A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 1, 2005
Text: Acts 17:28a
Little fishes, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I call you fishes, because that’s what you are – a schoolful of little fishes, water-born and water-bound, living fishy lives in the great baptismal ocean of God, swimming alongside the Great Fish, Jesus Christ our Lord. You are all fishes and God is the water that surrounds you, carries you, gives you your very life. Each one of you is a fish…and friends, it is good to be a little Christian fish.
A long time ago, Paul told a crowd in Athens that they “lived and moved and had their being” in God. He did not call them fishes, but he sure could have. Because that pretty much sums up the life of a fish and his relationship with the sea – in those deep waters he lives, and moves, and has his being. What seems second nature to a fish is quite foreign to us, so let’s try to think just for a few moments like God’s little fishes, and imagine what the world is like – not the earth-and-air world we see and touch, but the watery baptismal world that is so strange and yet so real.
So imagine this room filling up, flooding from floor to ceiling with cool, clear water. Imagine it pouring forth from the baptismal font until you and I, our hymnbooks and candlesticks are floating up toward the lights. You’re set free – suddenly this small room is many times bigger, as “up” and “down” have now joined left, right, forward, and back in your range of movement. You’re starting to think like a fish now, fishy thoughts are filling your fishy mind, and maybe you’re beginning to catch a glimpse of what life in God is really like.
God is our ocean, poured out in the waters of baptism. But like water for a fish, God is often the farthest thing from our minds. His presence is so very near, touching us at every point, washing over us in currents of the Spirit, and yet we hardly notice, because that is just how life is. God’s constant presence is our life, and just as a fish doesn’t think twice about water neither do we often give more than a passing thought to the all-encompassing nearness of God. We take God for granted, or perhaps even forget that he’s there at all…but the ocean is real and present whether the fish thinks of it or not, and our God is real and present no matter how little or much we realize it from moment to moment.
As a fish, water gives you life. You don’t have lungs, and the dryness of air is poison to you. You count on the water around you to fill your body with life, to be the breath that you cannot breathe, to stroke your gills with the precious oxygen that makes you strong and fast. If you were ever to dare leap from the water, you would quickly come to know the immeasurable value of the sea – without its cool, O2-filled caress, you would surely die. Do you understand, fishes? The God who is your sea gives you life. He gives of himself, filling you to the gills with his life-giving Spirit, the breath that you cannot breathe. God makes you fast and strong while you are in his baptismal flood, and reminds you when you try to leap beyond those waters what your true nature is – apart from him and his beautiful wetness, you will surely die.
A fish is supported by the water, buoyed up by, so that darting to and fro is effortless. A fish does not sink, because it has learned that the water will carry it, holding it up when it is tired and maximizing its efforts when it is strong. Fishes never doubt that the water will be their to support them – if you’re a fish, you never need fear that you will fall. And so for us, little fishes, so for us. God is our support, the thing that holds us up. We have no idea of our weight, or of the weight of our sins, because God bears that weight on himself. He makes us buoyant so that we need never fear a mighty fall. He sets us free to move where we will, and is himself the path we take to get there.
Also, fishes are often carried along by the sea currents. Think back to “Finding Nemo,” and you’ll recall how a fast-moving stream of ocean water might carry a fish great distances, taking him from the places he knew and depositing him in an entirely different place altogether. He has not left the ocean – the water still surrounds him and supports him, nourishes him and protects him – but the water has now also carried him someplace of its own accord. In our baptisms, when we were born as fishes into the ocean that is God, we quickly discovered that God’s currents often run swift. He catches us up and carries us along in directions we weren’t expecting, weren’t intending to go. It’s bewildering stuff to find oneself whisked away like this, but fish in the ocean have long since learned to take these currents in stride, riding them like trains, because they carry the fish to places they need to go. God’s Spirit sweeps us along also, lofting us away to the places he will have us go, and we might learn to take the ride in stride.
Your life in Jesus Christ is the life of a fish, and it is Jesus who has given this life to you. He is the Great Fish, the Ichthus – Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior – and it is he who leads our little school. It is he who teaches our little school. The ocean that is God is his natural home, and he has allowed you to be born into this watery home through baptism. It is now your home, too – you are a fish like him, living and moving and having your being in God.
The early Church father Tertullian wrote, “We, little fishes, after the example of our ichthus Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we any safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water.”
God grant you a very wet life, lived in the waters of your baptism and the depths of God’s ocean-wide love for you, swimming happily beside the Great Fish forever. Amen.