A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
Jan 22, 2017
When did you decide to follow Jesus?
Some of you have a clear answer to that question and could tell me the minute, hour, day, month, and year that Jesus told you to leave your nets and follow him.
It isn’t as clear for all of us. I couldn’t tell you the day I followed Jesus. I grew up going to church.
So I don’t remember the moment.
But I remember a lot of moments.
–My Sunday school teachers who taught me that Jesus loved all of us, even when one of us was a young boy who liked to cut my hair during the bible lesson while the teacher had her back turned to us so she could put the flannel gram image of Jesus on the board.
–I remember being allowed to come to the adult Sunday school class when I was in high school because listening to Dale Bruner teach and talk about Greek was more interesting to me than being ignored by whatever boys were in my Sunday school class.
–I remember my pastor in college who spoke the very word of God to me at the moment I most needed to hear it.
–I remember being welcomed by a church in Albuquerque when Justin and I were first married and moved to a new city. Our best friends today are still the people we met there, who met with us weekly in Bible Study and fellowship.
So I can look back at a lot of moments on my road to discipleship. And I am thankful for all of those people who played a role—for my family, my Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, pastors, the little old ladies who made cookies for coffee hour—the list is long.
And even if you can remember the moment, I am sure you might also have little moments that led up to the one moment.
I wonder about the disciples. Their moment is written in Scripture.
In Luke’s account, Jesus is walking along and a huge crowd is following him, wanting to hear what he has to say. He walks by the shore, where some fishermen have just come in from their day’s work and are putting away the motor, cleaning the nets, stacking up the life jackets, etc.
For these fishermen, you wonder if Jesus and the crowd that is following him are just a nuisance. “Excuse me, lady. I know you want to see Jesus, but could you please not stand on my nets???”
Jesus doesn’t stop to ask them what they think about it. He climbs in Simon Peter’s boat and says, “put out from shore a little way.” If Peter thinks, “excuse me, mister-just-who-do-you-think-you-are”, the text doesn’t reflect it.
Peter obeys. And Jesus teaches.
But when he’s done teaching, he turns to Simon and says, “take the boat to deeper water and set out your nets for a catch.”
Jesus the rabbi, the Palestinian equivalent of college professor/nerd pastor, starts telling the professional fishermen how to fish.
You might be able to guess that this story is reason 567 why Jesus didn’t pick me to be his favorite disciple. I would have said, “yeah. Thanks sir. Listen, I enjoyed your sermon, you seem to be good at THAT, but I’ll take you back to shore now and then I’ll go home because I already fished all night and I caught nothing!”
And I might have rolled my eyes out loud.
But Peter, who does mention the facts—we fished all night and caught nothing thank you very much—goes on to say, “but if you say so, we’ll do it.”
And what a good decision that was! So many fish their nets start to break. So they call the other boat to come out and their nets are full up. And then they are concerned the boats will sink under the weight of the harvest.
Peter drops to his knees and tells Jesus that he is a sinful man and so Jesus ought to just leave him.
Isn’t that cute? As if Jesus doesn’t already know this!
Already in this story, Peter has had some moments. Peter recognized something in Jesus—from what he had said when he was teaching, to the authority with which he commanded them, to the way he out-fished the professional fishermen—Peter recognized that Jesus was not like us. Peter recognized his own broken, sinful humanity and realized if this Rabbi is looking for people to become like him, for someone to teach all he knows, then Jesus better look somewhere else because we’re not worthy.
And have you ever had an experience where you were selected for something you thought you weren’t qualified for? Ever been picked for a sports team—I mean not picked LAST for a team—and wondered, “why’d they pick me when so and so hasn’t been chosen yet?” Sometimes when you have those moments, where people pick YOU, instead of picking the people you would have chosen, do you ever hear that voice in your head saying, “if they chose me then I guess they aren’t quite as smart as I thought they were?”
I totally get Peter dropping to his knees and telling Jesus he picked the wrong boat. “It is very nice that you stopped by, and I really appreciate this big haul of fish, but I know these guys—and trust me— we are not the disciples you’re looking for.” It would make more sense for Jesus to call disciples who have it all together and are perfect. People who don’t screw up 5 times before breakfast.
Jesus calling disciples like Peter and the gang, disciples like us, makes no sense at all. Not today. Not 2,000 years ago. And yet, it is the way Jesus works, despite our advice.
Jesus tells them to leave behind their nets, their boats, the giant haul of fish they just caught, and to also leave behind their fears of their own inadequacy, their fears that they have nothing to offer to God because they are “just” fishermen, and their fears that Jesus has made a bad decision that he will regret in a few days.
So that is good news for all of us.
If Jesus wants disciples like Peter, then maybe there is room for us. If Jesus didn’t go to career day at the Temple to pick out his disciples, we should take note. If he called disciples who were just minding their own business, fixing their nets, going to soccer practice, updating their facebook profiles, whatever, then perhaps we should expect him to call us as well.
Perhaps all of the excuses we use to NOT be disciples—not educated, not old enough, too old, not smart enough, too smart, too busy, whatever—perhaps all of those excuses aren’t going to work.
After Peter points out to Jesus that he is hanging out with the wrong people—namely Peter and his friends—Jesus says, “Have no fear, Peter. From now on, you will be fishing for people.”
I’ve been thinking about this metaphor for evangelism. And it can be a little troubling. We don’t throw hooks into people so we can snag them out of their lives into an environment where they can’t breathe and bring them into the nets of our churches.
What does fishing for people really look like? Why are we fishing for them in the first place? What is this work we’re being called to as disciples?
Church member Terri Nicholson died peacefully at home last week after a battle with cancer. A celebration of her life was held Friday evening and one of the stories shared about her life made me think of our work as fishers of people.
Terri was an elementary school teacher. An excellent one. She would spend time with the students who were much younger than the kids in her classes, find out what they were up to, get to know them, encourage their art projects, class projects, etc.
And one of her principals asked her one day why she was spending so much of her rare free time or prep time in the hallways of the younger grades. She said she would eventually have some of those kids in her classroom. She said she was making deposits. She was starting a relationship that had no immediate value, perhaps, when prioritized to her already busy schedule. But trusting that her time spent with them in kindergarten or first grade would pay off when they were in third grade.
What if we imagined fishing for people being like making deposits in people’s lives?
Looking back to the moments I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon, when I looked back over my faith journey to becoming a disciple, I can see so many people who made deposits in my life.
Sunday School teachers weren’t teaching me because they knew some day I would become a pastor. And still they gave their time. They made a deposit in my life.
The pastors who cared for me had no guarantee their time spent would “pay off” some day. And still they gave me their time. They made a deposit in my life.
The many members of so many churches who welcomed me throughout my life didn’t do it because they had a guarantee I’d join and start volunteering in the kitchen or something. And still they welcomed me and gave of their time to make their congregations places of welcome and hospitality. They made a deposit in my life.
Perhaps fishing for people is less like the story where the disciples get the big haul and their nets break. Perhaps the story Luke should have spent time with is the one from the beginning of the text. “We were out all night and caught nothing”.
That’s why I’m a terrible fisherwoman. My tolerance for boredom and sitting in boat waiting for nothing to happen is LOW.
For all of the great fishing stories—and some of them must be true, right?—where people catch the biggest fish ever, or where the catch tears up the nets, we know that more of the fishing stories are the ones where nothing happens.
We don’t talk about those stories because they are the boring stories of waiting and preparing and sitting around, hoping to feel the tug on the line while mosquitos bite, waiting while everyone else catches something as you sit there like a loser.
That’s what fishing is like. At least some of the time.
And it’s what being a disciple is like too. At least some of the time.
I think of all of the work that happens behind the scenes here to make sure that this building is warm, inviting, safe, with working toilets, sidewalks clear of ice, and food and coffee in the fellowship hall.
Those aren’t the stories you think of, perhaps, if I were to ask you what it means to fish for people. Perhaps you’d envision a large new member class, gathered on the chancel steps. And some days it is like that, with nets bursting.
Most days, though, fishing for people is someone chipping at the ice on the sidewalks and mopping up a flood in the basement. There are so many ways you “make deposits” in the lives of people you don’t even know. Being at the PRIDE festival. Taking backpacks to schools, or donations to social service agencies, or reading books with kids at Grace Jordan Elementary.
When Jesus picked a rag tag group of fishermen to be his disciples, he picked people who knew all about making deposits for future fishing. Mending nets. Keeping the lines untangled and the motor in good working condition. Sitting all night on a boat while the nets remain empty. And then going back to do it again the next day—playing a long game, knowing the fish will be there tomorrow, or the next day, even if they are not there right now.
So, do not be afraid. Have no fear. From now on, you will be fishing for people. Leave your nets, leave your boats, leave your distractions, leave your fears, and get ready to follow Jesus. It’s time to make deposits in other people’s lives. There may have been lots of moments that led to this day. But the moment is now. Jesus is calling you. Yes, you.
Here’s the video I showed during the Time with the Children: