Dr. Steve Lindsley
Luke 5: 1-11
Our passage today is about, among other things, fishing. A particular kind of fishing. When I think of fishing I think about the fact that my fishing experience has been much like the fish I have caught in my life: occasional and sporadic. I remember as a kid catching brim with my Dad at a Y-Guides weekend gathering. In Mount Airy, a preschool-age Hunter and I caught fish in a neighbor’s pond that no one else besides us got to fish in, so the fish were always biting, meaning that my son grew up with oversized expectations of what fishing was really like. In seminary I took up fly fishing with two of my classmates Danny and Bubba – his name was Kris but literally everyone including his mother called him Bubba.
And so it was over this past summer while I was away on sabbatical that I decided to reconnect with my fly fishing. I took a class through the Great Outdoor Provision Company that was held just over the border in South Carolina, hosted by an older gentleman whose multi-acre estate included a pond that had been engineered specifically for fly-fishing. The tree line around the perimeter was set back far from the water’s edge to provide more than enough room for casting, the pond itself was stocked full of trout and bass, and a sophisticated feeding system kept the fish happy and full except on fishing days. I didn’t catch as many fish as some of my more experienced colleagues, but I caught enough to make me feel pretty good about myself.
It has always struck me that Jesus chose this setting and this audience to begin his ministry. It’s always struck me that Jesus, a trained carpenter, walked in this fisherman world with relative ease; able to jump right into the world of these strangers and speak the very heart of the Gospel out of their experience: Jesus doesn’t say to them, “Come and I’ll help you build a solid building. He says, Come and I will make you fish for people.
Which is a curious image, if you think about it. I kind of wonder if those fishermen were looking at this guy and thinking, “what are you talking about?” It’s a reasonable question. What kind of fishing is Jesus talking about – what does it look like, what does it entail? And, most importantly, what kind of people is he talking about fishing for?
It makes me imagine what it’d be like having this conversation with God today, fly fishing on some stream in North Carolina. I wonder what God would have to say in that conversation. How might God be challenging you and me to take up the hobby of “fishing for people?”
God: 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 couple right now. But they just don’t want to bite on anything. I don’t understand it.
God: Maybe you need to try a different fly.
Fisherman: I’ve gone through five or six already. Nothing seems to help.
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 me any good.
God: Just a suggestion. (pause). Maybe you need to work on your technique a bit.
Fisherman: Hey, listen, it’s not that I claim to be great fisherman or anything, but I’m 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 just 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. 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 my suggestions to myself.
Fisherman: I like this guy already!
God: I figured you would. The two of you have a lot in common.
Fisherman: How’s that?
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: Yep, I do see we have a lot in common.
God: He didn’t have a lot of time for me either. I tried talking with him, but he pretty much just blew me off. But I kept trying. And then 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 was that spot you mentioned before?
God: Over there.
Fisherman: Thanks! (casts line in spot – nothing. Looks dejected) So what’s the deal?
God: Guess I’m off my game today.
Fisherman: Gee, thanks!
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 very 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 is 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 God’s love.
Fisherman: Sounds like quite a career move! (sarcastic)
God: It would be, if you’d only give it a chance.
Fisherman: Look, I’m sorry, okay? I’ve just been real busy lately. Work is crazy; it never stops. It just seems like all I’m doing is putting out fires these days. Course the family is keeping me running all over the place; going to soccer games and school plays. Geez, 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, I’ve been fairly active and stuff. 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 is in today. We can barely talk to people on the other side of the proverbial aisle. It’s just a mess.
God: You know, it’s interesting to me that, in a time in your life when it sounds like you really need me, that you’re pushing me away. Why do you think that is?
Fisherman: (pause, question seems to hit home). Wow, I don’t know. I never looked at it that way. But really, what good do you think I’d be fishing for people anyway? We see how lousy my track record is with you. And I think I’ve demonstrated today that I’m a fairly poor fisherman in general.
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 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 do I have to offer?
God: Your fishing skills, for one.
Fisherman: Oh, now you’re just being mean!
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 devotion I need. It’s not about the numbers. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when I see some of my disciples talking about how many fish they’ve caught, how many souls they’ve won. It’s not a numbers game. It’s about people sharing my message with others – fishing for people. It’s about each of God’s creatures, one by one, having the chance to see and hear and experience God’s love.
Fisherman: So you don’t need some super fisherman?
God: No. I just need someone who’s devoted to it.
Fisherman: Okay, I guess I qualify there. What else?
God: I need people who can tell others about me and my message.
Fisherman: Really? I don’t know if I’m up to that. I mean, like I said, I believe in you and go to church and stuff. But there’s a lot about you and the faith and the Bible that I don’t get. I just don’t think I’d be the best person to speak on your behalf.
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 – 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 do say. But that’s not the point. Understanding something and believing in it are not the same thing. It’s the belief and how that belief affects how you live 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, 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 around here is watching me here. They might think I’ve lost it.
God: You don’t know how many times I try to have conversations with folks and they don’t say anything in return. It gets frustrating after a while.
Fisherman: I bet it does, having people ignore you like that.
God: Yeah, that’s not what I need. What I need are ordinary folks doing the best they can to live a life I can be proud of, and that they 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 the 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 would too. Thanks for the invite. AMEN.
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, 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.