Here is my sermon from Sunday. We have begun an eight-part series on the challenges of being a disciple. The text was Matthew 4:12-23
This morning we begin an eight-part series in which we will explore some of the challenges of being a disciple of Christ.
Challenges like forgiveness and money and servant leadership and having and feeling joy.
But today we start, maybe appropriately enough at the beginning with accepting the call to be a disciple, and it is, of course, a fishing story.
I’m sure that all of us have heard at least one fish story in our lives, and most of us have probably even told one or two ourselves, about the one that got away or about how big the fish we did bring home, which the person hearing the story never saw, really was.
For some reason, fishing tends to bring out these stories, more than most other activities in which we engage.
That most famous of all authors, anonymous, once wrote “An answer to this question, is greatly what I wish; does fishing make men liars, or do only liars fish?”
Fortunately for everyone, most fishing stories tend to be short.
The fish are always long, but the stories are short.
But, I’m going to be honest, I don’t like fishing.
No offense to those of you who do, but to me, fishing is about as exciting as watching paint dry.
A friend of mine and I have a running argument about this.
She will spend hours sitting in a boat or on the shore fishing and think it’s the greatest day she’s had, but then will complain that spending three hours watching baseball is boring as all get out.
We have simply learned to agree to disagree.
But the Bible is full of fish stories, and today we have one of the most well known.
Of all of the fish stories we know, today’s is one of the biggest.
In fact, this passage, or at least the line about making the disciples “fishers of men”, is probable one of the most famous in the New Testament.
There is an enormous amount going on in this short passage.
First we have the announcement of John the Baptist’s arrest, which will lead to his execution and serves as the first example of what discipleship looks like, the arrest leads to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee.
Next we are told that Jesus began to proclaim “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near,” which is at the core of Jesus’ message, then we have the calling of the first disciples, followed by a summary of Jesus’ activities in proclaiming the reign of God which he will follow throughout the remainder of his ministry.
We could spend a considerable amount of time discussing just this short scripture passage, but since I only have 45 minutes to talk to you this morning, I’m going to have to limit myself.
(That was a joke; I’ll keep it to a half hour).
As I already said, this morning we are going to focus on the calling of the disciples.
Matthew says that Jesus finds the disciples at the Sea of Galilee preparing their nets and fishing.
Because today most people fish only as a hobby, as something we do in order to unwind, we often wrongly put our understanding of fishing on to the stories we hear in the Bible.
It’s like the story of the minister who approached the young boy fishing in the pond at a park.
“Do you know any stories from the Bible” the minister asked.
“Yes, sir” the boy quickly replied.
“Which do you like the best?”
The boy looked up and said “The one where everybody loafs and fishes.”
For most of us fishing is something we do on vacation, so we create a rather tranquil pastoral picture of what fishing entails.
But that is nothing of what is going on in this story.
Fishing, especially the way they are fishing on the Sea of Galilee is incredibly hard and backbreaking work.
The Sea of Galilee is a major body of water, about thirteen miles long and eight miles wide.
Because the lake is currently shrinking, they are doing archaeological digs and are discovering things about the activities in and around the lake during Jesus' time that have been unknown for more than 1500 years.
They have currently discovered the pylons for more than 100 commercial fishing piers from the Roman period.
These are not little docks that would only take one boat, but instead large piers that would have been accommodating several very large boats at a time.
Fishing was one of the commercial activities for the area, and it was big business.
This is not the quaint little fishing scene that we so often imagine in our minds, or at least I do.
As Rev. Sarah Breur has remarked “we imagine a kind of idealized, peaceful, pastoral version of these activities.
And then we’re puzzled and disappointed when our walk with Christ doesn’t match up to the tranquility of these scenes we imagined.”
And so it is with God.
Grace is available to us, not because we seek it out, but because it is already offered to us to find.
Discipleship is not for us to seek out, but for us to answer when we have properly taken the time to listen for Christ to say “come follow me.”
But, in order to truly understand our call to be a disciple, I think we need to broaden our understanding of being called even more than we do.
We talk about the ministry being a calling, but Linda is called to teaching just as much as I am called to the ministry.
Merely because we are serving God in different ways does not make one more important than the other.
It does not make one more significant in the eyes of God.
Each and every one of us are called by God to a specific ministry.
A ministry which God has already given us the graces and skills to accomplish.
Just as Simon, Andrew, James and John were not called to be carpenters, but instead to be fishers of people, so too are each and every one of us called to utilize the skills that God has given us in order to work toward the kingdom of God.
God does not call us to do anything that we are not already gifted to do.
Now does this mean it is easy?
Of course not.
It takes patience and perseverance, it takes work and dedication, it takes overcoming obstacles and it takes practice.
Simon and Andrew did not become fishermen overnight.
They had to learn the skills, they had to practice the craft, and they had to apply what they had learned in order to be the best fishermen they could be.
Jesus also does not tell them that he is going to do all the work.
He does not say, come follow me and I will throw out a net, and I will pull it back into the boat, and I will sail into port, and I will unload all the fish and you can sit back and take all the credit.
Instead, he says “come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people.”
There is a clear expectation that they will have to do all of the hard work that comes with fishing, they will have to do all the hard work of being a disciple.
If we expect that being is disciple will be easy, that God will do everything for us, that everything will be provided for, and all we need to do is sit back and relax, it is no wonder that we are so often disappointed in our walk with God.
As Dietrich Bonheoffer said, there is no cheap grace, being a disciple is a difficult thing.
Just answering the call can be one of the hardest things we will even do, believe me, I speak from personal experience.
But God does not call us to be or to do anything that God has not already equipped us to do
As the tremendous success of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life
has shown, people are trying to seek a purpose and meaning in their lives.
While I have many problems with Rick Warren’s theology, as well as his belief that there is only one purpose for us, I do agree that we need to find the gifts and graces that God has given to us and seek ways that we can use those in order to further God’s work here in the world.
Jesus is calling to each and every one of us to come and follow, and each and every one of us gets a different invitation based on who we are and what we can offer to the world.
But, and here is the hard part, we must be willing to listen for the call, and we must be willing to cast down our nets and to follow Christ in order to be a disciple.
The invitation to discipleship comes from God.
The request to be a disciple has already been made.
The summons has already come, and we have all already been given the skills necessary to undertake whatever it is that we are called to do.
Now it is up to us to answer that call, to put down our nets and to become a disciple.
The path will not be easy, the trip will not be trouble-free and the job will not be undemanding, but in the end it is all worth it, because that is what being a disciple of Christ entails.
So let us cast down our nets and follow Christ, for with Christ all things are possible, and we are being called to be fishers of people for the Kingdom of God.
Thanks be to God sisters and brothers.