Catch & Release

Inspired by Luke 5:1-11

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve fishing with my dad at Lake Berryessa. My dad would get me up super early, I mean, God wasn’t even up yet, still dark outside! And though it was difficult to get up, I don’t remember complaining. Once we left the house, still dark by the way, I’d catch a quick nap on the way. We’d stop in the little town of Winters and go to the same bait and tackle shop. There we’d get the same three things, as if it was part of the ritual of the day: we’d get our minnows, I’d get a pack of beer nuts, and my dad would get a cheap cigar. He’d always whisper to me, “Don’t tell mom”, with a smirk on his face because we both knew full well that mom already knew. From there our adventure would continue to the lake, to the same spot every time, just on the other side of the glory hole. We’d park on the side of the road, grab our gear, and walk down some very steep, rocky terrain to get to our spot.

By this time the sun was coming up and we’d fish from the shoreline there for the rest of the morning. Well, my dad would fish for the rest of the morning. I’m not sure how long I lasted. I’d start out fishing but the lure of adventure in that rocky terrain was too great and before long, off I went to explore. I’m sure that unnerved my dad but I don’t remember him ever getting mad at me for not fishing. I’m guessing my dad was just happy to spend time with his son, just like I was just happy to spend time with my dad. Because forty years later, I don’t remember the fish that we caught, or how cold it was in those early morning hours, or how tired I was, or even how tasty those beer nuts may have been. I remember a dad willing to spend quality time with his son, with love and what I’m sure was a healthy dose of patience, to connect in ways that go beyond words.

And that’s really why I share this with you today. For me, fishing is all about connection, in a variety of forms. As I child, fishing allowed me to connect with my dad. As I got older and before I had kids of my own to take fishing, I realized yet another connection that fishing provided me, and that was with nature. There is something quite magical that happens when a fish first bites on your line. All of a sudden you are literally connected to nature in ways that mere words can’t describe. So much so that I always catch and release so that someone else can experience that same connection that I just had. Whenever I have fished alone, I was never really alone, even when I don’t even get a nibble on my line. But of course, I’d always rather fish with someone else so as soon as I could, I had my girls with me and to my surprise and delight, my girls still like to go fishing with me. I’ve never asked them why they still do, but I know for my part, it all has to do with the connection that is fostered between us and nature, with every fishing trip.

As you may have already guessed, connection is the name of the game today as we read this story from the early days of Jesus’ ministry as Luke tells it. In this passage we find Jesus newly tested in the wilderness, newly baptized, having just delivered his inaugural address, and had just performed his first exorcism and first healings, and what is the next thing he does so early in his ministry? Asks for help! We’re only five chapters into this Gospel and Jesus is already looking for help! What kind of an all powerful, cosmic wonder is this Jesus? We’re not even two months into this ministry and he’s already recruiting some assistants!

I think this passage from Jesus’ early days of ministry is chock full of valuable lessons and that’s a huge one. Knowing that even Jesus didn’t try to do this alone might be the greatest source of comfort that we could ever ask for, especially when this work of ours brings it’s share of enemies, as we explored last week. But even aside from the enemies, this work can be daunting. There are so many causes for us to champion, so many in need of help, that it can be easy for us to become overwhelmed at best, complacent at worst. It’s easy to fall into that old trap of thinking, what difference could little ol’ me make anyway? This is where Jesus’ genius comes in. In what I think was a move to be an example for us, Jesus asks for help. Because really, do any of us really believe that Jesus couldn’t have done it alone? But the important thing here is, he didn’t. He knew that together we are stronger. And not just in terms of getting things done, but in the support that we can offer each other in this often-daunting work that we are called to. We are stronger together, in every way that matters, as we connect with each other, there’s that word again, as we do God’s work together.

And speaking of comfort, the next lesson I’d like to highlight from this story may provide even more comfort than working together. And it comes from Peter’s reaction to the huge haul of fish that Jesus helps them bring in. Peter realizes that this Jesus is no ordinary prophet or rabbi and it scares the living daylights out of him! Why? Because he knew he wasn’t qualified to be part of this movement that Jesus was starting. Or as Peter put it, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” And what is Jesus’ response? He asks him to join anyway! Now, if the daunting nature of following Christ isn’t enough to cause you to run for the hills, the temptation to think you’re not qualified just might do it. How many times have you thought, “I can’t do that! What do I know about that? I’m not a good enough person to help other people on their path of following Christ! I can’t even figure this out for myself!” Any of you ever have thoughts like that? I do. All the time. Which is why this part of this story is so meaningful for me. I hear Jesus telling us that there are no qualifications, that there is no good enough anyone can be, and maybe more importantly, I hear him acknowledging that we are indeed sinners, and even still, Jesus says to us, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” Which brings me to my final lesson that I’d like to highlight from this story.

Back to fishing. Jesus calls us to be fishers of people. Now, in the past, this has been used in colonialist ways that hurt a whole lot of people in the process. Whole civilizations have been wiped out all in the name of “expanding the kingdom of God.” Just ask my ancestors, the Aztecs, oh that’s right, you can’t, they’re gone, wiped out by “good-meaning” Spanish conquistadors who were just swinging by the new world to spread the good news. You’re picking up the sarcasm, right? My point is, fishing for people hasn’t always taken on a catch and release mentality. Too often it’s been more like catch and become one of us or be destroyed. I really don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind when he told Peter to that he’d be fishing for people from now on. And I’m assuming you’d agree with that. So what did he mean? Going door to door and telling people about Jesus? Volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen? Going to worship every Sunday? Reading your Bible more? I know, listening to more Christian radio! Ok, I’ll turn down the sass. I’m not saying that doing any of those things is bad, but I also don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about here.

I believe that it’s all about connection. I think Jesus was using this image of fishing because he knew how fishing connected them to nature, how it connected them to the sea, how it connected them to providing for their families, how it connected them to their communities, Jesus knew the power of connecting with people! And so, when Jesus tells Peter to go and start fishing for people, he’s telling him to go and connect with people in the same way that fishing has connected you to the world around you in so many wonderful and life-sustaining ways! No go start connecting with people, Peter, because that’s the only way we’re going to truly communicate God’s unconditional love and salvation for all!

This my friends is why this work is so hard, so daunting, but it’s also why it’s so needed. Because often times the people that need God’s unconditional love the most, are people who are very different from us. And so, for a congregation that is mostly white, that means being called to find ways to connect with people of color. For a congregation that is mostly straight, that means finding ways to connect with people from the LGBTQ community. For a congregation in which most members find themselves above the poverty line, that means finding ways to connect with people who are below it. You get my drift? Is that enough examples? I’ll stop there? Why is this so hard? Because it’s so much easier to just throw some money at some good causes and call it a day. But connecting with people, really connecting with people, putting yourself in places where you can spend quality time with people who may need it the most, takes time, effort, intentionality, authenticity, not to mention a healthy dose of patience, and it will cause you some discomfort. But, it’s the only way to truly communicate God’s unconditional love and salvation for all, in ways that mere words just cannot, as well as find partners in this work that we are called to, and to release them into the world to do some fishing of their own. It’s a tall order, I know! I’m right there with you. But it’s work that is needed now more than ever, and we get to be partners in it with Christ, who continually forgives our sins and says, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

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