As our assistant pastor talked about sharks recently, my mind drifted back a couple of weeks to vacation, when our family was fishing on the Gulf of Mexico and catching more sharks than we wanted.
We weren't trying to haul in sharks. We were trying to catch whatever was available in the shallow waters that stretch out for miles. That usually turned out to be catfish, but it sometimes surprised us with beautiful, glittering sand trout, or croaker or grunt or, once, a flounder. (I won't tell you about the day I caught two fish of different species on the same hook; nobody would believe me).
All too often, we would reel in a 3-foot shark that, after we got the hook out of its mouth, would swim waterlessly on the deck of the 20-foot boat as seven faux-fisherpeople jumped around to avoid contact with its teeth.
Back to church. The assistant pastor, Adam, was conducting the children's sermon, which is a neat few minutes early in our service each Sunday. The pastor who is preaching that day will invite all the youngsters up to the front, where they will crowd around him on the steps and carpet.
One child will have brought the shoebox, which in reality is a nice wooden box into which he or she has dropped an item of personal value. It might be jewelry, a rock, a photo, a toy or anything else that "is not alive and has never been alive."
The pastor shakes the box, and the kids guess what that child brought. On this Sunday, a boy had shared his toy shark, which nobody guessed. Adam asked the kids whether it was a "pool shark," but the little innocents didn't get the joke.
On vacation, we finally grew tired of catching and releasing sharks. Since we went swimming in that same water, it seemed dangerous to give them a break, so we kept a few and took them back to the house on the island.
We found out that shark fillet, cut into pieces, breaded and fried, became light, fluffy, tender -- and tasty -- chunks of white meat. All of us were surprised how much we liked shark after our friend Jeff had cooked it and then poured the oil back into the bottle with only a couple of drops missing, proving how healthful it was.
In his children's sermon, Adam told his audience that sharks, like everything else, have a purpose; they eat whatever they come across, serving as a garbage disposal of the ocean.
I thought back to the shark we had eaten; it wasn't bad for a garbage disposal. I didn't feel a bit guilty for our newfound main course. I certainly was glad we had tasted it instead of the other way around.
Adam told the kids about the cloth bags they had seen as they entered church that day; they and their parents were being asked to fill them with school supplies to help families in the community who have been hit hard by the economy.
That was our purpose, he said.
Adam is new to our church, and I really think he's going to do well. After hearing a couple of his sermons, I'm pretty sure he's found his purpose.