Our devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
1 Corinthians 14:12-20
What is the “politically correct” way to say fishermen? Fisherpersons is terribly cumbersome. How about fisherfolk? How about missionary?
I love a good fish story. Did you hear the one about the commercial fishermen who were cleaning up one morning after a hard night’s work when some preacher came along and asked if he could use the boat as a kind of floating pulpit? They allowed it and after the sermon, he told them to take the boat out into deep water and put out the nets. One of them argued that the preacher didn’t know much fishing (they had fished all night, along the shore — when and where the fish gather and can be caught), but they did as he suggested anyway. Maybe they just had that much respect for him or maybe they thought it would teach him a lesson about fishing.
In any event, the next thing you know they had so many fish that their nets were about to tear, and they couldn’t get all the fish into the boat! Honest to Pete, it happened! They asked some friends in another boat to help them, and they still had so many fish that they almost sank both boats! I know you think that’s just a fish story or a tall tale, but it really happened. As a matter of fact, a lot more happened.
If you haven’t already guessed, the fishermen were Peter and Andrew, and their friends were James and John. The preacher was Jesus. Being a fisherman, I can imagine the thrill of that moment. I tell a few stories that astonish people and make them think I stretch the truth a bit.
One of my favorite stories began with a cast of a lure that imitates a wounded minnow. It was a large lure with three treble hooks on it. I had a strike and hooked a small bass. While I was retrieving it, there was a heavy surge on the line, far beyond the strength of that little fish. Suddenly, the surface of the water erupted as a huge bass jumped; it was also hooked on the same lure! The smaller fish looked like a minnow hanging alongside.
I have seen schooling blue fish in the ocean come up to a hooked fish and actually injure their comrade trying to take the lure from his mouth. Fishing in clear fresh water with live minnows, I have hooked one smallmouth, and watched another zip up and eat the minnow that was still hanging on the line. I don’t think that was the case with this monster of the deep; I think the small bass was his target for lunch, not the lure. To my knowledge, that was the biggest bass I have ever hooked. The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey says, is that when the big fish jumped a second time, it shook its head violently, and the little fish flew free. Sadly, my lure was still attached to the little one, not the big one. Some people think that is just a fish story, but I have a witness!
How does my story differ from the first? Well, the bass provided the kind of a thrill that keeps a fisherman’s adrenalin pumping all day. I think I have an idea how those fishermen felt, but there is one striking difference.
About the time Peter and his friends were literally sitting in fish, piled to the rim of the boats, Peter realized that something totally different from “fisherman’s luck” had just occurred. This was no accident of nature. Jesus had not said, “Take your boat out and try your luck.” His words were specific: “Let down your nets for a catch.” This wasn’t just a catch; this was impossible…but it happened!
Lightning once hit so close to our boat that my brother asked me to check and see if God and I were still on the same side. Peter knew God was in the boat with him — literally, visibly — and, for a moment, that prospect was more frightening to him than any lightning bolt. He fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Jesus’ response to Peter was addressed to all of his companions as well. At least, they all took it personally. He said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Just as those words changed the lives of all four fishermen, so they touch every one of us. The words bear further examination.
The first words give us hope; the second words give us life. Peter had yet to learn how little he had to fear from God. The alienation that Peter recognized in his own sinfulness was just one of the problems in the human situation Jesus had come to relieve. Jesus would not destroy sinful humanity, nor would He, as Simon requested, depart from sin or from them. He would overcome sin and forgive the sinner. His confrontation with sin would not cost the lives of other people; it would cost His own, and His ultimate victory would also be our victory.
Jesus was not suggesting that the disciples dabble in fishing for people. It was not to be a pastime, but a permanent preoccupation. It would come before and, in their case, take the place of their present occupation. It would also not be a matter of trying their luck. As in the case of this miraculous catch of fish, they were not just going fishing — they were going catching.
Please remember that, as with all metaphors, this image shouldn’t be pushed too far. I occasionally go fishing just for fun. In other words, I release everything I catch. More often, as was the case with these commercial fishermen, the fish are a means to an end. Ultimately, the fish are used for my benefit and that of my family and friends; we literally feed on them. In the church, people are not to be used and their carcasses discarded. When fish get caught, it means their death. When people get “caught” for Christ, it means their life — life that is abundant, enriched, enabled, and ennobled.
One application of Jesus’ fishing metaphor is excellent. While not every person crazy about fishing does it for a living, they are all committed to it. Christ calls us all to that kind of a mission commitment. Christ’s mission is fishin’ — for people. He turns sinners into saints, lost into found, condemned into commended. And, in the biggest switch of all, He turns the “fish” into fisherfolk!
Sunday’s First Lesson contains a powerful image of a tree that is cut down, and its stump is burned. Yet, there remains in that stump a seed, a root, and eventually a sprig, and a hope. Cut, burned and seemingly destroyed, the stump still has God; it still has hope, and it still has life. Nikos Kazantzakis wrote in one of his novels, “I said to the almond tree: ‘Speak to me of God.’ And the almond tree blossomed.”
I’m not so sure that unredeemed nature is that ready for God. Peter’s recognition of his sinfulness struck terror into his heart to be in the presence of the holy God. The author to the Hebrews wrote (10:31), “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Isaiah cried: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
It got even more scary for Isaiah when an awesome, frightening creature flew right at him with a hot coal and touched his mouth with it! But then God said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then the Lord asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And Isaiah said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Our guilt has been taken away and our sin atoned for by the Christ who gave His own life as the sacrifice. He is the one who now asks, “Whom shall I send?”