Sermon: Still fishing after all these years.
Some years ago, I went on a very special fishing trip to Vancouver. I was together with other dedicated fishermen from Argentina, Canada, Denmark and US. We were together on this fishing trip for a few days in the beautiful Vancouver, and as we were eating lunch, we were sharing stories as fishermen do. The true stories about the biggest catch, the longest haul, the rolling waves and some disappointing days. Stories about empty nets, dangerous sailing and about those magical days where everything just is right. Now, - it was indeed a very special group of fishermen I met with in Vancouver. And this fish I caught: a beautiful wooden symbol – which symbolized the very special fishing club that I belong to.
The fish is a very old Christians symbol. It is in fact one of the oldest Christian Symbols, and we find it in the dark catacombs in Rome or in ancient mosaic floors in house and churches. And you probably know it from the car sticker on the back of the car on Sunday morning as we are diving to our churches.
Fish is “ichthus” in Greek. And if you divide that word up in letters, you get the same letters as in Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. “So, to a Christian the symbol of the fish became a Christians Creed or symbol of belonging. In today’s gospel we meet Jesus at the banks of the Lake of Gennesaret as he meets the fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. And Jesus says to them: “Do not be afraid… from now on you will be catching people!” So, in our faith, in Christianity, the fish was from the very beginning the very symbol of Christ himself as the Savior, the big Fish, - and then all the caught Christians who were the small fish.
Which brings me back to the very special fishing trip I was on in Vancouver. I was at a Church Seminar with other Danish Lutheran Pastors from Argentina, Canada and US, and we did indeed talk about how to be a church, how we did catch new members, and the methods we used. – As we once upon a time were caught by faith, thus we were sent into the world to catch others. We were indeed The Lords Fishermen.
” A thoughtful fisherman sat shore, he listened to Jesus preaching…” this is how we will sing the beautiful hymn by Grundtvig with a wonderful melody by Carl Nielsen. A true Danish masterpiece. The beautiful old hymn describes this wonderful day, we hear about in the Gospel today. That lovely day, when Jesus was found at the banks of the lake. He was not alone. On the contrary we learn that he is followed by a big eager crowd, who are pushing and shoving to get close to this man, whom they have heard so much about. They push and shove to be able to listen to his words, to feel his presence and perhaps be so lucky that you could lock eyes with him as they had heard that his eyes went straight to your heart.
It had not been a good day. I had not been a good day for the fishermen at the lake. It had indeed been a very bad day. They had been out all night, but they had returned with empty nets and boats. Now they were sitting, tired, and distraught. And they were watching this man, Jesus, and all the eager people following him.
There is indeed something fishy about the Gospel, as the theologian Dominic Crossan once said. There is indeed something fishy in the entire gospel as the gospel is filled with stories about fish, lakes, bouts, fishermen and fishing. This was the ordinary everyday life. This was the ordinary life where the historical Jesus lived. These are the ordinary people, the fishermen of Gennesaret, that Jesus met.
As the thoughtful fisherman according to Grundtvig sat in his boat, listening, to Jesus preaching, wo we sit here today, not in a fishing boat yet in a ship, the church ship. Side by side, sailing on the big ocean of life towards the light and God with Jesus as our captain.
The Gospel is the story about the thoughtful fisherman Simon Peter, who is promoted and transformed to become a fisherman of people. The one who was caught by the faith in Jesus Christ, is now called to go out and catch others. So, it is mine and your task, from the moment we were baptized and the moment we were aware of our faith, to listen to our calling… and to try to catch others too.
All this talk about fishing, catching, nets does make us a little bit uncomfortable. Because we really don’t want to be caught, we don’t like to be caught like a stupid fish and we really don’t like to be treated like a stupid bahing sheep. We want to decide where to swim and were to go! And we are very skeptical of any human fishermen. We are very skeptical of any smart, slimy, smiling human fishermen, who tried to lure us, manipulate us and abuse good people of faith. We have seen our share!
But we need to remember that there is nothing wrong in sharing our faith and our joy with others. There is nothing wrong in talking about our faith, share our hopes and show our joy. That is exactly why we sit here in the most beautiful church in Yorba Linda on any given Sunday: we are proud and joyful about our faith our church, our history, our inheritance, our traditions, our hymns… and we want to share it with each other and with others. If you have something good – you should share it and not keep it to yourself.
As Simon Peter, the other disciples and all the eager people in the crowd, we too know that it is essential and important if we feel a presence, if we are met with a beautiful heart and eyes that reach your heart. If we feel that our hearts are beating, if we feel the joy and the strength, if we feel the presence and the fellowship, - then we feel seen, loved and blessed. And then we are caught… not by nets or fishing poles, but by light, joy and faith. As Grundtvig so poetic writes:” He caught him people and above all, they changed to be sunshine brightening… we come with light, carry on the cross, no one can be called a cheater. because we travel oceans of hearts to see…….”
There is a big difference between manipulation and then simply showing the world that you are comfortable in your faith, that you love the creation and your neighbor, that you show compassion, and that you are big enough to respect the faith, the doubts and the opinions of others. To be a fisherman of humans is to let others see Gods love and presence in your lives and in your deeds.
It is indeed not always easy or even fun to be a fisherman.
It is not always easy to be a human fisherman. It is not even easy to be a human!
As a human being we constantly have to sail out – out on the deep oceans of life, out on the rolling waves and out to the uncertain horizons. We have to dare to be with others, to share life with others and sail together. We are connected and we are depending on each other. Sometimes it is hard. It is hard to navigate. You get disappointed, you get hurt, - but then you have to try again. Try to sail out again. Try to go fishing again.
Just like Jesus that day came to a group of fishermen who had had no luck. And he told them:” Try again! Go out one more time…. Try again!” They probably sighed and only agreed to try one more time, as they thought that would be the only way to silence this talking walking Jesus. How life surprised them as Jesus was right.
” Do not be afraid.... from now on you will be catching people.” Jesus said. Follow me, follow my word, your calling, your faith – and don’t be afraid. Despite all the failures and all the empty nets, try again. To be human and to be a fisherman of human is to be open and keep trying even if it may be hard.
When it comes to humans, you have to dare to take a risk and cast you nets.
So, I hope that you will all keep on going fishing. As a church, as a congregation, as a council and as humans… to be a constant witness of our faith, hope and joy in the world.” Don’t be afraid…”
We are all called, young and old, pastor and congregation. As a good congregant recently told me. He always dress in a nice suit with a tie when he comes to church, but it was not until recently when he stopped for gas on his way, that he knew why. The clerk said to him: “You look nice, all dressed up – where are you heading?” And then he said… “I am on my way to church…. “and he knew that he was witnessing and fishing in the very best way.
So, let us cast our nets, set our sails and go fishing! Amen.