Going fishing

How do we catch people?  By going deep.

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Going fishing


January 22, 2017 – Luke 5:1-11




            Last November, just before Thanksgiving, I had a dream.


            I was at our cabin.  I was standing on the dock. There was a young boy next to me with a rod and reel.  He had hooked a fish, but was having trouble reeling it in. So, he handed the rod and reel to me.


            I cranked on the reel.  It was indeed heavy.  There didn’t seem to be much fight in the fish, but a couple of times it raced into deeper water.


            At last I was able to bring the fish to the surface.  It was huge!  It was much larger than any fish I have ever seen taken out of that lake.  As I began to raise it above the water, I could see it was hooked through the edge of the other lip.  Then I saw three or four more fish – shadows – rising to the surface along with it.


            I woke up.  I thought, “Wow, that was some fishing dream!”


            Then I thought, “No, Chris.  Fish for you are a symbol of the deep.  This dream is about the deep work you are doing and that you will be doing in this time of transition.”




            I have long loved this story from the gospel of Luke – although not necessarily for the traditional reasons.  I have loved it because it is a fishing story that is about going deeper.


            One day, Jesus was standing on the shore of the lake.  The crowd was pressing in on him because they wanted to hear God’s Word.


            Jesus saw two fishing boats there along the shore.  The men were done with their work for the night.  They were cleaning their nets and getting ready to store them.


            Jesus crawled into one of the boats.  He asked Peter to take him a little ways out.  He taught the crowds from the boat on the water.


When he had finished, he said, “Let’s go out into the deep water and fish.”


            Peter said, “Master – we have worked all night long and caught nothing!  But if that’s what you want, that’s what we’ll do.”


            So, they pushed off from shore.  They went into the deep water and let down their nets.  All of a sudden they had more fish than they could handle.  They had to call the others to come help them.


            When Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ feet.  “Get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”


            “Don’t be afraid!” Jesus told him. “From now on you will be catching people!”




            Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel refers to our inner world as, “the sea inside.”  Going more deeply into that sea has been a theme of my entire ministry.


            For I am, by personality and training, a thinker.  My best subject in school was math.  My major in college was philosophy.  Thinking was the tool I used most often and the tool I most trusted.


            In seminary, rather than follow the path of philosophy majors into systematic theology, though, I took more Bible courses.  I especially loved the stories – both those in the Old Testament and those in the Gospels.


            After I got ordained and began ministry in Argyle, I started doing more singing.  I had been singing all my life.  My parents bought me a guitar when I was in fifth grade.  But after I began ministry, I took both to a new level.  I gained more confidence in my singing voice, leading worship Sunday after Sunday, and I took guitar lessons from Robbie Clement, a professional folk singer in Madison.  I continued that after taking a call in campus ministry where I performed regularly in their coffee houses.  Music seemed to open something in me that was deeper than any thoughts I could think.


            Even before I left Argyle, I started using storytelling in my preaching.  I went to storytelling workshops.  But it was probably my work with storyteller, Robert Bela Wilhelm, that took me more deeply into the art of storytelling, especially in engaging Bible stories in an imaginative way.  This work too seemed to open up things that were deeper than I could think.


            Then, when I was in Appleton, I started meditating.  I just started on my own, reading books, listening to tapes.  I even led a meditation class at the church.  I enrolled in the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Guidance.  I received training in walking with people in their spiritual paths.


            One Sunday morning, about that time, a member of Trinity, a thoughtful woman named Judy, said of my preaching, “Your sermons have gotten deep.”  I thanked her, but inside I was thinking, “I thought my sermons were deep.”  When I reported it to Sylvia she said, “Your sermons have been deep, but they’ve gotten deeper.”


            A few years after I came to Hope, I started attending a meditation group and going on meditation retreats, first a five day and then a series of ten day retreats.  I can’t say if my sermons have gotten deeper in the last 15 years.  But I can say that there was an experience I had at the hospital during my unit of Clinical Pastoral Education that I am still working out.


            It was during a visit in the Emergency Room.  The ER can be a pretty crazy and chaotic place.  Everyone has a job to do and the desire to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible.  It’s easy for a chaplain to feel like a fish out of water.  I’d spent some time in the ER, so I had some idea of what might happen.  I would think about different scenarios and then plan on what I would do in each one.


            That day, however, the room I was in was a quieter one.  The medical staff had done what they could do for the time being while tests were being analyzed.  I was alone with the patient, trying to think about what on earth I might do while I was waiting with her.


            I don’t know how it happened, but I took my awareness out of my head, where my thinking was, and moved it down into my heart.  I realized then, that if I simply were present with my heart, and acted out of my heart, then I would probably not do anything wrong.  My heart was a more reliable guide than I had realized.


            I don’t think that move from my head to my heart happened all at once.  I don’t think it would have been possible for me without my work in meditation, without my immersion in storytelling, even without my practice of music.


            While my thinking mind is still a wonderful and useful tool, I reach more people if I involve my heart, if I let my heart set the tone, if I let my heart lead the way.  I will catch more people, I learned, if I rely on my heart.




            How is it that you can best catch people?  How is it that Hope can best catch people?  It’s not enough to figure out the best fishing hole or the research the best fishing technique.  It takes more than just dropping the net in the water and hope that fish will swim by.  You can’t just stay on the surface.  And it doesn’t happen overnight, as the disciples discovered.  It takes time. 


Catching people is a matter of the heart.  It is a matter of finding your passion.  I know you have it in you.  I saw it in the ministry of the Hope Christian Preschool.  I see it now in serving at the Shared Table and providing clothing for Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  I see it in many ways and if you want to find Hope’s passion, if you want to catch people, look to find where your deep passion is serving people.




There is a saying of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, one of the non-canonical gospels:


A true human being can be compared to a wise fisherman who casts his net into the sea and draws it up from below full of small fish.  Hidden among them is one large, exceptional fish which he seizes immediately, throwing back all the rest without a second thought.  Whoever has ears let them understand this.  (Logia 8, Gospel of Thomas)


Who knows what that big fish is that I brought to the surface of the lake?  Who knows what we will find in the sea inside?  We may find ourselves.  We may find our connection with others.  We may even find the kingdom of God.