Cross of Grace

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Tag: Fishing for People

Fish and Yips

Luke 5:1-11

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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "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.

I read an article on this week about a 37-year old pitcher attempting a remarkable comeback to Major League Baseball. His name is Luke Haggerty. He was drafted in the first round of the MLB draft by the Chicago Cubs in 2002; however, during his first spring training season he suffered an elbow injury and missed the next two seasons. Unfortunately, he was not able to recover his elite form. The problem wasn’t physical; it was mental.

There’s a term for the mental block that prevents athletes from remembering how to do the physical movements that should be second-nature…it’s called “the yips.”

Luke’s yips left him unable to throw a ball over home plate. After years of struggle – years of not being able to be the best version of himself – Luke met with a neuroscientist who specializes in athletes affected by the yips. She helped him understand that his negative thoughts and lack of courage were robbing him of the ability to be the person he was created to be.

It has been 12 years since Luke Haggerty has thrown a pitch in the major leagues. Long story short, he received some specialized training, did the hard emotional and physical work, and is once again throwing upwards of 99 mph fastballs. Now this 37-year old is returning to spring training with a new minor league contract signed with his old team the Chicago Cubs.

Many aspects of this story make it compelling; but it was not lost on me that much of the improbability of his successful return to the major leagues has as much to do with his age as his yips. There are not too many 37 year-old professional athletes in any sport. I realize this because I am 37 years old and I’ve been watching year after year as the athletes start looking younger and younger. I have watched my childhood athletic heroes retire; I have watched the people my own age retire; I have watched as people I consider kids have retired. God bless Adam Vinatieri, though; at least there’s one pro athlete that makes me feel young!

It feels like each passing day brings an attrition of opportunities. Recently I found out I’m officially too old to apply to be a special agent in the FBI or work in the CIA. Not that I was looking to switch careers, but it hit me hard to learn that my age automatically excludes me from being able to do things with my life.

Perhaps thoughts similar to these were running through the head of Simon (whom we know as Peter) as he was sitting in his boat on the lake of Gennesaret. Simon was a fisherman. There were no other possible directions his life could take. You see, the lives of Hebrew boys and girls were not replete with opportunity. Generally speaking the girls would grow up to be mothers and the boys would take up the trade of their fathers. There was one possibility, though, that was held out to every boy; it was a narrow path that few would be able to follow. A very select few could become disciples of a rabbi.

In Jesus’ day, Hebrew boys and girls ages 5-12 attended beit sefer – a school where they primarily learned how to read and understand scripture. In this school the girls studied the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy; while the boys studied the Torah (the first five books of scripture). At the conclusion of beit sefer the expectation was that male students had memorized the entire Torah. Every verse, every name, every detail was to be committed to memory. Suffice to say, not every student made it through the entire program.

At the age of twelve the girls would marry. The boys who had successfully committed the Torah to memory then entered beit midrash, where they had three years to study and commit the entire TaNaKh to memory (that’s the 24 books of scripture including the Torah, the “prophets,” and the “writings”).

Only a very select few out of hundreds of students who started school would complete the beit midrash and move on to the beit talmud, which involved committing one’s self to following a rabbi for a period of 15 years.


In order to become a disciple, the student would seek out a rabbi. He would watch the rabbi from a distance for a while to make sure this was the kind of rabbi he wanted to become one day. Once the boy found a rabbi to whom he could aspire, he would approach the rabbi and ask “May I follow you?” This phrase really meant, “Do you think that I could be like you?” To be a disciple of a rabbi was to emulate the rabbi’s behavior, learn his prayers, and wrestle with the stories of scripture together. One day the boy would become a rabbi himself, with his own set of disciples to mentor and guide through life.

Simon was not cut out for the path of discipleship. We know this because he was fishing, not studying, when Jesus met him. Somewhere along the way, whether in beit sefer, beit midrash, or beit talmud, Simon didn’t make the cut. He wasn’t the best and brightest; so he returned to the fishing boats and to the craft that his father had taught him. It was honorable hard work; but he was certainly aware of all the things he would no longer be able to do, the person he would never be able to become; thinking about how he wasn’t smart enough, he was too old, and so on.

Then one day a rabbi boarded Simon’s boat and asked to be pushed out a ways from the shore in order to teach the crowds. Soon the fishermen returned to shore sinking under the weight of a miraculous catch of fish courtesy of the rabbi. These young men, most likely teenagers, all of whom had a proverbial door or two shut in their lifetimes, looked at Jesus and heard him say, “You can do what I do. Come and learn what it means to be a disciple.” They left everything and followed him.

Dropping everything to follow Jesus was not an irresponsible decision on their part. Following Jesus was taking a step through an open door to a future that they thought had been sealed shut. Following Jesus meant that they could finally be the person they were created to be.

It would be like if LeBron James drove past my house, saw my son shooting hoops, and told him, “I can tell that you have what it takes to play in the NBA one day, so come and train with me for the next few years and we’ll make it happen.” Nolan would certainly run inside and tell us we have to move to Los Angeles.

Jesus turned the tables on the entire rabbinical system by going out and selecting his own disciples; not only that, but he selected them from among the multitude of people who weren’t enough, who didn’t have the “it” factor, the ones suffering from the yips that prevented them from being the people God had created them to be.

You have been called to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus looks at you and says, “You have what it takes. You can do what I do.”

The problem, of course, is that many of us have the yips. Our negative thoughts and lack of courage tell us it would be easier to stay discontent in our current lives than to put forth the effort to live a blessed life as a disciple of Jesus. Or, some of us are too content with our lives and see the invitation to discipleship as a threat to unravel everything we have created for ourselves so that we wouldn’t need to rely on God. On any given day I regularly oscillate between those two thoughts.

This much is true, though: The world needs more disciples. Not more people who go to church; more disciples – people who wake up every day and commit to seek out God in every aspect of daily life and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. And the truth is that each one of us has been created and equipped to live as authentic disciples, regardless of our yips, our age, our negative thoughts, or our complacency with the status quo. Discipleship is our destiny. In the coming week, consider the invitation to familiarize yourself with a story from one of the gospels. Pay attention to the good news that Jesus presents in his words and actions. And then visualize the face of Jesus looking at you and saying, “You can do what I do. Come and learn what it means to be a disciple.” Then drop your yips and follow him.


Following Jesus in Kenya

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately, they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James, son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called to them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

It's important to realize, first, that we are still in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, only at the 14th verse. It matters because Mark is a man of few words, so every one of them matters. His Gospel is the shortest, sweetest of them all. He gets right to the point all along the way, and says a lot with very few details to gum up the works.

Just in the first dozen or so verses of his version of Jesus’ life story, Mark’s gospel has John the Baptist warning everyone that Jesus is on the way. He has Jesus baptized, by John, in the Jordan. He mentions, with one little verse, that Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And this morning, at verse 14, we’re told that John the Baptist has been arrested, and that Jesus has come to Galilee proclaiming the Good News. 

Then he walks along the lakeside calling his first disciples who, without question or confusion – without hesitation or halting – drop what they’re doing, leave their friends and families, leave their co-workers and careers, and begin to follow Jesus to God-knows-where. I don’t imagine these first disciples – Simon, Andrew, James and John – were Lutherans.

As a life-long Lutheran, I can say that. I can say, too, with some confidence that they weren’t Presbyterians or Roman Catholics or Methodists or Episcopalians, either. And I don’t make that assumption simply because such flavors of Christ-followers didn’t exist yet, in Jesus’ day. I say it because, in this day and age, we are much more careful and considered when it comes to following Jesus. Most people I know are not “drop your nets, leave your family, quit your job, no-questions-asked” sorts of followers. We want to know where we’re headed; what the risks are; what the return on our investment might be; who else is going to be there; and just exactly what this ‘fishing expedition’ is going to entail.

But I can say, from my own limited experiences, that our way of following doesn’t always lead to the most fun, meaningful, life-changing, faith-building experiences. On the contrary, I’ve found that when I plan less and pray more; when I don’t ask as many questions and demand even fewer answers; when I leave my proverbial nets behind and take my chances on God’s gracious provision, that I do a better job of responding to what God might have in mind for me in the first place. And I notice God’s presence and power in more surprising ways than I would otherwise.

And this happened for me – or to me – or through me – or whatever – over the course of the last couple of weeks, during my time in Kenya, where I was part of a small team that taught the Bethel Bible Series curriculum to a group of about 130 African pastors over the course of a week.

My invitation to all of that didn’t come by way of Jesus on the beach. It came by way of a form letter, from the director of the Bethel Series, asking for help raising money for a trip that was already planned and in the works. Without much thought, and with even fewer expectations, I shot off an e-mail, asking how one might get into the mix of such an event in the future, sometime down the road a ways. A response came quickly and I was told that the trip at hand only had three teachers, that four would be better, and that I’d be a welcome addition to the team, if I was interested.

After a brief conversation with Christa – who usually has many more questions and concerns and reservations about this sort of thing than the rest of us, combined – we agreed I should throw my net into this water, if you will – and commit to being part of this opportunity. And that was that. It was the middle of SEPTEMBER. The trip would be in JANUARY. Advent and Christmas were on the way. A family vacation had already been scheduled for the week before I would leave. I didn’t have a clue about who I would be teaching, really; with whom; or what, exactly, either.

I’d never been to Africa. I didn’t know a thing about Kenya. I had no idea where the city of Kisumu was. And the closer I got to my departure, when the crazy, busy distractions of Christmas were over, when our vacation ended and the reality of what I’d signed up for loomed, I realized I was much more anxious than I’d let myself admit.

For starters, it seemed harder, this time around, to leave Christa and the boys and to fly to the other side of the world, than it has been in the past. I knew I’d be missing some important things around here while I was away. I worried, too, about how my kind of teaching would connect with people and pastors – from varying denominations, background and lifestyles – who I’d never met before. And there are always the concerns and worries about food and accommodations and safety that come with international travel, too.

My point here, though, is that it all ended well. Better then well. I learned as much for and about myself as anything I was able to teach all those Kenyan pastors. But I did teach them a thing or two, from what I could tell, and I look forward to going back for a second round of it all in 2019.

But this isn’t all about me. My little international teaching and travel experiences are like “Discipleship Lite” in comparison to the story of Maurice Odhiambo,

the Kenyan pastor who directs “Manna Missions,” the organization that brought me to Kisumu and who organized the pastors and the teaching and all that I was able to do there.

Maurice grew up in the slums of Nairobi. I didn’t get to see them because we weren’t in Nairobi very long and because, I was told, we’d need armed guards to accompany us for a visit. I think they are just as you might imagine them to be…maybe worse, in terms of sanitation, safety, and a sense of despair that must weigh heavy in a place like that.

Nairobi Slum c.jpg

Now, I don’t know his whole story, but Maurice runs a publishing company and is the director, like I said, of “Manna Missions,” which responds in as literal and as faithful a way as I know to the Biblical command – which belongs to all of us – to care for the widow and the orphan. Under his leadership and by way of his faithful following, he provides food, water, healthcare, education, companionship, spiritual direction and the love of God to widows, children and orphans in his little corner of God’s kingdom on earth.

And it takes a lot to surprise me anymore, as I think many of you know. But I was blown away to learn that in Kisumu, in 2018, widows are treated – still – the way we read about widows having been treated in the days of Jesus. I mean they are ostracized, neglected, married off against their will, considered unclean and unwanted and untouchable and undeserving of care and compassion in ways I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it for myself.


(This is Grace, a widow whose own children are trying to take the land on which she lives, because it is of more value to them than she is.)

Among other things, it is not uncommon for a widow to die, alone in her home, and only be discovered when a passerby smells something from the road.

All of that to say, Maurice Odhiambo has responded to God’s call on his life to do ministry for and with widows in his hometown. Following Jesus, for Maurice and for his Partners in Mission, means challenging cultural norms that say widows are unclean. Following Jesus, for Maurice, means confronting superstitions that promise death to those who help these widows by caring for their houses, bringing them food, praying for or visiting with or providing medical care to them when they need it. Following Jesus, for Maurice, means leaving more than just his nets in a boat in order to walk in the ways of his Savior.

So when I read about Jesus’ invitation to follow him and to fish for people – on the heels of my own experiences with Maurice and my new friends in Kenya – I am as convicted by my own small-mindedness about what that could and should look like, as I am challenged and inspired by what God could do with me – and with the rest of us – when we respond to that invitation in more faithful, more fearless ways.

It’s too soon to know exactly what I’m getting at where Kenya is concerned, I’ll be honest. But I hope you’ll join me in praying and dreaming, in this new year, about what God will do in and through and for us in the days to come; what God will do when we realize and live like the Kingdom of God has, indeed, come very near; when we believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ; and when leave behind whatever is required in order to follow him with faith, in spite of our fear, for the sake of the world.


All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.