Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.”
(Preached on Sunday, January 22, 2017)
One hobby which I have engaged in, mostly in the past, is fishing. And I say it is something I have done mostly in the past because I honestly have mixed feelings about fishing. I do enjoy being outdoors, often in some very beautiful places. The very nature of the activity, sitting quietly for long periods of time basically doing nothing but waiting on the fish to take my bait and hook appeals to my introvert, contemplative nature. At the same time, it is rather disappointing to spend all day, or even just several hours, fishing and not catching anything, or even having any nibbles or bites. So I would never really call myself a fisherman.
But there is one style of fishing that intrigues me and calls to my heart and that is fly-fishing. There is a certain style and grace – a poetry – to fly-fishing. The rhythm of the motion involved is like a ballet and when the fish strikes the fly it is especially dramatic. Now, I have never taken up fly-fishing, and I hear it is a very difficult approach to fishing. You must master a score of different skills – casting, knot tying, fly selection – and you must work at it. Even though it can be fun, it’s lots of work too and requires a certain amount of commitment, dedication and focus to master these skills. Plus there is strategy required. This might surprise you, but I have read one experienced fishing guide who states: “A fish is not caught that is not sought.” You must think about what sort of fish you want to catch, learn its habits and best habitat, and learn what particular type of fly, even varying by the time of day and season of the year, the fish likes to eat. It requires skill, commitment, and planning to catch a fish through fly-fishing.
Now if I want to learn how to fly-fish, there are several things I can do. I can Google fly-fishing and probably find a YouTube video that will teach me what I need to know. I can probably find a book on fly-fishing and study it. Or, I can find a fly-fisherman who is willing to mentor me; teach me what I need to know and take me along when he goes fishing so I can watch him and follow him and learn how to fly-fish from him.
This is what Jesus invites those early fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, Simon and Andrew, James and John, to do: follow him, watch his life and ministry, and learn from him how to catch more people for the family of God. Jesus begins his special work for God by calling some fishermen he meets to “Follow me.” Isn’t that interesting? Jesus, whom we have earlier learned from the story of his baptism is the “beloved” of God, specially anointed by the Holy Spirit, does not embark on his work alone. He calls people to join him in this work. He calls people to help him in doing God’s work in the world.
You and I are here today in this church as contemporary disciples of Jesus. Just like Simon and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, you and I have been called to help Jesus do God’s work in the world. That work is to fish for people, catching them up in the gospel net about the good news of God’s love and acceptance of all people. It is the work of spreading that message and bringing people into the new family of God.
What Jesus called those fishermen to do in following him was to watch his life and work and then join him in doing the same thing. What did Jesus do? He engaged with people. He went to be among the people of Galilee and he shared God’s love, openly, honestly, freely, in concrete, tangible ways. That is what he invites us to do as well: to engage people. He is calling us to plunge in, get involved, and no longer stay aloof from the world – from the poor and the rich, from the sick and the possessed, from the powerful and the powerless. Jesus’ own ministry was one of intense involvement with people and with their needs. He taught them about God’s love and acceptance; he brought Good News and light into darkness; he healed their hurts, physical and otherwise. And he taught them how to share God’s love and love each other: by accepting and forgiving one another; by treating each other the way we want to be treated; by actually going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving up our very cloak – going above and beyond to serve, care, and love one another.
This is the life Jesus lived as the Beloved Child of God. By doing so he showed us all that this is what it means to be a beloved child of God. You see, our particular call from God is not to something spectacular on behalf of God, but to be what God has created us to be. Each one of us is a response – a unique response to a unique call. A God of infinite creative love, the source of all life and goodness, calls us into being, sharing with us something of God’s own being in our creation.
Each one of us is here not just to fill space or be a background character in someone else’s movie. Consider this: nothing in the world would be the same if you did not exist. Every place you have ever been and everyone you have ever spoken to would be different if you had not been there. We are all connected, and we are all affected by the decisions and even the existence of those around us.
Take the example of Peter, an attorney in Philadelphia, and his dog, Tucket. Tucket was very sick. Gradually he was becoming paralyzed by a tumor on his spinal cord. Peter could not find a veterinary doctor who could save his dog. Desperate to find someone who could help, he turned to a pediatric neurosurgeon. The doctor agreed to try to help Tucket, and in return he asked Peter for a donation to this children’s hospital where he worked. Jerry has never met Peter or Tucket. Jerry is a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, five-year-old boy who loved to eat mashed potatoes. Jerry also has tumors on his spine and in his brain. With the help from the donation Peter made to the hospital, Jerry underwent successful surgery performed by the doctor to remove the tumors. Tucket’s surgery was also a success.
Each of us has a purpose, a special calling from God. Frederick Buechner suggests a good way to discern our special calling is to look for an intersection in our lives.
The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
If you boiled your life down to one essential task, what would it be? What is Jesus sending you to do? Does that calling bring your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger together? How focused on that one essential task do you feel you are these days? Look over your calendar from the past month or so. Does it seem you’ve been giving that essential area enough of your time and energy? What would you change in order to do more of what you feel most called to do?
Jesus continues to call the Church and continues to call each one of us to join him in doing God’s work in the world today. We may find ourselves going about life just fine, doing work that feeds and serves people, yet God will call us to do and be something different. How willing are we to submit to that shift in our assignment? If the church was previously known for building hospitals and schools, how will it respond to the growing need to serve refugee families or to be a force in the fight against bigotry? Will we accept the changing needs around us and submit to a new assignment, or will we hold fast to what we’ve always known?
Somewhere in our lives there is a place where God has a special work for us to do, a special opportunity to be the presence of God’s love, good news, light and healing for the people around us. We are here because God, through Jesus, has called us here. The call is still being sounded: “Follow me.” Will you drop everything to follow Jesus?