The Family Business

Ipoh The Family Business

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; February 6, 2022

5th Sunday after Epiphany

Psalm 138; Luke 5:1-11


Fishing, which has been around for some 40,000 years, began as a means of survival in prehistoric times and turned, eventually, into industry, sport, and recreation. Fishing techniques have changed from fishing by hand, or using spears or nets, to using fishing lines and poles. And nowadays, fishing poles are made of fiberglass instead of hickory and bamboo, and tackle boxes are filled with fancy fishhooks and artificial lures, galore. Change is part of every aspect of life, isn’t it?

I am fascinated by the etymology of words, how they originate and how their meanings shift over time. Often, words are born right under our noses. Take the word “google,” for example. Its first recorded use was in 1998 when Google co-founder, Larry Page, wrote on a mailing list, “Have fun and keep googling.” Now, most of us jump on the World Wide Web numerous times a day to “google” one thing or another. Over time, new words are created, and old words are redefined. Take the word, “nice,” for example. It used to mean silly or foolish—far from the compliment it is today. Originally, the word “naughty” was not used to describe someone behaving badly. It described a person who had naught or nothing.

The meaning of phrases can change, too. For instance, “Fish or cut bait,” is a common expression that means something totally different now than it did initially. When I googled it, I learned that the original expression came out of the fishing industry, where fishermen must decide who is to fish, and who is to cut the bait used for fishing. Both tasks are equally important to the goal of catching fish, and everyone has a role to play. Now though, when someone says, “Fish or cut bait,” we understand it to mean it is time to make a decision. Stop hesitating. Fish or cut bait.

In our reading from the gospel, Jesus gets on a boat and starts fishing—for people. When all is said and done, he turns to Simon and his fishing buddies and tells them to not be afraid because they are joining his family business—the business of catching people. And they do! They leave everything to catch people with Jesus. Another way to describe “catching people,” is “evangelism” but that is a word that makes Presbyterians squirm. We’ve witnessed too many street corner preacher types asking, “Are you saved?” We have seen televangelists act concerned about people’s souls when all they really care about is their wallets.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider the phrase, “catching people.” When Jesus says, “From now on you will be catching people,” he is not saying that you will be frightening, entrapping, tricking, or pressuring people.” Instead, in the original Greek, the idea of “catching people” indicates that followers of Jesus will be rescuing people; they will be saving people; they will be inviting people to live full lives, motivated by the love of Christ. Jesus instructs his disciples to lay aside their nets and take up another mode of fishing, fishing for people. At its core, evangelism is making connections, building relationships, meeting people where they are, and offering to others the hope you have found. Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, living the good news, being the good news—that is the work of the family business.

Over time, the meaning of words and phrases change. So do fishing techniques. But one thing that has been slow to change is how the church practices evangelism. For nearly 100 years, we have understood fishing for people to mean hooking those people out there and reeling them in here. And when things have gotten tough, we have chosen to change bait or build bigger boats. Build it and they will come. Make it flashy and entertaining and they will swallow it hook, line, and sinker.

The truth is that the institutional church was in trouble before a global pandemic cast us ashore, but we are on the fast-track now. So much so, if we intend to stay in the family business, we have no choice but to change course. Our motivation cannot be to get those people out there to come in here. Instead, our modus operandi must be to meet people where they are and to share the love of Jesus. If we wonder what bait we are to use, we need look no further than Jesus. The bait he used was compassion, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, and love.

It’s been said that evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Where do you find food for your soul? Whether you are here in person or joining us online, it is my hope and prayer that you find soul food here. And it is my hope and prayer that you feel compelled to share your experience of God’s love with others—whether the experience happens within these walls or outside them. Tell someone about how Christ changed your life. Share a post on social media that is uplifting and hopeful. If you have a neighbor who is having a hard time, meet them for coffee or for a walk and listen. Just listen. And if you join us via livestream worship and find spiritual sustenance here, share our service with a friend through social media or email—not because we want more likes or shares on our Facebook platform but because you yearn to tell others where to find bread, where to find water, where to find Jesus.

An article in the New York Times recently created quite a stir among my clergy colleagues. In the opinion piece, the writer posed that all churches need to stop online options for worship because it is not embodied. So, since people are not physically present in the pews, worship is not really happening. Are you kidding me? The idea that we should not utilize every lure in our tackle box to spread the news of God’s love is inconceivable. It would be like living in the 1400’s when the Gutenberg press was gaining popularity and refusing to utilize the press because it was a new technology that was not embodied. “Books, pamphlets, and Scripture in a language I can comprehend—that’s not the same as meeting face-to-face, so—no thank you!” How ridiculous!

As believers, worshiping together in person and online from First Presbyterian Church of Valdosta, how can we contribute to the family business of saving the world for Christ? We can dig our heels in and refuse to accept new ways of being the church or we can bravely get on the boat that the Spirit has sent and see where the wind blows. Even though the church does not look like it did a hundred years ago, that does not mean the church has necessarily failed. It just means that we are living in a new era and, even now, we are being reformed. As Presbyterians, reformed and always reforming, that is something we know something about—or at least that’s what we say.

We have been baptized into the family business. As followers of Jesus, the task before us is to catch people—to rescue people—to save people—to invite people to live full lives, modeled after the life of Jesus. Motivated by love, and equipped by the Spirit, there is much work for us to do in this world that is struggling with fear, hopelessness, injustice, and despair. There is work to do and now is the time to fish or cut bait. Amen.

*Cover Art “Miraculous Fishing” by Lodewijk Toeput, via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain