You know, it’s hard to find a really good fishing joke. When you Google “Fishing Jokes,” on the Internet, you pull up stuff like: “What kind of music should you listen to while fishing?” “Beats me.” “Something catchy!”
Or, a biblical fishing joke: “Why didn’t Noah do much fishing on the ark?” “Search me, why?” “Because he only had two worms.”
I know, I know. Pretty bad, right?
I did find a good Irish fishing joke—but I don’t think I can tell it here.
So I’m going to tell you the best joke I’ve ever found about fishing. The problem is that I know you’ve already heard it – at least once – from me.
So, I have a favor to ask of you: I’d like for you to listen to this joke again. If you have heard it before, maybe you’ll still find it funny. If not, feel free to chuckle politely. And if by chance you haven’t heard it, then fine; laugh all you want. Here it is:
There was a man who always seemed to bring home a boatload of fish. It was really amazing, and people wondered how he could be so successful at fishing. Well, the local game warden heard about this man’s uncanny success and asked, without mentioning he was the game warden, to go fishing with him.
So the two men started out early one morning and went across the lake to a secluded area. The warden noticed that the fisherman did not have a fishing pole; just a net and a rusty old tackle box. But when they got to the appointed place, the fisherman opened the box and pulled out a stick of dynamite. He then lit, and tossed it into the water. It blew up with a great boom and splash; upon which all the resident fish began to obediently rise to the surface. The fisherman started dipping his net into the water and pulling the fish into the boat.
At that point, the warden then reached back and revealed from his hip pocket the credentials of a game warden!
The fisherman looked at the warden’s credentials, and then very calmly opened his tackle box again. He got out another stick of dynamite, lit the fuse and handed it to the game warden. As the fuse burned down, the fisherman then asked the warden, “Are you going to fish or are you going to just sit there?”
Thank you all for listening.
Now that we’ve come this far together, I’m going to go ahead and deliver the rest of my sermon; the problem is I know that most of you have probably already heard this sermon before. So, I’d like to ask another favor of you: If you have heard it before, please just pretend that you haven’t. Make believe that you’re hearing it for the very first time. Okay? Who knows? Maybe if you do that, you’ll hear something that you didn’t hear before. Maybe your mind was somewhere else the first time you listened: you were thinking about the bills that needed to be paid; or the stomach growling beneath the belt; or the crying baby that you just handed over to a total stranger.
And if you haven’t heard this sermon before, then fine. Maybe you can even explain what it means to the person sitting next to you who has.
Jesus was standing on the shores of Lake Gennesaret, ostensibly to deliver a sermon and, as the story goes, the swarm of people that wanted to hear him preach was pressing in on him, presumably to the point that Jesus was being pushed into the water.
So, Jesus has an idea; he sees a couple of boats that had been pulled up onto the shore—one of which belonged to Simon-before-he-was-Peter (`The Rock’). Jesus climbs into Simon’s boat and asks him for what seems like a relatively small favor: to row them out a little ways into the lake. And from there Jesus goes on to deliver the rest of his sermon from the boat.
Nothing is said concerning what Jesus preached about. As is so often the case, what the preacher preached about is not the most important aspect of the story.
After Jesus concludes his sermon, he turns to Simon and risks asking him for yet another favor: to cast – or perhaps to `re-cast’ – his nets back out into the lake. Perhaps Jesus wanted to feed the crowd gathered before them. We don’t really know the reason.
And, while it might have seemed like a small favor, it represented somewhat of a risk for both parties. The risk for Jesus is that Simon could simply say `No,’ and reject his request out of hand. Simon had every right and reason to do so. He and his fishing mates had already been hard at it all night long, without any success at all; which has to be a terribly frustrating experience for one who makes a living by fishing. Simon had already cleaned his nets, was no doubt bone tired and – not only that – had just had to sit through a long sermon to top it all off. Can you imagine?
Simon was understandably more than ready to call it a day and go home.
So, in granting Jesus this additional favor, Simon would be taking a significant risk as well. His fisherman’s instincts told him that he was just going to pull up yet another empty net, this time in front of a large crowd of witnesses—many of whom, no doubt, were customers or potential customers. Moreover, gossip of Jesus’ exploits had been spreading like wildfire across the country side; including rumors of him recently getting run out of his own home town for his preaching.
Not all who were on the shores of Lake Gennesaret that day were anxious to hear God’s Word preached. Some were motivated by other – more nefarious – agendas.
Simon resists at first: “Master, we’ve worked all night long with nothing to show for it.” But then he quickly adds: “Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Or, as the King James Version translates it: “We have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”
“At thy word,” Simon-soon-to-be-Peter says.
`At thy word, Lord, I will do it. I’m tired. I’m frustrated. I simply cannot see any real purpose for trying yet one more time that which I’ve already tried a hundred times without any apparent results. However, because you have told me to do so, Lord, I will do it. Even though it seems like an exercise in futility, because it is you, Lord—you who have ministered to my family [Lk. 4:38-39], you whose words reverberate within my very heart—because it is you who has now told me to do this thing, indeed, Lord, I will do as you say.
Leonardo Da Vinci once prayerfully observed, `O Lord, thou givest us everything, at the price of an effort.” And we see the results of Simon’s `second effort’.
Contemporary religious pundits have suggested that the seven great last words of the church will be, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
But, there are seven other words which are just as deadly for a church being asked to take a risk in the pursuit of discipleship: “We’ve already tried it that way before.”
I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a parishioner say that.
And yet, the Swiss theologian Eduard Schweizer taught us that faith “does not come as assent to statements previously preached, but as trust in Jesus’ call to try once more, contrary to all dictates of reason.”
Now, I have a confession to make at this point: I am an unrepentant optimist.
I absolutely love Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking, and Dr. Robert H. Schuller’s Turning Hurts into Halos and Scars into Stars.
I mean I just love that stuff: I’ve read every book either man had ever written.
It wasn’t always so. I used to be a card carrying pessimist. There was a time when I thought – like the Preacher of Ecclesiastes – that life itself was largely an exercise in futility. But then something interesting happened.
One day, in despair, I prayed, “O God—I give up! You can just have this life back if you want it!” And then – perhaps like a ‘latent’ optimist, hoping against hope – I waited for a response.
And, God said, “Okay. I’ll take it. You’ve tried it your way alone. Now let’s try it My way together.”
And, in spite of myself, I heard myself say, “Okay, God. Whatever you say, I will do it.”
`I can’t see the possibilities right now, yet if you say so, Lord…I have no evidence, no reason, no rationale that suggests future success—yet, at your word, Lord, I will do whatever you ask of me.’
I took the risk; and that’s when everything changed. That’s when things started turning around. I cast my net back out into the deep waters of life, and began to experience the amazing abundance of God’s providence.
It hasn’t always – or necessarily ever – been easy, generally speaking. Because with saying `Yes’ to Jesus, the risk-taking was just beginning. It meant confronting my own doubt and cynicism. It meant overcoming fear of failure and a sense of inadequacy. It meant casting a net deep into my own heart and soul for something worth bringing to the surface; at a time when I wasn’t at all sure there was anything there worth claiming.
And that was hard work. Sometimes it was agonizingly toilsome.
Yet – as most of us who have trolled the waters of life for any time at all know – the price of an effort does typically translate into taking some kind of a risk. And it follows that the greater the effort – in most people’s perception – the greater the risk.
But, it also follows that the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward.
For example, I’m going to get some complaints after worship today; I know I am. Because I’ve included an unfamiliar hymn in our worship service; and I always get a complaint or two when I do so. You might well ask, “So, why do you do that, then?”
Well, for a couple of reasons: Most likely it was listed in the back of our hymnal in reference to the Scripture passage being preached on, and so fits the theme for the day.
But, frankly, I also do it to keep you on your toes. It should not be the case that we always know what is going to happen next in worship. We should never become so complacent in our worship that we can do it by rote—or in our sleep.
Yes, there should be an element of reassurance and comfort in a worship service.
But, the primary reason we come to this place on Sunday morning should be to worship God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind. And so to receive God’s Word anew.
And, to do that means overcoming the pessimism which suggests there is nothing new to be grasped. It means suspending the presumption that we have already dredged the bottom of the lake. It means pretending that we don’t already know all there is to know. It means taking a risk by investing our faith in what happens here.
Annie Dillard – a regular worship attender – reflects on that experience in her essay “An Expedition to the Pole.” Dillard writes, “I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? It is madness to wear ladies straws hats and velvet hats to church. We should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews because the sleeping God may wake . . . The waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.”
Discipleship is a risky business. But with such risk comes great reward.
Jesus took a risk on Simon the fisherman; and found one who would become the very Rock upon which Jesus would build his church. Simon took a risk on responding positively and faithfully to Jesus’ call, and today the Gospel continues to spread like wildfire across the globe.
And Jesus took the biggest Risk of all on all of us—when he came into this world to deliver his life into our hands. And, if we are willing to respond to that Risk in faith, by accepting the risks which Jesus asks of us each and every day; then our rewards will be great indeed. For that is God’s very promise to us in Jesus Christ.
So, let us not be afraid to take the risk. Let us faithfully, obediently push off from the shore and cast into the deep once more.