Yesterday we heard about that pivotal first encounter four future disciples had with Jesus, the Fisherman of all fishermen. I was inspired by this song by Mason Jennings, one of my wife’s favorite musicians. Sermon is below the video, and as always, the preached version was a bit different than what you see written here. When did the Fisherman find you?
3rd Sunday after Epiphany (Year A) – Sunday, January 26, 2014 – Matthew 4:12-23
St. Jacob’s-Spaders and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Pastor Evan Davis
Last week I asked you a question, and if you weren’t here last week, that’s ok, I’ll ask it again: why are you here this morning? What got you out of bed to come to church today? I asked you to name that reason and think about it, notice it. It’s the beginning of your witness to Jesus Christ. What gets you to come to worship, to hear about Jesus the Word, to receive the sacraments, to hang out with all these other people? There must be some reason. And I’m looking for the real reason, the most honest one. I asked you last week to share that reason with your neighbor, but I’m most interested in you being aware of your deepest and most honest reason, which is maybe the same, but perhaps a reason you can only admit silently to yourself.
Your reason matters. It matters a great deal because it can tell you a lot about how you see God, where God is in your life, and your relationship to this congregation. If you’re willing to share that reason with me sometime, I really would love to hear it. But I am willing to wager that, for most of you, that reason is a person, or at least involves another human being or a bunch of them in a very direct way. You may have a very developed theology that you can explain to me about why it’s important for you to be a part of this congregation, but I’m willing to bet that behind that, if you go back far enough, there is a person. A parent. A teacher. A pastor. A friend. A spouse. Perhaps someone sitting with you today, perhaps someone back home, maybe someone who is buried right outside. Someone whose way of living gave her or him credibility with you. Someone whom you respected and trusted enough that when she, or he, said “follow me,” you got out of the boat.
Jesus said to Simon Peter and Andrew, “follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Jesus offered to make them what he was already. My wife, Brett, introduced me to a singer/songwriter named Mason Jennings, and he has this song called, “The Fisherman,” and it goes like this: “I am the Fisherman, I fish for hearts of men, And if you come to me, You’ll find everlasting peace, I see no difference, All are one as God’s children, I am the fisherman, I am the fisherman….”
Jesus is the Fisherman, and he could have been fishing for money, in which case he would not have been fishing in backwater Galilee and certainly not amongst its fishermen. Jesus could have been fishing for power, which would have taken him to Jerusalem or Damascus. He could have been fishing for respect, which may have taken him to the home of prominent scribes, Pharisees, priests, you know, the kind we would call “good church-going people.”
But Jesus was not using these four fishermen as a means to an end. The Fisherman was after their hearts. They were not the lure on his rod as he fished for a thing, or a status, or a goal. These four are nobodies – they have no reputation to lend, they can make no introductions to the wealthy and influential, they have no money to put in the offering plate and they have not made the cut to be admitted into some kind of special religious society. No, Jesus was fishing for Simon, and Andrew. James, and John. Just them, just the people they were made to be. And knowing that he was destined to go to Jerusalem where he would undergo great suffering and be killed, Jesus was looking for people who could cast a net in his stead.
To extend my wager a little further, I’m pretty confident that whomever looked you in the eye and said, “follow me,” and you followed along whatever path brought you here, I believe that person wasn’t using you as a means to an end. I believe you are here because Jesus the Fisherman was fishing for you through a person in your life. Through the example of a parent. Through the curiosity of a child. Through the selfless love of a friend. Christ caught you, and you can’t be thrown back! It’s true that all our lives we’ll have one foot out of the boat and one foot still in. But in the love of Christ that has caught us and will never let us go, we have the freedom to follow him as we’re able to become fishers of people. That’s who we are.
What we ought to remember is that there are a lot of other things we could be fishing for as a congregation. Sometimes churches fish for prestige, ostensibly looking for people but really looking for a certain kind of people, good-looking people, well-connected people, you know. Sometimes churches are fishing for the idol of more – of bigger and better, desperately fishing for better numbers for the sake of better numbers, more “giving units,” a more balanced budget, a more impressive sanctuary. Sometimes churches are hoping desperately to snag in their nets a vision of a glorious past, a past that usually was not as glorious as it is remembered to be.
What are we fishing for? God has come into this world in Jesus Christ the Fisherman to reach God’s beloved children. Everything else is the means to the end of reaching people. We don’t use people to build the church. No, God uses the church which is people to reach still more people. There’s another song that goes, “we are the Church, the Body of our Lord; we are all God’s children, we have been restored.” The Church is people, and God’s purpose for the church is for it to be about people – loving them all, even the unlovable, building relationships, and inviting folks to follow as we follow, to taste the goodness of God that we have tasted. You live out your baptismal calling in your relationships, with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. Our mission is not to build magnificent church buildings, although sometimes we need buildings. It’s not to preserve church programs or institutions forever, although sometimes we need programs and institutions too. Our mission, our purpose, is to be fishers of people. Remember that, I pray, at our purpose retreat in about a month.
If you read my report in here, I hope you heard my affirmation that we are really, really good at Jesus’ Great Commandment – to love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. We are GREAT at that. We feed and clothe people. We’re working hard for a day when malaria will be gone from this earth. I have only the smallest idea of all the little things you do every day to love and care for people. That’s part one – loving and loving and loving people for their own sake, no matter what, with no ulterior motive – that’s the Great Commandment. And then, like Jesus, we give people fish, but we also teach them how to fish. We need to teach them about the Fisherman who caught us and taught us to become fishers of people. Which begins with nothing more than offering that reason you named last week and a few minutes ago. It begins with offering your witness as to why you love so deeply and so unconditionally – it is only because you have first been loved so well. That’s the Great Commission, also right here in the gospel of Matthew, in fact its very last verse: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Way of being church that is not about the church first, but about people first….what’s most important? How can we love people? How can we tell teach them about Jesus and help them become disciples?
Over the next three months, our evangelism committee has proposed that we go on a fishing trip together, and I think it’s a great idea. We’re calling next week “Invite a Neighbor Sunday.” In March, we’ll follow that up with Invite a Friend, then in April with Invite a Family Member. If it’s easier to invite a friend next week, by all means, go with a friend. But we invite not because we might think we need money, not because we want to feel better about ourselves as a congregation, not because we want to build a building for the sake of building a building, but because we love people. Because we are fishers of people. I ask you to invite someone only if it is for you truly an expression of your love for that person. Only if you believe that the Christ who has met you on the lakeshore, as you were mending your nets, is using you to reach that person for her own sake, and not for ours.
We are each sent, I believe, to reach at least one person. Think of that person this week, and pray for him/her.
Let that person hear the voice of the Fisherman in our actions and in our words, in our loving and our inviting.