The Rector’s sermon for January 20, 2018   


Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20


Last week we determined that over the next few weeks preceding Lent there would be a focus on listening.  Listening to what?  Listening to the direction and promptings of God.  We talked a little about what that would look like… God would never ask us to do something not of God…and we would have God’s peace when we listen to his voice.  Last week Jesus’ direction to those he calls is “Listen!”  Today’s direction is “Go Fish!”


We all remember that game:  Go Fish.  It’s one of the simplest card games there is. The goal is to win by assembling the most sets of four-of-a-kind.  Five cards are dealt to each player with the remaining cards in a stack face down on the table.  Players look at their cards, determine what they need, and ask another player for a particular card to match what they have.  And if that player doesn’t have what you’ve asked for, the player says, “Go fish!” which means ‘take a card from the deck.’  The fun of the game was being able to hold tightly to the cards and often telling another player, “Go fish!”  No one wanted to have their request for cards denied, and hear those words…Go fish!


Well, today, those words take on a whole new meaning.  As Jesus is walking alongside the Sea of Galilee, he sees two brothers casting a net into the water.  Who are they?  Simon and Andrew, fishermen by trade.  And they were good at it.  It was almost as if every day they would say to the sea, “Give me your fish,” and the sea would give up its treasure to them.  On this particular day Jesus surprises them by saying, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  This is a strange direction!  What does this mean?  They barely know Jesus.  They’ve heard about him and here he sees what they are doing—their livelihood—and he says, “I have something different for you to do with your lives.  You will no longer fish…for fish…but from now on, you will ‘fish’ for people.” 


According to Scripture, Simon and Andrew ask not one question.  Jesus’ words are so powerful and directive that the “immediately left their nets and followed him.”  I can’t even begin to explain that event to make sense to us because it doesn’t make sense that men steeped in their way of earning a living would simply drop everything to follow a man they hardly knew.  Jesus must have been such a powerful presence that a simple word could turn the heart of one who would be inclined to listen!   So the boat, the nets, and whatever leftover fish might have been there were left behind.  Simon and Andrew take the first step as apostles of Jesus.


Walking a little farther, Jesus sees James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They too are fishermen.  They’re sitting in their boat, mending their nets.   And Jesus says the same thing he said to Simon and Andrew…follow me.  And perhaps he added:  leave your nets behind… from now on, you’re going to fish for people.  Scripture says “they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men.”  Imagine what must have been in the mind of Zebedee!  His sons, walking out on the family business, to do what?   What on earth was he going to do now?


In the world of that simple card game, no one wants to hear the words “Go fish.” No one wants to have their request for a card denied, forcing them to pick up an unknown card from the pack on the table.  The same was probably true for fishermen around the Sea of Galilee.  Imagine yourself a fisherman, working your nets along the shore. A stranger walks up to you and says, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  You’d be startled; what sense does that make?   After all, if you’re a fisherman, you fish.  It’s a good living.  It puts food on the table.  And if you’re a good fisherman, you have more to sell and you would even have status in the community.  Now a man walks up to you and says,“Leave all this behind…follow me…we’re going to fish for people.”


If you were like most fishermen, you’d shake your head and say “No, thanks. I’ll stick with fish.”  But if you are like Simon and his brother Andrew, you see the hand of Almighty God at work in these words, calling you to look beyond human categories and familiar frameworks.  You look at the pack of unknown cards on the table and you see the possibility of a new world…a new life…a world defined not by the price of the day’s catch from the sea, but by the value of the kingdom of God.  It almost seems like a stretch to think that these simple fishermen could think that deeply in those few moments.  But in the presence of the Son of God—whether they knew it or now—and in the power of the Holy Spirit—they got it!   If you were like Simon and Andrew, you immediately drop your nets and follow Jesus.  You begin to “fish for people,” and you discover that some of the people around you are actually anxious to hear the good news of God.


The future was uncertain for the first disciples of Jesus, and it’s uncertain for us too.  They didn’t know if their fishing for people would be a success or a failure, and we don’t know what will result from our actions as individuals or as a church community.  When we welcome newcomers to the neighborhood or into our church, we don’t know if they will become friends or not.   When we start a bible study or a program that we open to the community, we don’t know if it will be successful, or if it will help grow the congregation.  The future of anything we do is in God’s hands, not ours.  The challenge for us is to trust that God is working for good in our lives, now and in the days to come.  Our response is to leave our plans behind and follow wherever the ‘fishing’ takes us.


“Go fish” is a funny command, isn’t it?   In the card game, you don’t know what you’ll get when you reach for a card.  In real-life fishing, the same is true—you don’t know what you’ll find at the end of your hook. You dip into the great unknown and pull up all kinds of surprises.  Fishing takes patience, skill and a certain amount of faith. You are challenged to believe that your efforts will be rewarded, and that all of your working and waiting will yield good results.   You can be sure that Jesus was choosing his words carefully when he said, “I will make you fish for people.”  He didn’t say that he would make them hunt for people or trap people or even gather people.  Instead, he said “fish for people.”  Surely it wasn’t an accident that the majority of those first disciples were fishermen. The analogy couldn’t be more perfect.   Jesus invites his disciples to cast their nets widely and catch a wide range of men and women to serve the kingdom of God.   To “cast their nets.”  How?  With what bate?  Their actions as good, caring, loving people would draw together a community of people who saw the value of the kingdom of God, and who would work for human dignity, peace, justice, freedom and the salvation of all.


Anyone who claims to be a Christian is given the command to “go fish,” and our first response should be to pray. Our challenge is to cast the net of prayer over all of God’s people, our enemies as well as our friends.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  If we love only those who love us, and pray only for those people who pray for us, we are not showing the courage that Jesus demands of his disciples.  We are not seeing the world and its people from the perspective of Jesus.  And that’s the challenge of:  “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”


A true Christian lives by prayer and action, casting nets of love and concern over all people, not just people like us, but all people. The world is very different than it was in Jesus’ time.  Or is it?   In many ways, it isn’t.  The guidance for us is very much the same:  stop looking at the world through human categories and familiar frameworks, and begin to see it through the eyes of Jesus.  As we follow him, we’ll begin to pray for all people, even our enemies. And we’ll take actions that promote only the values of the kingdom of God.