I was never much interested in fishing. Perhaps it was the taste of the bullheads we occasionally caught in the backwaters of the Mississippi, or my failure to interest the trout in the nearby stream to take a bite of the worms I dangled on a hook in front of them. But my brother-in-law loved fishing, and when he learned about the trout stream that was only a couple miles from the farm his wife grew up on, he was in his glory. He didn’t fish with worms. He had this collection of fishing flies, which he took with him to the stream. Before he started any fishing, he took careful note about the insects that were flying over the water. Then he would compare those insects with his fishing flies to decide which of his flies looked the most like those insects. Sometimes he’d come back from an unsuccessful time at the trout stream and spend the evening making new fishing flies that would match more closely the insects that the trout were eating. The next day we’d have a meal of fresh grilled trout – which tasted a whole lot better than the bullheads I remember catching.
Peter and Andrew and James and John didn’t fish with worms or flies or lures of any kind. They fished with nets. They dropped the nets into the water to surround the fish, and when they drew the nets into the boat, they brought in the fish. When Jesus meets these fishermen, Peter and Andrew are casting nets into the sea; James and John are in their boats mending their nets. Both tasks are important for their trade. You need to get out into the water were the fish are to bring them in with the nets. And the nets need regular mending so that there are no openings were the fish can just swim through and away from the net. Jesus calls these four men to leave the fish and begin fishing for people.
But while Jesus calls these disciples to leave their work to fish for people, Jesus returns to the image of fishing to teach his followers about God’s kingdom. He says, in one place, that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a great net thrown into the sea, catching fish of every kind. And that is the good news. We are like fish that get surrounded by the net of God’s love, and we are drawn into the kingdom of God where there is life and salvation. And there is really nothing for the fish to do. They are just caught. It’s all about God’s love – we are saved by grace and it is not our own doing but a gift from God. And we can’t ever forget that it is all about God’s grace and love. We are the fish caught so that we can live now and forever in the kingdom of God.
And I suppose we could just live our whole lives in that place, soaking up the love, forever and ever. But I think somewhere along the line we need to deal with the question of how we respond to God’s unconditional love. I like to put the question this way: Now that you know that God loves you unconditionally now and forever, what are you going to do about it? It’s only when we start dealing with that question that we fish start to get out of the water, and then we are able to let God change us into disciples who are learning how to fish for people.
Yes, we are saved by grace, but we are also “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” God intends to change every fish that is caught in the net of God’s kingdom into a follower of Jesus who learns to fish for people. And the fishing takes work. We may have to learn something about the fish that Jesus want’s us to catch. The same old same old doesn’t always work. The trout didn’t pay any attention to worms I dangled in front of them, but the flies that my brother-in-law made—that was something that they were interested in. There are many people who have given up on church because of their experience of church fighting or cliques or just the sense that the church was just one other social club they didn’t need to be a part of. I remember Doug and Mary Jo. They described themselves as C & E Christians before they retired and moved permanently to their lake home near Grand Rapids. But a neighbor invited them to church in the little town by their lake. They discovered a community of people who welcomed them, and once they started coming, there was hardly a Sunday they were not at worship. Carl felt he had graduated from church when we was confirmed, and he never felt a need to go back. I’d had contact with Carl at confirmation and wedding services for his grandchildren. Then when his wife died, and I officiated at her funeral, I invited Carl to worship. He came the next Sunday and found people who surrounded and supported him in his grief. And for the rest of the time I served that congregation Carl hardly ever missed a Sunday. The way we welcome and include other are the nets we use to bring new fish into God’s kingdom. But we have to pay attention to our welcome and our conversations. Are the conversations that people might overhear at church the kind that make people feel welcome, and if not, we perhaps need to med our nets.
But the challenges of fishing today are harder than they used to be. One out of five people in our country answers “none,” when asked what their religion is. For adults under 30 one in three give that answer. Yet many of those who say they don’t have a religion say that they are “spiritual but not religious.” I believe Jesus wants his disciples to catch these people also for God’s kingdom, but maybe to catch these, we need completely new nets—we need make some changes so that all the people God wants in the kingdom can be included. What we do as a church is not just what will make the fish that are already here happy. God transforms us from fish into people who cast nets to gather others into God’s kingdom.
The question is whether we are willing to let God do that with our lives. It’s so much easier to just be a fish. But Jesus calls you to leave behind the self-centered mind of the fish and commit to following Jesus so that like Peter and Andrew and James and John you can fish for people. AMEN.