An Invitation to Go Fishing
Most of us have received invitations at one time or another – a printed invitation to a party, to a wedding, to some gala celebration, or a less formal invitation, maybe by phone or in a casual conversation: come on over tonight, and let’s play Scrabble, or Trivial Pursuit, or whatever. Well, something similar happened a couple of thousand years ago. Two pairs of brothers are out in their boats, and along comes Jesus who gives them an informal invitation – an invitation, not to a party, not to a wedding, not even to join him for a fun night out. Rather, it’s an invitation to a special kind of fishing expedition. Jesus says, “Follow me, and I’ll make you fish for people.” The brothers have absolutely no idea what they’re getting into when they respond, they don’t know where the road will lead, what the commitment will entail, what the cost will be. But, amazingly, they do respond, unconditionally and immediately. They leave family and possessions and security … and they follow.
Just before this, Jesus does some preaching: “Repent,” he says, “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And then he calls them to leave their boats and their nets and to follow. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Repentance requires action; something has to be left behind. To repent, to turn around, means to forsake some favorite pastimes, some things, some beliefs, some commitments, some activities, some behaviors that are very important to us,to leave them behind. This is not always easy. Often our very self-image, our sense of security is at stake.
Jesus’ words, “Follow me,” are also an invitation to us, an invitation to go fishing, an invitation to faith. Some of us come here to worship week after week, and yet we’re still not sure what we believe. If this describes you, don’t feel ashamed, don’t feel that you’re alone – because I know you’re not. For those of us in this category, our Lord’s invitation is to discover the gift of faith.
For others of us who are fairly sure what we believe, are fairly confident about our faith, Jesus invites us to a deeper faith. In both cases it’s an invitation to trust and obedience. Trustful obedience means that if we get an invitation in the mail, we don’t just leave it in the envelope; we open it, accept the invitation, and respond.
Faith leads to trustful obedience, but the opposite is also true. Trustful obedience can also lead to faith. Just as someone of faith may soon find him or herself seeking to obey Christ more deeply, so the person who obeys may, if trusting and obedient, find him or herself believing.
A personal “secular” example from about four decades ago, when I got my first computer. Now, I’m the first to admit, technical stuff is not one of my strong suits. Fortunately, I had a very good and reliable teacher, Parker Moreland, a lay leader in my first church in Danbury, Connecticut, and Parker patiently walked me through a lot of the technology, and explained the computer to me in the most minute detail. But there was only so much my little brain could absorb at one sitting. So I found myself doing some of the functions on my new “toy” (which is kind of what it seemed like), I did these functions not because I understood them, but because my teacher said, “This is what you do. Trust me. Do it.” So I trusted, was obedient, did what I was told, and lo and behold, with a little practice – well, a lot of practice – I started slowly beginning to understand computers, not all the intricacies, but enough to operate one, and I began to believe in what I was doing. If we seek to be trustfully obedient as Christ calls us to be, we may discover a new understanding, a new faith being born within us, or we may discover that our faith has significantly deepened.
Sometimes, though, we feel we can’t respond, because the darkness we find ourselves in is just too overwhelming. Most of us at one time or another have found ourselves immersed in darkness – a disabling injury or illness, the death of a loved one, separation, alienation, loss – whatever. It’s a time when the lights of hope and expectation go out, when the impulse to continue grows very dim, when the heart moves from hour to hour only by hard struggle and overwhelming pain.
The Good News is, God’s promise to us is, that the darkness will not prevail. This has been true from the beginning of time. “In the beginning [so Genesis starts out] … the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep; … Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’” Throughout the history of the people of Israel, God provided light for the people’s darkness. Time and again, even though their faith wavered, even though they disobeyed, God’s light shone upon them, showing them the way, bringing them back to their senses, bringing them back to God. The prophet Isaiah spoke when the people were in exile, after they had suffered humiliating defeats: “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you…” He also said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined,” which is paraphrased in Matthew. The Gospel of John, referring to the coming Messiah, states: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” And Jesus spoke of himself this way: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
A young child awakens in the middle of the night. It is dark and she is confused. The bed feels strange and the shapes she can make out in the room seem unfamiliar. She tries to adjust her eyes to the darkness, but cannot. Strange sounds come from the house, eerie creaks and groans.
She is afraid and doesn’t know what to do, and she starts crying softly. Then she hears footsteps in the hall, moving closer and closer to the bedroom door. The doorknob turns. Someone is trying to sneak into her room! The door creaks open and a shaft of light appears.
She is all set to scream – when her mother steps into the room. “What’s the matter, dear? Are you alright?” “Oh, Mama, I was afraid. Everything is so strange. Why is my room so different?” “It isn’t your room, honey. Remember? We’re visiting Aunt Kate.” That’s all it was – a strange bedroom in a relative’s house. And all it takes to relieve the fear is light to make everything clear, and the comfort of a parent being close by.
One of the fun songs our Crossroads Band plays is entitled, I Saw the Light. The chorus fits with what we’ve just been saying: “I saw the light, I saw the light, no more darkness, no more night. Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight, Praise the Lord, I saw the Light.”
We have two choices when the darkness overwhelms us. Each has its place and time. The first choice is to await the dawn. Sometimes there is nothing we can do except wait. But if we must wait, let’s wait in the confidence that God will not leave us there forever. The deep dark night of the soul does not go on endlessly. Light comes, new life comes, new creation comes. The sun will shine within our lives and beyond our lives. We will see the light. The second choice is to do something, to follow Jesus, to accept the invitation to obedience, to accept the invitation to go fishing. We might be surprised at what we catch.
On a small lake in northern Minnesota one sub-zero day, an older man sits ice-fishing in complete peace – until a group of children join him on the ice, running, sliding, falling, laughing, and generally being a nuisance. He chases them off, complaining that they’re scaring away the fish. They move closer to the edge of the lake, and he can still hear them yelling, louder and louder. He is getting more and more annoyed, when one of the boys runs up to him. “What do you want?” he snaps. “It’s Timmy. He broke through the ice. We can’t pull him out.” The man picks up his fishing pole and runs with the youngster to the edge of the lake. When he gets there he cuts the hook off his line, but leaves the lead weights on. With one cast he throws the line over Timmy’s arm. “Grab the line,” he shouts, and the young boy grabs on for dear life. “Now the rest of you take the line here and help me pull.” They do, and the man silently prays that the line will hold. It does hold, and Timmy is slowly hauled out. Other fishermen have joined the rescue by this time, and one of them has a small shelter with a camp stove, where they take Timmy to dry off and warm up. In the confusion the old man walks away without being thanked, but that is just fine with him; he doesn’t need to be thanked – he’s quite satisfied with a good day’s fishing.
One last story. Dr. Wilfred Grenfell was a dedicated physician and medical missionary in Labrador. Once he invited one of the head nurses at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital to come help him. He said to her, “If you want to have the time of your life, come with me next summer and help run a hospital for the orphans of the Northland. There won’t be a cent of money in it for you, and you’ll have to pay your own expenses. But I guarantee that you will feel a love for life you’ve never experienced. It’s having the time of one’s life to be in the service of Christ.” Well, the nurse went, and this is what she reported back: “I never knew before that life was good for anything but what one could get out of it. Now I know that the real fun lies in seeing how much one can put into life for others.”
That’s the final word. Accept the invitation – you never know what you might catch. You might discover the gift of faith. You might find your faith deepened. You might discover a new life in helping others. Whatever the outcome, I am sure you’ll find that it is very satisfying. Accept the invitation, and come into the light – it is certainly better than staying in the darkness. Amen.
Rev. Kenneth C. Landall
 Emphasis, 1/87, p. 21.
 The Clergy Journal, 5-6/86, p.25
 James O. Chatham, Word & Witness, 1/25/87.
 Isaiah 60:2.
 John 1:9 and John 8:12.
 Emphasis, ibid., p. 25.
 Pulpit Resource, 1/22/84.