This past Friday evening at Commission Possible 2, Rev. Tyrone Gordon, the pastor of St. Luke’s Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, TX, preached a message about fishing. He spoke of the story of Jesus calling the first disciples, telling them that they would no longer fish for fish, but instead that they would fish for people. He then went on to offer a very helpful understanding of the kind of fishing that Jesus calls Christians to do.
He told about a friend he has in his congregation who is an avid fisherman. One day his friend was explaining to him about all of the stuff that you need to have and know “in order to catch the fish that you want.” You would have to have the right reel, the right bait, go to the right spot, etc. If you could do all of these things, then you would be able to catch exactly the type of fish that you are trying to go after. But what Rev. Gordon then says is that as Christians, we are not supposed to fish with a line. We, like those first disciples, fish with a net. We just cast the net out there and catch whatever gets caught in the net. (In this metaphor, this does not mean we are trying to trap people. Metaphors can only go so far). The point of this illustration is that the church needs to toss out its nets, and catch whatever it can catch, rather than to pick a proper reel, the right bait, and try to lure in just one type of fish, the fish that we might want to catch.
In other words, the church is meant to be a place for all fish…er, people. We don’t just toss a line out to people we want. Instead we cast out our nets into the community, to wherever there are people in need, to wherever there is hopelessness, despair, isolation, brokenness. Are we casting nets out into the community, or just a line? Perhaps another way of phrasing this question might be, how large of a shadow is our church casting in the community? How far does this shadow reach? If Dunbar United Methodist Church were to disappear from the community, who, other than members would feel the impact of its loss? Are we casting nets or lines?
The metaphor of fishing with nets is not a perfect metaphor for the Christian mission, but it does underline this most basic and fundamental truth: the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for all people, for those who believe and for those who do not. While most congregations naturally attract similar people (the basic law of affinity being that like attracts like), the Church with a capital “c”, by nature, cannot discriminate between people, and if it does, then it is denying the very nature of Church. We live in a community here in Dunbar with various barriers: racial, socioeconomic, age, cultural, etc. It is a lot easier for us to fish with a line and reach out to people who we see as just like us, but when Jesus says that he will make us fishers of people, he is telling us that we have to cast our nets out beyond the barriers in our community.
In DISCIPLE 2 right now, we are studying the book of Acts, and last night, we looked at the narrative of Peter’s vision from God that radically shifts his understanding of what is “clean” versus “unclean.” The Holy Spirit moves in Peter’s life to help him see that the mission of the Church is not just to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. Peter was taken from fishing with a line to fishing with a net. Right after he has this vision, he is called to go to Cornelius’ house. Cornelius was a Roman centurion and certainly one that Peter would have considered “unclean” prior to his vision. But Peter gets up, goes to Cornelius’ house, and speaks these words: “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection.”
God is giving us a vision telling us that we cannot call anyone profane or unclean. God is giving us a vision of reaching out beyond the boundaries within our community, whether they are boundaries we have placed upon ourselves, boundaries that have been placed by others, or boundaries that are just firmly enmeshed in our society. Let’s seek together what it means to cast out our nets and receive with gladness any fish that finds its way into the net!
What are some barriers/boundaries that you see in our community? What are some boundaries that you think we, as a congregation have put up, whether intentional, or unintentional?
Where do you see us needing to cast our nets in Dunbar? In your own life and daily interactions in the community, is there somewhere/someone in particular on your heart and mind?