February 7, 2010

“Trolling, Sight Casting, and Nets”
Luke 5:1-11

Jesus tells the fishermen to go fishing.
On the face of it, catching a fish isn’t all that difficult. We are talking about a creature that barely has something you could call a brain. Let’s say they have an advanced neurological system. You would think that it would be as simple as presenting a familiar food source to said fish in a life-like manner. But if this was true there would be no need for a color selector. If you don’t have one of these, it is an electronic instrument that tells the fisher person what color lure might be most appropriate. For one hundred and ten dollars you can have one of these things. I am not making this up.

Some of you know that I like hunting and fishing. For most of my life my Father and I have made an annual pilgrimage to Ontario on a weeklong fishing trip. While there we fish for various kinds of fish, using different techniques. Sometimes we troll. Now for the uninitiated trolling involves dragging a brightly colored lure behind your boat in hopes of it passing a particular fish that has an interest in said lure. While we are doing this, futzing along the shoreline trolling, I have a heavy fly rod (a ten weight) in the front of the boat with a large fly tied to the leader. We occasionally will see a big pike basking in the sun near a submerged log or other hiding spot. Then we will stop trolling, and I will ‘sight-cast’ as in casting a particular lure to a particular fish I can see, trying to get this particular fish in this particular place to bite.

Now, someone once told me that if you have to explain a metaphor, you strip it of its power. The problem with many biblical metaphors is that they are no longer meaningful to us because we do not live the agrarian life that the original hearers of the story lived. So let me point out what Luke believed was obvious: Jesus is talking about evangelism.

Evangelism is a central task for the church. It is part of one of the two tasks Jesus gave his disciples: The first one was ‘do this in remembrance of me’; and the second one was ‘go, tell, and baptize.’

Here in Luke, chapter five, the day had been long and unsuccessful. The weary fishers were washing their nets and probably wishing for the day to end. Jesus interrupted their evening rituals with a request to teach from Simon’s boat and a further request for them to try again — push out into the deep and fish there (verse 4). After a brief, polite, protest they conceded and were amazed at the results. Jesus’ request implies that the fisherman did not need to change technique, but position, moving from shallowness to depth.

See, evangelism is not about technique. Evangelism is about substance. Too many of our churchly efforts are shallow, lackluster, and, dare I say, half-hearted, while society suffers from a crisis of meaning. Yet the words of Christ speak across the centuries calling us to discipleship and calling us to depth. We are not to be captured by what one author calls “glittering images” of Christ. (Howatch, Susan “Glittering Images” Ballentine: New York, 1987)

The goal of Evangelism will always miss its mark if that target is to ‘increase membership.’ We would be wrong to see evangelism as a survival mechanism. It is not about recruitment for the sake of recruitment. That technique is about getting a ‘bite’. We can troll around on the surface all we want, fishing for a bite. But evangelism is not about getting a bite on the surface where there is a big splash for everyone to see. Evangelism is about casting your nets into the deep, into the substance of life, and offering meaning to a world that hungers and thirsts for it.

The lesson for today speaks about a “…great catch of fish, whose very abundance threatens to sink the apostles’ boats. ‘This is a metaphor for the church…we have caught onto an abundance of gifts. But this call involves risk; it is both a challenge and an opportunity…we need to be reminded that these gifts are a renewed call to ‘open ourselves and share ourselves with new and wider communities.” (Bass, Diana Butler “Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming Christianity” Harper: New York, 2006, p. 240.) The net is both the gospel and what the Apostle Paul calls ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’ that we experience in our life together. This is not some gimmicky innovation in search of cultural relevance. That is trolling. I am talking about identifying the depth of our life together and inviting others to join us there, and share in Christ’s presence and power.

And this is not about entrapment. The Greek gets difficult here but suffice it to say that we are talking about nourishing people and not force-feeding them. This is about bringing life and not catch and fillet. It is about what we have to give to them, not what they have to give to us. It is about how this community has the power to rescue each one of us and bring us life. So this is, if nothing else, a story about the power of the Eucharist.

Most importantly, you will note that although they were somewhat reluctant, the disciples received this great catch when the listened to what Christ was calling them to do, and did it.