Scripture: Mark 1:14-20
In a couple of months, I am going to need some help from a few of you. My son really wants to go fishing. Up to this point he has only been fishing at some Cub Scout events and at private ponds. However, all winter he has been watching fishing related TV shows like River Monsters and Wicked Tuna. He is determined that when the weather gets warmer he wants to go fishing a lot more regularly, and here is where I need help. I know absolutely nothing about fishing. In almost four decades of life, I can count the number of times I have been fishing on one hand. I do not know any of the details about fishing. Other than night crawlers are a common bait, I do not know what kind of bait or lures are supposed to be used for different kind of fish, I do not know anything about proper techniques, and honestly I do not even know where one can even go to in order to go fishing. Which is I why I am going to need some pointers and help from those of you are accomplished anglers, because I am clueless.
Even though I do not know a whole lot about fishing, it is still a prominent theme in our faith. In fact fish are so prominent in gospel imagery, that the early church adopted a fish as one of the first sacred symbol. The Ichthus or as it is more commonly called today, the “Jesus fish” became a prominent symbol in our faith as early as the second century. They symbol was chosen for a couple of reasons, first it did not stick out as overtly religious so during a time of persecution it was an easy way for Christians to discreetly identify one another. However, the early Christians also described a lot of meaning to the symbol. The word Ichthus became an acronym in Greek, standing for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”. The symbol of a fish also connected with a lot of imagery from the gospels. As this morning’s scripture reminds us several of Jesus’ disciples were professional fishermen. There are several stories in the gospels that involve fishing, and Jesus’ best known miracle includes miraculously multiplying fish along with bread. Then there is this morning’s scripture which also fits really well with the fish imagery. If followers of Jesus are supposed to be fishers of people, then using a fish as a symbol makes a lot of sense. I do not know what your experience is with this morning’s scripture, but I think it is a common one. I know for me, this is one of the first scriptures I can remember really sticking with me, because of playing a fishing game with magnets at vacation bible school when I was very young. I get a sense that this morning’s scripture, and the idea of fishing for people, is one that we are familiar with but not necessarily one we understand all that well. This morning, we should consider together what exactly it means to be a fisher for people and how in doing so we can also proclaim the good news.
Despite how familiar this morning’s scripture is, I have to admit for the longest time I was really uneasy with it. While I do not know a lot about fishing, what I do know is that a lot of it is based in tricking a fish. The whole concept is to make a fish think food is right in front of them, in hopes that they take the bait, and the hook can be set. Anglers have gotten extremely good at tricking fish in this way. There are thousands of different kinds of lures. There are different lures for different kinds of fish and even for different water conditions. Fishing with a rod is all fooling a fish and then reeling them in before they manage to escape. I was long uneasy with this scripture, because to me the idea of being a fisher of people seemed to imply a similar level of deception.
Part of the reason why it felt like that is because, church ministry has a bad habit of bait and switch tactics. Sometimes churches are not even subtle about this. In 2018 a church in Maryland gave away five brand new cars in an effort to get people to come to church. It worked too. On that particular Sunday they had to offer extra service, and they had over 2,500 come to church that day. A car is apparently an effective lure. While the attitude has changed in recent years, trying to bait people in was and especially common practice in youth ministry. When I first started in youth ministry in the early 2000’s, a bait and switch model was still seen as an effective way to reach teenagers. The whole idea was to lure them in with pizza and video games, then spring Jesus upon them. Nearly all the research in the area of youth ministry over the past decade has shown that by and large this approach did not really work. It might have swelled youth group numbers on any given Sunday, but it did not create a sticky a faith, a faith that lasts and leads to true discipleship. How could it? Instead of offering a tangible love, hope, and acceptance we offered pizza in hope that it would lead to praying a sinner’s prayer.
While I served in youth ministry, I did struggle with creating a program that young people would want to be part of, but not make it all feel like a bait and switch. As a result, for a number of years I had a very low opinion of this scripture. Of course, I eventually realized I was reading it wrong. Remember, I do not know a lot about fishing, but I should have known that Andrew and Peter were not using a rod to fish. They were not baiting a hook and trying to cast a line out in hopes of tricking a fish to bite. In fact, the scripture clearly says they were not. The scripture states they were using nets, which is a completely different way to catch fish. There was no bait, no lure, no hook, no line, and sinker. In fishing with a net, the fish are either there or they are not. When Jesus tells Peter and Andrew they will be fishers of people, he is making an analogy. This analogy is not about us reeling in potential converts with the best tricks of the trade we can come up with. The analogy is about us doing the work of joining alongside Jesus to proclaim the good news. When fishing with a net, there is work for the fishermen to do. However, they cannot control the fish. In the same way, there is work to do in making disciples, but it is not our job to save. It is God who saves, and it is God who enables people to say yes to God’s yes. God is the one who does the real work. God is the one who changes hearts. God is the one who cast the sins away, as far as the east is from the west. All we do is bring in the nets-the good news, and God does the rest. Ultimately, that is what Jesus’ analogy is saying. When Jesus said “Come follow men and I will send you out to fish for people”, he was inviting his disciples to join in on the world changing work God is already doing.
Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee and called Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus still calls people today and says, “Follow me.” Jesus calls us to follow him. In being fishers of people we are joining in with what God is already doing, but there is still work for us to do. For us to be faithful to respond to Jesus’ call to follow me, I believe there are two things we should be doing.
First, we have to go to where the people are. One of the biggest skills to fishing, is knowing where to find fish. The best fishermen in the world are the best because they almost have an instinctive way of knowing where the fish are going to be. This was true for Galilee net fishers as well. They did not just cast their nets and hope for the best, they were strategic about where to cast their nets. They cast their nets where they thought the fish would be. This is different than fishing where a rod, where the goal is to hook and bring the fish to where we are.
Too often our strategy in church is bring people to us. We open the door and we try to entice people in. We need to be intentional about going where the people are, and we need to be intentional about engaging them as people. Think of all the people we interact with daily, how many of them do we treat as people created and loved by God, and how many do we treat as faceless extras who populate your life? We need to be intentional about putting ourselves in place where we can interact with others, and then we need to be intentional about actually doing that. We need to be intentional of treating people like God’s beloved creation. Bob Farr, a United Methodist Pastor in Missouri, wrote about a practice he adopted to do this. He reasoned that the only way he could be intentional about caring about people was to connect with them. First, he was intentional about being in the community where people are. Second, he carried ten marbles in his pocket and each time he started a real conversation with someone he did not know, he would move a marble from one pocket to the other. His goal was to move all ten marbles a day. Now I will be honest, as a strong introvert the thought of doing that scare me to death, but I appreciate the point. If we are not actively interacting with the people that Jesus came to save, then we are not going to be able to join in helping God save the lost.
Second, we cast out the nets. It is not enough to know where the fish are, the fishermen have to actually do the work of using their nets. In the contexts of Jesus’ fishing for people analogy we do this by sharing the good news that Jesus proclaimed in verse 15: “The Kingdom of God has come near.” Through Jesus reconciliation with our creator is possible. The love of God has become known, and through that love lives can be changed and communities can be transformed. Though the world is fallen and broken, Jesus has ushered in a new reality where we can have a confident hope, where we can live as new creations. We can truly believe and have an assurance that hurts will be tended and dreams will be enabled. We do not try to lure people in with bait, so we can catch them hook, line, and sinker. We simply live authentic lives based in the amazing, life changing love of God.
Does that characterize your life? When you go to where the people are, will people who do not yet know Jesus encounter you as a person full of joy and life or as a person full of fear and anger? Will you be encountered as a righteous person who seeks to love God and do right by others, or will they just encounter a self-righteous person? If we have responded to Jesus saying “come, follow me” then we should be living changed lives that are clearly evident to those who are not yet following Jesus. If we are not doing that, then I submit we have not truly started following Jesus yet. Remember, we do not save people. God does. By living an authentic, faith-filled life changed by the grace of God then that is like putting out nets out there and counting on God to do the rest.
Jesus first called these four disciples, three of whom would be some of his closest friends as he walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He invited them to follow me, and they did. This is an invitation that Jesus still makes to us today. Jesus told them that if they follow me, then they will make a real difference, as fishers of people. That promise still stands today. We can make a real difference, we can make disciples, and we can transform the world. We do not do that by trying to manipulate people to accept the gospel. We do not do that by baiting a hook and enticing people in. We do not just offer pizza, we offer Jesus. We go to where the people are and we share the good news through living a life changed by that news. Friends, it is time to go fishing.