SERMON PREACHED BY
"Jesus said to them, 'Come with me, and I will make
you fishers of men.'" (Mark 1:17)
THE REVEREND DR. HAROLD T. LEWIS, RECTOR
CALVARY EPISCOPAL CHURCH,
ON THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY
22 JANUARY 2006
I remember very distinctly experiencing a significant childhood
rite of passage ---- from goldfish bowl to aquarium. Having
a goldfish bowl was very simple. You just sat there and
watched your pair of goldfish swim around and around, circumnavigating
their little aqueous world. As the keeper of the goldfish
bowl, you had two duties. First, feed the fish daily by putting
just a pinch of fish food in the bowl every day. Since
the fish will eat everything you feed them, it is important to
keep their meals to a pinch, since overfeeding can be fatal,
as many a devastated six-year old has discovered when he discovers
his little goldfish belly-up and immobile. Second, change the
water occasionally, taking care, of course, to provide a temporary
home, with sufficient amounts of water, for the displaced fish.
(A paper towel does not do the job!)
But an aquarium was, pardon the expression, a different kettle
of fish. I guess the aquarium was to little boys what Barbie
and Ken were to girls. Instead of accessorizing by changing
wardrobe --- from tennis outfit to prom gown, etc., the aquarium-keeper
was constantly adding to his little world. Different species
of tropical fish (the pet store man would tell you which ones
got along with each other). Then thee was different colored
gravel, coral of various descriptions that the fish could swim
in and out of or hide behind; algae both real and faux, a pump
and filter to keep the water clean, a thermometer, so that you
could make sure the fish were not too hot or too cold; and finally
a light to illumine the environment you had created. Then
your friends could come over and watch your fish and admire your
equipment and accessories.
A big boy version of the home aquarium, by the way, is a
man-made lake stocked with, say, trout, to which you can invite
your friends to go fishing.
This morning's Gospel tells the familiar story of Jesus'
invitation to his disciples to become "fishers of men."
But he invites them neither to an aquarium nor an artificial
lake stocked with fish. He invites them to fish in the
open sea --- well, almost, since we know that the Sea of Galilee
was really a lake. The other thing we should note is that
Jesus and his disciples did not use poles; they used nets.
Now the first thing to remember about fishing with nets is
that nets catch everything that swims into them. It's not
like fish being attracted to a particular kind of bait or lure.
This is why later on Jesus would compare the kingdom of God to
a net [Mt. 13:47]. Evangelism, fishing for people, is indiscriminate.
Since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, we don't
pick and choose those whom we wish to invite, mainly because
it's not our party, it's God's.
Another thing to remember about net fishing is that it's
a community effort. The net is too large and unwieldy for
one person to handle. A team of fishermen is needed.
So it is with fishing for people. To attract people, the
entire community must be involved. Even if an individual
does a good recruiting job, what good is that if the church community
doesn't deliver the goods when the recruit shows up?
Fishing with nets requires persistence. It depends,
literally, on the luck of the draw. Do you remember another
fishing story in the Gospel when the disciples complained to
Jesus that they had "fished all night and caught nothing?"
[John 21:3]. We must be dedicated in our evangelism, as opposed
to doing it in the usual Episcopal Church fashion. You
know how that goes. Sunday No. 1: name tags and flowers,
gifts, applause, filling out cards, general brouhaha. Sunday
No. 2: We say to last week's newcomer, "Aren't you the new
guy from last week?" Sunday No. 3: Nothing at
all, and the hapless visitor, having been drawn into the net,
is left, if you pardon the expression, floundering.
And this points to another problem with our approach to evangelism.
We often create an aquarium to our own liking, just the right
environment, temperature, mood music, and of course inhabitants.
Then we ask people ---- at least some people, to jump
into the aquarium we have created. This is not what Jesus
had in mind. Jesus calls us to go out and get wet for the
sake of the Gospel. He wants us to be proactive; he wants
us to go fishing, not merely to hang around waiting to see who
This church-as-aquarium model, which has always been present,
seems to have been raised to an art form. That branch of
the church that deems itself to be orthodox is assembling a "perfect"
aquarium with a totally controlled environment. A few weeks
ago, the Vestry watched a video entitled "Choose this Day,"
put out by the Network of Anglican Dioceses and Parishes.
That video makes it clear that their aquarium-church is all-white,
all believing in the "supremacy of Scripture" (no tradition
and reason, thank you very much). And needless to say,
their aquarium-church only has straight fish.
The dragnet that Jesus and his disciples used to catch fish
is turned against the current, and the current forces fish into
the net. It is indiscriminate and unselective. Perhaps
one of the hardest things we have to learn as Christians is to
be as welcoming as that net.
Now we could end the sermon here, but I want to give an honorable
mention to an almost forgotten character in this story, and that
is Zebedee, the father of James and John. He didn't jump
up enthusiastically with the others. Let's not be too hard
on him. We're often like him, clinging to the familiar,
the sure thing (which, of course, never is). I would like
to think that Zebedee decided to keep doing his important job
--- mending the nets, keeping the nets in good repair tin order
that those burly fishermen wouldn't lose any potential disciples
because of a hole or a tear in the net. Somebody has to
keep the church in good repair so that it might welcome those
who are fished out of the sea by the disciples.
Let us pray:
Send forth, O Lord, thy strong Evangel
By many messengers, all hearts to win;
Make haste to help us in our weakness;
Break down the realm of Satan, death and sin:
The circle of the earth shall then proclaim
Thy kingdom and the glory of thy Name.
("Awake thou spirit of the watchmen"
The Hymnal 1982, 540.)