Let me start by saying I love fishing for people, and I try
to do so wherever I go. I’ll get back to that shortly.
How many of you fish or at least used to fish? … I did go fishing with my
family as a child, but that was a long time ago. We used bamboo poles and
earthworms, and fished off piers in small lakes in Indiana or Michigan. Occasionally,
I actually caught something, but mostly, for me, fishing was an act of cruelty
to some worms. All my life, I’d rather be reading a book than fishing.
But, then, there was this one memorable fishing adventure. As a family we
went with another family to the pier in St Joseph, Michigan. We went when the
smelt were running, so even my chances of catching something were good.
I was careful to hold my line still so the fish could find the worm and I did
catch several fish.
But Sue-Sue, the youngest member of the other family, was reeling in the
fish. I watched, and she was always moving her pole around, constantly in
motion. She had a bucket of fish, a full bucket. At home, I talked about how
well Sue-Sue had done. Mom laughed and said, “She wasn’t catching them, she was
snagging them with her hook.”
In today’s gospel, the disciples have a similar experience. After a night
of catching very little, rather like my usual fishing experience, they are
washing their nets and getting ready to go home and sleep when Jesus shows up. First,
Jesus asks them to put out a little way so he can teach the gathered crowd
while standing in the boat.
Then, he tells Simon Peter to take the boat out into deeper water and let
down the nets. “Jesus,” Simon objects, “I’m
telling you, it won’t work. We were out all night, and there are no fish here. And,
the kind of fish we catch are only active at night, and now it’s broad daylight.
… But, since it’s you who are asking, we’ll try it again.” Suddenly, there were
so many fish in the nets, the nets were close to breaking. They needed help to
bring in all the fish. It was lots more than Sue-Sue’s bucketful.
Simon Peter is stunned. He is afraid. He is in the presence of something
he doesn’t understand. He only knows that this presence is very powerful. … It
is my belief that Jesus and the disciples know each other. I believe Jesus has
been living in Capernaum, teaching, and preaching in the synagogue. He has
gathered a following of interested folks. From those who are with him often, he
has singled out the men who would be good leaders. He recognizes those whom God
is calling to greater service.
In this moment, when Simon Peter becomes aware of Jesus’ power, he falls
to his knees in dismay. “Oh, my goodness,” he says, “Go away. I am a sinful man
and I am not worthy to be in your presence.” In response, Jesus looks at Simon
Peter and his business partners, James and John, and says two things. First, he
says what God’s messengers always say to humans, “Don’t be afraid.” And then
Jesus issues the invitation, the call, “From now on, you will be catching
people.” And for the rest of their lives, the disciples fished in many ways for
Whether or not you like to fish for fish, you are called through your
baptism to fish for people. Most people don’t like to hear that. “I’ll do
anything in the church except fish for people.”
There are plenty of excuses, and I can give you a response to each
excuse. Ask me later. For now, here are some of the excuses.
We have been annoyed by people getting in our faces asking if we have
We have been irritated by people who seem to have a glossy, too pretty,
too easy faith. Somehow, their faith seems fake, inauthentic.
We are afraid to offend people by saying we believe in Jesus.
We think, all of our friends already go to other churches. It doesn’t
make any sense to invite them.
We are afraid that we won’t have the words to speak.
We worry that we don’t know enough about the Bible.
We are certainly not the first people to seek excuses for not answering God’s
call to ministry. Our readings today show us that it is more common than we
Isaiah said to the Lord and to the seraphs, “Woe is me. I am a man of
unclean lips and I live with unclean people. You don’t really want me to do
your work, do you?” But a seraph cleans his lips, and says, yes, we really want
you. You are called by God for God’s purposes. And Isaiah then responds, “Here I
am, Lord. Yes, please send me.”
Paul tells the Corinthians that he also was not worthy to be called by
God. He is the least fit to be an apostle, because he persecuted the church. He
welcomes God’s grace, because he knows how much he needs it. And, because of
this grace, he works harder than anyone else to tell others about that very
It is not the Lutheran way to cast out nets to see how many we can
catch, because we know they will not stick around. It makes no sense to wave
around our hook to see how many people we can snag to make the numbers look
It is the Lutheran way to bait a hook and wait for someone to take
a bite. The bait is how much Jesus loves everyone. The bait is what a
difference having Jesus in our lives has made. The bait is forgiveness. The
bait is grace, poured out freely for anyone who wants or needs it.
We bait our hook over a cup of coffee or a glass of tea. We bait our hook
over the church lawn mower that won’t work. We bait our hook during a church
event for the public, like the Living Nativity. (Live Nativity?)
The truth is that Jesus’ church will only continue if we help him by
fishing for people. Let’s admit that we make up lots of excuses for not going
fishing for people. And let’s admit that with God’s help, we can do anything we
make up our minds to do. All we have to do is commit to baiting our hook with
some of Jesus’ love and grace.