Friday, January 20, 2017

Let's Go Fishing -- Matthew 4:12-23

Matthew 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus[a] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 the people who sat in darkness

    have seen a great light,and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[b]18 As he 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. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.23 Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

How many folks here like to go fishing?

I have a lot of friends who enjoy going fishing. 

One friend I have never seems to catch anything, but that doesn’t seem to bother him.  One day I asked him if he’d gone fishing the week before, and he said he had.

So I asked him if he had caught anything, and he said he hadn’t.

But then he told me "It's not important how many fish I catch. After all, it's called 'fishing' not 'catching.'

What bothers me most about my friend is not that he might not be a good fisherman. But I'm not sure he always abides by the fishing laws.  He was on a trip in North Carolina one time and he wanted to some fishing.  He didn’t have a fishing license, but that didn’t stop him.

He hadn't been there more than 10 minutes when he turned around and saw a uniformed man standing just a few feet away.

"Are you the game warden?" my friend asked the man.

"Yes I am. Lemme see yo' fishin' license, boy."

"I'm not fishing," my friend insisted.

"If you're not fishing, I'd like to know what in the world you're doing," said the game warden.

Very calmly,  my friend lifted the fishing pole, pulling the line out of the water. At the end of the line was a hook and on the hook was a live minnow. My buddy looked at the game warden and said, "See, I'm not fishing. I'm just trying to teach my son's pet fish how to swim."

Fish stories. Gotta love 'em. What brings them to mind this morning is this reading from our New Testament Lesson, in which Jesus is beginning his ministry. And here at the beginning, he starts by preaching and by calling his first disciples. He calls these four by name and says, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people."

In other words, he is making evangelists out of these common fishermen. He is calling them to follow him so they can learn how to share the Good News of the Gospel and share the Christian Faith throughout the world.

Evangelism has become an uncomfortable word in this day and age. We think of people passing out printed pamphlets and brochures on the street, television preachers, and people going from house to house knocking on the doors of strangers' homes. There is something embarrassing about it.

Or maybe it is our multi-cultural society in which we want to accept people in all of our diversity -- maybe we don't want to come across as trying to force others to believe like we do.

For whatever the reason, most of us are uncomfortable with the concept of evangelism. We read a passage such as this one from Matthew and we think, "Thank God He didn't call me to do that kind of work."

But not so fast. In Matthew's Gospel the first thing Jesus does in his ministry is to call people to share the Good News. He refers to them as fishers of people. Then at the end of Matthew we find Jesus concluding his earthly ministry. The very last words of Matthew's Gospel says, (Matthew 28:18-20) "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'"

That passage is called the Great Commission and it is given to all Christians, reminding us that we are all called to go and to make disciples of all nations, or as Jesus put it to these four common fishermen, we are all supposed to become fishers of men and women.

So, my question to you today is "when was the last time you went fishing?"

And I don't mean the kind of fishing my buddy does with a fishing pole.

When was the last time you went fishing for some men and women to join the church?

Probably not many of us have been fishing for people lately, so let's get to work.

First things, first, we need to learn how. Fortunately, Jesus gives us a lesson by example in the reading from Matthew's Gospel.

The first thing a fisherman needs to know is where to fish. My buddy is not the only one who likes to fish. I like to fish also. One time, I was in a boat with one of my elders and we hadn't caught anything at all. We'd been at if for a while, and just for fun, I said, "Jim, you see that buoy over there. There's a fish over there just waiting to be caught. I think I'll throw my line out there and catch it." Then I cast my line exactly where I'd talked about. Believe me, no one was more surprised than I was when a fish immediately took the bait. I brought in a beauty. Jim looked at me and was absolutely amazed.

"I've never seen anything like that," Jim said. "Do that again."

Well, of course I couldn't. Because I really didn't know exactly where another fish was. But those who fish will know that there are some places where fish probably are. A good fisherman will look at the land and the water, and will know some of the things about what is under the water.

Now, as a fisherman of men and women, where are the people to be caught and brought into the Kingdom of God?

What Jesus did was very simple. He went to where the people hung out. In this case, he went to where they worked for a living -- on the lake, literally trying to catch fish. They were doing their usual routine -- catching fish, mending nets - going about their normal routine.

We can do the same. We can go out to where the people just normally would be found. Work. School. The health club. The bridge club. Wherever we happen to meet people, that is where we happen to meet an opportunity to become a fisher of men and women.

Step two. If you are going to catch fish in the water, you need to know more than just WHERE to fish. You need to know WHEN.

When I was a teenager, my father and I would go to Myrtle Beach at the same time every year because that was when the pompano were running. We knew that by experience.

I went fishing with one fellow one time who had a complex mathematical formula based on the phase of the moon, the tides, the temperature, and other factors. When all these factors were at an optimum, he'd go fishing.

Probably the best method for fishing I've ever heard about was one a church member in a church I used to serve subscribed to. He sold fishing equipment, and if sales were good, he knew the fishing was good. But if no one was buying any fishing equipment, he knew the fishing was bad.

How about the "fish" that Jesus sends us after? One of the best opportunities is at a moment of transition. Perhaps a birth or a death, new home, new job, NO job.

One cyber-friend of mine writes,

The dedicated fishermen in my parish...are ever watchful and sensitive to change - they watch the currents in the water, sniff the air for moisture, aware of changes in weather as lows and highs invade the atmosphere, watch the terrain under the boat looking for habitat that contain the fish. And they change - when the circumstances change going deeper in the water, switching lures when light intensity in the water changes or when they are in clear water vs darker water.
Good lesson for "fishers of people" as well. Be sensitive to the changes in people's lives that might make them hungry for a word of good news.

Speaking of hunger, that brings to step three -- selecting the right bait. I went fishing at a lake in South Carolina one time with my father. This is, by the way, a true story.

We were sitting in a boat fishing and all across the lake you could see the fish were so active, they were constantly jumping up out of the water and coming down with a splash. And by the way, this is a true story.

Every time one would jump up, I'd cast my line in that direction and try to catch the one I'd just seen jump out of the water.

And yes, this is a true story.

My father was laughing at me and said something about how that wouldn't work, because by the time my line reached the place where the fish had jumped, the fish would be gone. "You have to wait for the fish to come to you," my father said.

And right at that moment, a fish jumped out of the water, right into our boat.

By the way, did I tell you this was a true story? Actually, I’ve told that story from time to time and I have discovered that as wonderful as that experience was for me, it was not unique.  That sort of thing does happen from time time.

But that is how most churches fish for souls.

The way most churches fish for men and women is to just sit back in our boat, or the pew, and just waiting for some fish to just jump right in on their own. We open the church doors and hope someone comes in by accident.

But successful "fishers of souls" will reach out for the people, and will offer something to attract the people. For example, an invitation to "Come to church with me sometime" will rarely work. It is too easy to say "Sure" to that and never give it another thought. Instead, invite your friend to something particular: a special event (for example, the Fourth Thursday at the Garden is coming up this week.  Or invite them to a Bible Study, a little bit of activities for the kids – they’ll come to that.

Or to the annual Picnic.  Who in their right mind would turn down food?

Or maybe your friend has a concern for the poor– invite him to go to a work day at United Against Poverty or to the soup kitchen.

One of our elders at the Session meeting on Thursday night was sharing some of her experiences at the recent Presbytery meeting.  One of the speakers said, “If you are not catching anything, change the bait.”

I’m not saying ‘don’t invite your friends to come to worship.’  Please do.  But most of the people who will come to a worship service are people who are already Christians.   I don’t care what kind of worship it is.  What attracts the unchurched are things the unchurched already enjoy – eating, fellowship, things like that.

One final bit of fishing advice (and I say final only because of time considerations - whole books of advice for anglers are out there). Be patient. No one can be successful at fishing without perseverance. If you give up after a few minutes, a few casts, without any bites or nibbles, you will never catch any fish.

I used to live in Brunswick GA and one day I took a couple of my relatives across the river to go fishing at St. Simons Island.  They were older relatives and so I carried their fishing gear to the pier.  It was a great pier and I’d fished there several times and I knew without any doubt that by the end of the day we were going to catch lots of fish.

When they got settled in at the pier, I walked back to my car to get my fishing gear.  As I turned to walk back to the pier, I saw them coming to the car. The man was very upset and said, “My wife says we won’t catch any fish here.”

I remember thinking – she’s right.  If you get in the car and drive away, you won’t catch any fish.

It takes patience.                    

 And so does evangelism.

Fishing for souls takes patience.  You gotta stick with it.

Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.