Scripture: Mark 1:14-20
I grew up in a family that did not care much for the great outdoors. My mom has terrible allergies, so being outside can be miserable for her. My dad was never a fan of being outside for the sake of being outside. He reasoned why should he be someplace where it was too hot, too cold, and too buggy when he could be someplace where he controlled the temperature and there were no bugs? My brother and sister have similar feelings about outdoors, but (of course) I am a little different. Wild places, the sense of exploration really appeals to me. For instance, in high school there were several acres of woods across the street from us, and I knew that little patch of woodland inside and out. Because outdoors activities were not my family’s thing there are a lot of common activities that I missed out on. For instance, I was 21 before I ever went camping. I also can count the number of times I have been fishing on one hand. That is something that is regrettable, because I think I would enjoy fishing, but at this point I don’t even know how to start. Now, fishing sounds interesting to me, but that was not always the case. In my teenage years and early twenties, I was not very impressed with fishing. Based off of my handful of experiences when I was younger, I saw fishing as not much more than sitting and just waiting for a fish to outsmart itself and get caught. It was not until I met a teenager in youth ministry who was passionate about fishing that my mind changed. His passion changed my opinion on the topic. He convinced me that there is a great deal of skill to fishing. He also helped me realize that the point of fishing (at least for him) was not to catch fish, it was an excuse to spend time in wild places. That was a notion that I could appreciate. My opinion on fishing has changed over the years, and it went from an activity that I could care less about to something that I think I would enjoy. I give this background, because I think my blasé attitude towards fishing may have long colored my understanding of this verse. Jesus calling his disciples with the promise of making them fishers of people, was a notion that for a long time I found a bit unsettling.
My issue was with how I understood the analogy. I did not see it as a very positive thing at all. After all, for the fish who gets hooked, it is not exactly a positive experience. It thinks it is going to be eating, but instead the fish finds itself fighting to stay in the water. Fishing, as I understood it, is based completely on deception. The lure used tricks the fish into thinking they are getting something they are not, and once a fish is hooked, they are done: hook, line, and sinker. This bothered me because I have seen churches using these tactics. Sometimes this is done in a shockingly blatant way. For example, in 2010 a church in Texas gave away millions of dollars in prizes, including TVs and fifteen new cars, to people who attended their Easter service that year. It worked at getting people in the door, 23,000 people showed up that year. That is an extreme example, but we see other examples of this bait and switch. We are probably all familiar with the stereotypical TV preacher who uses the lure of financial and health blessings to reel people in before asking for money. I know the analogy of being a fisher of people belongs to Jesus, so I cannot really discount it, but for the longest time I was really uncomfortable with the notion.
I had two realizations along the way that helped me learn to appreciate this morning’s scripture. First, I was overanalyzing the analogy (which you can ask my wife, is a common problem I have). Analogies are a comparison made to reveal a deeper truth. They are never perfect, and always open to being misinterpreted. In this specific case, I was getting caught up in the idea of comparing people to fish. That is not what the analogy is actually about. The bigger realization, is that I was confusing my types of fishing. Simon and Andrew were not using a fishing pole to catch fish, they were using a net. There was no bait, no lure, no hook, no line, and sinker. In fishing with a net, the fish are either there or they are not. This analogy of Jesus is much in line with some of his other teachings, such as Matthew 9:37 where Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” This analogy is not about us reeling in potential converts with the best tricks of the trade we can come up with. The analogy is about us doing the work of joining alongside God to make disciples. When fishing with a net, there is work for the fishermen to do. However, they cannot control the fish. In the same way, there is work to do in making disciples, but it is not our job to save. It is God who saves, and it is God who enables people to say yes to God’s yes. God is the one who does the real work. God is the one who changes hearts. God is the one who cast the sins away, as far as the east is from the west. All we do is bring in the nets, God does the rest. Ultimately, that is what Jesus’ analogy is saying. When Jesus said “Come follow men and I will send you out to fish for people”, he was inviting his disciples to join in on the world changing work that God that was already doing.
Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee and called Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus still calls people today and says, “follow me.” Jesus calls us to follow him. In being fishers of people we are joining in with what God is already doing, but there is still work for us to do. For us to be faithful to respond to Jesus’ call to follow me, I believe there are three things we need to do to fish for people.
First, we have to go to where the people are. One of the biggest skills to fishing, is knowing where to find fish. The best fishermen in the world are the best because almost have an instinctive way of knowing where the fish are going to be. This was true for Galilee net fishers as well. They did not just cast their nets and hope for the best, they were strategic about where to cast their nets. They cast their nets where they thought the fish would be. God is at work in the world all around us. As Methodists we believe in prevenient grace. This means that we believe people experience God’s love for them before they love God or even acknowledge God. There are millions of people that do not yet know Jesus but have God actively working in their lives. There are millions of people that God is wooing to Him, because as we know God does not give up on us. We cannot wait for those people to come to us, we have to follow Jesus and go to them. We need to be intentional about being where the people are, and we need to be intentional about engaging them as people. Think of all the people we interact with daily, how many of them do you treat as people created and loved by God, and how many do you treat as faceless extras who populate your life? We need to be intentional about putting ourselves in place where we can interact with others, and then we need to be intentional about actually doing that. We need to be intentional of treating people like God’s beloved creation. Bob Farr, a United Methodist Pastor in Missouri, started doing this. He reasoned that the only way he could be intentional about carrying about people was to connect with them. First, he was intentional about being in the community where people are. Second, he carried ten marbles in his pocket and each time he started a real conversation with someone he did not know, he would move a marble from one pocket to the other. His goal was to move all ten marbles a day. Now I will be honest, as a strong introvert the thought of doing that scare me to death, but I appreciate the point. He did this to remind himself that he should live like a missionary, always looking for opportunities to share God’s love. If we are not actively interacting with the people that Jesus came to save, then we are not going to be able to join in helping God save the lost.
The second thing we need to do is cast out the nets. It is not enough to know where the fish are, the fishermen have to actually do the work of using their nets. In the church the common word for this is evangelism. Often we consider evangelists to be gifted public speakers who are skilled at pulling on the heart strings to solicit commitment from people, but that is now what evangelism is. Evangelism is sharing the love of God. As we already mentioned, people who do not know Jesus experience prevenient grace in their life. Evangelism is showing them that there God’s grace is real. We do evangelism in two ways. We reach out and we invite in. We reach out by being intentional in showing God’s love through our actions. We can do this in a whole host of ways. We can do it in organized ways like volunteering at the food pantry. We can do it in spontaneous ways like stopping to help someone with car trouble. We can do it in intangible ways be treating someone who is used to being judged for their appearance as if they are valuable. Whenever we leave these walls to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world we are reaching out. We can also invite in. We invite in, when we encourage people to join us. We invite people to be part of the loving community of faith that we are part of. We are open to accepting them without condition and treat them with the same loving concern that we treat the people who we have been going to church with for 20 years. On a practical level, one of the reasons why we have fairly regular fellowship events like the parsonage game night, the 5th quarters for youth, or the think warm cook in next month is so that we have opportunities to invite. These events give us the opportunity to invite people in so that they can experience the love of God that can only be experienced through a loving church family. Research has found that over 90% of Methodists are Methodists because they either married into it or because they were born into it. It is sadly very, very rare for someone to be a Methodist because they were invited, experienced God’s love, and stayed. We must invite better.
The final thing we can do is invest in the catch. We have to remember that Andrew, Simon, James, and John, were not recreational fishermen. The fish that they brought into their nets was their livelihood. They were fully invested in having a successful catch from start to finish. In the same way, once we go out to where the people are, after we reach out, after we invite in, we have to be fully invested in people. Following Jesus, being a fisher of people, and evangelism is not about counting numbers. Success is not measured by how many people a church can dunk in a year. Success is measured in changed lives, success is measured in disciples being nurtured into spiritual maturity. Success is when people who have responded to the invitation for the first time feel like they are close to God than ever before and feel they are part of a church family that is helping them grow in faith. This means a successful church is one that cares more about people and less about numbers. If we are going to be committed to following Jesus, then we have to be committed about caring about people for the long haul. Not just the people who are like us, BUT all of the people who we interact with, who we reach out to, and invite in.
Jesus first called these four disciples, three of whom would be some of his closest friends as he walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. One of the last times he spent time with them on earth was also along the shore of the sea. After the crucifixion, Peter James, John, and others went out to fish, but it was not going well they did not catch a thing. Jesus, walking along the shore, called out to them to cast their nets on the other side. They were obedient to what Jesus said, and the nets were overflowing. In fact, they needed a bigger boat John 21:6 records, “they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” This story of the miraculous catch of fish compliments this morning’s scripture well. When we are faithful to following Jesus, when we obediently join God in God’s work with sharing love with the world, then we fulfill what Jesus said, we fish for people. May we be obedient to doing that. May we be faithful in leaving our building and may we be the body of Christ in the world. May we be diligent in reaching out to share God’s love and may we be tireless at inviting others in to participate in God’s love. May we be fully invested as individuals and as a church to the mission of making and nurturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world. I am fully confident that if we do these things, then we’re gonna need a bigger boat.