Mark 4: 35-41
Once upon a time, there was once a fishing village on the shore of a great lake stocked full of fish. The fishermen of the village diligently debated and discussed what fishing is, how best to do it, which equipment to use. They invested millions in boats and gear. They built a majestic fishing headquarters, they hired a talented staff, they even sent their experts around the world to search other lakes and rivers for fish.
Until one day, a little child stood up at their town meeting and asked, “You all claim to be great fishermen- but how come you’ve never caught a fish?” … No one in the village had ever actually caught one. They had never been fishing. They never actually tried it out!
Well, the church does this every now and again, doesn’t it? We talk about growth, we talk about reaching out to our community and inviting new friends into this family, we talk about spreading the love and the word of God. We boast in having this beautiful home, filled with gifted and eager people.
We tend to our tackle and the boat, so to speak…
But how often do we actually… just… go fishing? How often do we cast a line… out of the sheer joy of it, and see what God brings to the surface? See what’s hungry and seeking that day?
Last week we wrapped up a mini-sermon series on the Pew Research Study. And that mini-series ended with us talking about the risk and vulnerability that comes with scattering seeds for the kingdom. Because when we do that, we surrender control. Which can be kind of scary.
Just like, if we cast a line… we don’t necessarily have control over what’s biting… or whether or not we’ll even catch anything.
Well, this is something that the disciples would identify with in a heartbeat! They were regularly asked to risk and be vulnerable!
Jesus was always dragging them into situations with gentiles, and Samaritans, and tax collectors, and other people of ill-repute… or just others that they didn’t understand.
He was always leading them from one back woods town to the next… while he created scenes in town square.
He asked them to take a risk and follow Him… no matter where that took them.
They walked by faith, not by sight (as we talked about last week).
And we have the same call on us now, don’t we? If we are to be faithful and follow our Lord… it means that our Lord is in charge. When we risk, when we hop in the boat with Christ and go where He leads. Jesus is in charge.
Part of being a disciple of Christ is that we accept the fact that Jesus is going to take us into sticky situations every now and again… like we find in our Gospel passage today.
Jesus had just finished a long day of teaching shore side on the Sea of Galilee. He had students gather from near and far to hear him talk in parable. To hear him teach about bearing the light of the Gospel to the world, and scattering seeds of grace, and coming up alongside God in redeeming service… So by the end of the day, I’m imagine Jesus is pretty tired.
They all climb into a boat, head out to cross the sea – so that they can continue their work the next day.
And just in case they needed a refresher on the lessons that they had head that day… A storm comes upon them. Reminding them of the risk that comes from following Christ and daring to spread the Good News.
And this is such a well-known story, we all know how it goes. Jesus is asleep on a cushion on the boat, a storm comes up on them, the disciples cry out “We’re dying!” (they always were a dramatic sort) they shake Jesus awake and tell him to do something… He does. Re rebukes the storm. (perhaps doing some finger pointing)
And once order had been restored he asks his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Following Jesus is risky business… but still he calls us to go/ do in faith. To be willing to lose that control we all so desperately cling to, because Christ is in charge.
Now, I want to spend the rest of our Message time talking about the ministry of Evangelism. (We’ve really been talking about it for a month now, while dancing around the dreaded E-word that makes us think about dreaded “door knocking” campaigns…) It’s time to talk about “Fishing for Men”. That is, after all, the mission of the church, as Matthew says in his Gospel with the Great Commissioning: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Mat. 28:19a) And it something that when we embrace it/ look it in the eye… becomes something that we do out of the joy of God’s love.
Now, I am by no means and expert at fishing. A few times when I was a child, my dad and I drove up to Rice Lake in Canada to spend a week at a cabin. We would take the boat out every morning, and then spend the evening around the fire, which was great. But when it came to the actually fishing… my job was to bait the hooks. That I was good at. After that I would sit there and cast out again and again… probably about every 15 seconds. On the off chance I got a very speedy fish on my hook, I would reel it in and them make my dad take it off the line because I was scared of those sharp blue gill fins.
But in my limited experience with fishing, I’ve come to learn a few lessons about being a “fisher of men”/ a few thing to keep in mind as we follow Christ where He leads.
The first lesson is: you have to go where the fish are, meet them wherever they are at. Now, I’m not just talking about proximity (although it stands that your are not going to reel in any new fish tucked safely away on shore… the same way that you are not going to reach any new disciples tucked safely away in the church… you have to actually leave the building every now and again to minister.) But Evangelism isn’t about the words, it isn’t about knowing the right thing to say to “win people to Christ” it is about be present to God’s people.
If you come across someone that is lonely, then go to then/ meet them in that place: visit them, welcome them, take care of them. Bring encouragement into their lives.
If you come across someone that is doubting, or questioning the cosmos, or even the existence of God, then go to them in that place. Acknowledge their quest for finding truth. Let them know that asking questions is great, and assure them that not having the answers it ok. Be a safe, steadfast place for them to bring their questions without judgment or fear. Meet them in that place of being adrift, offering them something steady to hold on to.
If you find someone that is homeless, or hungry… If you find someone that is out of work, or just feeling lost. Ask yourself, how can I meet them where they are? How can I support them?
You have to go where the fish are. Physically, spiritually, intellectually, socially. It’s about being present.
The second lesson, simply, patience. So many of you have someone in your life that you have been praying for for decade to acknowledge that God is call out to them. It’s hard, isn’t it? You want them to have a faith that is as fulfilling as the one that you have. You want that for them now.
Picture that person in your mind, and think about them filling the seat next to you in the pew. Your friend, your child, your spouse, your neighbor… whoever that is… and remind yourself that you are sometimes the only Jesus that people will ever meet. You have got to reflect the love of Christ with your every moment. You need to be steadfast in your faith and your patience. There is nothing that you can do to force people into a relationship with Christ. But the most encouraging thing that you could do is to be patiently at peace in your own faith.
I’ve run into a lot of people that bear scars from sour interacts with the “institutional church”. They’ve been burned by the politics, offended by the body of Christ, been hurt or mislead somehow… And it is through your patience that you provide a place for people to experience the healing grace of God.
The third fishing lesson, you have to have the right lure! I remember opening my dad’s tackle box on my childhood fishing expeditions and pulling out all sorts of colorful and shiny lures. But, I was always surprised at the fact that, we never really used them. This is because nothing beats the real thing: live bait. The world may offer glitzy lures, but they are often artificial. Think back to the fishing parable I shared in the beginning, the church builds beautiful buildings, we try “outreach” models, we bring in experts to teach, we send out emissaries to convert people in remote places… And these are good tools certainly… but we have to make sure that we are using the real stuff when we fish.
Like the simple art of noticing people.
Like sharing our story and witness.
Like loving our neighbor and tending to those in need.
Like “passing the peace” to those that you have quarreled with.
These are the real things – little bits of God’s love that we cast out into the world. This world is starving for an authentic real faith.
Forth, and this is an important practical one, there is a right time to fish. As there are certain times of the day when the tides and temperatures are right to bring the fish to the surface looking for some lunch…. there is a right time to fish.
Right now, is not always an appropriate time to talk about our faith with others. If we embarrass someone, if we guilt someone, if we press into still healing wounds… they’re not exactly going to be receptive to the Gospel. Likewise, sometimes we might not be ready to share… We have to trust in our God to make those moments known.
If we listen with discerning ears, people will tell you when they are seeking Godly truth…
Sharing your faith, is the most honest and God glorifying thing that you can ever do. And you have to let God lead.
And finally, you gotta be able to catch and release. There are times when you will have to let that fish go. Even though it was beautiful and promising. Even if we are patient and real, even if we serve with our whole heart and glow the love of Christ into this world… At the end of the day, we are only able to plant that seed of faith. It is up to God to move in people’s hearts and grow that seed into something special.
Remember please, that sharing your faith (in word or in deed) is the most honest and God glorifying thing that you can ever do. And it is your mission/ your commission in life as a Christian to do just that. To go and make disciples of Christ.
Do any of you remember the slapstick comedy from the nineties “Gone Fishin’”? (I think I’ve mentioned this movie before… because I think it is a really good example of Evangelism at its finest…because nothing goes as planned…) The film starred Danny Glover and Joe Pesci, as Gus and Joe- best friends from childhood whose only passion in life was fishing.
Well, in the film, these friends find out that they won a contest! And their prize? The fishing adventure of a lifetime. So they pack up the essentials: “Beer, bait, and boat”…. as they say. But as soon as they set out on their adventure every thing goes wrong… naturally! There is the small inconvenience of a hurricane, at one point their beloved boat gets stolen, they accidentally blow up a gas station, and once they finally get to the water they’re attacked by an alligator. But the interesting thing is that they never catch a single fish in the entire movie. Not a single one.
Gus and Joe had fishing on their minds the entire film… they faced storms and distraction… left and right. Everything that could get in their way did… but they risked, and went where the fish were.
Christ calls us to do the same. To risk, to be faithful, to endure a storm every now and again for the opportunity/ the joy to cast a line.