Goin’ Fishin’

January 26, 1997 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Mark 1:16-20

This is a strange time of year to think about fishing unless, of course, it’s the "ice" variety you have in mind. I tried my hand at ice fishing when we lived in northern Indiana, where the winter cold freezes the lakes such that it’s safe to do so for most of the season - not like around here. One year I forgot and left some stuff out on the pond next to our home, only to see it floating around in Spring. I just dabbled at the sport, you see. Some folks are really serious about it. They construct elaborate shanties on the ice - almost a home away from home.

It’s not ice fishing we have in mind this morning, however. Nor is it what usually comes to mind when we think of goin’ fishin’. There’s something warm and tranquil about the dreamy version that may reside in the "druther be’s" of our imagination. If this has been a rough week for you, and you’d "druther be" next to some peaceful stream on a summer’s day, then by all means go there in your imagination right now and relax. If, however, you need another kind of rest, a rejuvenating variety, stay tuned.

As I said, it really isn’t the rod and reel kind of fishing we’re dealing with this morning. The summer Karen & I spent in Alaska, we got a taste of how it may have been on that sea of Galilee for Simon, Andrew, James, and John. One family we knew up there lived on Chisik Island and fished for salmon June through August. We were privileged to join them for several days. This was not sport fishing, mind you. It was business. At the end of the day, the salmon would be sorted into types on the boat and loaded aboard a tender for processing and sale elsewhere. Before and after that was work.

First you had to set your net between buoys you were licensed to use. After a while, you began at one end and pulled the net through, catching any fish stuck in the net. Actually it was the boat which moved, traveling the length of the net inch by inch. This was done two or three times in the course of the day. When finished, the net needed to be detached and loaded up. After depositing the fish at the tender, we returned to the beach, hauled the boats on shore, and hung up the nets to dry. During off hours, the nets needed to be cleaned, removing all the seaweed, and mending all the torn places

For the few days we were there - this was fun. I wonder, though, how it would feel by the end of the season. After all, this was hard work. The scenery, with Mt. Illiamna on one side, and Mt. Redoubt on the other, with the Gibraltar-like stone of Chisik Island behind you, more than made up for the drudgery on sunny days. Still, it was not a sport, or what we might think of as a relaxing pastime. It was work.

For the brothers Simon and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, goin’ fishin’ was likewise hard work. Furthermore, they depended upon the fish for their daily bread. No fish, no food, no income. Your life depends up finding those critters. With other mouths to feed, it’s no game. You toss your nets whenever you can, in as many seasons as possible, whatever the weather allows. Such was the life of a fisherman.

When Jesus started pulling together a band of disciples, he began with fishermen. We just heard the account, as remembered by Mark who, like Matthew, only gives us the essentials. Four men who work the sea are called, two pairs of brothers. Jesus, "fresh" (if that’s the word to be used) from a 40 day stay in the wilderness, was walking by the sea. He saw Simon and Andrew casting their net into the water, and he said to them (simply), "follow me, and I’ll have you fishing for people." The scripture says that right then and there, immediately, they left their nets and followed. The same happened with James and John, who were fixing their nets. Jesus called, they responded, no questions asked, by following Jesus. That’s all it says.

No doubt there was much more to the story. We’re just given the slightest of details. As with much of scripture, perhaps this meager description is intended to make us fill in the blanks, to place our feet into the sandals of these men. Jesus walks along our sea, which is not some romanticized get away where stress can be off-loaded upon a rod and reel. It’s amid our daily chores that he strolls. As you place yourself into this story, what are you fishin’ for? When Jesus calls out, "follow me," what are you in the middle of doing? Think about it.

We might be tempted to hear his voice sound like that commercial, where a woman cries out amid her hectic race with time: "take me away, Calgon," and she is transported to a bubble bath. As nice as that might be, Jesus’ call to "follow me" is not an escape. "Come to me, all who labor," he would elsewhere say, "and I will give you rest." His call did not end there, however, for he then went on to say "take up my yoke, and follow me."

"Follow me, and I’ll have you fishing for people," he invited Simon Peter and the other fishermen. Same occupation, different goal. Fishermen become fishers of men and women.

This simple invitation and promise lie at the heart of what being a Christian is all about. Let me first talk about the promise.

In a sense, the occupation of these four men before their journey with Jesus has become a model for what we hear Jesus calling us to do. Like those two sets of brothers, when we follow Jesus, we’re goin’ fishin’. Only, we need to be clear that discipleship is not some hobby or sport we undertake in our spare time. Fishing was serious business for those first followers. It was their livelihood, not some diversion. We’re talking more serious, even, than any fanatic angler, who purchases all the right toys to catch the "big one." Peter, Andrew, James, and John were not fishing for a trophy, or even for the fun of it. Fishing put food on the table, paid their bills, kept the creditors off their backs. Perhaps it also was a way of life passed down to them from their fathers, and grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. If they were blessed, the life of a fisherman was in their blood, such that it was their passion.

Some of us have jobs that occupy our time. Others of us have vocations that occupy our imaginations. When Jesus talks about goin’ fishin’, it’s the latter I believe he has in mind. However, let’s not misunderstand, such fishin’ is still hard work. When we follow Jesus, we’re called to cast our nets upon the waters of life. All around us are people, so many of who are searching for something they can’t quite name, feeling an emptiness they can’t quite describe, seeking to fill it in whatever way they can before they die. "Follow me," Jesus says to us, not just to those four disciples. "Follow me, and I’ll have you casting nets upon those who need to be caught."

To follow Jesus is to be a "net caster." Now, taking this illustration too literally can be a problem, for our purpose in this kind of fishin’ is not to catch, scale, gut, filet, fry, and eat prospective Christians. Every image has its limits. Having said that, though, there might be a kernel of truth in such a fish fry, for to follow Jesus involves some radical change that could lead to persecution and death for all who are caught up into the Kingdom of God. It did for Peter, the fishing disciple.

To follow Jesus is to be a "net caster," someone who cares enough to spread good news, someone who is also serious enough to stick around and draw persons toward God’s kingdom. This isn’t somebody else’s job. It’s a part of what it means for you and me to follow Jesus, pure and simple. "Follow me and we’ll go fishin’ for others." That’s Jesus’ promise. If you’d like to learn more, check out the class Norman Bollinger will begin next Sunday.

Enough about the promise. Let’s focus on the invitation. Simply, "follow me," Jesus said. When it comes right down to it, that’s what being a disciple is all about: following Jesus. It’s more than merely a matter of living up to his code of ethics, or agreeing with a set of beliefs, as important as those are. As the author of Hebrews put it, we look to Jesus, who pioneers the way ahead of us, who perfects our often feeble faith through his very presence on the path in front of us. Every step of faith, no matter how big or small, is an act of following Jesus. He goes there first, and we follow him. Even when it comes to casting those nets. Actually Jesus modeled what real "net casting" is all about. What greater tug on the line, what better way of drawing someone toward the Kingdom is there, than "follow me"?

Now, I grant you, some times we use those words so flippantly, as if the One we are following is obviously visible wherever we turn. We don’t have what the first four disciples did, the physical presence of our Lord. Faith involves trusting that he is near, and following in the direction we believe he is walking ahead of us. Following is an act of simple obedience to his call. It’s the sheer simplicity of this story beside the sea that catches us. As Mark and Matthew tell it, at this point Jesus was a stranger in those parts. Peter, Andrew, James, and John, didn’t know him from Adam. And yet, when he came to them saying, "follow me," they immediately dropped everything and did just that.

Is such simple obedience an outdated concept for our time? I wonder how readily I would follow such a simple call, had I been they so long ago. The point is, though, you and I are they. And the invitation to follow continues to be extended. How will you respond?

Our final hymn had its origin in a quotation from Albert Schweitzer’s book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Most of us know of this man through his work as a medical missionary earlier this century in Africa, but he was a "Doctor of Theology" before he was a medical doctor. His sojourn to the jungles of Gabon was an outgrowth of Jesus’ call to "follow me." Listen to what Schweitzer wrote about "goin’ fishin’" with Jesus:

"He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is."   ( p. 40)

1997Peter L. Haynes

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