SERMON 2/7/19 Epiphany 5C St. Monica’s Episcopal Church
Fishing in New Waters
Fishing used to be one of my favorite hobbies. When I was a kid, we owned a beautiful boat, and we spent weekends on the lakes of East Tennessee, fishing and relaxing. On my Dad’s farm we also had a pond stocked with Bream, Catfish, and Small Mouth Bass. They were so abundant that a little corn on a hook would net hours of fun. Unfortunately, I do not fish much anymore since I moved to back to Naples, because saltwater fishing is different in some ways from how I was taught to fish back home.
I have tried fishing off a pier, and I caught a Ladyfish or a catfish or two, but I never had the fishing success that I had back in those ponds and lakes. I just gave up on my fishing avocation because it seemed too difficult and outside my comfort zone. What I really need is someone to guide me and show me the way, so I can effectively haul in the big catch. I need to be flexible and realize that I am trying to fish in a new environment than before. I need to take a risk, make an investment in time to my old avocation. Maybe I just need to get back out there and fish again.
In today’s gospel reading, we heard about Jesus’ own angling adventure down by the lake. Jesus climbed into one of Peter’s boats and asks him to push out into the shallows. Luke does not tell us the particulars of the lesson Jesus verbally taught but then, he taught us in another way. After teaching the crowds he did a little fishing with Simon Peter and his two business partners James and John. Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter knew better and said, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” And, so he did.
The big haul was miraculous! There were so many fish that the boat Jesus was in, and the second boat alongside them, almost capsized. We should not be surprised, when Jesus sends us out to do something, and when he is with us in the adventure, that there will always be a big catch!
In Luke’s rendition of the fishing story, Simon Peter became so frightened by the miracle that he said to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Often when Jesus surprises us in this journey of faith with results we did not expect, we are like Peter “astounded by a death-defying Jesus, moving us from failure and scarcity to life and triumph.” (1) Sometimes even I, as a priest am astonished by how God opens doors that I never expected. Sometimes my faith is challenged and I doubt, how about you? Why are we so surprised when our mission work is so effective, but we should not be surprised because God is leading the way.
When we embark on something unfamiliar, we have to decide beforehand whether we are really willing take a risk. We all face walls of fear when we step out of our comfort zones, and let God work in our lives and transform our lives. Letting go and letting God is both a frightening experience, and a joyful and peaceful experience, both at the same time. We live in fear when we say, “Lord, I am doing ok now in my own little way of life, leave me be and don’t ask any more of me.” That is what Peter did. But when he came face-to-face with the miraculous life changing power of God in Christ in his own midst, nothing would ever be the same for him. Jesus was calling him, and us into a new kind of angling vocation.
Simon Peter, James, John, the other nine apostles, and every disciple of Jesus throughout history, were called to a specific Christian call. Each of us here today has a call from God to take our place in the Kingdom work of Jesus. Wikipedia defines this “call, summons … an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained, or qualified. Though now often used in non-religious contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.” (3) We are talking about our Christian vocations.
You do not have to be a cleric to have a vocation, because by virtue of your baptism you are given gifts for ministry. The question many of us wrestle with is this, “Lord, what would you have me do?” Well, for Simon Peter, James and John, who also did not know what to do, eventually “left everything and followed him.” They left their fishing nets and boats (their life’s work). They left their fear, uncertainty, and feelings of inadequacy all behind. They followed Jesus who led them to their true vocation, which was another form of fishing; Jesus style.
Our vocation begins with the individual ministries we do in service to God. Those things like serving as a ministry leader, an usher, a chalice bearer, choir member, bell ringer, Eucharistic visitor, office minister, Sunday school teacher, or any other ministry. However, our primary Christian vocation is the one that we share with Jesus, Simon Peter, James, John and all Christians throughout the ages.
We find our primary vocation in the baptismal promises, and primarily the one to which we promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” Yes, I am talking about evangelism and its critical connection to discipleship.
Evangelism – Fishing Jesus Style
Jon Berquist explains, “Discipleship is not an end in itself; it is a means to further the teaching of Jesus.” (2) Our vocation is to carry on the teachings of Jesus in our everyday lives and that is what evangelism is really all about. Each one of us may be the only gospel anyone will ever read. So, how we live, how we love, and how we serve for some people we encounter will be the only lens through which, others will see the light of Christ.
My dear friend and clergy colleague Stephanie Spellers wrote in her book The Episcopal Way, “If the word “evangelism” makes you anxious, think less about convincing someone to believe what you believe and more about growing a relationship. In the process of sharing your (story with a friend) and growing in understanding, you will already be doing evangelism.”
Evangelism can be a fear-provoking part of discipleship for many of us, but we must remember that we never do it alone. Like Peter, James, and John, we have the original people-angler with us in the boat guiding us and showing us the way, so that we might effectively haul in that big catch. Berquist asserts, “People-catching is not a matter of strategy or even a measurement of our faithfulness; people-catching is Jesus’ work, and we disciples are the tools he uses.” (2)
To live faithfully into our individual and corporate Christian vocation, what we really need is someone to guide us and show us the way, so we can effectively haul in the big catch. We need to be flexible and realize that we are trying to people fish in a new environment than before. We need to take a risk, and make an investment in time to our vocation. Maybe I just need to get back out there and fish again.
So, let’s go people fishing and share with our neighbors the love of Christ poured out into each one of us. Let’s go people fishing and share with our neighbors the grace we find in this gathering of community called St. Monica’s Episcopal Church. Let’s go people fishing and share with our neighbors the life-changing transformation we experience in serving others, as Christ serves us. So, what do you say? C’mon, the water is nice, the weather is beautiful, the fish are biting. C’mon, leave that fear and uncertainty behind. C’mon, pick up your nets, and “Let’s go fishing; Jesus style.”
(1) Willimon, William H. “Get out of Here.” The Christian Century, vol. 121, no. 2, Jan. 2004, p. 21.
(2) Berquist, Jon L. “Luke 5:1-11.” Interpretation, vol. 58, no. 1, Jan. 2004, pp. 62–64.
(4) Spellers, Stephanie. The Episcopal Way (Church’s Teachings for a Changing World) . Church Publishing Inc.. Kindle Edition.