Happy Anniversary, and a blessed feast of St. Andrew! Since he started fishing some 2000 years ago, Andrew has had an abundant catch. His name is invoked repeatedly as patron of congregations, seminaries, monastic houses, and nations. All the plaid we’re seeing this morning is a reflection of the honor in which he’s held in Scotland. St. Andrew’s there is not only a beautiful ruin and remembrance of a glorious cathedral, but something of a shrine to golfers.
St. Andrew’s seminary in Manila is a house of teaching for clergy across the Philippines, and not only for Episcopalians and Anglicans. St. Andrew’s House in London is the home of the Anglican Communion’s offices and archives, and is lent for that use by an order of nuns. I was confirmed at St. Andrew’s, Murray Hill, NJ, and a couple of years ago I joined St. Andrew’s Church, Staten Island, for a celebration of their 300th anniversary.
Andrew is one of the first people Jesus asked to follow him. He and his brother were fishing when Jesus met them along the Sea of Galilee. The gospel reports just this brief exchange between them, “follow me and I’ll make you fish for people.” They quickly catch two more – James and John – and then they’re off to fish wherever they go.
Those four knew something about fishing with nets. Fishers on the Galilean lake today still use some of the same methods, and there are parallels among the indigenous peoples in many parts of the world. You can use a small, fine mesh net to throw out onto the surface of the water, let it sink to the bottom, and then draw it in to shore. It will catch slower fish and creatures, and one person can do a pretty effective job alone.
Andrew would have known a couple of other ways to fish with nets, and some are told about in the gospels. Much larger and heavier nets, usually with bigger meshes, are often built to look something like flexible fences. They have floats on the top rail, made of rope, and weights on the bottom one. You use a boat to set one out in a circle around a school of fish, and then draw up the bottom rope or bring it into shore to harvest the fish. The gospel story about the great catch involves that kind of a net.
How did those fishing methods translate into fishing for people? What skills did those first fishers take into the sea of people around them? Using a small casting net is something like what Paul did on Mars Hill in Athens – he stood out in the public square and threw out a net of words that attracted people who weren’t too afraid of him. The big nets that take whole teams to set and draw to shore might be like glorious liturgies offered to the public (like this one!), which didn’t appear until a long time after Andrew. Our challenge today is that the context has changed – the sea is rougher, the fish faster, and the nets often have great big holes in them.
What sorts of fishing methods do we need? Everybody here is meant to be part of the great Jesus fishing expedition – it’s another term for Christian living. It’s part of what we sign up for in baptism, and reaffirm in confirmation – we’re going fishing. The only question is how.
There are plenty of choices. Jesus’ first interaction with Andrew is much more like fishing with hook and lure. It’s an invitation to come and see what’s dangling in front of you – and the hook does not have a barb. It does come with a cross, AND it is the route to light, life, and real glory. It is still among the most effective kinds of fishing for individual fish. Why is that kind of fishing so hard, especially for Episcopalians? For one, the lure has to fit the context. It’s no use trying mayflies in salt water, where the fish don’t recognize them as food. Sometimes organ music has the same effect on teenagers. Sometimes the bread looks nothing like food, and sometimes our words don’t have any conviction behind them, or those words don’t mean anything to the person who hears them.
Fishers have lots of other methods – lights in the darkness, like the flaming torches squid fishers used for years in Monterey Bay, now replaced by bright searchlights hung over the side of the boat. They’re very effective both onshore and offshore, and they attract all kinds of creatures. Usually those creatures are gaffed and killed for food. What kind of fishing with light might we try? What kind of light is going to be most effective? Searchlights, like the pillar of light that shines up into space from the Luxor in Las Vegas? What about the porchlight that’s left on for the wanderer? Or the light of a campfire, with people gathered around to tell the old, old story? What about the acolytes here who’ve been playing with fire for 100 years?
Some of the most efficient fishing methods are used by the great whales and the largest sharks, who swim through the water with their mouths open, taking in great masses of water. They close their mouths and press the water out, filtering out the protein bits – smaller fish, squid, crustaceans. It’s an indiscriminate kind of fishing that takes all comers. Is it more like saying “bless you” when somebody sneezes, or is it like a free and open meal offered to anybody who’s hungry?
Some kinds of fishing look sneaky or stealthy, like using a clam gun to pull a perfectly happy clam out of the mud, or poisoning a stream with rotenone to stun the fish and float them all to the surface. Or even spreading oil laced with romantic hormones on the surface of a pond. Some of those might apply to human beings – but if happy clams are mired in addictions, it’s probably God who fishes us out. It might sound attractive to let the chemicals on the surface of the water alter our mental state, yet most who enter the baptismal water consciously discover a far freer and more abundant life. The sweet perfume of chrism has a role in fishing – it reminds us how well we’re loved, and it just might help tell the story of love more effectively.
There’s another method sometimes used when the target is sharks. It’s called chumming, and it involves throwing bait into the water to attract predatory fish. It usually provokes a feeding frenzy, during which the sharks or other fish are speared, gaffed, or otherwise made into food for human predators. There are aspects of this kind of fishing which have been observed in supposedly Christian circles, but they seem a whole lot more like what Jesus himself endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers. Feeding frenzies of all sorts seem to invite death rather than greater life, particularly when they’re about destroying those who come to the chum. Jesus called us friends, not chum.
What Jesus tried to teach his fishing buddies was a lot more like fly fishing. It happens in the wilderness – and often what we think of as the most beautiful parts of creation. He uses barbless hooks, and it’s always catch and release, for this fisher sets people free for greater and more abundant life.
Andrew was such a passionate fisher of people that the stories of his crucifixion say he told good news for two days while he was tied to that cross. His story continues to challenge us to be more effective fishers, using every godly and humane method at hand. How are you going to fish for people? Start with a word about what you’ve been hungry for, and a word about what your neighbor might be hungry for. Put that on the end of your line, and it undoubtedly it will be light in the darkness, food for the hungry, healing for the sick, freedom for the captive, and homecoming for the lost.
The challenge is learning to shape the lure and present it accurately – it does no good if it doesn’t tickle the fish or goes where there aren’t any. Can you tell your story winsomely? Can you share your joy in this body of Christ, and offer a word/Word of joy to the hungry – through your actions, words, and spirit?
When the disciples first meet the risen Jesus, what do they do? They go fishing.