9But there will be no gloom for those
who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the
land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he
will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the nations.
2The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he
withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home
in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and
Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the
prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.
17From that time Jesus began to proclaim,
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come
18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them,
Follow me, and I will make you fish for
people. 20Immediately they left their nets and followed
him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers,
James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their
father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called
them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father,
and followed him.
23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
I love it when our scripture texts for the day use imagery that's as vivid as the fishing metaphor in today's passage… It seems like everyone has a fishing story. Some people love fishing others can't stand it… Sometimes the stories are joyful, other times they're not so good. Today I thought I'd share a few of my own as a way of turning us toward the message of the scripture lesson. To be honest, I'm not really much of a fisherman… I've gone out fishing occasionally and most of the time I enjoy it, but when it comes to actually catching fish, I've been pretty unsuccessful. Last summer when we looked at different scripture text that used a fishing metaphor, I brought a couple of fly fishing flies that I tied back when I started fly fishing as a hobby and they impressed some people… but I have to admit, the biggest fish I ever caught on the fly rod was about this big… we took it back to camp and cooked it up thinking it was a nice little trout but when we divided it and the other fish among the three of us who were there, it quickly became clear that actually the little fish I caught was a baby salmon… so not only was it only 8 inches long, it was also not legal to keep it even if you caught it… And that story might actually be indicative of almost all of my fishing experience.
The first time I remember fishing was with my Grandpa, my dad and my brother in Puget Sound near Seattle… this time we were actually fishing for salmon… And the good news is that we didn't catch any illegal salmon that day… of course the bad news is that we didn't catch any salmon that day. In fact looking back on it, I think it's fair to say that you could hardly call it fishing at all… Yes the lines were in the water and yes there was bait on the hooks but I tell you what, as far as I could tell there was not one fish that came within a mile of us. It was one of the most miserable days I can remember that involved visiting my Grandparents. Up before dawn, handling raw bait with freezing fingers, shivering as the weather shifted from the famous Seattle fog to mist to rain and then back again, feeling a little queasy from the rocking of the boat and the constant disappointment of no fish… but we stayed out in that little boat all day because that's what fishermen do… (they probably don't stop by the Safeway on the way home and buy salmon for dinner but that's beside the point.)
The second time I remember fishing was entirely different. It was in
Panama, so first off it was warm. I think I was in third
grade… and there's this lake in Panama that is somewhat
legendary among the people who lived on base where we did…
rumor had it that all you had to do was drop a line in the water and
you'd catch a fish… as I remember it, there were maybe 15
people all out on a barge and everyone, even my little sisters were
catching fish… but I wasn't. After a while every fish that
came onto the barge increased my frustration… The deal on that
kind of fishing trip was that you would stay out on the water until
your coolers were full and then you'd head it. It would usually take
the better part of the day… and when the time came, I still
hadn't caught a single fish… you can imagine my frustration as
an eight year old. I decided that I'd never fish again… and
that evening as the whole neighborhood gathered for what they called a
fish fry even though the fish were cooked over an open flame, I
decided that I didn't even like fish anyway.
It was only a few weeks later that my dad took me back to the same lake with one of his friends who was a self-proclaimed expert fisherman… And of all my experiences fishing, that's the only one where I had any level of success. Whether it was luck, or whether it was fate or whether it was because there were only three lines in the water, I'm not sure… but I couldn't keep track of the number of fish I caught that day. The coolers were full well before noon and we got home in plenty of time to call everyone and have our own neighborhood fish fry. And it occurred to me that day that fishing really is a lot more fun when you actually catch fish.
And this week, as I was remembering my own fishing stories and
thinking about the stories that are here in the gospels, I realized
that most of the people I know fish for different reasons than the
people in the first century did. For most who like to fish, fishing
is a hobby, maybe even a sport, it's for enjoyment. We may eat the
fish, but that's not the primary reason for fishing. For the people
in the story, there were exactly two reasons to fish… one was
food, the other was money. They and their family either ate what they
caught or sold or traded it as the means of their livelihood. When
Jesus said to them
I will make you fish for people, in their
everyday world he wasn't talking about sport or hobby or something
they did for fun… he was referring to their daily sustenance.
Generally speaking, I think that churches are pretty good at hearing
I will make you fish for people, and immediately
thinking about the sustenance aspect of it. If we fish for people
there will be more people in church. It's pretty easy to imagine
ourselves in a best-case-scenario as disciples sitting on the boat
reeling people in. As the numbers of people in worship grow the
financial worries of the church disappear and the workload on
volunteers diminishes. It sounds pretty good and it would certainly
be nice to have more folks around and involved in the life of the
church. But that line of thinking, if that's where it stops, really
isn't much better than fishing for fish… because that line of
thinking focuses on sustaining a church rather than extending the
kingdom of God.
When Jesus said
I will make you fish for people he was saying
that he would change their way of life… and in fact,
for people wasn't in itself going to be their
fishing for people was going to be a result of
their work. After all the first part of what he said was follow me.
It was a radical call to obedience, and the disciples heard it. They walked away from their families and their jobs to follow Jesus. Andrew and Peter, James and John were casting and mending their nets… but immediately, when they heard the invitation, they followed. And it's interesting to me that in the next sentence, which is the last verse of our story today, Jesus took them into the synagogues… Jesus takes these blue collar tradesman who smell of fish and the first thing he does with them is go to church… I can't help but wonder how comfortable they were in this new situation… or for that matter how comfortable the people who usually ran the church were with them being there. And that continued throughout the gospel story.
If you look at some of the things they went through, it's pretty clear that Jesus led them into some situations that would not have been comfortable… probably even into some situations they did not want to be in… but through it all, they kept trusting him… they kept following him… in a manner of speaking, they stayed in the boat… because that's what fishermen do… all day and all night if need be until the coolers are filled… Through the frustration and shame that may have occasionally come from being associated with Jesus… even through the controversy and the threat against their own lives. They followed Jesus…
When he led them on a winding path through the ministry in Galilee, they followed. I imagine it was pretty fun. The stories in the gospels make me think that they were wildly popular. When they wanted down time they had to work to keep people away. It's always more fun when you're catching fish. But even when Jesus led them to Jerusalem where he would be executed and even when they were eventually ostracized and endangered, they still followed Jesus, because that's what fishers of people do.
As the disciples followed and as they learned, they would see things that they had never dreamed of. As they shared what they saw they would tell first-hand stories of things that would have been hard to imagine. As they lived the new way of being that Jesus called them to, they would shape the foundation of the church… even two millennia later. Their witness opened up the understanding that God wasn't just the God of the Jews but the God of all people. They didn't fish for people in order to sustain their own way of life… they fished for people to share the good news of God's kingdom.
As people come, enter, and even join the church family we need to keep that in mind… Fishing for people involves patience and persistence to meet someone wherever they are, on their own terms. It involves being open to understand their point of view and taking the risk to receive them exactly as they are. It involves allowing ourselves to be changed more than we might expect them to be. After all, in all of this, God is the one who acted first to reach out to the fishermen… and also to receive each of us exactly as we are. And the disciples may have started out as fishermen looking for sustenance… but when they heard and accepted the invitation to follow Christ they become fishers of people… and those simple fishermen went on to change the world. The invitation is there, the call is the same and I can only imagine, what we can do! Thanks be to God!
The foregoing sermon was given by Rev. Dan Holland at the United Parish of Bowie on January 23, 2011.
© 2011 Daniel Holland