This is the last in a series we’ve called “Growing Spiritually,” which started with the clean slate God gives each of us. When we trust God with ourselves, when we say, God, I can’t do this alone, God says, “No problem. I’ve got you. You will never be alone again. Clean slate. Let’s go!”
God then starts to give you a new world view, a different way of seeing the world around you. The barriers and obstacles between you and others start to fall as you see begin to care about people as God cares about people.
The next step is following. Jesus asks you to follow. Watch me. Do what I do. You begin to see that the job description for a follower of Jesus is get you focus off of yourself and serve the people Jesus loves.
Now that we’re following, Jesus has some things he’d like us to do. He’s going to give us some “on-the-job training.” We’re going fishing!
Matthew 4. 12 Now when Jesus* heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so 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.’
17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’*
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 lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As 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. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23 Jesus* went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news* of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Jesus found his first followers down at the docks and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” That is the first bullet-point in Jesus’ job description for a follower. We will fish for people. The Gospels of Luke and John end with long fishing stories. That conjures up all sorts of images. Those of us who love to fish should feel a special connection with Jesus!
Maybe you can picture the place where this is happening; it’s a fishing village by a lake-shore. Small boats, fishing nets, baskets of fish, a fish market where people are selling what they’ve caught. Have you ever been to a place where lots of freshly-caught fish is being brought to market? Maybe you know what it looks like, what it smells like, and that might help you know where Jesus was when he said those words.
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus said that to Peter and Andrew while they were fishing (for fish) with nets. So Jesus is not talking about pole fishing; catching a single fish at a time.
Believe it or not, the kind of cold weather we’ve been having is normal in some places and some people like it. Hard to believe, but it’s true. We used to live near ponds and lakes where right now, somebody is ice fishing. We would drive by them in our warm car and we were not jealous.
Have you ever been ice fishing? I’m afraid I haven’t, so I can only imagine what it’s like. I know that people who like to fish on the ice really like it. You’d have to. What do you need for good ice fishing? You need to be seriously equipped: thick clothing, a pole, bait, and a machine to drill a hole in the ice. All to catch one fish at a time.
You also need to be equipped when Jesus sends you fishing for people. Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” He said, “I will equip you for people-fishing.” This is what Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, two men who knew about fishing. They probably looked back from a later time and said, “We had no idea what he meant!”
From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus’ intention was to bring people into the “kingdom,” that is, bring them into faith, into relationship with God – and with each other. He reaches for us, fishes for us, and as each of us says yes to God, he brings us into the net of his love. Then we learn together how to fish for other people.
In the New Testament, when people bring other people into the kingdom, it’s called evangelizing, and that’s a word that makes many old-school American Christians a bit squeamish. I think we usually associate evangelism with people on TV that might talk a little too loudly, have strange hair, and ask for money. It’s too bad that evangelism, or at least the word, has gotten such a bad rap, because evangelizing is something God really needs us to do. It wasn’t an invitation for Peter and Andrew; God is still speaking, still saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” I will equip you for fishing.
Evangelism is an ancient Greek word that has two parts: ev (eu), which means good and angel, which means message. An angel is a messenger. So evangelism means good angel, or, good message. Or good news. It’s actually a verb. When you give somebody good news, you are evangelizing. It’s closer to the original language to say that you are good-newsing them.
In those ancient times, it could mean to give news of a military victory. A runner would come from the front lines of the battle to evangelize, or to good-news the people. To evangelize means to give someone news that will cause them to rejoice.
Can you think of really good news? Good news that people get all excited about sharing? A gift? A birth?
That gospel story includes some of the first public words to come out of Jesus’ mouth. He said, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand…” God is not locked up in the Temple anymore, God is in the neighborhood. God is here. It’s good news, so repent – an old word that means believe and change direction. God is here; God is in us. God gives the ability and the desire to connect other people with God – that’s our fishing equipment, so let’s fish!
It’s a constant theme with Jesus, from the beginning of the gospels to the end. God is here; let everybody know! Spread the word! When Jesus said that, whom was he talking to? The religious professionals? The gifted, articulate, educated types? A seminary preaching class maybe? No, it was a crowd of fishermen and farmers and tax-collectors. Average people, people with no special abilities.
Spread the word! Now that you are in the net, now that you are in Jesus’ circle of friends, go fish for people! Expand the circle. Good-news them! Include them in the love God has shown you. And don’t worry so much about what to say.
I know that sharing faith is a tall order for a lot of us, for people who pride themselves on minding their own business. That was certainly true for me. I came to faith because of the influence of small group of Christians who met for bible study in the apartment where I lived during college. At that time, I never went to church, and it was hard enough to share, or to pray, with this little group of 6 or 8 people. If anybody else knew that I was a believing Christian, it wasn’t because I told them. God was so good to me, but I didn’t want to impose myself on anyone else’s faith; I kept “my religion” to myself.
After college, I started teaching junior high art, and if there was ever anything that could burst a bubble, it was teaching in a junior high. It was there that I learned first-hand that people need hope, and a reason for living. Not just the kids, but the teachers too. And not just them, but their families. And not just in that place, but in so many places and situations.
I needed hope myself. I kept a bible on my desk, and during study halls, or before school I’d manage to read a page or two each day. The kids would see that bible and say, “I’d like to talk to you about that.” I asked the principal if it was okay, and he gave me permission to form a little group before school. This group never had a name, it was just a group of kids who wanted to talk about God for a few minutes and have a quick prayer before going off to class. It was very informal. And it was very effective; it really helped those kids with their faith. No deep theology involved, no preaching. No inspirational message. Just a bible on my desk. Probably the most important part of all that was that they knew I cared, and that I believed God was in that place, in that moment with us. It made all the difference, this knowledge, this news that “God is here.” We are not alone.
I can think of all sorts of methods people have used to live out Jesus’ command to catch other people for the kingdom – to good-news them. The most obvious ones might be preaching, or bringing someone to a gathering like this. But there are people who don’t respond well to this sort of situation, and that number is growing. The typical older church on Main Street, these days, is growing less and less relevant to the culture. So the good-newsing we do has to be creative.
We have the basic equipment: God is here. Each one of us has a way to fish with that good news. The best fishing “lure” for me was faith, a bible on my desk, and a private conversation which, most of the time, had nothing to do with God.
It has seemed to me that most of the time, the best evangelism is built around food, from having coffee with a neighbor to a community dinner or breakfast, like the breakfast we’re planning next month. That opens all sorts of possibilities.
The common thread for each of us who believes is that there was a time, a time when our hearts were open, that God sent us someone who cared, and helped us know that… God is here. Now it’s your turn.
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
People need what we have and God needs us to share and to care. It’s up to us. Nobody else can do it the way we can in this place and at this time.
Everyone has somebody in their lives, at work, or maybe at school, sometimes even in their own house, who needs good news, who needs hope. Somebody who needs to know that they are not alone and that God cares. Invite them to a meal! If you are open to the opportunities, God will help you share your good news. God will help you fish!
God, sometimes our lives seem overwhelming. We have enough troubles of our own without taking on all the problems we read about or see on TV. But you care about each of us; you sent your Son to the human race, to heal and to save. We are not alone. As your church, we can be strong, and through your Spirit, we can reach out. We can make a difference.
Help it begin at home. Help us love our families with your love. Help us know the joy that comes from following you. Help us remember that the end of this story is already written, and through you, we’ve already won. Help us live with the kind of confidence that points our families and friends toward you. We give the needs of our families, our church, our community, our country, and our world to you, Lord. Amen.