Fish Again? 
Sunday, April 27, 2008, 08:07 AM - Sermon
Luke 5:1-11

This afternoon we are going to ordain E. Sue Tinker to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament. We are going to charge her to fish for people in Hudson. I thought it was a great time to continue my series of sermons suggested by the scripture stories picked by the good folks who came to our April 13th meeting, when we asked “What scripture story describes the situation and feeling of our congregation today?” Last week, I did my choice, the fall, the banishment from the garden and in the coming weeks I'll be preaching on the other texts. Next week it is Genesis 37 and 45 Joseph in the deep well.

In our scriptures the good old boys have been out all night fishing, they took time out from cleaning their nets to take this preacher fella out on a boat and now he wants them to fish again.

The feeling of yet again comes over some of us. Ramping up for another preacher and another effort to build and grow is tough. Some of us, most of us have did this before. The history of congregation is often read like the annuals of the Pharaohs…in the 4 year of the reign of Lucarelli came the building program. If you read our history is it divided not into years or decades, but by pastorate, which pastor did what when. With that reading of history, it is hard to not figure that this pastor is just another casting of the nets. The newest fisherman in the lake that's been fished out and over.

Also, we feel we have been here before when we remember hurts and crisis of the past and replay them again. “We worked hard…and got nothing.” We've tried that before and it didn't work.

Felt this way? Grandparents raising their children's children thinking, I've been through this before. What a blessing when those folks throw their nets back into the sea of parenting. What a difficult choice, one that is not always accepted. They could say, “We've done our work…we raised our children.”

Students going from middle school to high school, or high school to college from being the oldest, best and well-known by people and knowing well the system to being new, lost, and unknown. Some take it as an opportunity to re-invent themselves but others despair at climbing up the social and institutional ladder again.

How about the career person whose job vanishes? Vacation, seniority, salary, even the memorized work number are erased. New skills and new learning are required, all our previous labor is for nothing…empty nets.

Folks back in the hospital sometimes after a struggle to recover from an earlier illness are back to learning how to walk again. All their efforts in rehab and exercise is nothing but empty nets.

What to do when your nets are empty and you need to fish again? We have examples of how empty nets are NOT filled in our scripture.

First we find our fishers cleaning their nets. Cleaning the nets does NOT fill empty nets. We do a lot of net cleaning in the church. A wonderful thing to do when you visit churches is to look at the fellowship hall. Is it a reception room or a fishing pond? You know what I mean, some churches fellowship hall is for receptions with decorations and décor identical to a restaurant or social hall. Others have bulletin boards full of mission and ministry opportunities, tables overflowing with information on the church's outreach, and one I saw this month, a mailbox for every family in the church. (You didn't have to ask who hasn't been here in awhile, the stuffed mailbox was an invitation to deliver the news of the church and the good news of the church to those who are missed) Clean nets don't catch fish, fishing fills nets.

Second, hard work in the past doesn't fill nets. As noble and grand yesteryears fishing expedition was, it doesn't fill nets today. It is about as filling as having memories of last week's banquet for dinner tonight. Just as manna given by God in the desert to the Israelites to feed them didn't keep until the next day, we need to prepare the feast for today's hungry souls and not offer the stale bread saved from years ago. It is like asking for what's for dinner and being told, “Memories”. The sweetest memory doesn't satisfy the smallest hunger.

Third, recording empty nets doesn't bring in fish. We can have surveys, questionnaires, interviews, counts that show just how empty our nets are. Yet, at the end, we still have empty nets. Look at all this emptiness is not a way to harvest fish. We can count what we don't have. Give a list of grievances over what we lack, where our resources are lacking, and not one fish will jump into the net.

The difference between ABC churches and fishing centers is orientation. ABC churches (not American Baptist Church, a fine denomination) but churches that focus on Attendance, Building and Cash. They only ask such questions as: How many are here, and how many are not here. How is the building condition, are all the empty nets clean and stored properly, and where is the money coming from?

Fishing centers take their direction from Simon Peter, focusing on the word of the Lord. Since you tell us, we will doing. Not keeping attendance records, building maintained, or cash coming in but doing what the Lord has said to do. Only then will nets be filled, when we do what the Lord tells us.

I see three things. First, the Lord tells us to let down into deep waters. We like to fish in the shallows, where we can easily see and catch the fish. Heck, we would like it if the fish just jumped out of the water completely and into our boats. But Jesus says let down those carefully washed nets into the dark dirty depths. You get fish by fishing!

Where is the depths? The deep fish? I want to a lecture by Marjorie Suchocki last week. She suggested that God only acts in response to prayer. (That explains a lot!) What is our prayer? One of our prayers I that we can reach young families with children. God delivers a hundred families to our door twice a day 5 days a week. We just need to get them here on Sunday. What is the deep that we can lower our loving nets? Graduation is June 3, Tuesday, I'll be in Israel. What if when they came they found members in Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church shirts opening the door for them and directing them to the program with great joy. “We are glad you are here! Thanks for bringing your children here! Here is the way to the fellowship hall”. We will have welcome brochures and information on the table to share as well. Down into the depths with the nets!

Another way to fish is to call in our friends. When Peter and crew couldn't handle the fish, they didn't drop their nets and give up, they called in their friends. We need a song leader and musicians to start a contemporary service to reach out to new people? Let's call in Sanctuary of Worship folks! Can we help each other to bring in the catch of God? We had a great time together at contemporary worship last month, and Bishop Burgan will be here the first two Sundays in June and he is bring his choir! What if we can work together to bring in a catch! We don't have to do the fishing alone! We can ask for help from others and the Presbytery to bring in the catch.

Finally, Peter realizes it is God grace not our work. When we look at empty nets and hard work to do over, whether in a church or personal context; we need to realize it is God that fills the net, not us. We need to allow God to do his miracle of healing, of growth, whatever emptiness we are waiting to fill. We are not alone, we have friend to help, but we are not alone, we have God to bless us. With God we can face anything.

Advanced permission is given for non-profit, for-prophet use of the above at no charge as long as it is reproduced unedited with notices and copyright intact. Written copies are provided after they are preached as a courtesy for the personal, private, appreciative use of the congregation of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church, their families and friends to support the ministry of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church and its pastor the Rev. J. Christy Ramsey. Join us Sundays! 8:15 Traditional Worship and 10:15 Blended. Mingle in our Gathering Room between services and take advantage of Christian Education opportunities.

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