Singing the Story: Lord You Have Come to the Lakeshore
“Lord, you have come to the lakeshore looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones. You only asked me to follow humbly. You know so well my possessions; my boat carries no gold and no weapons; You will find there my nets and labor. You need my hands, full of caring, through my labors to give others rest, and constant love that keeps on loving. You, who have fished other oceans ever longed-for by souls who are waiting, my loving friend, as thus you call me. O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me, and while smiling, have spoken my name. Now my boat's left on the shoreline behind me; by your side I will seek other seas.” Cesáreo Gabaráin
Last month I asked you all to guess at my favorite hymn as part of the “Year 1” quiz I handed out, and I shared with you that Be Thou My Vision is top of my list. It’s long been my favorite hymn. But I have to tell you that another hymn has been creeping up my list and knocking on the door of first place, and that’s the focus of our sermon today: Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore. For the last few weeks of summer, we’ll be looking at the stories behind some of our congregation’s favorite songs. About a year ago, I gave you all a congregational survey, and I’ve chosen some of the top hymns from that survey to explore in the next few weeks. Who wrote these hymns and why? What are the messages of faith the authors of these beloved texts are trying to convey?
“Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore” was written by Monseñor Cesáreo Gabaráin, a Spanish priest, born in 1936. Gabaráin studied music as a child in schools that were part of the local seminary, and he continued his studies both in music and theology, and was ordained to the priesthood when he was 23 years old. He served his ministry primarily as a chaplain, both at colleges in nursing homes, but eventually he served as part of a parish ministry as the head of religious education. He became known for his work with young people and with athletes, cyclists especially. He spent his summer vacations ministering to cyclists at the Tour de France, and connecting with well-known Spanish soccer players. (1)
Some of the changes from the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic church opened the door for more creativity and flexibility in sacred music, and Gabaráin took advantage of that freedom. His hope was to share the good news through music and bring others into a relationship with God. Gabaráin said, “I went to seminary when I was very young – when I was eleven. The seminary was very musical and there I learned music very well. Later, when I was a priest, I was particularly involved with the children of several large schools. Then – out of necessity – I began to compose. I went to meet the children and they began bringing their guitars. I saw that with the old songs and Gregorian chants I would not be able to teach them much. So then I began to compose out of a pastor’s necessity, intending to share the things and ideas that I was trying to convey to the children.” (2)
His most popular hymn is one of four of his in our United Methodist Hymnals, officially titled, “Pescador de Hombres”, or “Fishers of Men.” The translation of his hymn in our scripture is what we know as “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore.” It was known to be a favorite of the late Pope John Paul II. The hymn is based on the stories in Matthew, Mark, and Luke that recount Jesus calling his first disciples. The melody calls to mind the gentle “rocking boat by the lakeshore.” (1) Gabaráin said, “[When] you ask me what makes me most satisfied with a song, it is not that the popes like it. What interests me most, and is more important, is that a missionary deep in the jungle can tell me that a song has helped him to evangelize.” (2)
He died of cancer in 1991 at just 55 years old. Gabaráin’s obituary shared that while he was travelling in the Holy Land, tour guides would sometimes claim that his hymn was composed on the Sea of Galilee, when in fact it was written in Madrid. But Gabaráin would simply smile to himself. (1)
I think Gabaráin’s beautiful hymn brings our text from the gospel of Luke to life, and evokes in us a deep sense of need to respond to God’s persistent call. In our gospel lesson today, we find Jesus preaching and teaching, the crowd gathered, and the setting, the lake of Gennesaret, also known as the Sea of Galilee, where many fishermen would be busy at work. When the scene opens, we read that Jesus is standing by the lake and the crowds are “pressing in on him to hear the word of God.” What an image! They’re impatient – anxious – hungry to hear God’s word – that’s how excited they are about what Jesus has to say. They want the words that he’s about to speak. Have you ever been so eager to hear the Word of God?
Now, in the chapter before this one, after his baptism, after spending 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus had just begun his ministry, marked by preaching and healing, including a woman described as the mother-in-law of Simon. But we haven’t yet met Simon, really, until this passage we read today. When Jesus encounters Simon Peter with his boat, he’s already connected with him through the act of healing. So, with the crowds pressing in, Jesus sees fishermen washing their nets and their boats nearby on the shore, and he gets into the boat of Simon Peter and asks him to put out a little way from the shore. This way, Jesus can comfortably teach the crowds from the boat without being smothered by them in their excitement. When he’s done teaching, he turns to Simon, and tells him, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Not a suggestion – not a question – but a direction, an imperative. Peter responds in a way that I admire, since I think most of us wouldn’t respond so openly. Jesus wasn’t a fisherman; he was a carpenter, and now a teacher; Simon Peter was the fisherman. And Peter knew where to fish. And Peter knew that they had already been fishing all night without catching anything. But Simon Peter didn’t respond that he knew better than Jesus, or that they tried what he said already and it didn’t work, or that this new way wouldn’t work. He said instead, “Master, if you say we should try it, we’ll try it.”
So they let down their nets, and begin to catch so many fish that their nets are breaking. They signal for help, and another boat comes, and still, there are so many fish that both boats are filled to the point that they can barely stay afloat. Peter, overwhelmed, falls on his knees before Jesus and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And with those strange words, Peter, along with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, partners with Simon, leave their boats and nets and everything, and they begin to follow Jesus.
I think Jesus’ invitation – well, he doesn’t even really ask, does he? – his announcement that these fishermen will now be fishing for people is an invitation, an announcement that extends to us too. In church language, we call the work that we are called to do a vocation. But sometimes I think we do a disservice in the church when we leave people feeling that the only vocation we’re talking about is people becoming pastors. Some of you might have read my brother Tim’s facebook post this week. He’s always so thoughtful in complimenting me and my brothers – I’m a pastor. Todd’s an acting professor. Jim is a manager working with people with disabilities. Tim hasn’t ever felt that same tug toward a particular career. But God calls us in so many different ways. Fishing for people, the life of discipleship, that is simply committing to trying to follow the teachings and practices of Jesus as much as we can – this can take so many different forms. Remember, when we talked about Esther a couple of weeks ago. Was her calling to be a Queen? Maybe, or maybe not. But her calling was definitely speaking out against injustice, using her role as Queen to do so. Fishing for people is helping draw others closer to Jesus, inviting them to walk with Jesus. The ways that we can do that are endless, starting with the witness that we make in our own lives of discipleship.
Jesus tells us how we do that – practice discipleship, and prepare ourselves for a life fishing for people alongside Jesus. We go to the deep waters, and we put down our nets, expecting a catch. Bishop Robert Wright says, “Some people don't catch fish because they don't expect to catch fish. When Jesus tells Simon, "Let's go to the deep water," he doesn't stop there. He says, "...prepare for a catch." What an encouragement. This is a word for us … who go to church regularly,” he says. “Week after week we go to the deep water of worship, but do we go preparing for a catch? Do we go believing that a blessing is just waiting for us? … Expectations count with God. It's all over the Bible. Expectation is the first-born child of faith, "the substance of things hoped for." No expectation, no real faith. When we say we believe in God, we are not saying I am agreeing with some abstract idea; we're saying we expect the things that God has promised to us.”
Wright continues, “Some people think they know more about fish than God. It happens to all of us sometimes. It's not that we actually think we know more than God; it's just that we behave that way. We hear God's instructions: Forgive a whole bunch. Bless those who curse you. Give abundantly. Visit the jails. Forget your life and you'll have a ball ... But we ignore God's invitation to abundance. We say to God by our actions: I know more about [life], more about healing, more about forgiveness, more about children, more about money than you do, God … Some people don't catch fish because they don't go to the deep water, and some people don't catch fish because they don't expect to. But some people don't catch fish because they know more about fish than God. People say that the net full of fish is the miracle of this story, but I disagree. The real miracle of this story is that Simon decided that God was God and that he would live that way beginning immediately … Just look at what Simon says before the miracles begin to happen, "Yet, Lord if you say so...."”
Simon Peter wasn’t called to be a disciple because he was good at catching people, or fish for that matter. Simon was called because that’s what God does! God calls us because God demonstrates grace and love through our lives, because God can use even us, we, who like Simon, feel overwhelmed with how unqualified and worthy we are. We just need to let Jesus into our boat, and commit to going to the deep water again and again, commit to putting down our nets, commit to trusting God so that we’re expecting a catch. What are you doing to get to deep water in your faith life? What are you expecting God to do in your life?
In Cesáreo Gabaráin’s hymn, we are reminded that God sees the humbleness of our boat, the lack of what we have to offer, and God smiles, and says, “Come, follow me. Let’s seek other seas together. And I will make you fish for people!” “O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me, and while smiling, have spoken my name. Now my boat's left on the shoreline behind me; by your side I will seek other seas.” Amen.
(1) C. Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore,” https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-lord-you-have-come-to-the-lakeshore
(3) Rt. Rev. Robert Wright, “Deep water is where we have to go to get what God has for us,” http://day1.org/1712-why_some_people_dont_catch_fish