Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As a pastor in Minnesota, I know that fishing stories are supposed to be flattering to the fishermen in the church. I once tried to impress the fishermen in my previous congregation in Marine on St. Croix by buying a new fishing pole. The Men’s Group was going to spend an evening together on pontoon boats drifting along the narrow shallows of the St. Croix River, and I needed to be outfitted for the night. Mind you, these men were not working on their Boy Scout fishing merit badge. They were the same folks who when they said they were going camping, would pull up to the site with their air conditioned, studio apartment on wheels- complete with a deluxe espresso maker. Well, the fishing pole I bought for that first occasion with the Men’s Group was just right- for deep sea fishing in the Caribbean. The men all sniggered at their pastor wondering whether I would catch a blue marlin or a killer barracuda.
Of course, it’s not simply the fishermen in the congregation who are intrigued by this story. The longer I have served in the church, the more I have grown to recognize that everyone struggles with their sense of calling. You see, your professional or vocational call is only one form of God’s invitation to work. Many of us spend our entire lives shifting between one call or another, and often fulfilling multiple tasks at the same time. Simultaneously, as you work in your field, you learn to serve faithfully in the call as a mother or father to your children, and then later in life as faithful children to your failing parents. You serve dutifully in your call as caring neighbors and as stewards of creation. One of the greatest challenges is to keep these various callings in balance. Perhaps that is why the story of Jesus’ calling of the first disciples has such an important place in the life of the people of faith. It echoes our own human experience and our daily struggle.
But today, this familiar story challenges us in a new way. The world is always changing and the opportunities that arise often need new gifts and abilities. Surprisingly, just as Jesus once strolled along the Sea of Galilee long ago, God is walking up to unsuspecting men and women to this day inviting them even now to “follow me.” Faithfulness to God’s call is never about making a decision once and then doing everything the same way ever after. No, faithfulness is the openness to respond immediately to a new and changing world. Faithfulness, as modelled by Jesus, is the ability to respond when the moral compass of the age is lost, and the John the Baptists of world have been arrested, and where friends and enemies alike are searching for moral, ethical and spiritual guidance.
My friends, our nation and its very livelihood is being tested. Violence and destruction is not acceptable, and should not be tolerated. You and I are being called upon to bring about unity, peace and stability to a fractured and anxious people and to hold it together. We are straddling between two political eras with differing views on a global pandemic and the economic measures to address it. If we continue as two separate nations, we will never live to the potential and possibility that God has set before us. We must strive together to find a spirit of unity and good will. And so the question that is before you today is: How will you answer when God calls?
We certainly can turn to scripture for guidance. In St. Mark’s gospel, the two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew first appeared on the Sea of Galilee. They were fishermen, and one day as they were casting their nets into the sea, Jesus walked along on the shoreline. He saw them out there in their boat and he called out, “Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people.” And immediately they got out of their boat and they followed him. And according to the evangelist, no questions were asked. He didn’t write that Jesus said, “I’ll give you a bigger salary or a larger boat.” Nor did he promise them that he would make them famous and successful. He didn’t even say how long they would need to follow. He simply said, “Follow me.” Then Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee a little further, and he saw two other brothers, James and John. They were in their boat mending their nets, and he said the same thing to them as well, “Follow me.” And again we read, immediately, with no questions asked, they got out of their boat and followed him. So powerful was this call of God in Jesus’ words, and so hungry in their lives was this need to be called that they stepped out of the boat, leaving everything behind, and they followed Jesus.
Of course, not everyone abandons their nets when they hear Jesus’ words, “Follow me.” They may not be convinced that God is truly calling, nor are they convinced that a change in their work or lives or attitude will make a difference. And yet some people, like the four fishermen, do abandon their nets. They hear good news worthy of their lives. If things were just fine in their old world, perhaps they would have stayed with their nets. But sensing God’s kingdom drawing near, they reshaped and redirected their lives. They dropped everything and went out following Jesus in a new direction.
It is an amazing story. So what did Jesus see in those four fishermen. It may be the same question that you are wondering yourself? What does God see in you that is so important to the work of his kingdom at this time, and in this place? I rather suspect that for the first four disciples, God could see in them- courage, curiosity and confidence.
The hundreds of fishermen who toiled on the Sea of Galilee were a courageous and fool hearty lot of men. Storms and waves were frequent on the great lake, but they knew that if they were to make a living they needed to move out into deep water. Deep water is where God’s abundance is, but deep water also takes courage. Of course, it’s easier and safer to stay along the shore. Shallow water is pleasant. It is safe. You can see all the way to the bottom in shallow water, and so staying there is a great temptation. But the four fishermen were courageous and willing to take a chance. It’s where they could make a living.
Yes, it’s a temptation for Christians today to stay in the shallow, safe waters near the shore. It is easy to talk only to the people who you know agree with you. It doesn’t take any courage to be patient with like-minded friends, but what about those with differing views and life experiences? Shallow water doesn’t cost you much nor does it take a whole lot of courage. But in the deep water, where the great schools of fish are swimming, you have to trust the words and directions of those who have passed through the deep water before you. You have to have courage. That is why Jesus called the four fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. God needs courageous men and women who are willing to venture out into deep waters and to talk and love those who are out there. That’s what he sees in you.
Second, Jesus saw in these fishermen a sense of curiosity. The four men knew the fishing villages along the Sea of Galilee, and many of the villagers were their lifelong friends and neighbors, but Jesus came to their village on the sea as an outsider, as a rabbi from the hill country of Nazareth. The four fishermen were curious about the world beyond their corner of the Galilee, and, truthfully, they were expecting things to be different. Whoever travels to a new place hoping that it will be same? Some people don’t expect change in others because they don’t expect change within themselves. They are not curious about other people or their stories and why they think the way they do.
Curiosity is a word of encouragement and a challenge for each one of us. There are many experiences in life that move us away from what is most comfortable. There are professional, personal and emotional borders that confront us every day, but we don’t have any expectation that something could happen or change us when we explore that other side.
Curious expectation and fulfillment is always the first-born child of faith. When you say that you believe in God, and you choose to follow, you can trust that God is going to bring you safely to a new destination and home again. You may have some new discoveries and detours along the way. That is the journey of faith, and what you experience is the shear wonder of God’s world.
Unfortunately, for some believers, curiosity of new possibilities and new thoughts is not worth the chance. They whisper beneath their breath. “Thanks for the invitation to follow you Jesus, but this time, no thanks. I’m keeping to my own little corner of the sea and my favorite fishing spots.” My friends, in this challenging time, you have to be curious about your neighbor. You have to be willing to listen to how they think and tick. Jesus saw that curiosity in Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, and I believe it is what he sees in you.
Finally, Jesus saw in these four fishermen a sense of confidence. After all these four men could have dismissed Jesus’ invitation to become fishers of men as simple folly. They knew fish and the art of fishing better than any man from Nazareth. They knew the waters and the time the fish swam better than a carpenter who was newly established in their village. Of course, some people believe they know more about life and people than God. And then there others, who don’t think they know more about life and people than God; but they just act that way. They carry on with their prejudices and biases. They too hear God’s instructions for life: Forgive and forget. Bless those who hurt you. Give generously. Welcome the stranger. Yet, they ignore God’s invitation to the abundant live, and instead, cower in the fear of their neighbor who they consider their enemy. But these four fisherman were confident of the themselves and God’s purpose for their lives. Confident Christians don’t have to their own way. They don’t have to have everyone agree with them- right now. They can allow God’s word to do its work through them.
My friends, that’s when miracles happen. It’s what our nation needs today. When you accept God’s new call, when you leave all of life’s burdens and prejudices behind you, and go out into the deep, great catches of fish will happen. When you let God who knows, and loves you more than you know and love yourself, have his way with your life and gifts, miracles of healing and unity will come to pass. What possibilities are waiting for you and your life? You will never know until you allow God to be God in your life. And when you do, you will be surprised that he can make even you too into a fisher of people. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.