was one of those nonsensical questions which seemed to be part of adult conversation when I was small...the gist, as I interpretted it, was that fishing was absolutely at the bottom of the list of desirable things to do...something that tended to make me feel that Simon, Andrew et al had rather a raw deal when their option was fishing or fishing.
I don't tend to do much of it myself...neither literally nor figuratively (though that might seem to be a dereliction of clerical duty?). I was back at the Home for the Distinctly Confused again this afternoon, using the same address that I'd delivered as the "Thought" at 8.00 - and I was so very glad that I'd not run with the obvious message...It is always tempting to try and bounce St M's into mission mode - and these days I'm more confident that the agenda would be as it should be, to bring people into a relationship with God and not simply with the church. However, I found myself pursuing another avenue (once again inspired by the thoughts of those on the Preaching the RCL list) and it was such a relief as I considered my evening congregation. There was, once again, a small clutch who were quite definitely on board and happy to be there...There was one lady who was in such a place of disorientation that she spent most of the service shouting for help, - which inspired her immediate neighbour to out shout her with cries of "Shut Up"....There was one lady who sat oblivious at the far end of the dining room, clearly not relating to anyone or anything in the present at all.
I have to say, the worship was not the best we've ever offered...The singing was thin, the prayers mostly solos from the Curate....and reading Matthew's account of the call of the disciples was a huge challenge against the competition of buzzers, tv and the distraught lady.
But once again I found that I'd been given the right words for that situation,those people. I don't know why I'm so surprised!
This evening's story is one of the most familiar of all the gospel scenes, and one of the most familiar of all gospel challenges.
When I was a child, I remember singing the action song
“I will make you fishers of men” – and now I find myself teaching it to the children at OpenHouse and, indeed, most appropriately, at Little Fishes.
We all know the idea.
We, who have heard and responded to the call of Jesus, must in our turn share that call that invitation with others.
We’ve been fished – and now we are sent to fish in our turn.
But maybe it’s not the best metaphor for us as we consider our calling.
A fish, after all, doesn’t exactly thrive after it has been caught. In fact, if the fisherman knows his stuff, it doesn’t survive very long at all…whereas when Jesus invited those men on the shore of Lake Gallillee, he was calling them to a more abundant life.
That call, to which they responded, apparently without a backward glance, was of course to change everything for them…
Let’s think for a moment about all they left behind, good things and bad.
Most obviously, they left their boats – the way that they had earned their livings, the hall-mark of the people they were. They had been independent, - but no longer. They were asked to trust that they’d get by without the wherewithal for a day’s catch.
They left the damage of a day’s work behind, too – torn and tangled nets. No time to sort things out…just go!
AND they left their families. Zebedee, the father of James and John gets a special mention as we imagine him staring after his sons, wondering how he’s going to get the work done, whether his boys will be back in time to go out on the evening run. We know too that Simon had a wife at home, AND a mother in law, and he certainly didn’t run home to tell them he’d be a little while.
He just went…in instant obedience to Jesus…he turned away from his obvious ties and responsibilities and simply followed…and in following, found a wider world, a world of hopes fulfilled and wonders unfolding…a world in which the limitations of life as a lakeside fisherman simply had no meaning.
In short, they found they had left more than simply their past career behind.
There were other things to walk away from, the sorts of things that we too are asked to abandon when we turn to follow Christ…
Things like selfishness, insecurity, small- minded prejudice, fear of those who are different…things that inhibit our relationships with one another as much as with God.
They left those things behind, - though once or twice in the gospels we hear that they’d returned to claim them, and needed some help from Jesus in order to lay them aside finally. That’s an encouragement if, like me, you find yourself frequently reclaiming unwanted baggage.
But for now, let’s look at what they were leaving them FOR…just what was the new work to which they were summoned.
Fishers of men?
It’s a great image if that’s your natural metier…but it does only work in a limited way. At our baptism, we are commissioned to work for the kingdom, but that is far more than an invitation to a fishing trip.
We need to beware the danger of seeing people as simply things to catch and drag into the kingdom, regardless of how they feel. There are some Christians who see this calling as so central to their faith that they only engage with people outside the church in an effort to convert them. Surely this approach dehumanizes people as well as devaluing relationships, turning the world into “them” and “us”…insiders and outsiders…trappers and prey.
That doesn’t sound much like Jesus…
It’s really not quite the same as introducing non-Christian friends to a God whose loving embrace welcomes all.
There’s a further problem: all fish look alike. It’s very easy to think of a net full of fish as being interchangeable, exactly like each other, and not a collection of individuals. It’s all too easy to think of everyone outside the
church in that way too… all alike in need of saving…all surely to be landed by the same baits that brought us in, regardless of any differences in our situations.
But of course the truth is quite different…God meets each person where they are, and calls them as they are …and he calls them to life in its fulness not the processed sameness of a packet of Birds Eye fish fingers!
So, despite the song, let’s forget about fishing.
Jesus used that line for the men on the beach because that was their way of life…If he’d encountered a group of doctors, he might have adapted the call
“I will make you healers of souls”…Builders “Constructors of the kingdom”
Petrol pump attendants “Refuellers of hope”
He wanted them to understand that all of their energies, everything that made them who they were, could be redirected, so that all that they had, all that we have and are, can be given in service to God’s kingdom of justice, peace and love.
So, instead of simply reverting to the Sunday school song, I’d like to share another with you, one written by John Bell of the Iona community.
As you listen to the words, consider what God might be asking you to leave behind, and seek his help as you turn to follow. Perhaps the last verse could be our prayer.
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.
Signing off for Iceland now...See you next weekend - take care while I'm gone.