If You’re Going to Go Fishing You Have to Leave Home

This reflection is based on Matthew 4:18-22 and focuses on how we fish for people.

So often when we hear this passage, the focus is on being called, dropping what we are doing and following Jesus.

But Jesus called the disciples to fish for people. So how do we go fishing?

I think this is a difficult thing for us. It is easy for us to say: “There are sports on Sunday.” “The culture has changed and people aren’t interested in church anymore.” There is truth that the culture around us has changed but that’s not the point. Jesus didn’t call people who were already sympathetic to his mission. Jesus called people who were simply surviving, just living their lives somewhat oblivious to the work that Jesus was doing.

When you go fishing, most of the time, you stand on shore, sit beside an ice hole, or sit in a boat. It doesn’t make sense to catch the fish that are already caught. Essentially, all of us by virtue of our participation in St. Andrew’s or any faith community are already caught. Jesus doesn’t call us to catch one another. He calls us to fish for the people still swimming free in the pond.

For many in the United Church, the idea of evangelism, the idea of sharing our faith and encouraging others to join in is uncomfortable. We somehow have gotten the idea that our faith is personal and that if people are interested in being part of a faith community they will just show up.  But when you fish, the fish don’t just jump into your bucket or boat. You have to catch them.

But again, we’ve missed the point of this story. We are called to be fishers. This is an activity. It requires us to do something. If we are going to fish, we go wherever the fish are. If you stay at home, you won’t catch many fish. You have to have bait—something the fish will find attractive. You have to have patience. The fish might not be biting today but maybe if you go back tomorrow there will be a better catch.

When we fish for people, the same rules apply. We have to leave home, leave our church building. We need to know what people want and what bait they will take. And we have to have patience and keep trying.

The bait is always the same but the packaging changes. The bait is that we are loved by God…That love is constant even in a world that changes. As a faith community we work hard at sharing God’s love. In times past, sharing God’s love meant converting people to Christianity. While people might still have conversion experiences, we recognize that Christianity is one of many ways to experience God’s love. Our focus is no longer on converting but creating the world that Jesus worked for in his lifetime.

Jesus didn’t tell people they had to believe as he did but he encouraged people to do the same things as he did. We see stories of Jesus welcoming the poor and those who were considered outcasts. We see Jesus feeding the hungry, healing people’s physical and emotional wounds, turning the political structures upside down. If we are going to fish for people, these are the things we need to be doing. These are the packaging of the bait. It’s all God’s love but different people need it packaged in different ways.

And we have to be patient. Sometimes we’ll go out and be able to connect almost immediately and share God’s love with someone. Sometimes we will need to connect again and again with someone before we can catch them. By catching people I’m not talking about getting them here on Sunday morning. I’m talking about helping people to experience God’s love in their lives. Sometimes there will be an explicit expression of that love. Sometimes it will simply be they’re lives have been touched, even for a moment, by something we have said or done that makes a difference to them.

In some ways the image of fishing is not helpful because as the fish are caught, they die. The goal of our fishing is not for people to die but to become more whole, to become more of the people they are called to be. Sometimes that means that an old way of being has to die. Sometimes that means giving something up. In the story we heard this morning, Jesus caught the new disciples and they gave up their families, their livelihoods, everything that was familiar in order to follow. We are not asking people to give up their livelihoods or families but all of us and the people we fish for need to consider what we need to give up in order to be more whole. What part of us needs to die? Again, this is not language we are always comfortable with but as people who believe in resurrection we know that in order for life to come, there must be death.

For example, we know that racism is alive and well in our community. I hear and see it often. So we work to change the attitudes in ourselves, our faith community and wider community that encourage racism. As we do this people will see the work that we do, be attracted to that work and get caught in Jesus’ message. We let the attitudes and behaviors that lead to racism die so that the whole community can be healthier.

So let’s go fishing. Let’s leave our nice comfortable sanctuary, our comfortable form of worship, find some way of packaging God’s love so that others can taste it and  find themselves caught in God’s love. And as we do this, let’s be gentle with ourselves and with each other. Have patience and enjoy the challenging task that Jesus has given us.

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You are the servant: let your light shine

In Isaiah there are three “servant songs.” Today we heard the second of these. The songs describe a servant who will rescue the people, who will be a light to the world, who will suffer for the people.

There are various theories about who the servant is: Some identify him as Cyrus of Persia. The local priests, as a way of protecting themselves, furthering their own interests and because they believed there may have been powerful god’s supporting him identified him as “God’s anointed” after he invaded Judah. [1]

Sometimes these passages are used to describe and make sense of Jesus’ life.

Sometimes these passages are used to articulate the call of the Jewish people in the world. The passage we heard this morning is explicit in naming the Jewish people collectively as the servant who will be a light to the world.

The point is, as with many scriptures, there are many interpretations and people in different times and places interpret scripture differently. This is why we talk about scripture as living. It is why we believe that scripture continues to speak to us even though it is thousands of years old. We need to continue making scripture relevant to our own situations and making connections with how it speaks to us in our own lives.

I’ve identified three servants that are often cited in commentaries but the possibilities for the servant are endless. This passage describes the servant as someone who is created by God. As people of faith we believe that God was present at the beginning of creation and that God continues to be present in every birth and in the creation of each one of us.

The passage also tells us that the servant will be called by God. In the paraphrase from Laughing Bird [2] we here these words “Before I was born, the LORD had chosen me; given me a name and a job while I was still in my mother’s womb.” If we look at the gospels there are many stories of Jesus calling people to discipleship and ministry. As Christians we believe that the call Jesus gave the disciples extends to us. We are called to be God’s people in the place and time where we live. The inclusive language translation [3] offers these words linking our creation and our call: “YHWH called me before I was born, and named me from my mother’s womb.” Not being called is not an option. We are called simply by our birth.

 

At times the servant will be discouraged: “How come every thing I do comes to nothing then? I’ve worked my guts out but there is nothing to show for it. But I gave it my best shot for you LORD, so you decide whether I’m worth my pay.” The servant is tired and disheartened. They had been trying to do God’s work, laboring and struggling and feeling like nothing was going right. God isn’t helping to move the project forward. And then the servant is reminded that God is working behind the scenes and helping in ways that are unknown.

The passage asserts again that the servant is called by God from birth and that there is purpose in the servant’s life, even in the midst of struggle. God present and helping with the current project and not only will this project succeed but God will place a light within the servant so that everyone around will be able to see.

The servant role could apply to anyone of us. We are all created and called by God. God is present with each and every one of us even when we walk in places that are dark and scary or uncomfortable. God does not leave us alone in pain and discomfort but sometimes when we are in those moments of our lives we feel like everyone is against us and like God has abandoned us. Sometimes we work really hard thinking we are doing God’s work and the work is a struggle or it feels like everyone is against us. But even in that struggle God is working.

Not only will God be present with us, God’s light will shine in us and through us into the world. When might wonder who we are to be a light. But a light doesn’t have to appear big and powerful to remind us of God’s presence. Stars appear as a tiny pinprick of light in the night. But there are millions of them shining away in the universe. By themselves, they don’t seem like very much but together they light up the whole sky so that even in darkness there are lights.

In the dark places of our lives and world we need those pin pricks of light to remind ourselves and the world that we are not alone. These lights show us the way. They provide comfort. Sometimes we are a point of light for someone else. It might not seem like much as one person but when place ourselves beside someone else and joined by others we become that sky of light for someone in the dark places. Sometimes we need to see the light so that we know we are not alone. We need to be reminded that even in the darkness there is light.

We also need to remember that night and darkness are temporary. The sun continues to shine on the other side of the world even when we can’t see it.

We are all the servant in this passage, created and loved by God with God’s light shining in us and through us so that we may be lights in our relationships with others, our community and world.

When we feel disheartened we just need to look around and see the lights that touch our lives to be reminded of God’s light and love that touches us, guides us and protects us.


[1] For more background see: Lisbeth S. Fried, “Cyrus the Messiah? The historical Background to Isaiah 45:1.” Harvard Theological Review 95:4 (2002), pp. 373-393.

 

[2] This paraphrase may be found at http://laughingbird.net/ScriptureParaphrases.html

 

[3] The inclusive Bible, Priests for Equality,  Rowman And Littlefield: Lanham, 2007.