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I’m Going Fishing

I’m Going Fishing

REV. CHRISTIAN BARON -April 10, 2016- EASTER 3, John 21: 1-19

“I am going fishing.”


Good morning… Happy Easter… Can you guess what the sermon is going to be about today?  This one isn’t my fault. The fishing text just fell in my lap. I don’t want to belabor this point, but I’m just so excited to not have to try to forcefully squeeze a fishing story into my sermon. This is truly proof of the resurrection. At least for me.


Here we are and it’s Easter 3. I hope you have been feasting like you are supposed to. Kids, on the way home from Church, remind your parents that it is Easter and that it is our job to feast and not to fast… Go ahead and put sprinkles and fudge on that ice cream too. Maybe caramel.


The text for today is one of my favorites. It is filled with humor and oddity and rich with the abundance of God.


Now, I haven’t always been the prolific steelhead fisherman that you see before you today. No… no… it’s true. There was a time in the recent past that I was just a bass fisherman… Just a sport fisherman. Only recently has my hobby become a true obsession. It is true that on my day off this past week, I woke up two of my girls, at 3am and jumped in the car to head to the Allegan Dam.

We were in fact the first to arrive at the Dam and were rewarded with  the best fishing spot on the entire Kalamazoo river. It is the farthest upstream the the steelhead can make it on the journey to procreate. The next person arrived at 6:45. To their dismay, they realized that the good spot was taken. I thought, “might as well just pack it up folks. Head back home. Have some breakfast and try again tomorrow. We had 8 rods set out. We were tired but prepared for a great day of fishing. It would only be a matter of time before these fishers would be able to watch me and my children pulling fresh meat from the Kalamazoo River. I imagined their embarrassment as a 10 and 7 year old reeled in fish after fish while they sat twiddling their thumbs and shivering from the lack of action.


I imagined the scene that would come into being the following week. “Hey kids, wanna go to Craig’s Cruisers and then to the movies. Maybe get some ice-cream after?” “No dad, we wanna go fishing… But can we stay the whole day this time?  Last time we only caught 8 steelhead.”


Beforehand, they would serve me coffee from my #1 Dad mug and make me breakfast as they sang the “Dad is Great” song.

But suddenly, I was shaken out of my fantasy… shaken back to reality because…. The guys to the left of us hooked up. That’s right, they caught a steelhead.


But I wasn’t rattled. That meant the fish were biting now. I rubbed my hands together and prepared for the onslaught of fish. “Now we’re ready,” I told the girls. “It’s fish thirty… time for the bite.”  An hour later the guy on our right hooked up. He couldn’t get the good spot, so he had gone and sat in the woody area, with stumps and fallen trees. I prayed that he’d lose the fish. That he would snag and sever his line. But God couldn’t hear my cries. The man landed a nice male.


10 minutes later the first guys, on my left, caught a second fish.  This time a female… loaded with eggs. The prize catch for river fishers. A hen, or female steelhead, was filled with bait. Without eggs, catching steelhead is nearly impossible. The reason I know they caught a hen, is because they came right over and offered me and the girls a cookie and to show us the 2 fish. I forced a smile and refused the cookie.


How could this be?  What was going on? I did my due diligence. Had the right bait. The right spot…

I said the prayer and blessed the rods and the girls, just like I always do… My reward for being faithful to the tradition… was bored children and bragging fishermen. Now I wished I had accepted that cookie. We stayed longer than the others… We stayed so long that the kids demanded we leave. I kicked some rocks, walked to get the car and then packed up the gear.  We drove home in complete silence drowning in the waters of scarcity.


I wish I could say this was unusual. But, if i’m honest… IF i’m really honest, this is pretty normal. More often than not, I get blanked. I come home empty handed. You’d think this would discourage me, but it really only antagonizes me and calls me back again as soon as possible.


I have heard that fishing addictions are like gambling addictions. No matter how good or bad things get, either the positive reinforcement brings you back for more, or the negative reinforcement calls you back for that next fish.


And, I think Peter had it bad.  I think Peter had it worse than anybody. Much of the gospel of John is spent talking about the future. The Johannine community was very concerned about what would happen now that Jesus was gone.

Not only are they persecuted by the Romans, but they are persecuted by the rest of the Jewish communities. Rejected by both groups and without the leader that kept them plugging along towards a Kingdom of Justice and freedom. Their identity was “the other.” They were very concerned. And the author wanted to make sure to communicate that hopelessness was not an option. In this gospel Jesus appears several times. He appears to mary, to the disciples without Thomas, Once with Thomas and this last time on the sea of Galilee.


What about the future for Peter? For the other disciples? What would their future be? In this account, Jesus seems to be telling his friends… “see. I haven’t left you.  I will continue to be with you… you are not alone.”  The reason this story is important is because although Jesus was persecuted and tortured… and even though he was raised from the dead… from death to life…. And even though he showed himself to Peter two times before… Peter goes back to what he knows… Peter has totally lost it… Is he depressed?  Hopeless? Feeling helpless? Is he still suffering the humiliation and shame of denying Jesus three times? Has he lost his position and status among his friends because of that denial? We just don’t know.  And scholars make different meaning out of these different theories.

But in my mind… Peter is lost. He has watched his best friend be tortured… and though he has been risen… he misses him dearly now that he isn’t around regularly… Misses him dearly now that he can’t even recognize him when he seems him face to face. Jesus has totally changed… Everything has totally changed…


Now what? Now what should we do? We have no purpose. We followed this teacher to the edge of death and back and now what? We have no future.


“I’m going fishing.”  Peter says. I’m going back to the life I once had. Back to what I know.  Back to what I was good at.  Back to the only way I can survive and have meaning. Back to the future i had hoped for… Back before I was called to this life that led up to this emptiness… to this loneliness…  Let’s just forget this whole mess..


“Yeah,” the others say… “Why not? Jesus called us away from fishing… and look at us now?  We’re in real trouble. I guess Peter’s right.” So they all pile into the boat. They too, rub their hands together and prepare for success. But, they fish the evening bite…. And they fish all night… with nothing… Their effort is rewarded with nothing… total scarcity.


And then Jesus offers them a proverbial cookie… “Hey… you guys… How is the fishing?  Any chance I could get a couple from you for my breakfast?  I’m starving over here and could use some of that delicious protein from some commercial fishing experts. I can see Jesus with a wry smile… trying not to giggle. “Oh, Pardon? What’s that you say?”  Oh, I see… Well I have a few suggestions about how you can catch some fish…


It’s a good thing Jesus is a hundred yards from shore, because I guarantee there was murmuring in the boat. “What did he say?  Oh! He did NOT just say to put the nets on the other side.  Oh, I’ll tell him where he can put the nets… “


But they try it… And the miracle of the fish is the the author intentionally reminding the reader of the wedding in Cana.  It is absolutely absurd that fishing on the other side of the boat would yield 153 fish. It was absurd that the wedding party would have so much fine wine after the cheap wine had been consumed. Both miracles, the first and the last, remind the reader of God’s abundance. It’s at this point that the disciple whom Jesus loved… the same disciple who beat peter to the tomb in a foot race on easter morning… let’s Peter know that the guy on shore was in fact Jesus… And Peter, suddenly aware that he’s naked… throws some pants on… and then jumps in the water to get to Jesus. This intentionally makes no sense. Peter, worried about appearing naked and vulnerable in front of Jesus… the same Jesus he denied and refused to be vulnerable on behalf of, in the courtyard… is in such a hurry he doesn’t think things all the way through. He’s a 100 yards from shore will certainly not beat the boat back. Puts on pants to jump in the water… It is a comical and ridiculous scene.


And, here’s the beauty of the story for me… Jesus is letting them know… that they are no longer called to those jobs… No longer able to just go back to the way things were. Everything has changed Peter.  Everything has changed guys.  Nothing can ever be the same… The Resurrection wasn’t just a historical event to be recorded in a book.


Jesus is saying, “My resurrection was THE RESURRECTION…. It was your resurrection. It was the resurrection for your families… for your wives and future wives… for your children and grandchildren… The trajectory of creation has been changed and resurrected… The kingdom is here guys… and this is what it looks like… It looks like jugs full of fine wine… and nets full of 153 fish…

And Peter… it looks like reconciliation between you and your best friend.  You are forgiven for your betrayal Peter. You are forgiven as many times as you betrayed me and even more so.


So, Peter, you are no longer called to feed yourself.  No longer called to tend to your own needs. Follow me Peter… in the feeding and tending of my people… Follow me to death and back…


Grace Episcopal Church Holland… the resurrection has happened… the resurrection is happening… You can see it by placing your hands inside the torso of Jesus like Thomas did, or by being reminded that after your baptism… after you have been called to the Kingdom and to participate in the Justice of God, that there is no going back… Don’t lose heart. Don’t forget your calling. The resurrection of our God is our strength and supplies us with the nourishment for our mission and journey. It repairs our relationships and breathes new life into them. It saves marriages and heals our broken hearts. Our God has made things new because of his abundant love. So, Happy Easter… Grab a glass of fine wine and some fabulous fish prepared by Jesus and share them with the world… and while you’re at it… spend time doing what you love with your friends and neighbors… .   I’m going fishing… I hope you’ll go with me.

Our Millstone

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron  Pentecost 18. Proper 21 Year B. Mark 9:38-50


Mark 9:38-50

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”



“for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…


Good morning.  Summer is over. I’m sorry, but it truly is. Did anybody out there have a great summer? Time spent at a cottage or on the beach? Maybe camping at one of the state parks… Perhaps you went to church camp, or boy scout camp, or to the boundary waters. Did anybody get a leach on them this summer? How about a tick? How about a mosquito bite?

Sorry for all of the audience participation, but our friends from Oklahoma came to visit this weekend. Alexis and Bella are here from Tulsa. Alexis is married to an Episcopal Priest and we were neighbors in Texas in seminary. Well, she told me yesterday that whenever an episcopal priest gets up to speak, something gets shut-off. She just stops listening. And although I was completely offended, I decided to accept the challenge.


I’ll bet that whatever you did this summer, you were near the water. Maybe you have been able to squeeze out a bit more of summer from this fall. It has been nice weather. I sure have stretched the summer this week. In fact yesterday i went fishing on Lake Michigan with one of our very own Grace folks. It was so wonderful to watch the sun rise over the dunes. To feel the wind cross the water and to watch as waves picked up and tossed us around… back and forth. To chat about the Great Lakes fishery and the water quality. Remembering the alewife beach problems of my childhood. Anybody remember those smells? Whew! I remember as a boy clearing a path among the alewife from our beach spot to the water moving those little fish out of the way to get to the cool lake. Like many smells, they help me to remember those scenes well.


Is there anybody that was here last Sunday for church? The Bishop was here. It was a wonderful day. We were able to host him and then continue to participate in the future of our local parish in a strategic doing session. One of the things that Bishop Hougland said in his sermon has stuck with me all week. In fact,I think it will always stick with me, forever. He mentioned the fact that our Diocese and our State has miles and miles of beachfront and miles and miles of waterfront. It was very powerful to hear him connect the significance of the largest sources of freshwater, In the world… with our baptism and the use and significance of water in the scriptures.


It changed how I fished this week. Yesterday I took our guests to the beach. Their first time to Lake Michigan. It changed how I saw the beach and the water and my thoughts as I watched the kids swim and play in the waves. As they immersed themselves and explored the shallow water and how they wanted to get out deeper.  Deeper into the water over their heads. Into the water that was definitely… not… safe…


In the gospel today, I read something kind of scary. There is talk about hell and unquenchable fire. The text uses a violent example of cutting off your own hand or foot or gouging out your own eye if they cause you to stumble. I read a story about water. I read a story about water and baptism and how to care for one another.


The passage starts with the disciples talking about a group of people doing the same work that they are called to. The same work that Jesus is doing. The kind of work that brings freedom to all. They say to Jesus in their whiniest voices, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” This is so great. The author is intentionally poking fun at the disciples here because in the previous chapter he mentions that the disciples were not able to perform this exact task. I won’t spend any time talking about this little nugget, but you can see the irony of them rebuking these prophets that are not following the disciples.


And so Jesus gently helps them to see the importance of a universal moralism. He says, “Look guys, Goodness belongs to God. Healing and freedom belong to the Kingdom. Competition is not one of the fruits of the spirit. Those who dwell in the Kingdom are filled with ‘charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity’.”  


He goes on to make his point with an example… He connects the prophets who are performing miracles and setting people free, with offering a cold drink of water to those who are thirsty.


This is the baptism connection: Through our baptismal covenant, we are called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself, and striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. For our purposes today, this translates as “Give a drink to those who are thirsty.” So simple, and at the same time, the most difficult thing for any of us.


The bad news is that Jesus then gives an example of a different kind of baptism. He starts by talking about a baptism of immersion… the kind of immersion via millstone. The kind of baptism that leads to suffering: our own and the suffering of those around us. He goes on to talk about a baptism of fire. A baptism of immersion of Hell on earth. A baptism of unquenchable fire.  Powerful and extreme and provocative language. Offensive language that is meant to shock and repel.


The bishop’s mention of Lake Michigan and baptism and our local context will stick with me. But there is another recent image that will stick with me a as I think about baptism and sin and drowning. I think about the Syrian refugee… the three year old Aylan that drowned in the Mediterranean, seeking asylum from violence and war. A violence and war that he knew nothing about. A casualty of war because of the sins of the powerful around him. A refusal and an unwillingness of the world to treat each other with dignity and respect… an unwillingness to live inside the Kingdom of God.


I will not be able to forget that red shirt… the blue pants… the tiny shoes… And I wonder about millstones.  I wonder who may need to wear one. I wonder how large mine is and if there is something I can do for penance. Something that can help usher in the Kingdom and keep me from any culpability.


Where can I find a glass of water to offer those who are thirsty? Where can I be the hands and feet of Jesus and bless all of those I encounter…


I’ll wrap up my sermon by telling you another quick story… I was on a boat this week. Maybe a boat like the boat Aylan was on. I usually fish with people I don’t know very well. I meet folks on an online  fishing bulletin board that I have begged to ride along on their boats and fish for salmon and trout. The conversation at some point gets to vocation and work and I proudly tell them that I work for the Episcopal Church. This always leads to more conversations. Sometimes these folks see our time together as an opportunity to ask a priest all of the questions they have about God or to tell stories of harm that the Church has done. This week, one of the fishermen asked me this question, “So, Christian, what do you think about the Pope?”  I was glad for the question because I happen to really like the pope. I REALLY like this pope. So I was able to share a couple of examples of how Francis has refused much of the power and esteem that goes with the position, and instead spends a large amount of time with those who have no power or agency. People that are ugly, and messy and broken.  People who are down and out and homeless and helpless.  


And then, the other fisherman says, “I haven’t been to church in over 20 years. But I like this guy. I heard he refused to live in the Pope Palace and instead lives in the servant’s apartment. I heard that in Washington, he ate with homeless people instead of eating with Senators and political big-wigs. He seems different from most of the church people that I’ve met. He seems like a guy I can follow”  


Ughh!  This was both a millstone for me as well as a glass of water.  While I don’t need to take on all the responsibility for the hurt and pain of this fisherman’s religious past, there is still some personal pain when somebody feels damaged and hurt by the Church.  The Church of which I belong. The one Church of Jesus Christ. And, I feel like he offered me a glass of cold water and an outside perspective of the Church. He gave me a little nugget of the work that we have to do.


While I don’t really believe that Jesus has made a millstone for you or for me, it is helpful for me to think about the water that I offer to those who are thirsty as a way to chip away at that granite stone.


I’ll finish with this quote from Pope Francis that makes me glad to be a part of a parish that gets dirty…


“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” Pope Francis


May we continue to seek to put the needs of “the other” over our own and to seek areas in in the life of our Church our personal lives that we still need to chip away at our millstones.