In our gospel reading today, Jesus hears that John has been arrested. He leaves Nazareth and makes his home in Capernaum, by the sea. It is after John is imprisoned that Jesus begins to tell people to “change their lives, God’s kingdom is here”!
“As he walks by the Sea of Galilee, he sees two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they are fishermen. And he says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they leave their nets and follow him. As he goes from there, he sees two other brothers, James and John, in a boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he calls them. Immediately they leave the boat and their father and follow him.” (Matthew 4:18-22)
What is interesting in Matthew is the writers use of the word ‘immediately’. When Jesus tells Andrew and Peter to follow him and he will make them fish for people, they immediately leave their nets and follow Jesus. And, when he calls out to James and John, they too immediately leave their nets and their father and follow Jesus. The fishing becomes symbolic of the work that Jesus wants his disciples to do, fish for people.
We’re called to go fishing too! When we leave this place of worship, we too are called to go fishing. We are called to spread the good news, to share the love of God with others, to tell them by action and by word that living a Christian life is fulfilling, and the kingdom of God is for all of us, not just a select few. When’s the last time that you told someone you know that God loves them? When’s the last time you invited someone to a church service or a Bible class or Bible discussion group?
Church service on Sundays is where we worship, a place we come to get our spiritual batteries charged up, a place to find refuge and encouragement, a place to listen to the readings of the Bible, a place to pray, and a place to celebrate Holy Eucharist, also known as the Great Thanksgiving. And it’s a great place to have fellowship, to spend time with one another in coffee hour or talking after the service. But when we leave the building and grounds of St. Alban’s, that’s where the church, you and I, are expected to do the work of the church, and today we are reminded that work involves going fishing for people.
Maybe we should make a sign to hang on the front door after we leave the building, a sign that says “Gone Fishin!”. Because that’s what Jesus wants us to do, to go fishing for people. There’s a time for those who fish, to fish, like Peter and Andrew were doing when they were called. And there is a time to mend the nets, as James and John were doing when Jesus called them. Sometimes our ways of doing evangelism and outreach need to be mended, to be updated. Sometimes the nets may need to be replaced.
I grew up on the Western slope of the Rockies of Colorado. I have many fond memories of fishing trips in the rivers, creeks, streams and mountain lakes. My older brother and I spent many days fishing the lakes on Grand Mesa. Grand Mesa is the largest flat mesa in the world, and the 300 natural lakes and streams are full of trout, at least they were when I was a kid. It was not unusual to limit out quickly on our catch of browns, brookies, rainbows and native ‘cutthroat’ trout. I never had enough patience to fish if they were not biting, and I think that’s why I lost interest in fishing as I grew older and moved out of the state. Naomi and I sold our house in Michigan several years ago. The house is situated on a trout lake, but I quit fishing after we moved to the lake home. I realized that what I enjoyed about fishing was being out in God’s creation, enjoying the quiet and beauty of nature. My fishing turned into quiet evenings sitting on our dock with my golden retriever-collie mix, a cup of coffee and a good book. Maybe I had more patience for fishing when I was younger, but now I can fish an entire lake in 30 minutes, going from one spot to the next, and then I’m done. There is an art and expertise and patience in fishing that I never acquired.
There is a time to fish and a time to repair nets, or to cut bait if you fish with poles. The dilemma is getting caught up in one or the other, and never improving on your skills as we fish, or being so involved in developing the proper techniques and perfecting our nets, that we never get around to fishing. I think we are intended to do both.
There is a time to fish and a time to prepare the net. I remember a preacher who told me when I as a kid that “you don’t need nothing more than a cane pole to catch fish”. That may be true to some extent, but people that fish for a living, repair their nets. They are constantly upgrading their equipment, improving their methods. I believe that’s what we are called to do in our evangelism and outreach beyond our four walls.
In the story about the disciples being so successful in their fishing trip, the take-away is they listened to Jesus. They took His direction. I love the story. It reminds me that we continue to fish for people, to share the good news the best way we can, but we are also instructed to improve our “skill sets” so we can be successful in our work. Both the mission and the preparing are expected to go on all the time. There is a time to study our methodology, and there is a time to fish, but we are expected to prepare our hearts and minds, to prepare our nets, and then to cast them into the lake. To prepare and plan and then to fish, preparation and learning go hand in hand with doing.
There are times to fish and times to prepare for fishing. There is an old Proverb that says: “When you sharpen your ax you can cut wood more effectively”. (Ecclesiastes 10:10) There is a story about a man that buys a chain saw from a hardware store, but he brings it back, and tells the store clerk that the saw does not cut like it should. The clerk sits the chainsaw on the counter, pulls the pulley and the chainsaw comes to life. The customer jumps back and says, “What’s that noise”?
Jesus is calling us to go fishing for people. We all have different skills sets. Some of us are better at preparing the nets, keeping the equipment in order, and some of us are better casting our nets into the water. But we are called to use our skills, resources, time and effort to do what God has called us to do, always tweaking our methodology, tuning our hearts and minds, and sharing the love of God with others, the best we can.
Let’s go fishing!