The Fishing Net.
Trinity 7, Sunday 26 July 2020.
This pandemic has raised some serious questions about the church. Is it locked? If it’s not the building, then what? Is it the people gathered on Zoom or those who wait for the church to be re-opened?
Jesus also toys with this question as he explains what the church should be like to his apostles, most of whom were fishermen. He says that the earthly expression of the Kingdom of God is like a fishing net that catches both good and bad fish. This then seems a good moment for us to consider what the church is.
Characteristics of a Church.
I used to run a college chaplaincy. The students were great fun: passionate, outrageous, devout, exhausting. They came to chapel in good numbers on a Sunday, bringing with them all sorts of musical and theatrical skills. But was it a church? That worried me. Geraldine and I were often the only people over 30 and it felt unbalanced in terms of age. So we encouraged staff members to attend, which they did willingly. Immediately the atmosphere changed. It was still passionate, outrageous and exhausting but also with a gravitas which all of us appreciated.
- We are all agreed that Church is not just the building, though the building is important. Is it like the pub, which gives shelter to those thirsting for a pint or a meal? Or is it like Waitrose, which caters for a particular class of shopper? Or a political party, with a specific agenda – ‘The Tory Party at Prayer’, for instance?
Our hymn for today –‘Teach me My God and King’, No. 690 – Helps us to clarify our notion of The Church. It was written by George Herbert, a 17th century clergyman from Salisbury. He wrote it as a poem and included it in a collection of poems called ’The Temple’.
In The Creed, we say that ‘The Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’. In verse 1, Herbert illustrates the Oneness of The Church: it helps us to see the One God in everything and to adapt all that we do as if we did it for Him. So ‘Church’, at its best, helps us to concentrate every element of our lives on the One God. It is here that we learn the language of God, refine our priorities, find encouragement from our prayers and one another to orientate our lives towards Him. Do you say ‘Grace’ before any of your meals for instance, either privately or together? That is a way of acknowledging One God who is even more revered than Delia Smith! We belong to one family in Christ. Like all families, we have our disagreements. Thus many styles of church have sprung up but there is One Creed, One Baptism, One Eucharist – each of which illustrates the Oneness of God.
In verse 2 and 3 Herbert encourages us to look beyond the material to identify the Holy in our midst, both immediately, as in glass but also through it to the creator, symbolic of heaven beyond. It can lift our eyes and hearts so that we can ‘the heaven espy’. I think the bread from King’s Cliffe Bakey – sold locally in our shops – does just that for me. The humble loaf is of such good quality! Furthermore, I visited the bakery just before it was transferred to Corby. It was tiny, stuffed into the back room of a house in Main Street,Kings Cliffe. The baker sacrifices his sleep and rises early so that we could have fresh bread for breakfast! My mother lived through the last war and its restrictions. She would be very critical if we even thought about throwing away our crusts. They were precious, holy even.
The Church is also catholic – and here we come to the point of Jesus’ Parable of the Fishing Net, in which are to be found the good, the bad and the very smelly. In verse 3, Herbert says that we can all partake in God; nothing is too simple or unworthy. Furthermore, God’s tincture – God’s Holy Spirit – will improve us who devote our prayers and our lives ‘for thy (His) sake’. Rural church life tend to be non-selective. There is only one church in a village so believers of all colours will come – unless they commute. We then miss that richness of variety. We can also be a bit choosy ourselves, raising an eyebrow when someone unusual turns up. As Ann demonstrated last week, we can also look out of place with our dusty souls and dubious morals. Who are we to cast the first stone? The Parable takes that into account. The fish are not sorted until the end of the journey. Don’t let’s push the analogy too far but the bad ones may well be put back into the lake to live another day.
Finally, the Creed says that The Church is Apostolic, sent out. In verse 4, God’s servants find even the meanest job satisfying, like sweeping a room. Far-fetched? Well, sweeping up is not my favourite pastime but I do enjoy polishing! However, St. Theresa suggest that we can peel a potato to the glory of God. All things can give him glory and those who feel that vocation to follow Christ often apply themselves more rigorously because it says something about Him. Some people find going that extra mile part of their personality. And why do they do it? Because God expects it of us and that attitude is both infectious and transformative. We must remember that The Church – its people as well as the building – is there to bring people to Christ. It is not an end in itself, however beautiful the building. So is it doing its job? Are we? The Parable asks some challenging questions.
Real or Virtual?
One Final thought. This Parable of the Fishng Net went down well in a coastal community. However, Jesus then called the fishermen to lay down their nets and follow him to become fishers of men. Imagine their shock at leaving that comfortable way of life. They would be shocked, fearful, disbelieving that anything else could be so effective in harvesting souls.
We are about to be faced with the same challenge. Zoom worship has served us well during the lockdown. True, it’s only second-best but for some, it is the only way. The house-bound, the shielding, the very poorly: do they not have a place too in God’s church? How can we best encourage them as the lockdown eases? Will they be abandoned? Amen.