Fish Stories

Sermon for 1/26/2020

One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”

Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”

So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. 10 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.

Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” 11 As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus (Luke 5:1-11, Common English Bible).

I love fish stories. I have always thought it was fun to hear the tall tales people tell about the fish they have caught or the one that got away. Most all of us have heard fish stories of some kind or another during our lifetime. Some of them are very believable and others, well, let’s just say the exaggeration the storyteller shares is the best part of the story.

This morning, I am going to share a fish story with you. You may think this story, like so many other fish stories, is more rooted in the exaggeration than the truth. But I promise you it is true.

When I was a teenager, I had a friend named Mike. We worked together in what was the first real job of our lives. We worked for the National Forest Service in the Sam Houston National Forest at a national recreation area called Double Lake. The park is near Cold Springs. We were part of a program the government had in the ‘70s called Youth Conservation Corp. It was a great job and I still tell people it was the best job I ever had, my all-time favorite during my working life. We lived in barracks style housing all week and went home on weekends. During the day we worked on several projects in and around Double Lake.

At night, after work, on occasion we would go over to Lake Livingston and for an evening of fishing. Going out there was always fun and most of the time we caught at least a few fish. When we had the most fun  was when my friend when Mike came with us. It was fun because Mike had a fish call. When I call this a fish call, I don’t mean something he stuck down in the water to attract fish. No, Mike stood at the edge of the lake; held his hands together like some people do when they whistle. He was there on the bank, acting like he was going to whistle and then he would emit this strange noise. About the closest sound I could compare it to is the horn on a diesel truck, but it wasn’t quite that either.

I know it sounds funny and you might think it wouldn’t work, but it did. When Mike came with us and used his fish call, we caught fish. We caught some most of the time, but when Mike came and used his fish call, we really caught fish. The biggest fish I ever caught was one night at Lake Livingston when Mike was their using that fish call. I caught a thirteen-pound catfish. Yes, I know, it was small compared to what others have caught in more recent years. It was nowhere near the state record or anything, but I was proud of it. Somewhere in all my stuff between here and Lufkin I have a picture nice picture of me and my fish.

Some of you are sitting there thinking to yourself that this is the lamest fish story you’ve ever heard. Some may even think it isn’t true, but you would be wrong. The story is quite true.

You can’t live in east Texas or on the Gulf coast without having heard at least a few fish stories. If you have not, you have lived a very sheltered life. You need to get out more. I would guess all of us have heard some and most of us have one or two stuck in our back pockets of our memory we can pull out and share on just about a moment’s notice.

And, fish stories aren’t really anything new. The disciples had a whopper of a fish story to tell. There story was a true story, but just as some of you, I am sure, have your doubts about the authenticity of my story. I would guess many people in their day doubted the truth of what Peter, Andrew, James and John were telling when they first heard our lesson.

Jesus comes to the lake, and as usual, a crowd gathered. So, he gets into Peter’s boat and tells Peter to put out just a little from shore. Jesus uses the boat as a pulpit of sorts and begins teaching the crowd. When he finishes teaching, he tells Peter to put out to sea a little bit and lower his nets on the other side of the boat from where Jesus was teaching. Peter puts up a short protest saying, “We’ve been out here fishing all night and haven’t caught a blessed thing. We have come back in, cleaned our nets and now you want us to lower them again? Oh well, you want us to put out the nets, we’ll put out the nets.” That telling of the story, by the way, is from the Keith Paraphrased Version of the Bible.

Peter goes about putting out the nets as Jesus said. The lesson doesn’t tell us what Peter was thinking as he put the nets into the water. I wouldn’t be surprised if his thoughts were grumbling thoughts. Perhaps he was thinking, “Here I am a professional fisherman. I know how to catch fish, I’ve been doing it most of my life. I have worked all night haven’t caught anything. And now, this itinerant carpenter/preacher comes along and presumes to tell me how to fish. I’m going to do this but when I bring the nets back up and they are empty I am going to tell him, ‘You stick to the woodwork and the preaching and I will take care of the fishing and everything will be just fine.'” He may or may not have actually said it, but it certainly would have been within Peter’s character to have thought it.

In spite of whatever Peter may or may not have been thinking, Jesus had a huge surprise in store for him. Peter lowered the nets into the water and when he started bringing them back up he couldn’t handle it. The nets were so full of fish Peter had to have help and more help than just Andrew. Se he called to James and John in the other boat and they came and helped haul the nets in. The nets were filled with fish, more than any of them had ever seen.

The haul for Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee was a haul worth bragging about. Can’t you just hear them telling this fish story? “The nets were so full of fish it took all of us to haul them in. The nets were at the point of tearing. You have never seen so many fish at one time.”

The response would be predictable. “Oh yeah, right. Sure you caught two boat loads of fish. What did you do with them?” All Peter could say was, they walked away because Jesus said if they would walk away and come follow him, they would fish for people. And, that is what they did. They went out and got new fish stories, different fish stories. These stories weren’t about fish but about a subject of far greater importance than fish. These stories were about people. And, as the disciples gathered these stories they told them over and over again.

Let’s think about how this story applies to our lives. Andrew, Peter (I know, he was still Simon at this point), James and John bring in the biggest catch they ever saw and yet they walked away. A net load of fish like that would have been worth a great deal of money, probably more money than any of them had seen before and they walked away. They walked away from something of great material value and instead followed Jesus.

Are we willing to do what those first disciples did? If we were suddenly given more material wealth than we ever had, would we be willing to turn our backs on this good fortune? Unfortunately, most of us wouldn’t be so inclined. That is the way society is. It is the way of human nature. It is a tough thing to answer what Jesus was calling the four to do, but they did it. They traded fish for fish stories, well actually they traded for people stories.

It didn’t stop there. Ever since the days of the disciples, people have shared their fish stories. The disciples went out and shared their faith stories. It grew from there. People have told others what God has done in their lives ever since. They have told their fish stories.

And friends, God has done some mighty and powerful things in the lives of His children. God has done powerful and miraculous work in the lives of people just like you and me and then people like us have gone out into the world to tell others about what God has done for them.

It should be clear, I don’t know all your fish stories yet. To tell the truth about the only ones I do know are mine and Cindy’s. Despite that, I feel certain that at some point someone shared a fish story with you. And, this time, I don’t mean a story about a creature with scales, gills and a flat tail. It isn’t a fish story about some silly fish call or some story about a fish caught or almost caught out of the bay or some lake somewhere. I am pretty sure that someone, at some point in time, shared a faith story with you. Maybe it was a preacher saying something during a particularly meaningful sermon. Or maybe, it was your Sunday school teacher who gave you a different way of looking at things. Perhaps it was a parent or your best friend. It could have been someone like your version of Miss Helen, the wise matriarch of the church. Everyone listened to Miss Hattie because we all knew she had a special relationship with God. Or, maybe it was someone standing on a street corner asking if you knew about Jesus and then took the time to share their faith. I don’t know who it was or what their story was, but someone took the time to share their faith with you. Perhaps it was more than one someone.

From that time and even before, until now, you have gathered your own fish story. We, like the disciples, have a story to tell a world that desperately needs to know about the love of God and the lifesaving actions of Jesus Christ. God has done things in our lives and others need to know about them.

Friends, folks around us may never know about the love of God if we fail to share our fish stories or faith stories. The disciples shared their stories. What is holding us back from sharing ours?

“Oh, but preacher, I am much too busy.” We all lead busy lives, that is why we all have to work together if we are to accomplish God’s work. Or, “oh but preacher, I don’t know the Bible very well.” First, we won’t know the Bible if we don’t start studying it. Second, I didn’t say anything about going out and telling people about the Bible, I said tell them your fish story and nobody knows your fish story better than you. Go tell them how God has been at work in your life. Or, “Oh but preacher, I am afraid.” You don’t think the disciples were afraid? Sure, they were. They walked away from what they knew. They had to trust.

One of my friends, a former seminary roommate, Mike Lindstrom who is now associate pastor of First United Methodist Conroe once shared a story that really made me think.

He said a several years ago he went out fishing in the Gulf with a long-time friend. Mike said they had been fishing for a while and hadn’t caught much of anything when they decided to take their small boat out to one of the oil platforms a few miles offshore. When they made it out there, Mike said the fish were boiling. The fish were so active they had a hard time putting a hook in the water without bringing up a fish. It was a fisherman’s dream. They let the time get away from them and soon it was getting dark. The boat had no lights on it so they had to navigate back with a flashlight that would shine out about 10 feet. It was pitch black, no moon. Mike said his friend knew the way back, but it was a long way and they had to move very slowly from one buoy to the next. They would see a light on the water, and it would look very small and they had to wonder if it was a big light a long way away or if a small light was attached to something very close by. Eventually they made it back and Mike lived to share this story. But he said as he reflected back on the event, he realized he had really put his trust in his friend. Without his friend’s knowledge of the Gulf, they might never have made it safely back to shore.

The disciples walked away from the biggest catch they had ever seen. It was a gigantic haul making it a hard thing to do, but they did just that, they walked away. They trusted Jesus to guide them in the days ahead. We might be afraid of going and sharing our fish stories, but we need to remember God is with us. We need to share. Will you tell your fish stories?

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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One thought on “Fish Stories

  1. mlseale

    Thanks for the fish story Pastor. You know what I’ve been through lately and you know that it was only by the grace of God that I’m still alive today. In fact I’m told by the doctors that I died four times and they had to bring me back. Makes me humble to think that God saved me for some reason—why? I’ve never caught a bunch of fish. I’ve gotten some fish. Some I’m even proud of. And I’ve decided that what God wanted me to do is talk about some of those fish to others. And I have found that that small intervention and caring has made a huge difference in other peoples lives. Thank you Pastor and thank you God for helping me understand that fish stories are a really good thing. God’s blessings to you.

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