One Fish Two Fish

March 25, 2012

(Read to Page 9)
Truly a classic.  If you are familiar with the story, how many people have read this book?  If you are familiar with the story then you know that Dr. Seuss isn’t content to entertain us with stories of Whimsical fish.  One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish was first published in 1960 and is one in the series of “Beginner Books” along with other classics such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and Hop on Pop.  And before Seuss finishes he introduces us to a variety of strange and wonderful animals like the Seven Hump Wump and the Zed with one hair on it’s head. 
For those who aren’t familiar with Dr. Seuss his actually name was Theodor Geisel, Seuss was actually his middle name and in German it is rhymes with Choice.
Theodor Geisel was born in 1905 and died in 1991, he was married twice but never had children of his own, he has been quoted as saying, “You have ’em; I’ll entertain ’em.”
For those who are curious Seuss began drawing cartoons for magazines in the 1920’s and 30’s  wrote over 60 books in a career that spanned more than 55 years, the first one was published in 1937 and the last one was published in 1998, seven years after his death. 
During the Second World War he worked for the US army producing animated films to be used by the defence department.
So, back to the book. (Read last three pages of the book)
One Fish Two Fish is a celebration of those things that are the same but different.  Did you catch that?   One Fish Two Fish is a celebration of those things that are the same but different. 
If there is one question that I am asked as a pastor more than any other it would be . . . “Why are there so many different denominations?”  Or sometimes it is simply phrased “Why are there so many different churches?”  And usually I surprise the person with my profound and theologically deep response which is: “What is your favourite fast food?”  Once they get over their initial surprise at the intellectual depth of my question they will usually respond by telling me they like burgers or pizza or fried chicken.  To which I probe deeper, McDonalds, Burger King, Harvey’s, Pizza Hut, Greco or KFC.   And then I tell them my preference and why it’s my preference.  There is a theological phrase which is sometimes used to describe this phenomena and it is “Birds of a feather flock together.” 
That’s why you don’t see cowboy hats in a hip hop club or dew rags in a Jazz bar. 
And while we should celebrate the diversity of the Christian experience that isn’t normally the way it is, it sometimes seems that in order to justify what we do we need to demonize what others do. 
And so if they don’t sing like we do, if they don’t preach like we do, if their service times are longer or shorter than ours then they must be wrong.  And not just a little wrong but a lot wrong.  And that thinking has divided families and more than that it has divided the Christian family.
There is the old joke about the guy who gets to heaven and as Saint Peter is giving him the tour they pass a section with a high wall and when the guy starts to ask what it is Saint Peter says “shhh, it’s the Wesleyans and they think they are here by themselves.”  And you can substitute Wesleyans for Baptist, Pentecostals, Catholics and others.
It’s almost like through the years we have either skipped scriptures like Ephesians 4:3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  Or the prayer of Jesus in John 17:23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.  Or perhaps Ephesians 4:13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Or if we don’t ignore those scriptures then we think unity should mean uniformity and they are two different words. 
This morning I would like us to focus on the lessons we can learn from “One fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish.”  In the scripture that was read earlier Jesus calls the fishermen, Peter and his brother Andrew and John and his brother James, to follow him,  and his call to them is found in Matthew 4:19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”   If you grew up in a traditional Sunday School program you probably sang the Song “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men.” 
And so I thought it was fair that if Jesus could use the analogy of fish for those who would follow him, I could probably stretch that far as well, and I’m not alone.  Do you remember the story at the end of John, it’s after the resurrection and the boys have gone back fishing and have caught nothing? Jesus appears in the morning mist and commands them to drop their nets on the other side of the boat and they caught so many fish they thought the net would break.  And then we read this John 21:11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn. Because people are funny, theologians through the years have tried to figure out why John would mention the number of fish in the net.
Augustine had a great theory, he figured that there are 10 commandments and 7 is the perfect number of grace and that’s 17 right?  Now if you add all the numbers from 1 to 17 together, you know 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 all the way up to 17 you’ll get 153.  And not only that but if you were to arrange them like this, with 17 fish in the first row, and 16 in the next row, and 15 in the next row you get a perfect triangle which of course symbolizes the Trinity.
On the other hand, Cyril of Alexandria said that the 100 represented the fullness of the gentiles, the 50 symbolized the remnant of Israel and the three of course was there for the Trinity. 
Jerome suggested that there were 153 different types of fish in the sea and it was symbolic of the church reaching all the people in the world.  Both Cyril and Jerome saw the fish as symbolizing those who would come to know Jesus.   So if I am out there on this one at least I’m not alone.
So First of all we must discover What Makes a Fish a Fish?  I don’t know what you think of when you think of fish, but when I think fish I think of fish and chips, and I would like all of my fish to look that way.  Lightly battered and golden brown.  And so it was a shock when a friend of mine ordered fish and chips in Sierra Leone and it didn’t look at all like we imagined.  Did that make it wrong?  Nope it was still fish and chips, it was just different fish and chips.  So again I ask the question: What Makes a Fish a Fish?  This time I take you to dictionary.com where I  discovered that a fish is actually:
 Fish: [fish] Show IPA noun, plural ( especially collectively ) fish, ( especially referring to two or more kinds or species ) fish·es, verb
noun
1. any of various cold-blooded, aquatic vertebrates, having gills, commonly fins, and typically an elongated body covered with scales. 
So in order for something to be a fish it needs to be cold-blooded, it needs to be aquatic, it needs to have a vertebrate and it must have gills.  That is what a fish is, commonly they have fins, but not always, and typically they have an elongated body covered with scales, but not always. 
So the next question has to be What Makes a Christian a Christian? Like fish, we sometimes think all Christians should be prepared the same way, not necessarily lightly battered and golden brown but we think they should all look alike, act alike, perform alike and like the same music.   And then too often we get bent out of shape when they arrive prepared a little bit different.  But really, What Makes a Christian a Christian?  If we go back to dictionary.com Christian is defined this way: Chris·tian [kris-chuhn] noun
1. A person who believes in Jesus Christ;  adherent of Christianity.
2. A person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ.
Which is kind of nebulous.  If we go back 1700 years this is how the early believers defined themselves as Christians.  The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.  The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church Universal the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
So according to that creed a Christian believes that Jesus was the Son of God, That he was Born of a Virgin, conceived of the Holy Spirit, was Crucified and rose from the dead.  A Christian is forgiven of their sins, and will have a place in heaven.  It doesn’t say anything about how long our services are or what type of music we sing in church, it doesn’t tell us what version of the bible to read, whether we should baptise by immersion, pouring or sprinkling.  It doesn’t even tell us whether we should wear robes, suits or jeans when we preach.
Jesus told his early followers in Mark 16:16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. Which of course should spark a whole other sermon on baptism.  And then told them in John 16:9 The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.
But it’s not enough that we simply believe, let’s refine it a little bit with the words of Jesus, after all he is the Christ in Christian and he tells us in John 14:23-24 Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.
It was Soren Kierkegaard who said “It is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey.”
Just Because it looks Like a Fish Doesn’t Mean it is a Fish sometimes the entire biology thing confuses me.  But then again it doesn’t take a lot to confuse me.
And to add to that just because we call it a fish doesn’t make it a fish.  We call lobsters and scallops “Shellfish” and we call the people who catch them “fishermen”.
But because shellfish don’t have gills or a vertebrae they aren’t really fish.  Doesn’t matter what you call them, even if you they come on your fisherman’s platter they still aren’t fish.  And because Jelly fish aren’t fish either.  Nor are the little gold fish you buy in a box.  
And then you get the creatures that look like fish, you know whales and porpoises and dolphins, but they aren’t fish either.  They don’t have gills they have lungs, so they aren’t fish they are mammals.  An eel is a fish, but a water snake that kind of looks like a ell isn’t a fish it’s a reptile. 
There are groups of people who look like Christians and sometimes they are called Christians, but that doesn’t make them Christians.  You may be thinking “that’s a little harsh pastor; I thought you were better than that.”  Yeah,  a lot of people make that mistake.  Because Jesus said that if we love him we will obey him, which means if we don’t obey him we don’t love him.  Remember John 14:21 Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”   Sometimes people say they believe in Jesus and all those things about Jesus, but then their lives suggest something else.   
And when people say “I believe in Jesus I just don’t believe he was born of a virgin, and I don’t believe that he was the Son of God and I don’t believe he was raised from the dead.”  Well they might believe in somebody but they sure don’t believe in Jesus. 
Just Because it Doesn’t look Like a Fish Doesn’t Mean it’s’ Not a Fish   I don’t think that there are any more bizarre creatures in all of God’s creation then fish.  And some of them don’t look anything at all the way I like my fish to look, for those of you who have forgotten that would be lightly battered and golden brown. 
But in nature there are some really cool looking fish.
If we go back to our definition of fish Fish: [fish] Show IPA noun, plural (especially collectively) fish, ( especially referring to two or more kinds or species ) fish·es, verb
noun
1. any of various cold-blooded, aquatic vertebrates, having gills, commonly fins, and typically an elongated body covered with scales. 
They all always cold-blooded, they always have a vertebrae and they always have gills.  They commonly have fins, but they don’t always have fins, some are like the Spotted Hand Fish and they have what look like feet.  And typically they have an elongated body covered in scales but not always some have round bodies like the Puffer Fish or lumpy bodies like the Rock Fish and the shark is a fish but it doesn’t have scales. 
You can find groups of Christ Followers in the Appalaction mountains who literally claim the promises of Mark 16:18 They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”  And as a regular part of their worship they handle poisonous snakes, and that is just weird.  But really that doesn’t matter, because weird or lack of weird isn’t what defines you as a Christian.  I don’t know a lot about churches that handle snakes and you don’t ever have to worry about me taking a job pastoring a church that handles snakes or for that matter even attending a church where they handle snakes but that isn’t what makes them Christians and it’s not what keeps them from being Christians.
Now if they believe that their salvation is somehow wrapped up in handling snakes and not in the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, that’s a different story.
I’m sure that compared to some church Cornerstone would be considered a little strange,  and there are certainly churches out there who we would consider a little different in their worship, and it would have nothing to do with snakes, but worship isn’t what defines us a Christians, or at least it shouldn’t be. 
You aren’t a Christian because of the type of music you sing, or how long your services are, or whether you worship in a church building or a movie theatre or in a home.    It’s not a matter if you jump or shout or just sit quietly with your hands folded.
And I get tired of Christians and churches who insist that everyone worship the way they do and read the same translation of the bible that they do, and dress as they do, and embrace the same causes and vision as they do.
One valid criticism of missions was that some missionaries weren’t content to bring Christ to unreached people they wanted to introduce them to western civilization and make them dress and act like Europeans, and sing the same music that was sung in cathedrals across England and the Continent.  And somehow they felt that English or French or German were holier languages then whatever it was that the national people spoke. 
In Canada the issue wasn’t that the church wanted to introduce the First Nation people to Jesus, that was noble, to introduce people to a God of grace and love and forgiveness.  What was a crime was when the church felt that had to steal their language and culture at the same time.
That was what is technically known in preaching as a tangent or a rabbit trail, but we are back now.
So, back to the message.  If it isn’t how we worship, or what we sing, or how we dress or how long our services are that makes us Christians what is it?   It is what we believe about Jesus; that he was the Son of God, that he was born of a virgin, that his death on the cross was atonement for our sins, that he was raised from the dead.  It is not only believing in the Grace and forgiveness of Christ it is accepting that Grace as a reality in our lives and committing our lives to him.  If we are going to be a Christ Follower than it means that we are going to follow Christ, that we are going to follow his teaching and we are going to follow his commandments. 
Two thoughts to close, supposedly it was Augustine who said “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  That’s not bad advice considering that just hours before Jesus would die for us he prayed for us and part of his prayer was John 17:23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.  
And a part of experiencing that perfect unity in His church will be embracing the wonderful diversity of His church.