After his baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. We are told that he was there for forty days, and that he did battle with the demons. At the end of that time, he is ready to begin his ministry.
Today, he calls four men as his first disciples. We are told by Matthew and Mark that Jesus made his home in Capernaum. While the scripture declared that the disciples followed Jesus immediately, my familiarity with human nature means there probably was some time of preparation before the disciples left town.
My own hunch is that Jesus settled in a remote town, as far from Jerusalem as he could be and still have a lot of folks to preach to and teach. He set up his business there and got to know the folks of Capernaum. There were only about 1,000 to 1,500 people in the town, so he probably knew everyone. I believe he spent time talking with them and discovered those who would make good followers.
He prepared them with his own teaching and paid out a plan for the immediate future. They made day trips or overnight trips to the towns of Galilee, heading east, or north, or south, or west. In between trips, they returned to Capernaum, returned to their families, and their jobs, and the synagogue.
This went on for about two years, until Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem”. By then the disciples were ready to follow him anywhere, for as long as it took. Together, they shared Jesus’ message that the kingdom of heaven had come near. Matthew used this term instead of Kingdom of God, out of respect for the holiness of God’s name. We’ll talk more about the kingdom of God in the coming weeks when we look at parts of the Sermon on the Mount.
For today, let’s talk about fishing for people. Matthew tells us Jesus said, “Come with me and I’ll teach you to fish for people.” And the four first disciples left their boats and their nets and learned to fish for people.
When I think about fishing, I think of four main ways to catch fish. Casting out nets, dangling a worm, snagging whatever you can, and casting a fly.
The disciples and commercial fishermen today use nets or cages. Nets catch a lot of fish, some of which are used as bait for more fishing, and some are tossed back as too small or not good for eating.
When I was a child, I went with my family and another family to fish on the pier at St. Joseph. Most of us had bamboo poles, although some of the adults had rods and reels. We all sat down on the pier and began to fish. Mostly, I was drowning worms, dangling them on my hook in the water, hoping for a bite. The parents and grandparents were doing fairly well, catching enough fish for a dinner for the family.
The youngest of us was Sue-Sue, who was about 5. Sue-Sue was hauling in fish left and right. It turns out that instead of gently wiggling her pole, she was yanking it up and down and sideways. She was catching fish by snagging them in their sides.
When Mike talks about fishing, he means using the right equipment in the right place, with the right technique, for the right catch. Fly-fishermen and women work hard and practice their casting skills often, to bring in the kind of fish, trout or salmon, for example, that they want.
So, four simplified categories of fishing: casting nets, dangling a line, snagging whatever you can, and working for a specific target. We can use these four methods to describe fishing for people. As a congregation, we do all four, in different ways, with different degrees of success.
We cast a net when we make sure the church is listed in the phone book and newspaper. We cast a net when we have an up-to-date website and presence on social media – Facebook and Twitter. We cast a net when we send out mailings or leave door-hanger flyers in the neighborhood. Some folks have come to us because of these listings.
We dangle a hook and worm when we wear a cross or leave a copy of The Lutheran or devotional book at the doctor’s office. Someone might notice and ask us about our church or our faith, but it’s not likely.
We snag whoever we can when we set up a booth at the First Saturday market in Dunnellon. We have the opportunity to chat face to face with people and tell them about Hope, IF we can get them to stop instead of walking past us. Because we have a chance to talk with folks, this method can work to catch people for Jesus.
The most effective method of fishing for people for Jesus is both the easiest and the hardest. Like fly fishing, it involves using the right equipment, in the right place, in the right way, at the right time. It involves practicing our skills, and it means we will not catch a fish/person on each cast. It involves a lot of patience, a lot of waiting and watching for the right moment. It involves remembering that we have been sent by the Master Fisherman and remembering that he will guide us and help the fish get caught.
Believe it or not, this method actually catches the most fish. Most of the people here today are here because someone else invited them. Or they returned because someone welcomed them when they visited the first time. The right equipment is our own stories – our own experiences of a life of faith. Jesus taught in stories because we understand stories, we can relate to stories. This is why I tell stories all the time.
If you think about it, you have a story to tell about just about everything. We have stories about how we survived the loss of loved ones. We have stories about how we were down to our last dollars and somehow, God provided. We have stories of finding the strength to endure major illness. We have stories about coming back to faith, back to church, even though we thought the roof would cave in and people would be rude. We have stories of being invited, and invited, and invited before we accepted the invitation.
Our own stories are the best equipment we have for fishing for people for Jesus. There are people everywhere who are waiting and hoping for a reason to believe in Jesus. They are looking for a reason to belong to a community of faith. The Holy Spirit is preparing their hearts to hear and respond to our stories, just as the first disciples responded to Jesus. In fly fishing, it may take a lot of casting and a lot of patience to catch a fish. In fishing for people it takes a lot of patience, and it takes the right stories at the right time.
This week, I invite you to reflect on your life and see how many life stories you can remember. Remember the times of joy. Why were they joyful? Did you thank God for the joy? Remember the times of sadness. Why were they sad? How did you get through them? Did you ask God for help through the sadness? Tell these stories to one another, like a fisherman practicing his casting.
We are all disciples of Jesus, called by him to follow where he leads. We are called to share our own fish tales, and to use our stories to catch more fish for Jesus. What tales will you tell? Who needs to hear them?
Please pray with me: Jesus, our Great Fisherman, We thank you for catching us in your net of love and grace. Send us out to catch more fish with your love. Amen