A sermon preached at Woodgreen by Mark Ward on Sunday 10th April “Casting our nets on the other side”

Apparently Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I guess it only comes true if the result you get isn’t the one you want. The disciples weren’t doing anything wrong as they went fishing, for when you fish from a boat as they did, you do the same thing every time, sometimes you find the fish, sometimes you don’t. But on this occasion clearly Jesus has decided to agree with Einstein’s position – the disciples had been out all night, they had no doubt taken account of the wind and the current and thought they were doing the correct thing but they weren’t getting anywhere, so he suggested they changed their approach and do something counter-intuitive. Was he just lucky; was it a miracle to make sure they understood that he still had his powers? As usual we don’t absolutely know, but it worked.

Those of you that know me well won’t be surprised that I was puzzled by the number of fish they caught – 153. Now as you know numbers in the bible usually mean something and it turns out that 153 is no exception. I suspect we were being told that they caught a lot of fish, but it turns out that if you count up all the people Jesus blessed as recorded in the gospels, yes it’s 153!

Of course the disciples are now in the same place we are – they now worship the risen Christ, someone different to the person they had spent the last three years with. I suspect there was an element of Jesus proving he could still do miracles but he made the disciples join with him – they had to respond, they had to change.

We don’t like change do we? It upsets our rhythms, but life changes. Apparently if you were alive when Jesus was you might have seen two significant changes in your lifetime but we see several every day. I just get used to the new technological gadget and along comes another one and then I have to work out how to use that, which when you don’t read instruction booklets can be quite an issue. But some change is good.

In late 2008 I had two very interesting jobs, one was subcontracting all of Ian Newman’s stonemasonry work and the other was looking after the finances of a local building firm which only took on bespoke projects. Then the recession hit and less people could afford gravestones and less people were building. God stepped in at this point and the Trussell Trust sent me an email asking if I, amongst others, had any time spare for three months as they needed someone to oversee the foodbank centre until they appointed a new manager. They were offering some money so I decided that rather than sit twiddling my thumbs for part of the day I might as well do this and claw back some of the lost income. When the job was advertised I applied and I was appointed and for almost 4 very happy years I ran Salisbury foodbank, which to be honest was a bit of a doddle. So much so, I started inventing new things to do and mixing with the local business community where I raised some income.
I got a call to the Executive Chairman and the General Manager’s shared cupboard expecting the worst only to be asked “will you set up a fundraising team?” Now, I had only just secured my own income for the next 3 years from a trust fund and so I had the safest job in the building but I decided to take the risk and for 4½ years I have run the fundraising team and latterly also the communications team. In the first year the budget was £400,000 and last year it was £7.2m, that’s how it changed in 4 years.
I had been asked to start the team because my two bosses thought I had an eye for business, and in that time we partnered with Waitrose, Tesco, Unilever, Kelloggs and a few more, but I am not a fundraiser and last year I realised that I had probably reached my peak and so I suggested I step aside and make room for a professional who knows how to raise £10m and £15m and so on. The question I kept being asked was – why? “You have raised every penny we have needed in the last 4 years, why stop now? Because”, I said “because I have reached the limit of my ability. And then God stepped in again.

Some of you know my real background for a quarter of a century is banking, and to be specific, regulated and legal compliance for financial services – or to put it in a simper format, I managed risk. So imagine my surprise when a new staff structure is proposed which has a new box which says Quality Assurance and Risk Management. I say “so who is going to do that then” and the reply is “we don’t know yet” to which I reply, “I think I do”.

So on Monday of last week I sat at a new desk in a new chair and a clean sheet of paper to begin my life as the Trussell Trust’s risk management function, because we have 425 foodbanks in our network, 14 shops, 130 staff, lots of partner organisations, customers, clients, we have workshops that train people to make things but those workshops have dangerous electrical saws in them, we have 5 vans on the road and lots of lifting goes on, and of course fundraising is coming under huge scrutiny after the sad case of Olive Cooke who, bombarded by fundraising requests threw herself from the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

People say to me – “how long have you been at Trussell Trust” and when I say 9 years, they say, that’s a long time, well perhaps it is but I’m on my third job and the change keeps me fresh and interested. So change might bring its worries and concerns but it keeps us vibrant and tuned-in.

Well that’s far too much about me, but I hope it makes the point; every day is a new day. We need to cast our nets in new directions from time to time.

And that is our challenge right here and right now – where should we cast our net? We come here week by week to worship a constant God but what we do not do is worship a static God. Jesus did a miracle, on average once a month, and that’s the ones we know about, once a month he changed a life or many lives. As he toured around he caused mayhem, huge crowds, fallings out with the authorities, and at times general outrage. But that’s not what we are, is it? The only way we would cause outrage here would be to put a sign outside one of our two churches saying “this church is closing due to disuse”. Then there would be a mighty outcry. And in my opinion that isn’t very far around the corner. So do we want to hit the Forest Journal due to “how dare they close our wonderful church (brackets – which we neither visit or support)” or do we want to hit it with “twenty people in the villages of Hale and Woodgreen serve their neighbours by…” And for it to go on “this amazing small band of Christians have reached out to their community and provided help to… and to… and to… and they ask nothing in return. Local resident… said “I used to think they were irrelevant until I heard what they had done for Joe down the road, but now I take my hat off to them, in fact I’m thinking of asking if I could get involved, not sure I want to go to church but if I could do someone a favour I would”.

But to do that we’d have to chuck our net in a different direction.

As I said on Easter Sunday – we come here to be with Jesus to worship the Father, and we go out in mission with Jesus where he takes us, and if we don’t we die.

I’m looking forward to your thoughts.


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