This Easter sermon by Rob Manning-Osborn (Mia Manning-Osborn) is one of the two best Easter sermons I’ve ever heard. The other was by Michael Banister (Elaine Banister). Both Rob and Mike, fyi, are non-clergy. Sorry, Rob, it took me so long to post this. It’s been a fun, but very busy time at Wedgewood this year.
I Would Rather Be Fishing
It’s Easter Sunday, the day during which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and I have a confession. I know that’s not really our thing here at Wedgewood, but I have a confession nonetheless. I would rather be fishing.
You see, for me fishing means so many things. It’s an opportunity to be outside and to breathe deeply. It’s an intellectual exercise; a chance to figure it out. It’s a chance to be part of a community; fishermen are brothers and sisters. It’s a chance to be creative; I tie my own flies. It’s relaxing; a chance to just… be. It’s exercise; a chance to stretch my muscles beyond what’s comfortable. It’s a time to re-charge my mental and physical batteries; a reboot. It’s a chance to share my good fortune; I try to help fellow fisherman whenever I can. It’s a chance to think; about anything and everything. And it’s a private time to talk to God and reflect on my life. But I should make another confession, sometimes when I talk to God I am saying things like “God, please let me catch a fish!”
So how did this happen, this passion, this obsession? My earliest memories of fishing are of the Mill Pond across the street from Hitchcock Presbyterian Church, using a rod and reel from the 5 and dime, which was across the commuter rail tracks for the train that took my dad into the city for work everyday. You see, my dad worked at a New York City law firm, we lived in the suburbs, were members of a country club and his idea of fun was golf. My brother shared that love. I did not. Have you ever seen the late Robin Williams’ bit about golf where adopts a Scottish accent and then goes on to explain hitting a ball into a little hole with a crooked stick and having to do it eighteen times? I mean, I tried. I took lessons, but I slice the ball like it’s nobody’s business. But I have to I agree with Mark Twain who said that “Golf was a good walk spoiled.”
I remember going to Camp Sloan, a YMCA camp in Lakeville, CT when I was eleven. I recall being on my belly, at the end of a dock, peering into the water with a hand line baited with corn or worms, trying to catch… whatever. The summer after that, we took a family trip to Oregon to see my grandparents and I got to fish with my grandfather for the first and only time. Thinking back on that day, I wonder if that is when the spark became a flame.
For the next four summers I was fortunate enough to have gone to camp in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. And it was there where I first learned about stewardship and that one needs to tread lightly in the wilderness to ensure that it is preserved and left unspoiled. I was indoctrinated with the phrases “Take only pictures, leave only foot prints” and to “leave no trace.” But when I was sixteen, I enrolled in my first course with NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School, for a sea kayaking trip to the Prince William Sound in Alaska. It was a 35 day paddling trip and it was then that my time in the outdoors took a more spiritual turn. You see, the Prince William Sound is a magical place. It is made up of narrow passages that become like rivers with the changing tides, fiords that are filled with ice from calving glaciers and wide open expanses of water that give way to jagged mountains that soared thousands of feet above sea level and were still capped with snow, even in the summertime. It was there that I truly began to believe in God. How could such a place come to exist purely by accident? The vastness of the place was just so powerful to me that it made me feel very small by comparison but also very much a part of something far greater. The feeling of insignificance and powerlessness was a point that was often made abundantly clear any time a whale or killer whale would swim by while we were paddling along in our fold up kayaks. There was a time when we paddled out from around a barrier island and were on the northern edge of the Gulf of Alaska, which gives way to the Pacific Ocean and eventually Hawaii, way, way off. The waves and current of the sound, which are more like rivers and lakes, became ocean swells. And there we were in our Folboats, feeling pretty good; kings of the world on the swells, until a whale swam right by and it made us all feel so very small. Talk about feeling powerless.
I have seen some pretty spectacular things when I have been out fishing and in each instance I couldn’t help but marvel at God’s creation. I have seen a bald eagle fly just above the surface of a misty lake and drag it talons through the water like a water skier. I have seen sunrises and sunsets that would make your heart sing for the colors and textures of the light on the clouds were so spectacular. I have paddled down the middle of a wilderness lake in formation with five loons quietly swimming beside me. I have seen kingfishers chattering away as they chased each other up and down a river bank. I have watched an osprey dive into the water countless times and come up empty each time. And I recall feeling a close connection with that bird because I wasn’t catching anything either! Suz and I have seen a loon swim right underneath our boat as it was diving for fish. Weasels, porcupine, deer, turkeys, muskrat, snakes, turtles, ducks and geese have all made appearances.
And I can’t forget the fish. Native brook trout have to be one of the most beautiful fish I have ever seen. The colors are simply amazing; vivid orange, blue, brown and white. Brown trout and rainbow trout are pretty cool too. I can’t forget the bass; largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and striped bass are all pretty special as well. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, I find all fish to be pretty awesome. And when it comes to actually fishing, I am an equal opportunity fisherman. I will fish for just about anything, with just about any tackle, in any kind of weather. Rain or shine, hot or cold, spring, summer fall and winter, fly rod or spinning rod, bait or lures. It doesn’t matter, because I am fishing. I think you get it. I like to fish.
I like to go fishing and I like to catch fish. And as you could guess, I like to talk about fishing. I enjoy sharing my passion whenever possible. If I see another fisherman I am always willing to share techniques, tactics and tackle and even my catch if they are fishing for a meal and I am not.
Giving people my catch is kind of a departure for me because I am a catch and release fisherman. I catch a fish, take a picture if I can and I return the fish to the water as quickly as possible. The trick is to be as gentle as possible to the fish when you are trying to release it. You can’t grasp it too tight or you will injure it. And when you return it to the water you need to be patient and take the time to revive the fish so that it can swim away under its own power. I take this part of fishing very seriously.
So how did we get here? On Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And here I am talking about fishing…
Let’s see if I can get it to make sense. There is a popular scene in the Bible that is retold in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke where Jesus comes upon some fishermen and tells them to follow him and become fishers of men. Fishers of men, that’s a pretty clever turn of phrase. It really was an invitation to be a fisher of people and that is how it is in most modern translations of the Bible. But I will take it a step further and say ALL people, not just people who look like you, talk like you and think like you. As I have found beauty in countless places and creatures in nature, someone looking to spread the good news of our collective faiths can find beauty and value in all people. We are not and cannot be exclusive in our passion for justice, fairness and caring in the name of God.
Now, please understand that I am not some kind of evangelical, holy roller. Not by any means. I am a skeptic by my very nature. I question things, I deconstruct things. But I do have a personal relationship with God. And that relationship is based, for the most part, on my experiences outside of church.
So, am I a fisher of all people? I mean I just said I am not an evangelical and my relationship with God is my own. I have never been that involved with the outward activities of a church. I have always been a behind the scenes worker bee. Not one to go out and “fish.” So, can I do it? I have come to realize that the answer is yes! The fact that we each have our own relationship with God is at the heart of it. Just like the way I described fishing for fish earlier, I can share what Wedgewood and my faith means to me. It’s an opportunity for us to be in the church and to breathe deeply. It’s an intellectual exercise; a chance for us to figure things out. It’s a chance to be part of a community; we are all brothers and sisters. It’s a chance to be creative; to share our talents. It’s relaxing; a chance for us to just… be. It’s exercise; a chance to stretch our minds beyond our normal limits of what’s comfortable. It’s a time to re-charge our mental and physical batteries; a rebirth. It’s a chance to share our good fortune; we can reach out to all people whenever we can. It’s a chance for us to think; about anything and everything. And it’s a private time to talk to God. And we can fish in all kinds of weather, in any season and in any manner that suits us. And like releasing a fish, be sure to hold on gently so that they may be revived and refreshed, so they may go on their way in peace.
Like I said, I’d rather be fishing.