We’re in the middle of a sermon series on fishing. Two weeks ago we opened the series with the same story I just read. Pastor Craig talked about how when Jesus calls us to follow him, Jesus says, “If you come follow me, I will turn you into something you’re not already.” When we follow Jesus, we get trained in how to fish for people. We heard from Scripture, followers fish.
People who follow Jesus want other people to get caught in Jesus’ net of love and grace because when you come to know Jesus and his liberating love, you want others to know him too. When you experience the freedom of forgiving and being forgiven, you share that good news.
Followers fish, all because the love of Christ compels us.
Followers fish. “Fishing” is a really interesting metaphor we Christians use. When I was in middle school my youth group partnered with several other youth groups and we had a big rally. We called it “Rock the Block.” We had a parking lot full of big inflatable games like the jousting ring or the Velcro wall, where you put on a special suit, then run and jump on a wall. Oh it was great. A couple hundred middle and high schoolers hopped up on snow cones, popcorn, and cotton candy. And the whole thing ended with a big concert by a local Christian band.
The theme of the event was “Mission Fishin’.” I still have the shirt. The logo we used was an image of the world cradled in the crook of a fishing hook with Matthew 4:19 underneath it: “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Our block party was a big fishing expedition. We were hoping to catch a few new kids, let them know our church was a safe place where they could have fun and hopefully meet Jesus, and that Christians were cool.
Here in Western North Carolina we’re steeped in the legacy and work of the great Billy Graham. Billy Graham is the most well known Christian evangelist in the world. His website says, he’s “preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history—nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories” (http://billygraham.org/about/biographies/billy-graham/)! Some of you may have been impacted by one of Billy Graham’s crusades or his radio hour or one of his books. He is, no doubt, an expert “fisherman.”
I think of fishing, and I think of big rallies and Crusades. I think of knocking on people’s doors, or of ways to cleverly attract people to worship on Sunday morning. And when I think that that’s what Jesus wants me to be, I get more than a bit nervous. Is that what it means to fish for people? Those are great things, but I wonder, is that all of what Jesus had in mind for Peter, for me, for us?
A week ago Saturday, I went to my first KAIROS team training event with 50 other men including Jim Chandler, a member of our church and the leader of this upcoming weekend. KAIROS is a Christian ministry designed to share the transforming love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to impact the hearts and lives of incarcerated men. I’m excited to be participating in my first KAIROS weekend coming up in February. We opened the training the way any newly formed group would: introductions.
Well, one of the first guys stood up, said, “Hi, my name is Scott. I worship at this church. I’m here because Jo drug me here.”
Someone else stands up: “Hi, I’m Jeff. I worship at such and such church, and I’m here because Charlie brought me along.”
Then Jim Chandler stood up and said, “Hi, I’m Jim, and I worship at First United Methodist Church. I’m here because several years ago I had a drug problem.” See, I thought, I knew Jim! I though, oh boy, things are getting real interesting. “I had a drug problem: Bill drug me here.”
They kept going: “I got drug here.” “I was brought here by….” “I don’t remember saying ‘yes,’ but I got here somehow.”
One after another, it became increasingly clear that many of the guys who were there for this ministry training event weren’t there because they initially volunteered, but because they were recruited, they were enlisted.
Now hear me, there’s a difference between truly dragging someone kicking and screaming to do ministry, and it’s all together different when the Holy Spirit gets to pushin’ and pullin’ you, with the help of your Christian brothers and sisters. And the latter is the sort of enlisting I saw going on in that room: men whom the Spirit drug to this holy work, and who keep coming back because the Spirit caught ‘em.
I’ve been thinking that and about our story this morning, and realized that’s what Jesus is up to. He doesn’t ask if he may come aboard Peter’s boat. He doesn’t inquire with interest about the make and model, you know, just for small-talk’s sake. Instead, he basically commandeers the boat. I guess Peter could have said, “No.” We can always say, “No,” to Jesus. But Jesus hops aboard and says, “Put out a little way from the shore. I’ve got some teaching I need to do.” Peter obliges Jesus’ request.
Jesus teaches the crowd. I’d love to know what he taught them, but apparently that’s not as important as what’s going on between Jesus and Peter on the boat, because as soon as Jesus finishes teaching he makes another request of Peter: “put out into deeper water and let down your nets…”
He lets down the nets, and they get a huge catch of fish! They were amazed; they were terrified; they didn’t know what to do. And Jesus makes another request. “Come follow me.”
There is something to be said for enlisting others in the work of the kingdom. As part of the Changing the Conversation process, one of the things we’ve collectively identified as crucially important for our church is having clarity of and commitment to our purpose. The purpose our leaders have crafted with input from many of you and that the Church Council will be considering adopting is this: The purpose of First UMC, Hickory is to invite all people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, growing together in love and service to God and neighbor.
There are lots of important words in there. One of the first ones is “invite.” Of course, that means “invite” people to worship and youth group and Sunday school and choir, because we believe in those places we have opportunities to experience the love and real presence of God, and I want others to have that same opportunity. That “invite” word also means invite people to join in God’s work in the world.
When Jesus came to the lakeshore, he needed a boat. Peter had a boat. Jesus enlisted Peter and his boat in the ministry of God’s mission.
Jesus has come to your lakeshore, and he needs your boat…whatever your boat is. And Jesus isn’t going to be shy about enlisting you in spreading the good news that God’s free grace is available to all.
In the end, I think, we’re grateful for Jesus’ insistence, for the way he commandeers our home, our kitchen, our time, our pickup truck, and sewing machine because we’re desperate for meaning, for a purpose. If the resources we have and the gifts we possess are all about making a living or our own gratification, friends it’s all for naught. If they’re for showing people something wonderful, then we find a deeper meaning, a purpose.
Peter’s first lesson in fishing is this: fishing is about enlisting.
Now don’t go down to the marina at Lake Hickory and snag someone’s boat while they’re cleaning the deck, and say, “My pastor said I should.” Hopping in a boat and telling its owner to go out into deep water is the sort of thing only the Son of God incarnate can get away with. We have laws against that sort of thing.
Enlisting someone means something like, “You bake really well. Jim Chandler and Pastor Wil need 200 dozen homemade cookies in order to show the love of Christ to inmates at the prison. We need your oven. Christ needs your oven. Let’s get baking.” It’s an invitation and an opportunity for someone to join in God’s work in that prison for someone who otherwise would never darken the door of prison. It’s about joining, and sharing in a movement of God. And maybe that invitation brings some relief to know that my oven isn’t just for baking; it’s for showing Christ’s love to someone.
Maybe that’s how you got involved with some ministry here. You were enlisted, conscripted. You got caught, and the love of Christ keeps you coming back.
Austin Pearce, is the director of the Soup Kitchen down the road from us. When I first met him, he said whenever someone comes to the Kitchen and asks if they can help, the answer is always, “Yes.” Our answer here is always, “Yes, we need you.” And more importantly, you need this.
We need you, and you need this because as an early pastor and theologian, St. Augustine, prayed, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Bringing someone along to worship and to share in God’s mission isn’t an imposition, it’s an opportunity to experience the grace and love of God…maybe the opportunity that person has been waiting their whole life for.
If Peter’s (and our) first fishing lesson is Jesus needs you!, Peter’s second fishing lesson comes in the next story, the last part of this morning’s Scripture lesson:
“Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him.”
Most of us have experience with the sort of fishing where we put an attractive little lure on a hook, cast it into the water, and make that lizard dance so a fish will chomp down on it and we can reel it in. Then the Bible talks about the cast net method. We spread a large net, and some get out, but we may catch a few, and that makes it worthwhile. You can imagine how those methods of fishing help us think about how we share the love of Christ. There’s merit to both of those ways of “fishing for people”—to casting a wide net, to attracting someone to church, but…
There’s safety in casting a net or a line. The net may get torn on the rocks, the line broken, but the fisherman is safe in the boat. There’s nothing at stake for the fisherman. In these few concluding verses, Jesus shows us what it means to fish. It means holding your breath and going to the deep waters yourself.
We Christians don’t fish from the safety of a boat or even with the convenience of a rod and reel. Fishing starts when you get out of the boat and go to work. Fishing happens when the interruptions in your life become moments of grace. Fishing, in the way Jesus teaches us, is always personal, always relational. It’s about people, and being the love of Christ for them, to them, walking with them. That’s how Jesus came to catch us. That’s how to fish.