Fishing – Rev. Tony Romaine – May 17th, 2020
Today is Rural Life Sunday, and while we do not necessarily celebrate and bless the fields and our farms and the areas of our rural life like we used to by fasting or abstaining, etc, it is important to recognize and thank God for the blessings of the fields, the farmers, the small businesses and every part of what truly is the backbone of a great society. So what does this have to do with fishing, other than we can go fishing in rural areas? Well, fishing is all about trust, faith, hope, and being content and that has everything to do with rural life!
In our Gospel for today, after a long night of fishing, the disciples had not caught anything. Perhaps it was a sleepless night, wondering to themselves about all of the things that had recently taken place. Perhaps they were going to try and fill nets with fish to provide for this struggling community that was grasping at the loss of its rabbi and teacher. Perhaps they just wanted to get away and go fishing. In any event, they had not caught a single fish until daybreak when a stranger appears on the shoreline and tells them to try the other side of the boat. I wonder if they were thinking to themselves, “Try the right side? Don’t you think we would have done that already!” But nothing could be worse than their empty nets, so they try the other side of the boat and alas, nets full to almost tearing. In this moment they realize it has to be Jesus and they rush to shore.
Perhaps you are like these disciples, tired after the long night of no success. You have been fishing in the dark and long night for something to grasp ahold of, something to give you hope that there is still life in these waters, something that could fill your net and bring you life. Perhaps you are just floating in a lake wondering at what direction you should take. Remember in this boat is not just Peter and John, but also Thomas, who once doubted but now believes. Thomas who is about to go on missionary trips that span all the way to India, about to take the Word of God and share it with the world.
Perhaps you are how I imagine Peter to be in this narrative, as he was the first one to speak up about wanting to go fishing. Perhaps you just want something that seems normal, something that seems restful, something that seems doable. And so, as Peter goes fishing, you also seek to do something that you know you can do well to take your mind off of our current times.
And yet, even though this “something” you are trying is a practice you have honed over the years, is something you have found success in many times before…nothing happens. Until Jesus comes along and tells you to try the other side, try it my way, try to recognize that the very lake in which you are travelling, in which you are fishing is the very same lake I am using to transform you. Try the other side, try fishing out of the waters that I provide. Not the waters of despair and unrest, but the waters where the weary can come and rest and the lost can be found.
And while most commentators will tell you this passage is about discipleship, trusting in Jesus, following God’s call to go and make disciples and our churches will be full; I think this passage has a lot to say about finding ourselves where we are and just how to live our lives.
See, we say to God, “I’ve already tried that, I’ve already fished those waters, I’ve already put my nets out in that deep dark emptiness of the world and every time they come back empty.” But God calls us to try the other side, take a new perspective, trust in God and put our nets in the waters that are filled with fish ready for our nets. Waters that run deep and true.
Fishing is about hope and subsequently requires faith that when I cast my nets, or when I cast my line, there is something out there. We have all been fishing for a while in the night. We are all tired of social isolation and the emptiness of the nets of our lives. We are all tired of having to figure out new things, new pathways, new ideas, new, new, new. When all along, have we been truly taking the time to fish where we are? Have we taken the time to cast those lines, those nets, in the waters we know and seek out fulfillment where we are?
Remember our passage from Job, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” Have you tried the other side? Have you looked where you are for fulfillment where you are? Have you given God thanks for being in the place you are instead of wishing you were somewhere else? Have you given thanks to God for the things you have instead of wishing for the things you do not? Have you cast your net into all the waters of your life seeking the fish in the place you are, or are you only trying one side because you think you know best? Do you doubt that God has a plan for you or for the world? Is not every living thing in God’s hand?
This is not to say that we have not done as the disciples did, that we have not fished every part of what we know to only come back empty. That we should not try new things or find new ways or long after something different. Rather, what we need to be cognizant of is when Jesus calls us that we are ready to indeed try to go fishing again. That even after the long night, hope comes in the morning. That when we slow down and take the time to listen, however long that might take, that when we do hear the word of God beckoning us to try the other side, that we willingly cast our nets regardless of how many times we have already tried.
For when we realize the beauty of the place we are, the blessedness of what we have, the love that surrounds us, then we will be filled with riches at the bursting nets found in our presence. That’s what the author of 1 Timothy is trying to tell us when it says, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”
Now, how many people do you know who would be content only with food and clothing? Honestly, not many of us would be; and while that is just a basic interpretation of what God provides; what 1 Timothy is trying to key in on, is the very same thing that Job speaks to, and also the foundation of what Jesus is building upon in our Gospel passage today. Until we are content with what God has provided us, where God has placed us, what gifts God has given us, our nets will always be empty for nothing will be able to fill them.
That is until in gratitude, humility, and love we trust that Jesus has us, that God has a plan for us, and that our God loves us so much that when we stop, slow down, listen, take the time, and cast our line in the faith of Jesus Christ, we will have more than we could ever imagine before, we will have so much our nets will be on the verge of tearing, we will have so much that we will want to jump out of our boats and swim ashore to thank God for the bounty…but more so, we will thank God for being present!
See, I used to go fishing with a purpose in mind; with a need to catch something. If I did not, I left that fishing hole and went to another. Until one day I was fishing a small river and I was struck by the beauty of the trees, the energy of the flowing water, the colors of the twilight sky, and just reeled in my line and stood there amidst God’s creation. I had not fished in that way before and in that moment my life would be forever changed, as if I had been told to fish in a different way, perhaps to try a different side, perhaps to be content that I am a part of God’s creation, and whatever may come will come. Regardless of whether I caught anything at all…going was the purpose, fulfillment found in being content where I was, that I was provided for and trusting in God’s creation.
There is definitely something about the exhilaration of feeling the line burst with life, with energy that you might have something on there…that hope fulfilled, that faith renewed, the dedication and hard work we put into our craft rewarded, and the prospect that indeed this river, lake, or sea is not empty but life still exists here! What hope we have that wherever we go with Jesus, wherever we are with God, our nets will be filled, our lives complete.
So let us dream dreams, let us cast nets, let us farm fields and sow seeds of small towns; of rural life; of being pleased, of a life in praise of where God has led us; in praise of our Savior, Amen!