We have to ask ourselves: Are we spending too much time mending our nets and hoping the fish will jump into our boats?
(Mark 1: 14-20)
One of the perks that came with my marriage to Teresa was fishing. I was not a fisherman growing up, but my in-laws were avid pursuers of the elusive Black Bass which inhabited the lake they lived on just northeast of Houston. They had two distinct styles of fishing. My father-in-law studied the different kinds of baits that were guaranteed to land a lunker and he’d change colors of the plastic worms as if a bass could tell the difference between a blue Bagley Bait worm and a grape colored one. And if he didn’t get a strike within a half-a-dozen quick casts he’d fire up the 150 horse Mercury and go skimming off to the next secret fishing hole. My mother-in-law on the other hand was more patient in waiting out the fish, especially if there were snacks to eat and a conversation to be had, conversations that my father-in-law disapproved of because it might scare off the fish. As if they couldn’t hear that Mercury motor bearing down on them at full throttle. From what I could tell, there was no real right or wrong way to fish. If you got a quick strike you’d hang around until you caught all that were attracted to your bait, and if it looked like a good spot that needed some patience, you’d work it and see what it yielded as far as keepers.
And that’s what the Apostle Mark is talking about in his gospel message for this morning. Mark was not one of the original twelve but by all appearances, he knew Jesus personally as his was the first gospel written and it contained stories that are repeated in the other gospels. Additionally, he accompanied the Apostle Paul on his first missionary journey and no doubt supplied Paul with a lot of important background material to help him in his ministry of bringing people to Christ.
Mark starts out by saying that after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying: Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” John’s arrest was the catalyst that told Jesus it was time for him to step forward and take up where John had left off. As you recall, John’s job was to pave the way, make straight the path, for one mightier than he whose sandals he was not worthy to stoop down and untie. John did his job well. He got everyone’s attention because he was teaching Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. He whetted their appetite’s and piqued their curiosity, making them want to know more about this glimmer of hope. He also ruffled the feathers of the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, upsetting their status quo, and he didn’t do himself any favors when he ridiculed King Herod for marrying his sister-in-law. Jesus is now taking it to the next level by proclaiming the good news, the coming of the kingdom of God, which was a subject of much Old Testament prophecy and was a theme that was more than familiar to Jesus’ listeners. Where the religious leaders were preaching a message of maintenance of sin, Jesus was preaching a message of change, a new life free of the burden of sin and lawlessness.
So now Mark is telling us that as Jesus was walking along the shore of the sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, fishermen, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea. Jesus calls out to them saying: Come, follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people. And without discussing the pros and cons of giving up a life of fishing from boats they left their nets and followed Jesus. As we know from last week’s sermon Andrew was one of John’s disciples who heard John exclaim: “Look! The Lamb of God!” as Jesus walked by, and that Andrew had gone to get his brother Simon to bring him to meet Christ. They knew who Jesus was but now they were being called to a lifetime of service. Mark then tells us that after going a little farther along the shore Jesus saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets, and at that very moment Jesus called to them to follow him. They immediately dropped what they were doing, got out of the boat, and left their father Zebedee in the boat with his hired workers. Now it would be hard to believe that two fishermen who hadn’t met Jesus previously would have leapt out of their boat and left the family business but, as I know from my commercial fisherman son-in-law, every fishing community is close knit, and everyone knows everyone else’s business. So, there is little doubt in my mind that Andrew and Simon shared what they knew about Jesus with James and John, so that when they saw the three men on the shore, they knew exactly who they were and what was going on.
So, why four fishermen? Why not four Pharisees or four other learned religious leaders? I mean, these guys weren’t even rabbis or Certified Lay Ministers. What could they have possibly known that was so special to Jesus? First of all, I think Jesus was looking for some men who weren’t afraid of a little hard work, and what could be harder than fishing in open waters and hoping for a good catch to feed the family and pay the bills? He was looking for men who had weathered the storms of life and could handle the unexpected and sudden changes in the weather, so to speak. And, as was required of all young Jewish boys, they had been to school and had studied the Torah under the watchful eyes of the local rabbi, kind of like our Sunday schools only a whole lot more rigid and demanding. They were well-versed in the basics and Jesus was going to put that knowledge to work combined with their ability to relate to the common man, the people struggling to get by, the ones longing for something new, the liberating promise of the God of Abraham. For these first four disciples, the gospel they would share with others would be like a net, lifting people from the dark waters of despair into the light of day and transforming their lives. Some days the catch would be great, other days it would be hit and miss, and sometimes they would go home empty-handed, disappointed in their efforts and hoping the next day would be more promising.
Mark’s lesson here is two-fold. First, Jesus’ words to “change your hearts and lives” is a call to repent and change. He’s saying that the maintenance of sin, just going through the motions of regular church attendance, will no longer suffice. There’s an internal remedy with the promise of the Holy Spirit that will truly change your life for the better. It’s a message of hope that is found not in simply being declared forgiven, but in having the additional assurance of a full union with Christ. Jesus’ call is one of optimism as it offers what tangible next steps to take after turning to God and following him wherever He will lead. It’s a gospel message that is designed to make missionaries of all God’s people so that they can cast their nets in waters that have never been fished before.
So, the question is: How can God use you to fish for people’s souls? And how can God use our church to fish for people’s souls? It’s no secret that mainline denominations have been declining for decades and our church is no exception. We’ve pretty much shown that the “attractional model” doesn’t work. Attractional as in we’re nice people, we have a nice church, and we love Jesus. I’ve seen posts on Facebook saying that what is wrong with this country is that people have stopped going to church, and if they’d come back all of their problems would be solved. Really, why should they? Most churches, the vast majority of them, are offering the same messages as the Pharisees offered two thousand years ago. Sin maintenance. Your sins have been forgiven. See you next Sunday. I’ve had people tell me that they don’t need to come to church to feel close to God so why should they roll out of bed on a Sunday morning to come to a place that they think won’t help change their lives for the better? They’ve already asked for and received forgiveness. That’s hard to argue with if you aren’t doing anything relevant, meaningful, and kingdom building. We have to ask ourselves: Are we spending too much time mending our nets and hoping the fish will jump into our boats? Are we fishing in waters that have been overfished? Do we need to get out of our boats and truly follow the one who knows how to fish? Personally, I think our boat is in pretty good shape and our nets are strong. We just can’t be afraid of the weather; we need to cast new nets where waters have never been fished before. We just need to go fishin’.
Let us pray.
Yes, when we walk with the Lord in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way! Call us Lord, just as you called your early disciples, simple and hard-working fishermen, call us and we will follow you. Show us, merciful Jesus how to fish for people. Equip us through your Holy Spirit to cast your net of love, mercy, and understanding into waters not yet fished bringing the lost out of the dark depths and into the light of your salvation. Open our eyes as to what needs to be done to restore your kingdom and we will do it, because in you Lord, we trust and obey. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.
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