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Hook and Line

"Hook and Line" by C. David McKirachan
"When?" by C. David McKirachan

Hook and Line
by C. David McKirachan
Mark 1:14-20

I went fishing with my father as a child. The scene those words probably paint in your head is not the way it was. He went with others when invited, taking me as a companion. It always seemed to me he was there but not comfortable with what went on. I inherited his attitude about hook and line.

I like fish. To eat and to watch. But hooking them never drew me. I have spent a lot of time relating to the sea, surfing and sailing. There is something there that settles me down. Herman Melville’s character Ishmael says, “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; …then I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” (Moby Dick, chapter 1)

A good portion of my childhood was spent on a barrier island a few miles off the New Jersey coast. It’s basically an eighteen mile sand bar, shaped by the winds and waves, defined by tides and storms more than anything else. In the summer approximately one hundred thousand people push and crowd their way onto the beaches and into the clam bars and shops full of small, cheap proofs that the purchasers were there. It’s divided into areas with names like Surf City, Ship Bottom, Harvey Cedars, Beach Haven, Barnegat Light, coming from former generations memorializing ship wrecks and people that were just as wind swept as the beaches and dunes.

After Labor Day, the street lights are turned off because the mob goes home to Staten Island, Long Island, and Philadelphia, leaving about six thousand residents to the icy Nor’easters. They are a hearty lot. My parents retired there.

After seminary in California I came home to them, applying for jobs and waiting. We were told there would be many of us that wouldn’t get calls. There was a glut of Seminary graduates. How times change. I got a job in a leather factory and another at a gas station and worked the system for months. It was frustrating. There was so much I wanted to do with my education and I felt God’s call stirring within me, driving me.

October can be a wonderful month on the island. Indian summer brings a gentleness to the air. The sun heats the beaches, the water is still warm, the crowds are gone. This is when the old salts come out with their surf rods, sparsely populating the beaches, far enough apart to be alone, close enough to communicate when they feel like it. They catch fluke, stripers, blues, and tell stories to each other.

A friend of the family, in sympathy for my plight, lent me a twelve foot high flex surf rod and a beautiful spin reel. I went to the beach, with the real fishermen and attached a Thompson lure. It’s a small streamlined slab of aluminum about four inches long with three, three pronged hooks on it. You cast it out and slowly reel it in.  

In the sun, throwing the Thompson out, beyond the shore break was wonderful. My father would come to the beach and we’d talk about philosophers, theology, politics. My mother would come up and we’d talk about birds, the sea’s currents, and politics. But mostly I’d cast out into the waves, reel the lure in, and cast again.

One day I caught a fish. It was a surprise. Blue fish are that way. They hit, and they run, hard. It took me a while to bring it in, maybe thirty inches worth of glorious, strong predator of the sea. Using plyers to get the hook out (they’ll give you a nasty bite if you’re not careful) I held it up by gill and tail and marveled at its strength and its color, they really are blue. I took it back to the waves, let the water wash through its gills and let it swim, tentative at first and then a flash and gone.

The old guy nearest to me considered this to be a problem stemming from my sojourn on the other coast. It was a nice fish. A good catch. I’d always seemed rather level headed. Was something wrong? No, I told him. I think I just figured something out. This mystified him and he went back to his fishing, shaking his head. Using the plyers, I removed the hooks from the Thompson and went back to casting, out beyond the waves.

“I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me.”

My season had changed because I’d figured out what I was about, I’d figured out what I was really fishing for. That’s important. You need to use the right bait.

The sun warmed me. It was no longer the damp drizzly November of my soul.  The time was at hand.

* * *

by C. David McKirachan
1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Being from good Presbyterian stock, “The end is near!” never got much traction around our house. It was left to wild eyed whackos standing on street corners who need to take their meds more regularly. As a result, when the lectionary dropped one of these passages in my lap, I have had a tendency to duck. Those of us that are of the Reformed persuasion are less likely to be concerned about the end and more focused on kingdom theology, ‘Fight the good fight,’ servanthood, and working for the reconciliation of the world, to name a few. Besides I was always a bit worried that this kind of passage would either confuse folk, make it harder to help them grasp a loving God, or give some of the crazies a crack to assist their pry bars of dysfunction. In short, I was chicken.

But back behind all my anxiety filled avoidance there was a resonance with the wild eyed guy on the corner. Not because I’m missing med’s but because I agreed with this impractical, desperate message. The kingdom of God is at hand.

If we mean business about the salvation of the world, that is if we clearly perceive the critical nature of opening the hearts and minds of people to the love and the incredible generosity of God, we ache at the easy going habitual nature of people’s practice of their faith. When we tell the Christmas story and find ‘cute’ masking the miracle, subverting wonder, denying compassion, it’s a tragedy. When Holy Week is the space between Palm Sunday’s triumphalism and Easter’s ham dinner, our exhaustion begets rage and depression.

The truth is none of us know when the mask is going to come off and all reality ‘…sees him face to face.’ But we do know that Paul was desperate to bring the entire world to his Lord. This was not one of Paul’s priorities. It was everything for him. He was all in about this. We know that he was a member of the Sanhedrin and as such had to be married. I often wonder whether his wife was relieved when her big important husband became a follower of the heretic Jesus. Had he been a wild man before his conversion? Who knows? We know nothing of Paul’s family life, because he left them behind, with everything else on the road to Damascus. Paul knew no limitations, no obstacles that were more meaningful than God’s call to him. He didn’t have time to be strategic. For him the kingdom was at hand.

Lately we’ve been comparison pricing health insurance plans. It’s enough to make anybody dump it all and go and stand on a soap box. We had a party the other night, I washed the stem ware and put it away. My wife came down and was impressed, “You got it all done.” In a fit of ironic sarcasm, I replied, “No, I threw it all away. I’m going to save the world.” She knows me too well. “Good. What do you want for lunch?”

To live and breathe in our civilization we have to pay attention to our normalities. The day to day necessities of living and caring for God’s world, the families and friends we’ve been given, our communities, our nation, even ourselves, all are important and part of what it means to be a Christian. But at the core of who and what we are is this ache to ‘Go ye unto all the world…’ , to announce to all ‘the acceptable year of our Lord,’ to shout, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord.’ None of those fit into my insurance plan, and few of the churches I ever knew would appreciate it.

I don’t know if that means I have to increase my meds or find a soap box.


StoryShare, January 21, 2018, issue.

Copyright 2017 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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