you try those strategies today, it may still work, but chances are they won’t.

Generations come. Generations go. And sometimes, each generation has a language and a culture, and for the gospel to thrive, we need to take that culture into account.

Let’s see. New peoples have emerged lately. Let’s just take a look at some of them:

Young people with energy, time, and money. Call centers, and other outsourcing companies, are thriving, and they carry with them a whole new lifestyle. Just a quick question then, with the new lifestyle, how could those from the graveyard shift attend a “regular” worship service?

Migrant workers. Government statistics place the number of Filipino migrant workers at 10% of our ftotal population. That’s between 10-11 Million. While OFWs are hailed as the heroes of our economy, there’s a big social cost for the Filipino family. What are we doing to reach out to these people and their families?

Urban Poor & Rural Poor. If we just open our eyes, we’ll see them around us: begging for money or food; stealing when asking doesn’t help, or simply starving, when all else fails. Surprisingly, hunger is still a big problem in our country.

There are many more groups of people that are being marginalized who need the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

The question is, do we wait for them to come to us, like fish who would willingly go to our nets, or do we go out there and stand with them, be the Hands and Feet of the Lord Jesus to them?

Sometimes, a cup of rice with a serving of sardines is more important than an hour of preaching! Si Jesus nga, bago nag-Sermon on the Mount, nag-feeding of the 5,000 muna.

But, what I’m saying is… if we wait for people to come to us, they won’t. That would be like fishing in the same area over and over. But what if we fish from the other side, when we go to them, stand in solidarity with them and make them feel the living Christ?

This are big issues. And these are just several of the ‘new’ peoples we should be reaching out. But how can a local church address these issues? How can the efforts of a single United Methodist make a dent?

Should we even care?

What is the gospel in the first place?

Is it mainly about asking somebody to pray a certain prayer and be assured of salvation in the afterlife?

One of the problems we face is that we are becoming “Spiritually Obese.” Eating and feeding, and feasting on ‘spiritual food’ but we hardly burn what we eat. We don’t practice what we learn.

Take a look at some of the Sunday School sessions in some churches: some of our members ask questions, not for the sake of being enlightened, but to show the lack of knowledge and erudition of the Pastor. In the end, sasagutin niya rin ang tanong niya, and he’d be none the wiser.

Here’s another thing I notice among our young people, too. We have a lot of “feeding programs” where we learn about God, about ourselves, about love, especially about love. Kung titingnan natin ang Facebook, pinakamalaking problema ang lovelife, di ba?

We have Sunday Schools, confirmation classes, Christmas Institutes, leadership trainings, Summer camps, Praise & Worship bandfest, and so on. Puro pakabig. Yes, and by the way, I do have some issues with the Praise and Worship songs that we, young people, sing. We sing too many imported songs, and we’re not even singing songs from our own tongues, our own hearts. Our very own Arnel De Pano said that if we don’t sing in our own language, we cannot really touch the Pinoy heart and soul!

So ayun, we’re filled with activities and events that are meant to feed us spiritually. I say, this, probably, as a kind of an internal critique. We need opportunities to put our faith into action, and there’s not much of that!

Galaw-galaw, baka ma-stroke!

What is the Church, anyway?

Is it a social club? Something like Rotary Club, or Red Cross laboring for a common cause? Is it a temple that we go to every Sunday so we can get our spiritual feeding?

The church is simply a community of faith. Imagine if we lived out the ideal community of Acts 4:32-35

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

We are the Church, and we are a community. And our Lord Jesus Christ left us with the task of proclaiming the gospel. For some Christians, proclaiming the gospel means turning converts, preaching to people and inviting them to pray a certain prayer. After that, we’re assured of our place in heaven against all damnation.

But I think, we need to go back to Jesus, and the Lord’s Prayer. As a community of believers, we are in covenant with Christ. As Christ is our head, we also join in His prayer: Your Kingdom come… Your will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.

Yes, our faith is relational–first with God, and with each other. I’d like to close with the Lord’s Prayer, which is an awesome reminder of the mission of Jesus Christ when He came on earth:

We are God’s agents, working as his witnesses, the ones who proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come.

Just like the disciples, if we fish from the other side in obedience to God, we haul in a lot of fish… and the others will see our catch, and they will join us in hauling the catch!

So friends, we’ve got a Lord to serve and obey, and lots of good works to do.

1 comment

  1. we somehow have the same background in terms of growing up inside the UMC. and for me the problem is mainly the GOSPEL. our young people just go with the flow of false-spiritual high, without really having a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ…I myself experienced that…but by HIS grace I was able to hear about the true biblical gospel of grace, and God has quickened my heart to respond in genuine was not a simple magical prayer that changed my life…surrendering to HIS LORDSHIP was key…faith without works is dead…if you get the gospel right, everything else will follow…you can’t help it, it will flow from your relationship, all the good works that were mentioned…it is a result of faith…(all those works are but privileges…and should be done out of love for our SAVIOR)…all i really want to say is that all of life is GRACE…even the ability to comprehend that our lives are meaningless apart from JESUS is GRACE…

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