Let's Go Fishing
God as we enter into this space of reflection, I ask that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you. For you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
I’d like to begin this morning with a question. By show of hands, how many of you have been evangelized to? By that, of course, I mean how many of you have been approached in your lives by someone wanting to share the message of Jesus Christ or wanting to convert you to Christianity.
Alright, hands down.
What did that feel like? Perhaps you were not a Christian at the time or maybe you were and thought to yourself, “how dare this person think that I’m not a Christian. But really, how did it make you feel. Think about that for a second.
Another question. How many of you have ever been sold something in your lives? Come on, every hand should be up by now. We are bombarded by advertisements, right? You can’t walk through any department store without something being pushed or sold to you. But think about a time when it’s worked—when you’ve possibly given in, maybe had buyer’s remorse later on, perhaps didn’t listen to your gut when it was telling you that indeed, that timeshare is too good to be true. But think about that for a moment. How does it feel, when someone is trying to get you to purchase something.
I am guessing the amount of hands that went up for the first question was largely based around tradition. We tend to congregate in our own circles, Presbyterians associating with Lutherans and Methodists and so forth, and these groups are not very big in the mission of converting souls or going door to door evangelizing. To be clear, I’m not saying that it's a bad thing that we don’t do that, but many of us tend to shy away from social pressure or the act of "converting" others.
I had this experience growing up where my church was doing this sort of thing, publicly evangelizing on the streets and I thought it was great at the time. I thought we were spreading the good word, saving souls, working for the kingdom….that is, until it happened to me. I was approached and for some reason, no matter what I told this guy, he was convinced that I didn’t really know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and that I was going to spend eternity in hell unless I truly repented.
I felt ashamed and embarrassed and angry that this individual thought they knew my life well enough, after just having met me, to know what my eternity looked liked. And in that anger, I eventually gave evangelism up. I thought that if all people feel the way that I did after being evangelized to, I didn’t want any part of it.
It wasn’t until much later of course that I realized we had been doing it all wrong from the get go. We had been treating evangelism and salvation as a product to be sold and purchased. We had been acting like we held the key to heaven itself and all one needed to do was say a certain prayer and join a certain church and the doorway to heaven would open right up. And it was in this sales pitch that we missed the entire point of Christ’s example that set before us.
At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has already been making a name for himself. From his exorcism of the man in Capernaum, to his healings and preaching in the synagogues around Judea. His next journey takes him to the lakeside of Gennesaret, a rather popular fishing spot where many made their living catching and selling the various goods of the day. We read as Simon Peter, James, and John had just had an unsuccessful night of fishing. They’ve failed to catch anything, are defeated and now must go home, empty handed and with empty pockets.
When Jesus comes along, he commands Peter to take him out in the boat, and after he is done teaching, Jesus commands Peter to once again cast his net (Peter at this point is not too confident that anything will actually happen). But then, a miracle, fish aplenty, so much so that the boats began to sink under the days catch. And Peter, in astonishment, kneels down and cries out as we hear Jesus’ famous line “from now on you will be catching men", or "from now on, you will be fishers of men”
Now there’s a lot going on in this text and I want to make sure we are dialed in to the nuances that often present themselves in historical narratives such as these. The multiplying of fish, or food, is not an uncommon theme in our biblical texts—we see it in Matthew, Luke, and John and several places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This idea of abundance, particularly through trusting and following Christ, is apparent in our New Testament. We spoke on abundance two weeks ago so we won’t spend too much time here but it’s important to note the fisherman’s trust and willingness to follow this man who they had heard so much about.
What I want to focus on is Jesus’ command, his words at the end of our story because they are a important to us today. You will be fishers of men. At first glance, it may seem rather straight forward, instead of fish, we will now catch people…but, wait that came out wrong or doesn’t somehow seem to sound right. We caught fish for food and now we’re catching humans to…ok, ok, ok, let’s get this straightened out before we get into trouble.
Anthropos Ese Zogros (You will be catching men). It’s a phrase that doesn’t translate all that well into English but Jesus here is inviting Peter not to simply catch others, but to rescue those that are in peril. The phrase itself, rather than just being a convenient metaphor in the English language, actually transcends itself into the definition of evangelism. It’s about bringing people in, not to simply catch them, but to help and save them from themselves. You are to seek after people because of this very reason… they are people…and they are loved by God. Not to catch them for catchings sake, not to sell them a certain message, not to make a deal with them, but to seek after them bringing the Good News of God’s love and Christ’s transformative power. A power that appears amidst spending all night casting your net with nothing to show for it. A power that radiates from the love you feel of others around you when you need it most. A power that makes you want to completely trust in God and to follow.
But I’ll tell you that that type of dedication, that type of commitment and love, that type of evangelism, doesn’t come from fear. It doesn’t come from fire and brimstone and it certainly doesn’t come from judging others. It comes from the truest form of evangelism, from acts of service and love and living one’s life that is reflective of God’s light in this world. This is what transforms people. Evangelism that seeks not conversion, but the wholeness of the person. Evangelism through acts that makes someone stop and say to themselves, “what is that?” “what is it about that person that makes me want to make the world a better place?” “how can I be more kind or love more in my life?”
Peter Eaton, who is an Episcopal Bishop, said this: “Faithful discipleship makes ordinary work itself the vehicle of Jesus’ real presence in the life of the world.” Taking what we do normally, and turning it into ways to better reflect Christ’s light. Witnessing through compassion and action, instead of oppression and conversion. Christ’s example sets this way before us.
So I want to invite you, as I sometimes do at the end of my sermons, to try to redefine what
evangelism and witness look like in your lives. Perhaps for many of you, these were dirty words, something we don’t like to talk about very much. But to do so, to ignore our call to evangelize through action, we are missing a vital component of the Christian life. We have placed value and purpose in this place. We are here for a reason because we believe in the work that we are doing and we should be proud of that work. We should rejoice in God’s presence and blessings as we continue to do ministry together. And we should always try to share that work with others, through a spirit of kindness and abundance and love that responds to Christ saying, “Yes, I will follow you”
Often times we think things in our lives have to be perfect to reflect God’s light to other people but they don’t have to be perfect. In fact, it is often in those darkest times that Christ’s light shines the brightest for us and certainly for those around us. Use these opportunities and also remember, your community of Faith is here with you, ready to shine ever bright into the future.
Now unto God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer, we ask for wisdom in these and all things. Amen.