Many people love fishing. They spend hours with their rods and reels waiting to catch “the big one.” I’ve participated in conversations about the best kind of bait to use and the right time of the day or year to catch particular kinds of fish. I’ve fished in lakes, ponds, rivers, and oceans. I cannot tell you how many stories I’ve heard about “the one that got away” that was the biggest fish ever seen in human history. And, yes, as a child I was up before the sun on many mornings to go fishing. I had my own fishing poles and I learned how to fly fish and tie flies. The problem is, I really don’t enjoy fishing at all.
I have nothing against those who fish for sport or for a living. I’ve been known to enjoy fish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Fishing just isn’t fun for me. All those hours spent waiting and watching for a fish to bite always felt like I could be doing something else. As a child I’d rather have been reading if I was going to sit in a canoe for hours. It isn’t exactly boredom; it’s just not excitement. Even though worms creep me out, I don’t want to kill them just to catch another creature that I will also have to kill. Honestly, if I had to kill the fish I eat, I’d never eat fish. It always makes me feel sad. (Yes, I know someone else kills the fish I buy at the market or in a restaurant; I don’t claim to be rational about this.) I don’t need to kill to eat and my livelihood doesn’t depend on it. The bottom line is that I don’t like to get up early, I don’t like worms, and I don’t like to touch the fish, and really don’t like the idea of killing something.
Fortunately, the kind of fishing Jesus invites his disciples to do, doesn’t involve killing anything. Just the opposite, in fact. Fishing for people is all about bringing new life. Although, I wonder about churches today. For whom, exactly, are we fishing? I think it’s been decades in which we have not cast our nets wide enough. In fact, we might need a whole new set of nets.
I’ve read so much about attracting Millennials to church, what we should and should not do. I’ve read a lot about the impact of Boomers as they’ve entered into retirement. All fine and reasonable information. But what happened to Gen Xers? Have we just written them off as lost causes? Why aren’t we interested in this generation that bridges the gap between what was and what is coming? Don’t we need these folks who are in the midst of their careers and raising their children? Some of these Gen Xers are now looking for ways to contribute to their communities now that their children are grown. Why aren’t we as concerned about their spiritual needs as we are about the Millennials’? These are some great fish who could really benefit from being part of our churches!
And what about the folks who might not add much to our budgets but could seriously benefit from being part of a loving, faithful community? Why are more churches not reaching out to those in recovery from addiction or mental health crises? How about reaching past the margins to those who are experiencing homelessness, living on the streets or in shelters? What of the folks who are most vulnerable around us? These are not small fish, useless fish. These are people who need community and a sense of belonging and to be affirmed as God’s beloved children.
I wonder if we have been fishing for the wrong purposes. It seems to me that we, as church, have been seeking those who could benefit us. You know, people who can chair committees, put money in the offering plate, and run our children and youth programs. Perhaps it’s time we start asking who could benefit from being part of our churches. Whose spiritual needs are going unnoticed and, therefore, unmet? Whose life would be changed by being shown that they are God’s beloved and they belong in a loving, faith-filled community? These are the fish we should be seeking. Are our nets adequate? Do we need to try fishing somewhere new?
In these days when life feels so uncertain for anyone on the lower rungs of the privilege ladder, wouldn’t it be great if churches could offer a place to be that is free from fear? Fishing, in the name of Jesus, is all about bringing hope to the hopeless, wholeness to the broken, peace to the anxious, and love to the hated. Let’s stop worrying about having the best boat and the latest and greatest in fishing equipment, and start paying attention to those who need to us to be church for them in real, life-saving ways.
I don’t know about you, but I am going fishing…
RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 22,2017
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
I Corinthians 1:10-18