When I was a very young boy I went fishing one with my dad and brother. We went to a trout stream in the mountains near Roanoke, Virginia, where I was born and raised. My dad taught me to cast to no avail. I wasn’t catching anything. Finally, half out of boredom, I dropped the line in the water in front of me and the next thing I knew I had a fish! You could have knocked me over with a feather. The fish was not very big, maybe six inches if even that much. I do not recall whether we took the fish home or let it go. It didn’t matter. All that matter was that I had caught a fish!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls four fishermen – Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. These four men immediately leave their profession of fishing and their families to follow Jesus. Jesus tells and Andrew and Simon Peter they will be fishing for people from now on. Jesus sets the example for them. Immediately after he calls the four, he goes “throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and sickness among the people.” Later, Jesus sends out his disciples to proclaim the good news and to heal (Matthew 10:1 and 11:1). People often think that when Jesus says to Andrew and Simon Peter they will be fishers of people he means they will be evangelists, people whose mission it is to convert others. While there is a certain truth to that, Jesus also meant for them to help and to heal others in his Name. We know this because Jesus tells his disciples that those who reach out to persons-in-need will be the ones who are in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 25:31-46). Fishers of people are to bring others to the healing touch of Christ.
At the Diocesan Convention that met Friday and Saturday, we committed ourselves as a diocese to participate in the Nets for Life campaign. Nets for Life is a project of the Inspiration Fund of Episcopal Relief and Development. Our goal is 40,000 nets, one net for each communicant in the Diocese of North Carolina. One net can cover three children. Our campaign has the potential to save over 100,000 lives from malaria. Malaria is still one of the greatest scourges on the earth. Each year almost 1 million people die from it. Every sixty seconds, malaria kills a child. During our one hour and fifteen minute 9:30am service, seventy-five children will die because of malaria. Approximately 90% of malarial deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The average child in Africa suffers from 1 to 5 malarial fevers every year. Children under five are the most vulnerable. Mosquitos that carry the disease normally strike at night. Children and pregnant mothers sleep under the mosquito net protecting them from this plague.
A mere $12 buys one net through Nets for Life. Each net is treated with insecticide and if properly cared for will last three years. The $12 buys a net and the all important training to use and care for it. Regular follow up also is an essential part of the Nets for Life program. The goal is to develop a nets culture in the villages so that people continually use the nets. Nets for Life is carried out through Episcopal and Anglican churches in Africa. In many parts of the continent, the church is the only body with the authority and the organization to administer this life giving program.
I hope St. Michael’s will participate in Nets for Life. The diocesan campaign will run until diocesan convention in January 2012. Each congregation can decide when and how it wants to participate. St. Michael’s could do another Millenium Follies, for example, take up a collection, or designate the proceeds from an already planned fund raiser. It is completely at the discretion of the congregation and its different groups. I have volunteered to serve on the diocesan Nets for Life steering committee. I feel honored to participate in this effort. The committee has developed a website for the campaign, training, and resources to support us in this mission. Our goal for St. Michael’s is 1500 nets, one for each communicant in good standing.
Recently, I have been reading a book by DZ Philips entitled The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God. Philips argues we see degrees of moral goodness in people although all of us fail in different areas. The highest moral example, he believes, is someone who simply does what is right. The person does not think twice about it. Due to that person’s character or nature, she or he could not do otherwise. He uses the example of paying bills to make his point. We just pay our bills, don’t we? We do not think about it; we just do it. Philip’s argument is similar to Aristotle’s for the cultivation of virtuous habits.
A group of people, of course, is different from an individual. A congregation, or diocese for that matter, must deliberate, discuss, and decide. That said, I believe in a certain way Philip’s point applies to us as individuals and as a church. We reach out to others whether through the Nets for Life campaign or to comfort a friend going through a difficult time simply because that is who we are and what we do as followers of Jesus Christ.
Two thousand years ago Jesus transformed four fishermen into fishers of people. He called them and he called us to cast our nets for those in need of the Good News, in need of the healing touch of Christ. AMEN.
The Rev. Dr. John K. Gibson
St. Michael's Episcopal Church