Saturday, January 24, 2009

A New Kind of Fishing

Winchester Lutheran Church of Borup, MN
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church of Felton, MN
Epiphany 3—January 25, 2009
Mark 1:14-20

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In this morning’s gospel lesson Jesus likens following him and inviting others to follow him to fishing. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

An older translation, still familiar to many of us went like this: “I will make you fishers of men.” Eugene Peterson’s contemporary paraphrase, The Message, puts it this way: “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you.”

But does this comparison—of following Jesus and fishing—does it really “work?”

Think about it! We Minnesotans know a thing or two about fishing, don’t we? Are we SURE we want our Lord to compare telling others about him with fishing? Is that the best possible metaphor for what he calls us to do?

I know just enough about fishing to be dangerous—and yet, right off the top of my head, I can think of three reasons why fishing and “discipling for Jesus” are anything but similar.

1. To begin with: fishing is based upon deception. Fishing as we do it here in northern Minnesota, is based on deceiving, tricking some poor fish into mistaking whatever it is that’s dangling there on the end of our hook with tasty, nutritious fish-food.

And some fishermen go to great lengths to come up with the smelliest, fishiest, bait possibilities….or the sneakiest, most under-handedly-deceptive lures.

Several years ago, I was on a church men’s retreat over at Camp Emmaus. It was winter and the lake was frozen solid, so some guys tried their hand at trout fishing. They had some of smelliest stink-bait I’ve ever seen up close—the kind of stuff you can smell on your fingers long after you’ve handled it.

To humans—yuck! To trout—yum!

Fishing is based upon deception. But is that what being a disciple of Jesus is all about? Is inviting others to follow Jesus some sort of bait-and-switch operation? Is it all smoke-and-mirrors?

Or is it, rather, about something very close to that? Is evangelizing, is good-news-bearing about making Jesus and his message attractive in a world hungry for more than junk food?

Or, better yet, is it not so much about MAKING Jesus attractive, as it is about helping others see how attractive already is Jesus—along with the forgiveness and freedom and eternal life that comes with him. Is fishing for people about making Jesus attractive, or is it about helping others see how attractive Jesus already is?

2. There’s a second potential problem with equating discipling and fishing.

Fisher-folk all know what it means to be skunked—to fish and fish and fish, and end up with nothing to show for it.

I have this part of the fishing enterprise down pat. Most of the time, if I have a line in the water, I just figure I’m out enjoying the sun and drowning a few worms. Most of the time, at the end of the day, I have nothing to show for my efforts as a fisherman.

Now, I realize, that could just say that I’m a lousy fisherman—which may be true. But I’ve listened to enough “real” fishermen talk to know that even the most seasoned angler has a dry streak now and then. Even the best fisherman gets skunked (though I don’t know how skunks, who prefer to stay on shore, ever got associated with not catching fish!)

Knowing how easy it is to get skunked, do we really want to hear Jesus say that following him and fishing are akin to each other? If that’s true—Jesus seems to be saying: get ready to spend a lot of time trolling for others to follow me—get ready to spend a lot of effort on that, with little to show for it.

And, in truth, sometimes it feels that way. We work and work and work to invite someone into the Christian life—or to invite them to RETURN to their walk with Christ—only to be disappointed.

As a pastor, fairly often I have heard someone say, “I’ll be getting back to church soon, Reverend.” Perhaps after a major illness or a stunning medical recovery or a death in the family, someone will say: “Now things are going to be different—now you’re going to see me in church every Sunday.” And sometimes that does happen—and we rejoice.

But often, we Christian fisher-folk, find ourselves skunked.

And perhaps that’s just the way it is. Perhaps “getting skunked” is just part of the deal.

Come to think of it, God invests an awful lot in us—with frequently paltry returns. God sends his rain and sun on the good and the evil—and hardly any of the evil and very few of the good even turn around to thank him for it.

But God is a more patient fisherman than I am. And in that respect God has something to teach me. Fishing, after all, is about hope. Every person who launches a boat or wets a line does so in hope. Hope keeps them going.

At that same winter Men’s Retreat I just mentioned, the guys doing ice-fishing didn’t have a lot of success. But they were still out there, on the ice.

And pretty soon one of the fellows noticed a tug on his line and pulled out a 13” trout. Hope was rewarded—and then, suddenly, there was a renewed interest in fishing! The guys knew there were fish to be had—so hope was restored and they fished a while longer.

Maybe that is how it is to be for you and me in our lives of faith and invitation to others. We keep fishing, we know the fish are out there, we may not catch all of them—but hope tells us we’ll catch some of them.

3. There is a third thing I wonder about, when Jesus equates being his disciple and fishing. It’s that sometimes we go from being skunked to having almost too many fish on our hands.

The most successful day our family ever had fishing was when our two kids were little and we were camping at Savannah Portage State Park west of Duluth. It was a gorgeous summer day out on Lake Shumway—and for some reason the crappies were biting.

For a couple of hours I just took fish off hooks and replaced them with minnows while the kids kept hauling them in. My son and daughter both reached their limit, so we rowed for shore, and Dad had a couple hours of fish-cleaning to look forward to while the kids and mom went swimming in nearby Loon Lake.

Talk about an ordeal! There’s a reason why we call it a “mess” of fish, right? I think it must have taken me 10 minutes of cleaning per fish, just to come up with…..maybe two or three decent bites.

If you aren’t skunked, if you haul them in left and right, well then we say that you have a “mess” on your hands—a mess of fish.

In God’s family we see that. If God grants us success, if God rewards our fishing efforts with newly baptized ones, new followers, new members—well then sometime it seems as though our work has just begun! We have a “mess” on our hands—a mess of new Christians—and they must be attended to. They need to learn the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed and the Ten Commandments—they need to be guided into the ways of Jesus—they need to be coaxed back into the flock when they wander—they need to be supported through thick and thin. It’s just a big mess on our hands, if God grants us success.

And I can almost hear God chuckling and saying: “Cry me a river! This is what it’s all about. This is what I’m all about. You were made for me and you were made for each other—so, hop to it. Pray for a mess! I’ll be there with you in the mess.”

Hmmm. Maybe Jesus did know what he was talking about after all, when he invited Simon and Andrew, James and John, (and you and me) to leave our boats and “fish for people.”

Jesus still calls us to that good work
To help others see how attractive Jesus and his message really are
To live in hope and fish in hope—even though sometimes we’ll seem to be skunked
And to deal with the mess that successful fishing brings.

“Lord, give us a mess of freshly-caught Christians to clean up and care for and present to you!”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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