The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Epiphany 3rd Sunday Sermon – 8:00am and 10:30am Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN
RCL Epiphany 3 Year A 1/26/2014
I am not a good fisherman.
I enjoy the pleasure of standing, or sitting in nature,
on a lake or river
and have enjoyed fishing with other men and women
But my number of catches is laughable.
when I was a teenager, I was blessed to be able to go with a group of guys from my church's youth ministry
on a sort of pilgrimage in creation trip
to the Boundary Waters In Minnesota
for a week of canoeing and fishing.
That whole week, while we ate our catches every day for lunch and dinner,
some of the best northern pike and walleye I have ever had,
I did not catch a single fish.
Nope, not even one.
So I am not a good fisherman,
though it is not for lack of trying.
And my late uncle William
tried really hard to teach me how to fish.
Here are some of the things I remember he taught me.
First, you have to know where the fish are.
So ask around, and go to a good fishing spot,
he did not believe in using a radar device on his boat.
Then you have to know what kind of fish you're going for, and what they like to eat,
so that you can choose your bait.
Then you have to go at a time of day
when the fish will be hungry.
He made it sound so simple.
But I never got it.
So I find it particularly hilarious,
that of all the clergy here,
I get to be the one to talk to you all today about fishing.
I hope you'll forgive the irony of this situation.
Now there's a difference, between net fishing,
and hook and line fishing.
And I see the primary difference in how hard it is,
for a fish to get off the hook,
once it has been set,
versus how easy it is for a fish to get out of the net,
depending on the size of the holes
how many fish are in the net, and so many other variables.
We know from our Gospel reading
Andrew, James and John,
were net fishermen.
Notice that Simon and Andrew, left their nets,
to follow Jesus.
and James and John were found in the boat,
mending their nets.
What must it have been like,
for these experienced fishermen,
to hear this Rabbi tell them,
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
Now some of us are more familiar with the older
English translation, I will make you fishers of men.
There are obvious reasons for changing the word men,
such as not leaving out half of the human race.
But our women in the lectionary group this week
helped me see that there is a connotation difference
with the use of the preposition in these two phrases as well.
On the one hand, “make you fishers of men”
uses more of the passive voice,
and the connotation of make is to create in you,
or enable you to do something,
whereas “make you fish for people,”
seems to be more active voice,
and has more of a connotation of commandment,
like “force you to” do something.
Now the Jesus that I know,
doesn't force us to do anything,
certainly he commands,
but his commandments are so grounded in love,
that rather than feeling forced,
I feel more compelled by love,
to do what he asks.
That is the great freedom in serving Him,
that we have spoken of so often in the past here.
So maybe there's good reason
beyond just comfort with an older phrase
that many people prefer to hear Jesus saying,
“I will make you fishers of men.”
Now I can tell you,
that I resisted the notion of becoming a fisher of people.
As I said, I'm not a good fisherman,
but even more than that,
I was raised a good Episcopalian,
in the Northeast for that matter,
where we were taught by everyone around us,
that it's better to live and let live,
surely to let the other fish swim where they will,
is better than going after them with a net.
But I sought, and still seek,
to follow Jesus,
so I find that I am compelled to become a fisher of people,
and the amazing thing,
is how Jesus enables even a poor fisherman like me,
to do just that.
There are so many ways,
we at Ascension are fishers of people,
but one of the primary nets I have worked,
is called the Alpha Course.
Let me tell you a little about the way that net works.
First we decide which fish we're trying to catch.
In previous years we have gone out into the local waters,
searching for fish outside our church.
This year, we're fishing right here,
casting the net for people who may think they're already caught, and bringing people from outside too.
Then we share the bait,
which in Alpha is the delicious bait of friendly community,
good food, and conversation.
And as people are gathered the net is cast,
the net is the good news of Jesus Christ.
But the thing about the Alpha part of the net,
is that there are big holes.
And people are free to swim in and out as they wish.
Those who stay,
find that the bait is just as good as it looks,
and the net is a delightful place to stay.
Those who see the net coming,
and for whatever reason choose to swim away,
are free to do so, and are not injured as they swim
away through the holes.
This part of the net is only cast for 10 weeks at a time,
but it's amazing how wonderful those 10 weeks can be.
And the truly amazing thing I have found,
is that those of us who are fishers of people,
are really just other fish.
We're not the one's casting the net,
and certainly not the one pulling it in.
And all of us on the team,
speak about what a joy it is,
to see others catch and be caught.
Yes, even I, though I have a big role of helping with the net,
am just another fish in the net myself,
so I share in the fishing,
but only so that other fish,
will see what a wonderful net our Lord has cast for us.
The thing about being like fish,
is that at times we all want to get out of the net
that has been set for us,
and everything, and everyone outside the net,
wants to convince us that being in the net is not a good thing.
That it's better to be free of the net,
and swimming around in the open water.
But the deception that many fish live under,
is that they are really swimming in open water.
When actually, the whole sea,
no matter how big it seems,
and how free it feels,
is a giant pot,
and the water is getting hotter and hotter all the time.
Sometimes fish swim close to the source of the heat,
and get burned,
and swim quickly into the net,
recognizing their need to be saved.
But most of the fish swim around,
blissfully unaware of the slowly rising temperature.
The net that God is enabling us to work with him,
is eventually going to bring us all out of the hot water,
just in time to set us free into the true ocean,
that goes on forever,
the ocean of eternal life.
But we have to stay in the net,
and when we're in there,
and we know we want to stay,
some of the fishing that Jesus was talking about,
is helping our brothers and sisters stay in the net,
and some of it is about convincing others
to get into the net too.
So as fishers of people,
we hold out the bait,
we work on the holes,
we encourage other fish to hear the truth,
and not be wooed back
out of the only way to the true ocean.
And it can seem like a monumental task to do this.
And we can easily become afraid,
afraid for our brothers and sisters,
even afraid for ourselves.
But we are reminded:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life,
of whom then shall I be afraid.”
We truly have nothing to fear,
because God is saving us,
and as much as we seem to be able to escape from the net,
he reassures us that his net is stronger,
and more complicated than we can imagine.
We need not fear,
but we are asked to, and do get
to participate in the fishing,
which is the greatest honor of all.
To help another fish on the way to appreciating
is truly more than we could ask or imagine.
All of have that role,
all of us can be involved in the invitation.
And when we see the light shining in other fish,
like we do on the Alpha Course,
We can only count it a gift, a blessing,
and grace, that we could play a small part,
in their being caught,
If you haven't been on the Alpha Course,
sign up to come on Wednesday night
and see what it's like.
If you have, invite some other fish to come,
you might just help them
get to a good place in this wonderful net. Amen