Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus Christ, who leads. Amen.
I have a confession to make: I am not a fisherman. I’m not. I never really have been. I’m sorry. Some of you might be disappointed. In know, I should probably just turn in my “man-card” right now.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. I really have. It’s just that I’m really, really, really bad at it. To be honest, I think it’s a genetic flaw. I blame my Dad.
I remember being a kid and being up on the lake with my brothers and my Dad. I have a distinct memory that it was a beautiful day…the sun was shining. The lake was dotted with probably 6 or 7 other boats, and my Dad, my brother and I sat with our poles out and watched the others reel in walleye after northern after bass. And we watched. And we watched. And we watched. It was a terrible experience.
So, it’s just never been my thing.
So for me, when I read the Gospel lesson about the disciples just dropping their fishing nets and taking off to follow Jesus, it makes perfect sense! Of course! That’s what I’d do! What’s the big deal? Who cares about fishing?”
But of course, it was a big deal. A very big deal.
To be honest, I think that our focus on this story has always been a little misplaced. When we think of the story, we tend to focus on the actions of the four disciples. That Jesus would show up lakeside, say one sentence: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people” and the disciples would instantly know, trust and have faith and would drop everything, abandon their family and just walk away on the spot. Ok. That is kind of interesting, and it’s worth conversation.
But I think the even bigger surprise, shock even, which we sometimes overlook, is quite simply who Jesus chose!
I mean really…Jesus chose as his disciples…these guys? You’ve got to be kidding Jesus.
These four were not exactly the cream of the crop. Simon, Andrew, James and John were simple fishermen. And they really hadn’t done anything to distinguish themselves. As a matter of fact, as we work our way through the Gospels, it becomes clear to us that these four, plus the 8 who would join them, were sometimes more work than they were worth for Jesus.
They were constantly confused…they misunderstood… they doubted…they goofed things up. As in, ”wait…you want us to pray with you Jesus?…so that means that we shouldn’t just fall asleep?” Peter even wound up denying Jesus, not once, not twice but 3 times after swearing to Jesus that he never would!
And they were fishermen! Now there’s nothing wrong with fishing, despite the fact that I’m unable to do it. But within New Testament, Jewish culture, the fact that they’re fishing tells us something.
The educational system of the time was pretty straightforward. I mentioned a few weeks ago about how children would be tested in school. At an early age, probably around 10, they had to have the Torah memorized. That’s the first 5 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Memorized. Perfecty! And they would be tested by the rabbi. If they passed, they could continue. If they failed, they’d be sent home to learn the family business. In their mid teen years they’d be tested again. This time they’d need to have memorized the whole Old Testament. Yes, the whole Old Testament. Backwards and forwards. If they failed? Home to learn the family business. If they passed, then they would be allowed to apply to a rabbi to become that rabbi’s disciple: to follow them everywhere; to go where they go and to do what they’d do. To be a disciple of a rabbi was to be quite simply the best of the best; and if they applied and were rejected? Home to learn the family business.
So these four: They were fishermen. They were practicing the family business! That means they’d failed. They’d been sent home. And fishing was what they had to look forward to for the rest of their lives. And being a fisherman wasn’t exactly high on the socio-economic ladder.
But then Jesus, as he often did, turned the system on its head. He walked up to the shore and told them to pack up…they were now his disciples. What? No test? No application? Well of course they dropped everything and went. It was a no-brainer. It’s like they’d just been given a new lease on life!
So when you consider these circumstances, it’s actually not at all surprising that they dropped their nets when chosen. However it is shocking that they got chosen in the first place!
How God calls people has always been something of a mystery to me. I remember thinking and praying: “God…be clear! Where’s the skywriting? Where’s the knock on the door? I want my own, personal burning bush!”
In her book, A Man Called Peter, Catherine Marshall tells how her late preacher-husband felt a sense of destiny; a sense of call in his life.
One dark night, Peter, then a young man, decided to take a shortcut across the Scottish moors. He knew there was a deep deserted limestone quarry in that area, but he was confident he could avoid it.
Suddenly, he heard someone call, “Peter” there was great urgency in the voice. Peter stopped and called “Yes who is it? What do you want?”
There was no answer. He walked a few more steps and then heard the voice calling still more urgently, “Peter!”
He paused then stumbled and fell on his knees. Putting out his hand to catch himself, he found nothing there!! He was at the very edge of the abandoned stone quarry. One more step would have meant certain death.”
Peter Marshall heard God’s voice, and somehow, some way, he knew he was called by God for the ministry.
Peter Marshall had a clear sense of calling, a sense that God had a purpose for his life.
And isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Clarity? A plan? What’s the 5-step process for me to move from “A,” to “B”?
I want a plan…I want to know…I don’t want things hidden from me. And my frustration comes from this not knowing. But really, isn’t that just feeding my need to be in control? Isn’t it feeding my need to be in charge?
But here’s the thing: I’m not in control. Neither are you. We may not want to admit that…we like to think that we’re in control, but we’re not. Lots of things happen every day that remind us that we’re not in control.
A sudden, bad diagnosis…an economic downturn…a weather delay for a flight…a relationship that fractures…there are lots of ways that we are not in control. And in all honesty, God is under absolutely no obligation to do what we demand. A colleague of mine used to have a little framed picture hanging above his desk that read “Remember: God is God and you are not.”
God is God, and I am not. God is God and you are not. And to pretend otherwise is sin.
So I have to let go of my need to be in control, and practice trusting. And trusting can be hard.
But remember that in our Gospel story, the disciples trusted. Jesus didn’t give the disciples his 10 point plan. And frankly, I can’t blame him. To say to these four fishermen, “be my disciples…spend 3 years walking…sleeping on the ground…teaching, healing, hanging out with lepers and other untouchables, serve, work, accompany me to my death and eventually many of you disciples will also be executed.” Not exactly a great recruiting pitch, is it?
But no, Jesus words by that lake sure are actually much simpler. He just says “Follow Me.” Follow me. And these 4 public school rejects drop everything, trust, and go after the master.
Can you feel the urgency, the immediacy, the conviction, of these men.
They didn’t question his call, they didn’t think about it, they didn’t consult their families, they didn’t see if anything better would come along. They just trusted, and followed him. They had a sense of calling and they followed Jesus, all the way to the cross.
There was a field covered with freshly fallen snow. A father and a son enter the field. As they walk across the field, you notice that the father pays no particular attention to where he is going, but his son, on the other hand, follows directly behind, making a special effort to step exactly in his father’s footprints. After the two have crossed the field, you notice that there is only one set of tracks visible in the field, although two had walked across it. That is what it is like to follow Jesus. We don’t just trail behind; we literally try to walk where Jesus walked, and to do what Jesus did. In our daily walk we ought to be following Christ’s example. And we follow, all the way to the cross.
When Jesus calls us, when he encounters us, he does so with a sense of urgency, with a sense of immediacy, with a sense of conviction, with a sense of commitment, with a sense that we will turn our entire lives over to him. Then notice what he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Do you understand how important this is to know? Jesus picks you. He picks you! Can you believe it? He picks you! And he calls us to follow right in his footsteps. He picks you to follow and be a part of his mission: to become fishers of people; to go out of the walls of the church, and to share with our words and our actions, the gospel message of grace and forgiveness that Jesus was proclaiming. To would share with others the good news that Jesus shares with us. Not only does Jesus call us to a life of urgency and conviction, but he calls us to a task, he calls us to a mission.
And Jesus promises that we will not be alone. For you cannot follow where there isn’t someone leading. And Jesus promises to lead. Jesus promises to be with us. In fact, Jesus’ final words in the Gospel of Matthew make this promise: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
So let this be your Word of invitation: Jesus says to each of you today: “Follow me. Be with me. Travel with me. Serve with me.”
And so like the disciples dropped their nets, we drop our need to be in control…we drop our need to know the plan…our need to be in charge; and we trust and we follow in the footsteps of the one who promises to journey with us wherever we go, and who brings gifts of life and hope to all.
Let’s follow together.