It’s fishing season in Florida, and recently my son has become very interested in fishing in the lake down the road. Now, I’m not an experienced fisherman. Our first fishing attempt was with bread, which we managed to someone get on the hook, but as should have been obvious, quickly dissolved in the water. So on to plan b, hotdogs! Don’t laugh, we caught our first sunfish by an Oscar Meyer hotdog. Recently, we’ve moved on to worms, and though I hate stabbing those poor wiggly things, they’ve caught us a little blue gill. So one of the things we’ve learned about fishing, is that you need different baits to catch different fish, in fact, good fisherman tailor the bait to the fish to increase their catch.
Well though I have limited experience in fishing, I have lots of experience in church fund-raising. And I am here to tell you today, that the two actually have a lot in common. Especially the kind of fundraising we did at St. Hagop in our early, underwater years. In those days, much of our parish council’s deliberation and programming returned to a persistent question: “How can we persuade people to give more?” The answers were many, here are just a couple: “People will give more if their names are on things” and “People will give more if we show them how much they get for their money.” But we tailored the bait even more specifically to each fish. “This person likes Armenian music, he’ll sponsor the band.” “This one won’t do operations, but she’ll do monuments.” Now before you think badly of me and our parish councils, I want you to know that fishing for dollars has always been the strongest among parish council members themselves, who routinely angled each other for money and for sport during meetings. And again, don’t forget, that ten years ago we didn’t have much of a choice but to fish for dollars to pay the mortgage and debts of our church.
In recent years though, by the grace of God and by all of our support, we have matured beyond the fishing method of fundraising. There is no longer any hook. We simply ask everyone in this church to reflect on the blessings in their life, and make a corresponding pledge of their time and wealth to support the mission of this church. And thusfar, God and his people have provided. Why has this been successful? Well, right now a Diocesan committee is analyzing that question in order to replicate its success in other parishes. To find the secret to our success, however, we’d do better to look to today’s chosen Gospel reading, than any mechanic of running a pledge campaign:
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mt 4:18-22
Don’t follow the funds, the format or the fish, just follow the Lord. Though it may sound simplistic, that is the secret of our success; we have merely felt Jesus’ presence among us and have begun to follow him. And in doing so, we have stopped fishing out of scarcity, and now fish out of abundance. We’ve stopped fishing for money, and have become fishers of men. These are not just words-following our Lord in our stewardship has resulted in a tangible difference in why we give and who we are.
Yes, our church needs money to function-so in part we’re a business-but in full we’re much more than a business. You and I need money to function, so in part we are consumers, but in full we’re much more than consumers. Our Lord has helped us look not on each other’s parts, but in out fullness. You and I, this church is much more than money. These are small fish, God wants big fish and big hearts. He wants everything you and I can give; a generous portion of our money-yes, a generous portion of our time-yes, but first he wants our hearts, so that giving might flow from relationship with God and not as a transaction. We are no longer fishing for dollars at St. Hagop; we are fishing for men and women.
And we no longer fish with a hook at St. Hagop. Before we would sell you the services the church provides, so you would pay for them; charge you fees for membership, meals and sacraments. Now we no longer dangle bait on a line. We cast all of our food on the water and let anyone partake of what they need. Here is Sunday School, worship, fellowship, Armenian culture, outreach & pastoral care, freely given and freely received. Our belief, and our experience, is that this generosity is contagious; as so many of you have responded in kind. Armenians have a beautiful saying to this effect: Լավութիւն արա, ջուրը գցի,ձուկը չիմանայ, Աստուած կ’իմանա: Do good deeds and cast them to the waters; if the fish don’t know, God will.
It is getting into prime fishing season in Florida, for the same reason it is snowbird season; the winter storms push many of the migrating fish to milder waters. Quite fittingly, it is also stewardship season in our church. For just as God generously sustains and prospers all of his creations without hooks and without holding back, so too can each of us follow our Lord in offering all we have to God and this blessed church body…so that we might truly become fishers of men; now and always, amen.