Sermon 8-24-2014

Matthew 13:47-50

Pastor Mike McClenahan; Solana Beach Presbyterian Church,

Ernest E. Taylor, Ernest E. Taylor, Francis Howgill of Grayrigg – A Sufferer for the Truth, Friends Tract Assoc., New York, 1912.

 Pastor Ruthie Tippin, First Friends Meeting - Indianapolis

 “I saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.  In that, I also saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings.”  George Fox 1647  {Sung}

 George Fox discovered that God indwells every person – that there is that of God in each person – even in a young man like himself.  God doesn’t inhabit only religious leaders, or those in influential religious positions.  God’s spirit abides in each of us, and calls each of us to faith in God.  Fox railed against professors of faith, and heralded possessors of faith.  He had discovered that to live in the light of God’s indwelling Spirit, was to be captured in a net of hope, of grace and of love. 

 As we move through the waters of this world, we are made aware of the indwelling presence of God in our lives.  That presence, that spirit, empowers us to swim strong, to swim purposefully, to swim well.  The kingdom of heaven, made real, on earth – the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 

 Francis Howgill was a young man, just six years older than Fox, and among the many Seekers, hungry to know and experience God, and God’s kingdom on earth.  Howgill described the warm fellowship of those days:

 ‘The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us, and catch us all, as in a net, and His heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land, that we came to know a place to stand in and what to wait in, and the Lord appeared daily to us, to our astonishment, amazement, and general admiration, insomuch that we often said one to another, with great joy of heart, ‘What? Is the Kingdom of God come to be with men?’

 Here Jesus uses a parable about nets and fish to teach us about the kingdom of heaven, and how it’s lived out each and every dayat work, on vacation, at school, at home – every day in all kinds of ways, in our world.  Where the life of God intersects with our lives.  Where, as Pastor Mike McClenahan says, “the relational brokenness – with each other, with God, with creation, intersects with the wholeness of God; where the kingdom of heaven is displayed, and we see God at work to answer our prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”  Here we see Christ teaching us how to live – how to make a difference with our lives – here, in the kingdom of heaven on earth.

 This is a story that is both commonplace and extraordinary at the same time.  It is exciting and sobering, all at once.  It is full of great hope, and great regret.  It sounds a lot like real life, doesn’t it??? 

 A crew goes out fishing, and returns with a net full of fish.  This isn’t a casting net that’s thrown out from the boat and drawn in again, but a dragnet.  A dragnet is usually about six feet deep and several hundred feet wide, and is set out in the lake by a number of boats working together.  It takes several people to operate.  It’s drawn through the water until it’s filled with fish, and then brought in to shore. 

 The fisherman doesn’t know what he’s got until he gets back to shore.  He has great hope as he leaves for the day… all fishermen do.  And if you’ve ever heard any fish stories, you know that hope springs eternal!  But it’s only when he gets back to shore and starts sorting his catch that he sees what it is he’s caught. 

 Everything imaginable is in that net – good full-bodied, mature fish, and undersized, immature ones as well.  Flotsam and jetsam.  The edible and the inedible.  Everything’s sorted out, and the good fish are kept to sell or eat.  All the rest is thrown away – useless.  

 Jesus tells the crowd - Jesus tells us – that the kingdom of heaven is like a new version of that old story... that someday it will be an angel, not a fisherman that sorts his catch of fish on a beach.  Angels will separate fresh from spoiled, edible from inedible, evil from good.  Some will be tossed away, and there will be ‘weeping, and gnashing of teeth’.  Gnashing – grinding teeth together in frustration, anger, and regret. 

 This is one big fish story, and that’s one big net!  The net holds everyone – with no exception.  All are included.  The story doesn’t say that the fishermen go fishing in someone’s private pond, or in a certain resort area.  They don’t go deep-sea fishing in a spot well-known for certain species of fish.  The fishermen simply fish, just as they do every day, and they drag a big net, and they keep dragging it until it’s full.  They know when to stop.  If they were to fish any longer, the net would tear and they would lose the entire catch.

 The net was meant to catch anyone and everyone.  The leaders in synagogues and churches and meetings. The leaders in government.  The Big Fish on Wall Street.   The little guy at the corner store. 

Do you realize how radical this teaching is?  Do you realize how risky it was for Jesus to speak this parable?  It would have been a lot safer for him if he’d stopped after the first two verses.  He could have left it as a whopper of a fish story.  “The Big Catch”. But he didn’t. 

 By this time in Jesus’ ministry, the leaders of the synagogues – the scribes, the Pharisees – are very anxious about Jesus’ teachings.  He’s become very popular, and teaches frequently in synagogues as he visits various towns and cities.  His interpretations of the law are suspect, and the leaders of the established church are afraid of losing control.  


Jesus pushed against all that, and went on to explain exactly what he meant in the parable.  He was clear that the kingdom of heaven, and the message of that kingdom was meant for everyone.  The message of the kingdom is meant for the whole world.  “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” Mark 16:15   These fishermen go fishing with a net woven with hope, grace, and love. 

 But eventually the catch has to be hauled in to shore.  The fish have to be sorted…  We all know what that means.  To be reviewed and evaluated.  My husband just had his annual review at the University of Iowa.    I’ve recently had my annual evaluation by our Clerk of the Meeting, and Ministry and Counsel.  It’s a good process.  Some of you go through a formal review process in your workplace.  We all have ways of knowing how we’re doing in our lives.  This parable says that we’re all going to have to pass the ‘smell test’ on a beach somewhere with an angelic-looking fisherman, someday.

 The point is, the fish don’t sort out the other fish.  The fish don’t measure one another’s length or scales.  They don’t sidle up next to each other and rate their color, or their swiftness in the water.  There is no Dr. Seussian concern for any of them… “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish…”   They leave that up to that angel on the beach.  It is an angel of God – not a Pharisee, not a scribe, not a Quaker… it is an angel of God on that beach.


How much better to be a fish, swimming with a heart full and free, learning to swim through the ocean of light, without concern for what can only be the work of the fisherman – the one who will capture us all in the net of the Spirit – that same net that Howgill found himself in among the Early Friends.

 Does that mean we swim with no concern at all?  Of course not!  Fish swim in schools.   They’re meant to swim together.  They react together when they’re endangered.  They instinctively move together to feeding grounds.  There is strength and encouragement, even safety, in numbers.  If you’ve never seen the movie “Finding Nemo” that film will explain a lot about fish behavior!  But ultimately, each fish is responsible for its own swim.

 As we move through the waters of this world, we are made aware of the indwelling presence of God in our lives.  That presence, that spirit, empowers us to swim strong, to swim purposefully, to swim well. We swim in an ocean of light.  No fish market judgments.  No fresh list checkmarks.  No smell tests. And no regrets.  No ‘if only’s’.  No could-a, should-a, would-a…  The kingdom of heaven, made real, on earth, and in you and me – the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  How then, shall we swim, in this kingdom?