(Luke 5: 1-11)
Have you seen the movie or read A River Runs Through It? Beautiful story. It chronicles the life of a family out in the wilds of Montana; the father a Presbyterian minister and avid fly fisherman. In the movie, Tom Skerritt plays the reverend to a “t” – a quiet reflective soul who enjoys his sermon writing as much as he does casting a fly across a gorgeous Montana stream.
I tried my hand at fly fishing a few years back with two of my seminary buddies who’d later be groomsmen in my wedding. We went a handful of times – we didn’t catch much, but that wasn’t really the point anyway. At least that’s what we told ourselves. No, the point was about being with each other, surrounded by nature, getting lost in the rhythm of the rod moving back and forth across the waters. I quickly learned why the Presbyterian minister in Maclean’s book found this to be such a spiritual experience.
Alas, the rod and vest and waders have been used very little since. They rhythms of being a husband, father, and minister don’t always sync up with the rhythms of the fishing rod. There’s a sermon to write. There’s a lawn to be mowed. There’s a kid to get to basketball practice. Like the waters of the stream, life keeps flowing along regardless. I don’t visit those waters much anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about them.
So perhaps you can understand why I had all this running through my mind with our scripture today. Here is Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, asking his soon-to-be disciples to go “fishing for people.” Now on one level I’m amazed by this. I’m amazed that Jesus, who was a carpenter by trade, was able in an instant to jump right into the world of these strangers and speak the very heart of the Gospel out of their experience – the daily grind of fishermen who spent day after day hauling in nets searching for that elusive catch.
On the other hand I’m also challenged by it. Because as I read this story I have to think that Jesus is saying something very important to us. “Fishing for people” is how he puts it. But what kind of fishing is that? What does it look like, what does it entail? And, perhaps most importantly, what does it require of us?
It makes me imagine what it would be like having this conversation with God in today’s world – fly fishing on some river in the foothills of North Carolina. How would that conversation play out? What might God say; how might we respond?
So I’m going to ask you to imagine this morning that I am not standing in a pulpit, but instead alongside a beautiful stream. And I’m not wearing a preacher’s robe but a fisherman’s vest. And it’s not a sermon I’m casting, but a fly fisherman’s rod – trying to catch something, anything. And when someone starts the conversation, well, there’s just no telling where that might take me….
God: (Fisherman does two casts, then….) You catch anything yet?
God: (pause, then quiet voice) You catch anything yet?
Fisherman: No, not yet.
God: How long you been out here?
Fisherman: (looks at watch) Don’t ask.
God: Oh well, I’m sure you’ll get lucky soon.
God: (pause) Any bites?
Fisherman: No, not one. I know they’re in there; I’m looking at a half-dozen or so right now! But they just don’t want to bite on anything. I don’t get it.
God: Maybe you need to try a different fly.
Fisherman: I’ve gone through like three or four already. Nothing seems to work.
God: Maybe you’re casting in the wrong place. How about over there?
Fisherman: Thanks, but I’ve fished it before. It didn’t do any good.
God: Just a suggestion. Well, maybe you could work on your technique a bit.
Fisherman: Hey, listen, it’s not that I claim to be great fisherman or anything. I’m just out here trying to get away from the grind, you know? Work’s been crazy lately. I’m just trying to relax. Doing the best I can here. I don’t need your help!
God: Just trying to lend a hand.
Fisherman: Well, don’t bother. I’ve done this plenty of times before; I know what I’m doing.
God: You know, that’s funny.
Fisherman: What’s funny?
God: Well, (chuckle), I don’t know. What you said – it sounded kind of….familiar.
Fisherman: (disinterested) Uh- huh
God: Yeah, it was pretty much exactly what he said.
Fisherman: What who said?
God: Peter. Actually at the time they called him Simon. Simon the Fisherman.
Fisherman: Don’t think I ever heard of him. Hope he was having better luck than I am.
God: Well, he wasn’t. Kind of in the same situation you’re in right now. I tried offering some advice, but he didn’t take it that well.
Fisherman: (sarcastically) Gee, imagine that!
God: Yeah, he gave me the same line. Told me he’d been doing this for years, that everyone has those “lean” days. Told me pretty much to keep suggestions to myself.
Fisherman: Gotta say, I like this guy!
God: I figured you would. The two of you have a lot in common.
Fisherman: How so?
God: Well, he had a lot of the same qualities that you do. You know, “master of my own destiny,” “blazer of my own trail.” That sort of stuff.
Fisherman: Sounds right up my alley.
God: Yea, He didn’t have a lot of time for me either. I tried talking with him, but he pretty much blew me off. But I kept trying. Until one day he listened.
Fisherman: (disinterested) He did, did he?
God: Yep. He was having a pretty bad day. No fish all week, and things were really looking grim. Course you’re doing this fishing thing for fun, so you don’t realize how serious it is when the fish aren’t biting and your livelihood depends on it. Anyway, it was either out of sheer desperation or him wanting me to be quiet. Whatever it was, he finally listened to me and cast his nets over the side of the boat where I told him to.
Fisherman: What happened then?
God: Lots of fish.
Fisherman: What, like a dozen or so?
God: Try hundreds.
Fisherman: (pause, look up). Where’d you say that spot was?
God: Over there.
Fisherman: (casts line in spot – nothing. Looks dejected) Nothing! So what’s the deal now?
God: (jokingly) Guess I’m off my game today.
Fisherman: Gee, thanks for nothing.
God: See, you’re missing the point. It was never about the fish.
Fisherman: I thought you just told me his livelihood depended on it!
God: It did – as long as he was going to be a fisherman. But everything changed for him that day.
Fisherman: How so?
God: He left his fishing business and followed me. An opportunity he couldn’t refuse – a special kind of fishing too good to pass up.
Fisherman: And what kind of fishing was that? Sure hope it wasn’t fly-fishing.
God: Nope. I told him if he came with me he could fish for people.
Fisherman: Fish for what?
God: Fish for people.
Fisherman: What in the world is that supposed to mean?
God: Real exciting stuff! Wandering the countryside, telling people about me and my life on earth. Teaching. Preaching. Performing miracles and helping me carry out my work. Sharing the message of my love.
Fisherman: Sounds like quite the career move! (sarcastic)
God: It would be, if you’d only give it a chance.
Fisherman: Look, I’m sorry, okay? I’ve just…. well, like I said, I’ve been so busy lately. Someone’s always needing something from me. And the family has me running all over the place; soccer games and swim meets and stuff. I barely have any time left for me!
God: But you do have time for fishing!
Fisherman: (sigh) You had to say that, didn’t you?
God: Just a simple observation.
Fisherman: It’s just…..it’s not that I don’t believe in you, okay? I do, I really do. I’ve gone to church all my life. It’s just that life seems so complicated these days. And let’s forget about my crazy schedule – that’s nothing compared to the shape the world’s in today. Our country is so divided, everyone seems so….angry. Terrorist attacks. More mass shootings in our country last year than there were days in the year. Oh, and someone is dying of hunger every six seconds or something like that. I’ve been in this funk for I don’t know how long and I just can’t seem to shake it.
God: You know, it’s interesting to me that, in a time in your life when it sounds like you really need me, you’re pushing me away. Why do you think that is?
Fisherman: (pause, question seems to hit home). Hmm. (pause) Not really sure. But seriously, that’s beside the point. Why do you think I’d be any good at this “fishing for people” thing anyway? We see how lousy my track record is with you. And I think I’ve demonstrated pretty clearly today that I’m not the best at this fishing thing.
God: I don’t need the “cream of the crop” to always get things done.
Fisherman: You don’t?
God: No, I don’t. It’s amazing to me how people are always thinking that. I don’t always need the best people. What I need are ordinary people who are willing to give their best. There’s a big difference.
Fisherman: Come on, let’s be serious now. What does a guy like me have to offer?
God: Your fishing skills, for one.
Fisherman: Oh, ok, now you’re just being a little snarky
God: No, I’m serious. So you don’t catch much. Neither did Peter. But he was out there every day, fishing away. You’ve been here for how long now?
Fisherman: Too long!
God: And you’re still here. Don’t you see? It’s the persistence I need. It’s not about the numbers. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when I see some of my servants talking about how many fish they’ve caught, how many souls they’ve won. The “bottom line.” It’s not a numbers game. It’s about people sharing my message with one another – fishing for people. It’s about each of God’s creatures, one by one, having the chance to see and hear and experience my love.
Fisherman: Alright, so you don’t need some expert fisherman?
God: Not really. I just need someone who is committed to it.
Fisherman: Okay, I definitely qualify there. So what else?
God: I need people who can tell others about me and my message.
Fisherman: Really? I don’t know that I’m up for that. I mean, like I said, I believe in you and go to church and stuff. But honestly, there’s a lot about you and the Christian faith and the Bible that I don’t understand. I’m probably not your best spokesperson – surely you can find someone else out there better than me.
God: Well, now you’re sounding like the rest of them.
Fisherman: Like the rest of who?
God: Moses. Isaiah. Noah. Esther. David. Even Peter! See, they all said the same thing as you – that they didn’t understand everything about what I was asking them to do. I’m not worthy, I have unclean lips, I don’t know what to say. But that’s not the point. Understanding something and believing in it are not the same thing. It’s the belief that’s most important to me. You can believe in me without having to understand everything. Trust me – I’ll help you from there.
Fisherman: Well, I guess that’s why they call it faith, right?
God: Exactly! Look at it this way – if I’m the one that calls you into action, what other qualifications do you need?
Fisherman: Point taken. I’ll remember that. Anything else?
God: Yes. I need someone who is willing to listen to me and respond.
Fisherman: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that. Don’t be offended, but I sure hope no one’s hiding out in the bushes around here listening to me talk like this. They might think I’ve gone crazy.
God: You don’t know how many times I try to have conversations with folks and they don’t say anything in return. It’s gets real frustrating after a while.
Fisherman: I bet so, having people ignore you like that.
God: Yeah, that’s not what I need. What I really need are ordinary folks who spend a little time each day just talking with me. I’m glad Peter did. I’m glad all my disciples did. And I’m glad whenever someone decides to take up fishing with me. Hey, I’m glad you took the time to talk today – that is, once you got your mind off fishing.
Fisherman: Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. (reels in the line, nothing). Yeah, I just don’t think it’s my day today. So – what do you think? Should I cast my line out again?
God: Why don’t you come fishing with me? I think we’d make a good pair.
Fisherman: (taking off fishing stuff, packing up rod) I think we might too. Thanks for the invite.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.