Highlands Presbyterian Church
February 7, 2016
Lord, suffer me to catch a fish,
So large that even I,
When talking of it afterwards,
May have no need to lie.
Everybody loves a good fish story. The one that got away or the fish that gets bigger and bigger each time the story is repeated. You ought to hear grandpa tell end retell the story of the first fish Rhyland caught. Oh my. I don’t know how we got it in the car. Took three of us to pick it up.
One of the best fish stories ever was the 2003 movie “Big Fish.” Remember that? Albert Finney played the dying father who has repeated the same stories for so long that his son’s wish for his dying father is the truth.
Finney plays Edward Bloom. Some, find old Edward heroic and charming, and his wife is one of them. Sandra, played by Jessica Lange, stands watch in the upper bedroom where her husband is leaving life as he lived it. She summons home their son, Will, who knows his father's stories by heart and has one final exasperated request: Could his father now finally tell him the truth? Old Edward harrumphs and starts recycling again.
There are many wild adventures, one involving a catfish as big as a shark, but it would be hard to top the time he parachutes onto the stage of a Red Army talent show in China, and meets Ping and Jing, a conjoined vocal duo sharing two legs. Now surely all these stories are fevered fantasies, right?
Does it matter? Does it ever matter whether a fish story is factually true?
Let me tell you a whopper. Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
Then Jesus said to Simon and the other fishermen, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Now there is a fish story. Want to hear another?
In 1965, in Jackson, Mississippi, racism was still rampant. Civil rights workers from the North had descended upon the state, and the Ku Klux Klan was at its most active since the turn of the century. A lone white woman, Joan, decided to assist in starting the first Head Start program in the state to help young black children be prepared to start first grade.
She became passionately involved in the civil rights movement, marching with Dr. King. She became known in all circles as that “white lady” who helped “the darkies.””
One hot summer night, when Joan’s husband was out of town, Joan and her two girls were relaxing. Suddenly, the slam of car doors and gruff voices shouting shattered the stillness. Horns honking, curses disturbed the suburban neighborhood. A brick came flying through the plate glass window. Joan rushed to the front door. Her front yard was filled with men in white hoods setting fire to an old rugged cross in the middle of the grass. She flung open the door, and shouted, “get out of here, you blankedy-blanks!” They faceless cowards fled the woman’s voice.
Joan saw neighbors peeping out from their windows. She grabbed some marshmallows and with her two children in tow, she marched out to the front yard and roasted marshmallows by the fire of that cross.
Slowly, one neighbor after another joined her. The adults whispered quietly, hugging and murmuring as the children cavorted around the fire. The blaze that had been started by bigots was being extinguished by support and love.
Now that’s a whopper of a fish story. Let me tell you another.
There was a man who had a high-ranking job in a state agency working with programs for the poor. In his job, he learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t. He saw that becoming a homeowner gave these families stability, allowed their children to grow up confident. He came to believe he could do more by working outside of the bureaucracy. Terry Williams left that safe comfortable job and without any pay, started the Wyoming Family Home Ownership Program to help low income families become home owners. And no there are 27 families in this community who otherwise never could have owned their own homes.
Now that’s a fish story of the kind that Jesus’s disciples could have told in the years after leaving their fishing boats behind. Here’s another. Once upon a time, a woman sat in a jail cell having been arrested yet again for another DUI. She prayed and heard God tell her to try again. “Master,” she said, “we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.
That fisherwoman is our beloved Laura whose Recover Wyoming now serves more than 3200 addicts and family members seeking a better way if life. A whooper of a fish story. Can I get an AMEN?
How about one more?
There was a little church in Cheyenne that was so small it couldn’t help people in need. It was uncomfortable saying no when people called asking for help with food or gasoline, utilities, or rent. But, the church said, we are too little.
But one day that little church heard Jesus say, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” And the little church did. During the Lenten Season when Christians are called to sacrifice, its members and friends offered donations. Now that little church says YES when people call asking God’s help.
All these fish stories have one thing in common. When the fishermen decided they’d leave their comfortable life behind and follow him, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats.
Now that was a whopper of a fish story.
Let’s find even harder to believe fish stories to tell in the coming years. AMEN