Sunday's Sermon

 

"Fishing"

 by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor

January 26, 2020 - 3rd Sunday after Epiphany - A

 

Sermon text: “As he (Jesus) 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.  And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” – Matthew 4:18-20

 

Fishing.

That’s what they were doing.

Two brothers, Peter and Andrew,

            casting a net into the sea.

With each cast, hoping the net would bring in some fish.

Casting a net into the sea… over and over again.

Fishing.

 

Jesus came and said to them:

      “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

The fishermen may have been quite surprised by this invitation.

Nonetheless, they dropped their net and followed him.

 

Jesus walked on along the beach.

Peter and Andrew followed him.

The three men had not walked far

      when Peter and Andrew saw two of their friends

            helping their father mend fishing nets.

Once again, Jesus said: “Follow me.”

And once again, two former fishermen

            dropped their nets and followed Jesus.

 

This is how it all began for Andrew, Peter, James, and John.

This is how they became disciples of Jesus.

Long ago, Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee

            and called them to follow him.

 

Jesus comes to each of us today

      and speaks the same words that he did

            to four fishermen long ago:

                  “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

Of course, we might not be willing to follow.

We might have other people, hopes, or dreams that we want to follow.

Nonetheless, Jesus says to each of us: “follow me.”

When we follow him,

      he tells us that he will change us into people

            who will fish for people.

 

What is the purpose of our congregation?

Of course, worshipping God is very important.

Christian fellowship is very important.

Helping people in need is very important.

Bible studies and Christian education is also very important.

But our main purpose is to fish for people.

We are to gather people into a relationship with Jesus.

 

I had a professor in seminary that once made the point

      that each person is either a fisher doing the fishing

            or else a fish that needs to be gathered in.

There’s nothing in the middle.

Being a Christian who is not fishing for people

            is not an option.

There is no such thing as a Christian who is not fishing for people.

 

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are fishing for others.

It is that simple and straightforward.

 

This is a very appropriate gospel reading for us to have today…

                  on this the day of our annual meeting.

It is very important that we know our main purpose as a congregation.

We are Salem Lutheran Fishing Company.

The main purpose of our company is to fish for people.

This is what our boss has told us.

Fishing is the work that we are to be doing.

 

In our gospel reading for today

      three points stood out to me

            about how we are to fish for people.

 

First point – we need to meet people where they are in life.

Before Jesus began his earthly ministry,

            he probably spent most of his time in three places:

                  his home, his woodshop, and his local synagogue.

 

Like most people, Jesus probably spent a lot of time in his home.

His home was in Nazareth.

He lived in his home with his parents Mary and Joseph

            and also four brothers and at least two sisters.

In this home, Jesus ate his meals, slept at night, and rested from work.

 

Jesus also probably spent a lot of time in his father’s woodshop.

His father Joseph was a carpenter.

So we can imagine that as Jesus was growing up,

            he spent a lot of time in this woodshop.

Jesus probably was very skilled in shaping wood with a drawknife,

            cutting it with a saw, making holes with a drill,

                  and smoothing it with a plane.

 

Jesus also probably spent a lot of time

            at the local synagogue in Nazareth.

The Bible tells us it was his custom to go the synagogue.

So we can imagine that every Sabbath, Jesus and his family

            would be in the local synagogue –

      worshipping with his family and friends…

            listening to the Scripture being read…

                  and also praying to God.

 

We might call these three places, his home, woodshop, and synagogue

            Jesus’ “comfort zones.”

He knew each of these places very well.

He knew the people in these places very well.

He knew what would happen in these places very well.

He was probably was very comfortable in these places.

 

But to get his first disciples, Jesus went outside of his “comfort zones.”

Jesus may have been very comfortable in his hometown of Nazareth,

            but he traveled some 30 miles to the Sea of Galilee

                  to find his first followers.

Jesus may have been very comfortable in his father’s woodshop

                  and knew little or nothing about fishing,

            but he asked some fishermen to follow him.

And Jesus may have been very comfortable in his home synagogue,

            but he traveled to the area around the Sea of Galilee

                  where he probably didn’t know anyone at first.

 

Like Jesus, we also have our comfort zones.

We also are comfortable in our homes.

We also are comfortable in our places of daily activities.

We also are comfortable in our place of worship.

 

In our fishing activities for our Lord,

      like Jesus, we also have to be willing to go outside

            of our “comfort zones” and meet people where they are in life.

 

Jesus met Peter, Andrew, James, and John

      not in Jesus’ own home…

            nor in his own woodshop…

                  nor in his own hometown synagogue…

      but in their workplace…

            which happened to be the Sea of Galilee.

Likewise, in our fishing activities for our Lord,

      we need to meet to meet people where they are…

            in their workplaces…

                  in their homes…

                        in their neighborhoods…

                              in their recreational pursuits.

 

We not only have to meet people where they are physically,

            we also have to meet them where they are emotionally.

If a person is grieving, we need to meet them there.

If a person is feeling happy, we need to meet them there.

If a person is struggling with an addiction, we need to meet them there.

If a person is feeling content, we need to meet them there.

If a person is coping with an illness, we need to meet them there.

If a person is celebrating, we need to meet them there.

If a person is feeling unloved and unworthy, we need to meet them there.

Whatever a person is dealing with, whether good or bad,

            we need to meet them wherever they are in life.

 

So this is the first point.

In our fishing activities for our Lord,

      like Jesus did, we also have to be willing to go outside

            of our “comfort zones” and meet people where they are in life.

 

A second point – we need to speak their language.

 

Most every Tuesday I gather with a group of pastors

                  at a local restaurant.

Along with sharing a meal,

            our main purpose is to discuss the gospel reading

                  for the upcoming Sunday.

One Tuesday we were discussing Jesus’

            Parable of the Good Samaritan –

      how the Samaritan, but not the priest and the Levite,

            had helped a wounded man by the side of the road.

As we were discussing this well-known parable,

            the waitress came to our table.

We asked this waitress if she had any thoughts

            about this parable of the Good Samaritan.

Surprisingly to me, she didn’t know what we were talking about.

She had never heard of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

So we read this parable to her

            and then she told us that this parable was very nice.

 

My takeaway from this experience is that

            we, who have grown up in the church,

      speak a language that non-church-going people

            often don’t understand.

Yes, of course, it is English.

But we in the church have all kinds of words

            that we assume that everyone knows what they mean.

But they don’t.

They have not grown up in a church

            and so often do not understand what we are saying.

 

If we want to communicate with someone who spoke only Spanish,

            we would have to learn Spanish.

If we want to communicate with someone who spoke only German,

            we would have to learn German.

If we want to communicate with someone who spoke only Japanese,

            we would have to learn Japanese.

 

If we want to communicate with someone

      not familiar with religious words and Bible teachings,

            we would have to learn to speak in their language

                  without using our usual religious words.

When Jesus came to some fisherman long ago,

      he might have spoken to them using woodworking terms,

            or he might have spoken to them using religious terms.

But instead, he spoke to them with words

            that any fisherman could understand.

He simply said to them:

      “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

 

They may not have known exactly what Jesus had in mind,

      but they realized that Jesus wanted them to gather in people.

As they had so very often gathered in fish from the sea,

            they were in some way to gather in people for Jesus.

 

Jesus spoke in a way that these fishermen could understand.

“Fish for people” is what Jesus said to them.

 

In a similar way, we church people have to find ways

            to speak to non-church people with words

                  that they will understand.

In our conversations with them,

            we will have to temporarily abandon our religious words

      and use everyday words that they will understand.

 

I know that we, who are so often around other Christians

            who understand the words that we are saying,

      might find it quite surprising that non-church-goers

            often do not understand what we are saying.

So, we need to learn to speak and hear their language.

This is what Jesus did with four fishermen long ago.

This is what we need to do with people around us today.

 

The biggest criticism that non-Christians have of Christians

                  is that we are a bunch of hypocrites.

They think that we “talk the talk,” but we don’t “walk the walk.”

They think we talk about being loving, kind, and forgiving,

            but we aren’t this way in our daily lives.

They think that we don’t practice what we preach.

So they think that we are a bunch of hypocrites.

 

I’m sure that this criticism is sometimes true.

But if we want to have any success in our fishing attempts,

            then we certainly have to be real and authentic Christians.

We need to be practicing what we preach.

We need to be not only “talking the talk” but “walking the walk.”

In short, we need to be following Jesus.

            following Jesus in our daily lives…

                  at work, school, home, or in our communities.

 

It has been reported that St. Francis of Assisi once said:

      “Preach the gospel at all times;

            when necessary, use words” (repeat).

Yes, we are to preach the gospel at all times with the lives that we live.

 

So this is a second point:

      in our fishing activities for our Lord,

            like Jesus did, we also need to speak to people

                  using words and actions that they understand.

 

That brings me then to a third and final point –

            we need to invite others to follow Jesus.

 

This is what Jesus did with the four fishermen of long ago.

His invitation to them was simple: “Follow me.”

And so in our fishing activities for our Lord,

            like Jesus did, we also need

                  to invite people to follow him.

 

It is good for us to invite people to our worship services

            and other church activities.

But more importantly, we need to invite them

            to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

In short, to follow him.

 

Of course, we can’t literally and physically follow Jesus

            as did those four fishermen long ago.

But we can follow the example of Jesus.

We are following Jesus when we feed the hungry.

We are following Jesus when we welcome the stranger.

We are following Jesus when we share with the poor.

We are following Jesus when we work for peace and justice.

We are following Jesus when we care for people who are down and out.

We are following Jesus when we tell others of God’s love.

We are following Jesus when we forgive those who hurt us.

We are following Jesus when we love all…even our enemies.

We are following Jesus when we trust our heavenly Father.

We are following Jesus when we invite others to follow him.

 

Of course, sometimes we fail to follow Jesus.

We are imperfect people, after all.

But still, following Jesus is what we try to do as Christians.

 

Most of us can probably realize how important our relationship

            with Jesus has been throughout our lifetimes.

Our Lord has often brought us peace and comfort and love

            and hope and strength.

Our relationship with Jesus has been so important to us,

      and so we want other people to have this same experience

            that has been so important and valuable to us.

 

Just as Jesus did with four fishermen long ago,

            we also can invite people to follow him.

 

So these are three points from our gospel reading for today.

In our fishing activities for our Lord,

      first, like Jesus did, we also have to be willing to go outside

            of our “comfort zones” and meet people where they are;

      second, like Jesus did, we also need to speak to people

                  using words and actions that they understand;

      and then third, like Jesus did, we also need

                  to invite people to follow him.

 

“Follow me,” Jesus says to each one of us,

            “and I will make you fish for people.”

This is the work that our Lord has given us.

We are to be… fishing!

 

Amen.