Gone Fishing

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | January 22, 2023

Matthew 4:12-22

Six years ago, I attended a “pre-retirement” conference for ministers. Lindsay went along for the ride. The aim of the conference was to help ministers prepare for the golden years, when we would no longer be encumbered by the demands of work. The conference was not especially helpful. We knew we would return to the United States, where Lindsay would take the lead in finding work until she was old enough to retire. We left the conference early.

And me, well I would find something to do. When Lindsay landed a position in Duluth, that was great for us. She would work, and I would find something to do; something that would provide me what I called, “walking around money.”

I went to a meeting of the presbytery’s committee on ministry in order to transfer my membership back to the PCUSA. They would grant the status of “honorably retired.” At that meeting the committee members asked some questions and I had to present a statement of faith.

They liked my statement of faith and it wasn’t too long, so I’ll with you –

“I believe in God…

Upon this planet that orbits one star amongst up to four hundred billion other stars in a galaxy that spans one hundred thousand light years, which is but one of perhaps two trillion galaxies in the observable universe, the God therein and thereout is not contained by the limits of human understanding.

I believe in God, but I do not define God. Rather, God defines me. God who said, “I AM WHO I AM.”

I believe in God who is love.

Jesus is the embodiment of love.

The Holy Spirit is the ongoing presence of love.

God’s message of love made known in Jesus threatens the powers of the status quo. The status quo put him to death on a cross.

However, death was not the end of Jesus; rather his death was God’s way of taking the fall, of stepping on the proverbial banana peel as a way of saying, “The joke is on me.”

So God had the last laugh as well as the last word by raising Jesus from the dead, vindicating his life and work and demonstrating that truth cannot be killed.

I believe the Church are the people who follow Jesus in his way, his truth and his life.

Communion is the Church’s meal of remembrance of Jesus and the celebration of his truth.

Baptism is the Church’s act of recognizing and embracing the core truth that Jesus carried forward from his own Baptism, which is God’s message for all of humankind: ‘You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.’”

Two of the questions the committee on ministry asked stand out. One was, “If you were in a Christian bookstore, what would you choose to read?”

I said that my choice for reading would more likely lead me to Barnes and Noble, or the public library. For many years I have read fiction of all kinds, non-fiction, history, and autobiographies, which all provide insight into the human condition.

The other question asked was, “What do you plan to do in your retirement?”

I said, “Oh, I’ll find something to do. Maybe some pulpit supply here and there.”

Actually, there was a third question, “Would you be available this coming Sunday?”

And that’s how I ended up here on Palm Sunday in 2019.

When Jesus started out, he needed to find some people to help him. His job was to tell people that God loved them, and that God’s love would change everything about their lives. He needed people to help him show how God’s love worked. So he had to find some people he could teach and train.

You might think that if the Son of God had some job openings, that he might hold auditions; kind of like to find out who had the spiritual “X factor.” Maybe Jesus would sit behind a desk and people would come in and try to impress him with how holy they were.

Or maybe Jesus would look for the best qualified and most highly trained religious people he could find. People would fill out lengthy applications and he would interview them. Maybe he would ask them how many souls they had saved. He might look for the best educated and most successful people. He might look for the people who had been most popular in school or who were the cleverest. Him being the Son of God, you would think that he would want people who were the very best.

When Jesus needed to find some people he could work with, what he did was to start walking around from town to town. He met people in the everyday course of their lives. He stayed in their homes. He visited their places of worship. He knew who the best people would be to work with him.

One day he was walking along a lake shore and he saw a boat out on the water. Two men, brothers, were pulling up their nets. In the nets were a few fish. From his vantage point on shore Jesus could see their work. Throw the nets out and pull them back in. After a while the bottom of the boat would be filled with fish and they would row into shore. It was relentless work. These two brothers were probably from a long line of fishermen.

          What would he say to two fishermen?

          “Do you like your job?”

          “Nice boat?”

          “How many fish did you catch today?”

These questions beg the obvious. What they were doing was their entire world. They fished like their father before them, and his father before him, and so on. There was no concept of choice in the matter. Either you fish or you starve; you and the rest of the family who depends on you. Look around the village. You don’t see any “help wanted” signs hanging out. Life was simple. There were not a lot of choices. A dream might be to someday get a bigger boat, or to have sons to carry on the family tradition. Ambition meant fishing no matter what.

Jesus called out to them, “follow me, and from now on you will be fishing for people.” They left their nets and boat and followed him. What happened between the lines to make that happen? Casting out nets for people; what a strange image. What mattered most to Jesus was not how rich or successful people were, not how clever or beautiful they were, not how popular or good looking they might be. What mattered most to Jesus was that the people who followed him knew how to work; that they knew what was like to get up every day and go to a job, rain or shine.

He chose people who had the kinds of jobs that were just everyday jobs. Because maybe those people knew what it felt like to be a person that others might look at and think, “Well, he’s not important,” or “what does she matter?”

Jesus said one time that his job was to serve. He didn’t want people to serve him, to wait on him and treat him like a king. He wanted to be the one serving, the one saying, “Yes sir,” and “no ma’am.” Some of his followers had a hard time learning this. One day Jesus had them all sit down, and he started washing their feet. That’s the kind of thing a servant would do. It was a lowly job, kind of like shining shoes.

Some of his friends got upset. They said, “We should be washing your feet.” But he wouldn’t let them. He told them that if they wanted to be great, then they had to learn how to be small. There was no job too humble for God’s servant. He told them, “Why do you think I chose you?”  And they thought about what it meant to catch fish for a living, or bake bread, or collect taxes. He was right.

Jesus is still looking for people to help him. Just like when he started out, he is still looking for people who don’t think they’re too important, too clever, too wealthy, too young or too old. He’s still looking for people who know what an honest day’s work is about, who know how to roll up their sleeves and get busy and who know what it’s like to go to a job where just showing up seems to be about the only thing about it that matters. Every day, common ordinary people.

Look around and you’ll see the people Jesus calls. People just like you. And sometime if you look within your own heart and soul, and listen carefully, you’ll hear him saying to you, “Follow me.”

Along the way, he might say, “We can stop now. The journey is complete.” He might also say, “Keep following, we’re not done fishing.” Amen.

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