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Jesus said, "Follow me, and I will make you go fishing," or at least something like that. Anybody here ever been fishing? Anybody here want to go? "Follow me, and I will make you fish," said Jesus. "I will make you fish for people."
Surely that line is one of the great lines of the New Testament. Hardly a soul, whether one goes to church or not, does not know that line. It is a line different from some of the Old Testament sayings about the kingdom of God or about the identity of God's people. Jesus is talking about fishing.
When Jesus gazed at those two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, throwing their net into the water, he realized that something about fishing was what he wanted in Christian discipleship. I believe Jesus chose the image intentionally.
I know an old friend who prefers the Old Testament. He is now a professor of Old Testament at LSU. We used to make a big thing about our respective differences. In seminary, where we knew each other, I emphasized New Testament studies, and he emphasized Old Testament. Well, I took him fishing with me about 20 years ago, where he thought it perfectly natural that a New Testament person would carry a net to go fishing. He would laugh at me when I took out my cast net, carried it out to the marsh creeks or to the salt flats, and then looked for mullet to be drawn up into its fine mesh. Most of the time when I pulled in the net, it returned empty. But I kept at it. I endured.
Endurance: That is the first lesson that fishing teaches us about discipleship and about following Jesus.
Ernest Hemingway loved fishing as much as he loved writing. He would never have been a great writer had he not fished, and he would never have been a great fisherman had he not written. Maybe his great work "The Old Man and the Sea" is so powerful because it is at one time so dramatically simple and also so dramatically deep. But "The Old Man and The Sea" is only one of Hemingway's great stories about fishing. His favorite saying apparently was this-something he learned while fishing and writing: Il faut (d'abord) durer. "It is necessary, above all else, to endure. It is necessary to endure," he said.
Yes, fishing remains one of the great models of Jesus for the kingdom of God. Maybe our age and culture are in danger of losing the image because we no longer go fishing-just like we no longer herd sheep and know what a shepherd is. We no longer plant seed in the ground and know what growth is. We no longer draw water from wells and know what living water is.
But the image of fishing is worth recovering. The image became part of the Anglican Church image through a particular writer. One of the greatest expositions of fishing ever written was composed by that old Englishman Isaac Walton in a book called "The Compleat Angler." Walton is also known for biographies of John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Hooker, all great Anglican theologians. Old fishermen may not have read those biographies, but they have certainly read "The Compleat Angler."
"The Compleat Angler" it was called. Yes, it was about angles. Anglicanism is a style of Christianity that is about angles if we have eyes to see. "I am, sir," said Isaac Walton, "a brother of the angle." That is another thing that fishing teaches us about following Jesus. It is about angling. Being a Christian is about taking a particular angle towards life. It is the angle of grace. Each of us-every one of us-perceives reality and the world in a different way; yes, but Jesus teaches us to see the world from the angle of grace. Wouldn't our Christianity be richer if we accepted angles more easily? Wouldn't our Christianity be more beautiful if we bent toward the angle of grace?
Fishing also teaches us about discipline. "Follow me, and I will make you fishers," said Jesus. Fishing takes practice, preparation, discipline. One must learn how to best throw the net, how to make the mouth of the net come open too. I can throw the actual cast net a long way, but I can't always make the net come open so that it will actually form a circle around the fish. One must learn how to cast the line on a rod. Again, some folks can cast a long way, but their accuracy is awful. There may be fish on the right, but they know only how to cast the line to the left. There may be fish on the left, but they keep casting to the right. Casting, like discipleship, is an acquired habit. It rewards practice.
Some of the best fishing, of course, is done with a lot of people. One of the nets I like best is the seine, a long net of maybe 50 or 60 or even 100 feet. It takes three or four people to stand on the shore at one end and hold the net, hold it firmly on land, stand firm. Another three or four people or maybe more venture out into the surf, straight out into the ocean with the other end. This group struggles, pushing against the surf, until they are almost over their heads and then they turn. But they turn a particular way. They turn against the current, so that the current forces fish into the net. This is hard work, dragging a long net against the current, but it's the best way to use the current.
One of the great features of the seine is that it brings in everything. It is not selective. Yes, it is much like God's great seine. It drags in everything. I remember one seining trip when we were out in the ocean hauling with all our might. We could feel the vigorous tug of fish actually hitting the net. Our hearts raced. But once we were back on the beach, we found not a single fish. What had happened? We searched the net and found a single hole, one tear through which every fish had escaped. The net had not been properly prepared. Someone had missed the maintenance. The net had a hole in it.
Discipline requires keeping the net mended, doesn't it? Hanging it up to dry cleanly after every expedition, moving it carefully.
Fishing is also patience, isn't it? It is waiting, maybe trolling along some Georgia lake or maybe standing out in the ocean waves with a single line strewn out into the sea.
Fishing is noticing the weather, watching the wind and the clouds. Fishing, like the gospel, dear friends, like the gospel, fishing is always practiced in context. It does no good to sit at one lake and wish I was on some other lake. It does no good to stand at the ocean and wish the weather were different. On that day, in that place, I fish in context according to what the conditions are.
So it is with the proclamation and the living out of the Christian gospel. It does little good wishing that we were somewhere else, in a different time or in a different country perhaps. Our context is this time and this place. Know where the wind blows. Watch the clouds.
The New Testament image of fishing is a great net. Over and over again, the kingdom of God is a huge net cast over different numbers of people and species. We, now, in the church are the artisans of the net, the keepers of discipline, endurance, and patience. But the net itself is the great grace of God. And, of course, our fishing-that net-is not designed to trap people against their will. It's designed to attract people into this marvelous embrace of God.
Finally, it is part of our discipleship to fish for others.
* It is evangelism, plain and simple.
* It is serving the people, plain and simple.
* It is healing the sick, plain and simple.
Jesus said, "Follow me." But his statement did not end there. He wanted the sons of Zebedee to keep fishing. He said, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." To follow Jesus is to fish, not simply to be caught passively in a net ourselves. To follow Jesus is to fish.
Go out and use all that great equipment that you got as a child or that you got for Christmas or that you inherited. There's a lot of great fishing equipment going unused these days.
Follow me, and I will bring you into the net? No, Jesus said. Follow me and I will let you drag the net. I will let you cast the net, mend the net, care for the net. Follow me and I will let you go out into the deep even up to your heads. Follow me and I may make you struggle against the current. Follow me and I will send you into places of great peace and relaxation and also great joy and excitement.
Follow me, said Jesus, and I will teach you how to proclaim by word and example the good news of grace, the good news of the kingdom. Amen.
Let us pray.
Give us grace, O Lord, to go fishing, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and to proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation that we in the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God forever and ever. Amen.
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