A Surprising Catch

Luke 5:1-11

Give me a text on “fishing for people” and I will give you fishing jokes! I think it’s the law. Anyway, a priest, a minister, and a rabbi decided to go fishing and to keep things fair each of them agreed to bring something. The priest brought the sandwiches, the minister brought the drinks, and the rabbi brought the bait.  But after only an hour of fishing, they ran out of worms. So, the rabbi said, “no worries, I’ll just go and get some more.” And then he proceeded to step out of the boat, walk across the lake to get more bait. A few minutes later, he returned in the same fashion. Now, the minister couldn’t believe his eyes, but since the priest wasn’t phased at all, he chose to be quiet. Well, wouldn’t you know it, as soon as the rabbi got back, they ran out of food. So, the priest said, “I’ll go and get some more.” And, you know it, he stepped out of the boat, walked across the lake, retrieved some more food from the cooler in the car, and returned to the boat in the same way he had left. Well, the minister was shocked, and to be honest, feeling a bit “spiritually outgunned.” So, when the drinks began to run short, he boldly announced, “I will go and get more.” He then proceeded to step out of the boat and sink straight to the bottom. Now, perhaps feeling a little guilty, the priest turned to the rabbi and said, “do you think we should have told him about the stepping stones?”

That’s my first fishing joke and the other one is this: Yes, I know only two fishing jokes and you’re being blessed with both of them today! A grandpa and his grandson go fishing. On their way down to the river they encounter a fisherman, so the grandpa inquires, “are they bit’in today?” “Are they bit’in!” replies the fisherman, “they’re bit’in so good I had to hide behind a tree to bait my hook!”

Now, you may have noticed that I sometimes like to start my message with a little humor, especially when the text is one that challenges us to leave our comfort zone and strike out into the unknown. This is kind of my way of living-into the words of Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  I think these words encapsulate so well the meaning of today’s text. Jesus, as we just heard, wanted to share the good news with a gathering crowd. So, to be better heard and seen, he borrowed Peter’s fishing boat, and pushed out into the shallow water at the edge of the lake. And from there, he offered his message of reconciliation and renewal; his message of release, recovery, and liberation.

But I think it’s important to pause here for a moment and recall one of the hallmarks of Luke’s writing style. You see, for Luke, when Jesus says something, it’s followed by an action. He doesn’t just “talk the talk” as it were, but he “walks the walk.” And this is present in all the gospels, but I think it’s especially prevalent in Luke and key to understanding Luke’s deeper desire for us to view Jesus through the lens of social justice.

Now, this “fish of people” narrative that we have today is no exception. Jesus pushes out into the lake, gives his address, and then proceeds to offer them, and us, a miracle of abundance. Peter and the boys had been fishing all night and caught nothing. But Jesus tells Peter to go out further and cast their nets. And of course, they catch so many fish that their boat begins to sink. Peter almost had to hide behind a tree to bait his hook!  And Peter is so moved by this miracle, so convinced that he and James and John drop everything and follow Jesus and to fish for people.

Now, that’s wonderful you might say, an inspiring story and the jokes were funny, but what does all this have to do with my life; with our shared journey of faith? How is a teaching about fishing with nets, and catching a bunch of fish, relevant in 2019?

Well, I’m glad you asked. They deeper meaning here seems to dwell in the realm of “leaving everything and following Jesus” I think Luke is challenging us to let go of the idea of “security in the form of the known.” What does that mean? Well, security in the form of the known, sometimes referred to as “our comfort zone”, describes those things that prevent us from growing, from adapting, from changing our thinking in ways that are necessary to shake the world in a gentle way.

Now that being said, security in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. We all want to feel safe, respected, and at ease in our lives and especially in our church. Amen? That’s why things like a “safe-space” and “Open & Affirming” (http://www.ucc.org) polities are so vital to who we are and what we believe.

But if your security is actually fear; fear in disguise, then it really isn’t secure at all. As I’ve said many times and will continue to say, “fear is the opposite of faith.” Fear causes us to withdraw while faith challenges us to expand. Fear attempts to shield us from the “other” while faith calls us to embrace the other. And finally, fear wants the status quo to remain, at any cost; But not faith, faith seeks to shake up the status quo; in a gentle way, faith would have us shake the very foundations of the world.”

But How? How can we gently shake the world?

Well, in response to that question I’ll defer to two wonderful theologians: Parker Palmer and Madeline L’Engle. Palmer says, “In my view, the mission of the church is not to enlarge its membership, not to bring outsiders to accept its terms, but simply to love the world in every possible way–to love the world as God did and does.”[i]   And Madeleine L’Engle supports this position when she says, “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”[ii]

My friends, the world hungers for the good news and today Jesus challenges each of us to “fish for people” not by telling them that their wrong but by showing them that the Light of love and compassion and gentleness is so lovely that they will, with all their hearts, to know the source of it.

And this is key as we think about evangelism in our context? Evangelism, effectively “fishing for people” can only occur if we’re passionate about the ministry and mission of this church. When we truly have an attitude of inclusion and forgiveness, of grace and wonder, as I believe we do; it’s then that we will naturally want to invite others to come alongside us on this journey of life and faith. It’s kind of like real estate: but instead of location, location, location, it’s invite, invite, invite. And I know, inviting someone share something as personal, as intimate, as one’s spiritual-self and practice of faith; that takes courage. But invitation, even if it takes several attempts, and even if it ultimately goes nowhere, is still worth the risk. “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

One final thought. Perhaps the last thing those tired fishermen were expecting was a miraculous showing of God’s abundance right there, at the end of another long day. And the same might be said of our “long-days”; that they hold the possibility of seeing God’s hand at work in our lives and in the world around us. Someone once said that “God still shows up and surprises us, and next thing you know, our lives are changed forever;” the next thing you know, we’re gently shaking the world.[iii]

May it be so for you and for me.

Amen & Amen.


[i] Parker Palmer. In the Company of Strangers (quote found at www.ucc.org/samuel)

[ii] Madeleine L’Engle. (quote found at www.ucc.org/samuel)

[iii] Katheryn Matthews. Being Surprised (www.ucc.org/samuel) 2019

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