I haven’t gone fishing often, but as a child I had my own bamboo pole and I knew how to find worms. I knew that if I was in the right place at the right time, I could catch a fish. Fishing was easy, if I was patient.
Today, we read Matthew’s account of the calling of the first disciples. I have a theory that Jesus lived in Capernaum for a time, maybe several years. He worked and got to know the people in the city. One by one, or maybe two by two, Jesus recruited them into a group. He taught them that God’s mercy is more important than obedience to human rules. He talked about making trips out of town to share his ideas with people in other towns.
Then, as Matthew tells us, when John the Baptist was arrested, he said to the disciples that it was time to go. And they immediately left their nets and homes and began to tour Galilee and share the good news. I think that rather than being gone from home for three years straight, they made day trips or overnight trips and returned home often. This way, they could continue to fish, or do whatever they did to make a living, and support their families. There is no proof for this, it is just my theory. But I offer it to you as a possibility.
We talk about the disciples as being called. Jesus called, they followed. They traveled around Galilee and then finally to Jerusalem with Jesus, learning from him, and finally witnessing about him to others.
The disciples have different gifts, different skills, different interests. We don’t know the profession of most of the disciples; we do know that 4 were fishermen, one was a tax collector, and one handled money. Perhaps some of the rest were tradesmen of some sort, making or buying and selling products. Certainly, they all knew how to talk to people, to enter into a conversation with people they had never met before.
Jesus chose them because he saw something in them that he could use. And they responded to him because they saw something in him that made them each feel special. The way they felt about Jesus made them want to tell others about him. So, when Jesus said, “Let’s go fishing for people,” they said, “We’re ready. Let’s go!”
I imagine that when Jesus and the disciples traveled they split up and went fishing for people who did whatever the disciples did. The women went to the well and to the communal oven and to the front yards of the houses, wherever there were women gathered. And the men went to the lakeshore where the men were mending their nets, to the blacksmith shop, to the flour mills, to the wine sellers, and to the souk, the supermarket of ancient times. They began by talking about what they had in common. Eventually, they began to talk about God’s reign of mercy for all people. They invited their conversation partners to come and listen to Jesus.
After Jesus died and was raised, they did the same thing with even better news: that God has power even over death. Some disciples stayed in Israel and others went farther away, into Syria, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Ethiopia, Carthage, and India.
On this map, the darker color shows the spread of Christianity by 300 CE. The lighter shading shows how far Christianity had spread by 600 CE. While some of this happened by trained missionaries, most of it happened because regular people told the stories of Jesus to others. And they told the stories of what following Jesus meant to them in their lives.
Today, there is a tendency to think it takes professionally trained missionaries to tell the story of Jesus. But that is far from the truth. The best missionaries are people like you, talking about your church with your friends, talking about Jesus, talking about your faith.
In a few minutes, Emma will be baptized and her parents will make promises for her. Listen to the promises, because they are the same promises that were made for you at your baptism, and the same promises you made for yourself at your confirmation. We all promise as believers in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to “...live among God’s faithful people; hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper; proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; serve all people following the example of Jesus; and strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”
It is easy to forget about the promise to “proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed” or to focus on the deeds and not the words. But I promise you that God has given you the gifts, the words, you need to help spread the good news of Jesus.
It’s as easy as sitting at McDonalds with a sign that says “Free Prayer” and talking with the folks who ask about it. You have gifts, and skills, given to you by God so you can serve God’s purposes. You are baptized, filled with God’s Holy Spirit, and the words will be there when you need them.
I invite you to try it this week. Tell someone, maybe your spouse or your best friend, about something that happened that you think God helped you with. Pray out loud with someone. Or maybe go to McDonalds for me this week while I am gone. Take my Free Prayer sign and see what happens. Talking with someone about Jesus is as easy as going fishing. I promise. Amen