Sunday, January 31, 2016

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Go fish

Epiphany 4: “Summons to follow”
Luke 5:1-11

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I love this text from Luke’s gospel. I love “telling” it. It also brings back memories of the childhood song from Sunday School days, “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men. I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me. If you follow me, if you follow me. I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me.”

But after studying and working with the text, I always end up with 3 questions that I’m not sure how to answer. Each of us has to answer the questions individually, but we also need to ask how do we interpret and answer communally, collectively?

1.) What does ‘fishing for people’ (bringing in people - CEV)look like in the 21st century? Don’t be afraid, from now on you will fish for people! Jesus told Simon.
(What does it mean for us in this time and culture?)

2.) What might we be asked to ‘leave behind’ in order to do that ( fish for people)?

3.) What are we being summoned to do?

Let’s look at these questions and think about them together.

1.) What does ‘fish for people’ look like in the 21st century?
We know it was appropriate for Jesus to use the metaphor of ‘fishing’ to teach in that culture and time. They could identify with and understand what was involved with the job of ‘fishing’. It was hard work! It involved spending long hours catching fish, sometimes all day, sometimes all night. The job required many tasks, salting and drying fish, carrying them to market in large baskets, mending and washing sails and nets, repairing boats, working together in groups or guilds, days of success and days of failure, hard calluses on the hands, weathered skin, weary muscles, and always the smell of fish! It wasn’t a rod and reel and pulling in one fish at a time. It meant standing in the shallow shores of a sea and throwing out heavy nets, or pushing boats out into the deep and tossing the nets over board. Day to day the weather was unpredictable and so was the ‘catch’.
Does ‘fishing for people’ today look any different? Isn’t it often hard work, long hours, unpredictable outcomes, requiring patience. Sometimes it might mean disappointment and weariness (we fished all night and caught nothing!) or try one more time...put the nets into deep water, and suddenly nets are breaking, boats are sinking...unexpected outcomes! Miracles!
Some days fishing for people might be as messy and unpredictable as fishing for fish!
Does fishing for people in this time and culture mean going out there and bringing people in, and in to where? Our homes, our communities, our congregations? And who are these people we want to ‘bring in’? Who are we fishing for or hoping to catch?
I hope if we ‘go fish’, we find people with hearts wide open, willing to learn and grow together, willing to take risks, willing to offer grace and extend forgiveness to one another. I hope we can find people and be people who can sit together at table and celebrate with bread and wine, or over a potluck meal or even with a community fish fry!

The hymn we just sang, vs. 2 states: You call us, Christ, to gather the people of the earth. We cannot fish for only those lives we think have worth. We spread your net of gospel across the water’s face, our boat a common shelter for all found by your grace.”

When we toss out our net over the water’s face, or into the deep, do we hang over the boat and pick and choose a few select fish, ones we think will ‘fit’ our fish pond and toss the rest back into the deep? Do we look only for the kind we think will get along with the rest of us, so we don’t have to change too much or make major adjustments? (Kate fishing at SML and the excitement of the ‘big fish’, but the big fish was a carp..not a desirable fish to catch)

Maybe we need to re-think the imagery of fishing and fishing for people. Instead of ‘go fish for people’, we might say, ‘go have breakfast at The Little Grill’ or ‘ go spend some time at Our Community Place’ or ‘go meet your new neighbor at Mr. J’s’, or ‘go volunteer for SA or Open Doors shelter’, or ‘go sit with an elderly person who just suffered loss’, or.... well you get the picture.

2.) What might we be asked to ‘leave behind’ in order to ‘fish for people’?
The text states they ‘left everything’ to follow Jesus. Jesus’ words were directed to Simon Peter, but they all apparently heard those words and acted together to pull the boats ashore, leave there ‘stuff’ and follow Jesus. Did that mean everything was left, even those two boats full of fish! I wonder what happened to that catch? Maybe we are asked to give up those things we are pretty attached to...you know what I mean. They are different for each of us. Do we leave behind those things we always want to control, feel we need to control or that control us? What gives us security? Do we have to loosen our grip on those? Do we give up some traditions or change the way we worship or sing or play, when ‘new fish’ join our pond? And who decides what and how much to leave behind?
Joyce Rupp writes in one of her books that one day as she was going through her stuff, she came across a journal she had written in years ago when going through a time of pain and transition. She was responding to these questions: What do you wish to tear up...to give away...to burn...to remove....to plant.....to sing...to create...to wear? And this is how she had responded to those questions in her journal:
“I am tearing up old behavioral patterns of judging others, being too busy and anxious, of not having enough solitude and communion with the earth. I want to give away whatever keeps me from being my true self, from living freely and simply, from being rooted in God. I wish to burn old memories and experiences that wound myself and others. I want to remove any obstacle that keeps me from being a loving person. I long to plant seeds of kindness, a deep reverence for our planet, a healthy spirituality, to plant these seeds in myself and in all I meet. I want to sing the song of my soul, to create the books waiting in my heart, to wear freedom and love. “ (p. 124-125 - Open the Door by Joyce Rupp)
Leaving behind stuff so we can go fishing might mean needing to unlearn some things that are holding us back, loosening the grip on things or people we hold too tightly. We might need to leave behind regrets and self blame over what we did or did not do. We need to let go of those old tapes that keep playing in our head, that tell us we are not good, or valued, or worth anything. Remember Jesus’ words to Peter: “Don’t be afraid.” Courageous steps forward will be accompanied by Jesus’ presence ‘under us, over us, by our side on our left and our right.”

3.) What are we being summoned to do?
Jesus words to Simon are not a casual invitation. They are a mandate, a summons, a command to respond. “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will fish for people.”
So what kind of actions or steps do we take to reach out, to move out, to engage people, to interact with others, to ‘go fish’?
Last week’s speakers at SLT at the seminary had some good suggestions:
a.) Where are the ‘currents’ flowing in your community? Where is there energy and passion being shown?
b.) Where are the longings in our community, in our families?
c. ) In what ways are our communities and congregations coming together and responding to the needs and challenges of our day? (Think of New Bridges, Bridge of Hope, Pleasant View Homes, Open Doors, Patchwork Pantry) Everyone of these started with the vision of a few people at a grass roots level that gained interest and momentum as people came together , crossed lines of faith, education, economics, denominations to work together.

Instead of focusing on “Who is my neighbor?”, as if there is a right way to answer that and, look at in a personal way, “Who are my neighbors?” right around me. (snowstorm brought some of us together as we shoveled snow and leaned on shovels to get through the task of getting out of our driveways) This event brought some people together in a different way from ever before. And maybe even more important than asking ,”Who are my neighbors?” , we need to GO and Be a NEIGHBOR!

I think we are summoned to respond in some way, to be obedient, and each of us needs to figure out what that might look like for ourselves and our faith community.
Here is my list of 10 thoughts I think we are summoned to.. The list is not exhaustive!
We are summoned to:
1. listen and learn from one another, and nurture our children.
2. create and care for beautiful things.
3. make peace through service
4. give testimony of God’s faithfulness in our lives
5. take risks and challenge the unjust ways we see
6. give money and wash dishes
7. mend relationships and ask for forgiveness
8. plant seeds of kindness
9. build sand dams and Habitat houses
10. share our gifts to help others.

Closing example: from last issue of Canadian Mennonite.
Jay Siemens, a 23 year old from Altona, Manitoba Canada was traveling last Nov. when he saw an article that his small hometown was going to welcome 5 refugee families from Syria. He wanted to help. He is a self taught, amateur photographer. He got the idea of putting together a calendar of some of his photos taken as he traveled in different countries. He partnered with Friesens Corporation who printed 1,000 copies of his calendar featuring 24 of his photographs. Charging $20 a piece, within several weeks he sold the calendars earning $20,000 for the families of Syrian refugees settling in his hometown.

I think this young man was summoned to share his gifts to help others. When Jesus commands or summons us, he empowers us with what we need. We can and, with God’s help, we will rise up and follow, with Christ before and beside us.


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