given on Sunday, August 19, 2012
Scripture reference: Luke 15:1-12
Welcome to the Dog Days of Summer. The days are getting shorter, the growing season moves into the harvest season, and school reopens. Summer vacations are over, a new routine becomes established, and . . . and what do we do next? I suggest we go fishing.
Fishing is one of those activities that meets the needs of almost everybody. Maybe there is the goal of catching fish for a meal. Maybe the goal is really to just get away from people and fish alone on the pond bank. Maybe fishing is a competitive sport and the adrenalin gets pumping as all the knowledge and skills are called into action. And then there is the possibility that fishing is a bonding time, a chance to sit with someone needing to deepen a relationship, maybe with God.
Yes, fishing is the metaphor for Christians who desire to share their relationship with God. The basis for the metaphor began with the New Testament using it as Jesus taught his disciples to spread the good news and connect others to God. He used a real life experience to teach evangelism. Several of the disciples were career fishermen, the concept was something they understood, the methods made sense to them, and they were successful fishermen.
The equipment is essentially simple. All you must have is a hook or a net. (Of course this year we might wonder if we even have a place to fish with the drought draining our fishing holes.) Certainly it helps if you know the best fishing holes, or you know the feeding patterns of the various species, or if you have a boat to reach those in otherwise inaccessible locations around the lake—notice we are talking about the fishing which is common around our community as we have no deep seas from which to fish.
Do we, as modern-day Christians, have the tools we need to be fishers of men or evangelizers? We do, but we do not actively use them. True we live out our beliefs in full public view. True we do know the basic principles of our faith. But we do not feel comfortable sharing what our faith is or why we feel faith is important to us. Nor do we feel like fishing for members is a competitive sport.
Our faith is personal and private. As Americans, we have spent well over 200 years protecting our rights to the freedom of our religion. Our culture has evolved to a point where public testimonies are seldom given. Our laws have conditioned us to be quiet about our faith, not to mix it up with school, job, or public events. Why? Who has led us to these changes? Do we really feel that separation of church and state is key to American citizenship?
There is no better time than right now to stop and go fishing. We need to make a practice of stepping away from the daily grind and run out to a pond, a river or a lake and fish. Around here the ponds are the closest and provide more immediate access. As Christians, our pond is the immediate surrounding area: the rural communities where our church buildings sit; the streets on which our own homes sit, the farms down the county roads, even the post offices, the banks, the stores, and the diners. The pond may be drying up in the drought, but the human pond is not.
The tools are simply us. What do we use as hooks? How do we know the right bait? Who are we fishing for? Why should we cast a hook to our neighbors, to our family members, and even to those strangers we only pass by or see in a distance?
God told us why we need to go fishing in a variety of ways. The scripture in Luke 15 is just one example. Another one, of the woman who lost a coin, searched and found it and then celebrated with her friends, follows the lost sheep story immediately.
Growing up in the Montgomery church, I sat and looked at the stained glass window of Jesus, the shepherd, carrying the lost lamb down the path. That particular window was moved from one building to the new church in 1972.
When I moved to Lexington, there was the window again. I believe that image is so ingrained in my inner being, that it continues to lead me through life in many different ways. Reading the story this time, I felt it was the reason we should invite as many as we possibly can to join us for worship.
Of course, worship is just the setting, the hook for this fishing trip. We may be uncomfortable, but if we do not go fishing the drought within our small church will simply drain dry. If we do not go fishing, we are failing to follow God’s commission to go out and make disciples of Christ. If we do not share our faith openly with others and demonstrate the value of loving one another, we will see how drought can destroy.
Maybe this sounds terribly pessimistic, but it does not have to be this way. When we come in for our Sunday worship, there is no drought of human joy, solid relationships, stories of faith, and fellowship. No, on Sunday morning we gather and just explode with that sense of wellness that many never seem to experience in their lives. And I know you know who I am talking about—the ones who walk with drooping shoulders, the ones who never smile, those who do not look up when they pass, those who scream at small children, those who. . . those who do not know God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.
We must prepare to meet and greet all the fish in the community pond in two weeks. We must check our fishing gear and make sure that we are ready to cast out the hook. We must sharpen our skills, even practice our casting, in order to assure God that we are not going to let a drought drain us dry.
We must make sure we have the tools we need—us first, visible communication, individual invitations, and a final product to offer:
- Each one of us needs to take a couple of fliers and post them in a place you visit regularly.
- Next week, make a few personal invitations—post cards, phone calls, or visits really do work.
- Then simply be present in the moment whether at the fair or not. Meet and greet those who walk in the church or who are along the parade route or who simply are in the same place you are whether a store, the post office, the school or the bank. (This is true whether in Chilhowee or not. Be mentally present as a Christian whenever you meet another one.)
Once the invitation is made, we must be prepared for the guests to arrive. We have extended an invitation for coffee and fellowship, so we make sure the coffee is brewing and snacks are available. The setting needs to be arranged for friendly conversation and comfort. The conversation is open and friendly.
As we move into the sanctuary, make sure that we have asked God’s guidance and to open the hearts of the guests. Then demonstrate the value of a worship service that provides spiritual feeding and renewal of faith for another busy week ahead. Listen actively, share openly, sing lustily, and pray.
The drought, through which we are living right now, will end. As the hot, dry summer changes into fall, we know the conditions will change at some point and the drought will be broken. Surely the same can be said of the drought within our churches. We must dream for a change, we must pray for guidance, and we must act in order to break the drought.
Guide us through these drought stricken times.
Help us to find ways to manage our farms.
Help us to find methods to use even the sparsest of crops.
Help us to keep water available to the livestock.
As the cooler days offer some relief, may raindrops come, too.
Guide us through the drought within our churches, too.
Help us to hear your words through scripture and prayer.
Help us to set our lines for those who are lost and alone.
Help us to catch those who swim around aimlessly.
As we offer invitations, may we share your grace with the lost.
Thank you, God, for sending a shepherd to keep us safe.
Thank you, God, for a teacher who knew how to love every one.
Thank you, God, for your grace offered freely to all.
May we hear your words of guidance.
May we demonstrate grace to others.
May we, too, become fishers of men.