Sermon: Fishing for People – Do We Have It In Us? (Father Manny’s Lake Mistake Fishing Story)

Hand-net fishing on Lake Michigaan

Fishing for People…Do We Have it in Us?

Being a city kid, I didn’t have too many opportunities to go fishing. Actually, I really didn’t have too much of a desire to go fishing. A lack of fishing places was not a problem. After all, Michigan has the big lakes surrounding it not to mention a couple hundred smaller lakes and rivers and streams, too. However, living in a big, urban environment, there were far too many other options from which to choose. There was always a pick-up baseball or basketball game in the summer. If I were able to find and return enough pop bottles and cut enough lawns, I was able to take in a ball game at Tiger Stadium…I was pretty independent and I didn’t want to ask my parents for the money…and, there was no such thing as “an allowance,” that’s for sure. When the weather was colder, there was skating at the park and hockey games to be played.
Needless to say, there were chores to be done at home and growing up a ‘church mouse,’ I was always being asked to help out at the parish church which conveniently sat right across the street from my home. Was my childhood ideal…who knows and really, who cares? For me, it was perfect or as close to perfect as it could get. Then again, I did wish we had a second bathroom…3 older brothers and 5 sisters and 2 parents…you do the math!

When I entered Holy Redeemer College Seminary in rural, Waterford, Wisconsin, I was transported to a very different way of life. Seminaries were often times situated in rural, “off the beaten path” areas. The belief and understanding was having seminaries in these areas took away the potential of too many distractions or diversions. And thus, these quiet, tranquil areas afforded the seminary student the environment and time for more prayer and meditation time. I guess they underestimated our abilities to create diversions and distractions! But, yes, this part of Wisconsin was indeed rural, quiet and did provide many opportunities for prayer, meditation and lots of open space to be alone.

I took up jogging and playing soccer…sports that had me outdoors more and more…and I loved it. Mornings that I had no classes, right after Morning Prayer, I would get out and start running. Passing corn fields that stood higher than me was a simple joy. Running past the cow pastures made me run faster…for very obvious sensory reasons!
The hills were no problem and the down hills runs were a kind of dare to run as fast as possible! There were days I could have run on and on and on…I didn’t want to stop.

In the spring, the annual snow melts would cause the local lakes and streams to overflow their banks. There was a small lake that sat on the seminary property. Lake Mistake, which was its actual name, was relatively small and tame. We swam in it, took a little row boat out into it and at night, we’d sit on the dock and skip stones across its surface, having no problem getting our stone from one shore to the other shore. Behind the lake was a small drainage pipe, actually wide enough for me to stick my head into if I so choose…I didn’t try, but I’m just saying… Every spring, the lake was overflowing and out of that drainage ditch poured out fish…lots of them, splashing and flawing out of that pipe and into the small stream that developed. That small stream would lead back into another small pond that fed back into the larger lake the fish originally came out of. And the cycle would continue, again and again. Those poor fish…if they weren’t being caught on the hook or some seminary-fishermen; they were being sucked into a drainage ditch that took them for a ride from one lake, to a stream, to another pond and into their original home.

Remember, I really never had much of a fishing history, but here was my chance to make up for lost time. The first time I came across this fish spectacle, I ran back into the school, fetched a net and caught a sizeable number of fish, some of which were worthy enough to make it to an outdoor grill that night. The smaller ones, I let loose in a much larger lake down the road from the seminary. I did this 4 or 5 times, until the early spring thaw had completed its cycle and the fish run stopped. I felt like I had done my part in sustaining and maintaining the delicate eco-system and…I had become a fishermen, well, sort of!

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, we find Jesus in the act of calling forth several of his disciples. He just doesn’t call out to them, or challenges them…he goes to the heart of what they know best…fishing and says to them that He was going to teach them how to fish for people which would be far more complicated and costly than fishing in the sea with nets and hooks.

This fishing for people is not just for the sacramentally ordained in the church. For after all, we are all priestly people through our baptismal covenant with God and the Church.

This fishing for people is not just for the sacramentally ordained in the church. For after all, we are all priestly people through our baptismal covenant with God and the Church. No…this call to fish for people is a call for all of us in the church. Each and every one of us is responsible in building the church, this local community of St. Nicholas and the Episcopal Church, in general. It is our duty to help grow the Kingdom of God and we do so with our involvement and engagement within the church ministries and activities and we have plenty of opportunities here with which to get busy. The list for bread-bakers has been filled for the next several months…wonderful news and a testament as to how generous and giving a community of faith we are!

Fishing for people isn’t easy…but fortunately, it has much the same requirements as when we fish for, well, fish…

We must be patient…people, like fish, need time…when God catches us, God does
His work within us and we in turn, do God’s work for the Church.

We have to find the right place…fortunately; people are everywhere and so is God…there’s a good chance that when God calls out, some one is going to listen and come forward and that person or persons will do what they can for God and another and we are to be there with them to aid and assist them in their efforts.

We have to have the right equipment…we don’t need any pole or net…we need wide open hearts that are willing to embrace others, with no distinctions to be made, for we are all one in God’s eyes and it should be so in our eyes, too.

We have to have a love for this activity…if we don’t love what we do, then, well, we are wasting time and time is a most precious gift from God. If we love people and wish to have people live lives that are full and enriched, what better place is there then right here and what better source is there than a relationship with God the Almighty and His Son, Jesus the Redeemer?

We have to be willing to share…once we have been successful; we must have a willingness to share our bounty and our ‘catch’ with every one. God’s house has many mansions and rooms…our St. Nicholas has room for many others, for the many or for the few, who wish to come, worship and stay…this home becomes home to any and all.
Yes, this fishing for people is a pretty tricky sport. It takes determination, the patience

I spoke of earlier and a strong disposition and stubbornness for not giving up even when things don’t go as we planned or hoped. It takes being accommodating and willing to bend on occasion so as to willingly listen to others and be open and receptive to their point of view. When we fish for people, we are not doing so for human nourishment.

Rather, we are PROVIDING spiritual nourishment for them as well as ourselves. And this is food for the soul…the best sort of nourishment possible. It comes in the form of Jesus himself, the bread and wine shared on the altar and with God’s grace, become the body and blood of Christ, the nourishment that strengthens our soul and yes, our body, too.

I wonder if that little lake up there in Waterford, Wisconsin, that little lake that sits behind what once was a college seminary still has that fish overflow issue come each spring thaw. If so, I hope there is some one there to catch those fish, protect them and move them to a safer, larger body of water. Then again, I have my own fishing to do. In fact, we all have some fishing to do. The work is hard and demanding. The work of bringing people to God, to this safer port, this place of worship is not for the faint of heart. Yet, the potential and rewards are otherworldly, just as Jesus promised us.

3rd Sunday after Epiphany. B Cycle Jan. 22, 2012 Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Psalm 62: 6-14; 1 Cor. 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20


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