Jan. 22, 2012 Epiphany 3 “Fishers of Men”

Today in the gospel of Mark we read about the day when Jesus walked alongside the Sea of Galilee. There were probably dozens or hundreds of people out fishing, selling fish, salting fish down so it could be stored away, repairing and cleaning nets, fitting out the boats, because this was a fishing community – the Sea was their source of life. As Jesus walked along, he saw some men out on the water in the act of casting their nets into the sea; it might have been early morning and they were trying to make the most of the time, casting one last time before the sun rose high. Or it might have been evening, and these men were getting a jump on their night’s work. Whatever the time, as Jesus walked along he saw these particular men, these brothers, out in their boat, and he called to them, “Follow me! Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Mark heard this story from Peter himself and wrote it down for us, and ever since then it’s been a favorite in Sunday School, so for most of us it is very familiar, and we know – or we think we know – what it means: Jesus called his apostles to go out and preach the gospel and bring in Christians for the kingdom, just like they had always thrown out their nets and drawn in fish to feed their families. And  if we try to read the Bible honestly and faithfully, we have the uncomfortable feeling that Jesus is calling not only Peter and the others, but all of us, to be evangelists, to make Christians and bring them into the church, just like the apostles did. We read about the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached his sermon and thousands of people signed up, right then and there, and then we are told that every single day more people were added to the church, new members by the hundreds. But this call: it’s a lot like one of those difficult bridesmaid’s dresses that looks great on the tall thin bridesmaid and pretty terrible on the rest of us normal people – Peter turned out to be really good at it, and we all know people who are dynamite evangelists, bold people who know just what to say, and when they preach people really listen and their lives are changed – but really, if most of us compare ourselves with those “real” fishers of men, it seems better just to give it up as a bad job and leave it to the experts. After all, there must be other work to be done in the kingdom.

But if we read this passage like that, we miss out on the wonderful thing that Jesus is doing when he calls these four fishermen to follow him. And that matters to us very much, because Jesus who called Peter is the same Jesus who calls each of us, and what Jesus was doing as he walked alongside the Sea of Galilee, is also what he does in Norwood and Potsdam and Massena. We are entirely different people from Peter and Andrew and those Zebedee brothers, but it is the same Jesus who calls us all. And when we look carefully at the way Jesus called those first disciples we find this: he doesn’t call his people to be what they are not; he calls each of us to become fully what he made us to be, because he has a job for us to do that no other person can do.

Jesus came to Peter where he lived, and he called Peter in terms that made sense to him. “You, Peter, faithful Jew by birth and fisherman by trade, strong and bold and determined and a little foolhardy; come follow me and I will put every bit of that for use in my kingdom. I will make you to become a fisher of men.” When Jesus calls us he comes to us where we are, as we are, and he calls us to become completely ourselves. He calls his people to become fishers for the kingdom, and teachers for the kingdom, and builders for the kingdom, and farmers for the kingdom, and artists for the kingdom.

Yesterday eight of us went to Malone for the Parish Leadership Conference. Our speaker was Pastor David Born, and he taught us about evangelism, about what it means for us to be evangelists, which was entirely perfect for our gospel today. It was probably the most sensible and practical presentation about evangelism I have ever heard. He told us that the reason the church exists at all is to carry on his ministry in the world. And in a nutshell, that ministry is to be the presence of Christ in this world in order to carry on his work. When Jesus came, he took a human body to bring the love of God in human form; he incarnated the love of God. As a man he taught and healed and comforted and as a man he broke down everything that separated us from God – even though it meant suffering and death to do it.

So now, he calls his church to carry on that work of love in our own human forms, to incarnate God’s love and grace in these, our own human bodies and personalities and abilities and circumstances. Whoever we are, wherever we are, Jesus calls us to be living and loving invitations to the people around us. Pastor Born urged us not to wait to “do evangelism” until we feel like we have all our spiritual ducks in a row so that we can do the thing right, as if it were some kind of a program. Evangelism is neither more nor less than sharing ourselves with another person so that they can see how God’s love has changed our lives. It’s about taking the time to make a connection with a person who doesn’t know God, it’s about listening to the Spirit as he guides us to notice another person’s need and being willing to listen to them as well – whether it is someone we just met, or someone we’ve lived next door to for years. It’s about asking God to use us each day as we go about our lives, and being willing to set aside our own priorities to do the work he gives us to do. And it is definitely about being brave, about learning to take risks as we reach out to others.

What evangelism is not: It isn’t something we go to church to do. The shepherd with the lost sheep doesn’t wait for the sheep to find its way to him, he goes out into the hills and searches until he finds it. And in the same way, the lost people of this world will very rarely find their own way into this building, though it is a wonderful thing when they do. But we see the lost every single day, we pass them on the street, we live and work with the lost. There used to be a saying, “Bloom where you are planted” and that is true of our calling as well. Whoever we are, and wherever we are, Jesus calls us to follow him in seeking the lost and in introducing them to the one who can save them – to be his presence, incarnate in our own unique selves. There are people that you alone are able to make a connection with. Each of you has a story to share, a testimony of how God has made a difference in your life, that no one else has. Each one of you is able to reach out to some person or persons that no one else would be able to reach out to, exactly because of who you were created to be.

Jesus came along and found each one of us, just like he found Peter and Andrew and James and John. Some of us knew we were desperately lost, but most of us, I think, were just like those fishermen, and just like our neighbors and friends and relatives, going about our lives day by day, not knowing that there was anything more to be had. And when he found us, Jesus called us, “Follow me, and I will make you to become – to become fishers or teachers or artists or caregivers or mothers or friends – I will make you to become all that I have created you to be, so that you might bring my saving love to all people.

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