jesus and the fish



MATTHEW 4:18-22




I don’t know why you think you are here. Maybe you think you would be a good deacon or elder. Maybe you prayed and felt called to serve. Maybe you thought that someone needed to step up so it might as well be you. And I don’t know why the rest of you think you are here. Maybe you come to this church because your family has come to this church. Maybe you are a visitor who heard about the new minister who sort of looks like a leprechaun and you wanted to see what he was about. I don’t know why you think you are here. Why you think you walked in the door today. Why you think you agreed to serve today. But I will tell you why you are actually here:

You’ve been caught.

You’ve been called.

You’ve been created.

You’ve been cultivated.

To come to the One Who knows your name.

The One who knows the depths of your heart and loves you the same.

I am convinced that something fishy is going on and that’s not just because of the poles and the nets Scott brought for the children’s sermon. I’ve experienced too many coincidences since being here to think that this is just another ordinary installation service. These Elders and Deacons are being called. This congregation is being called, to be caught up into something greater than we can imagine.

We’ve skipped ahead a little in the book of Matthew. Try as I might I couldn’t find a way to tie Herod’s massacre of innocent children to this installation service. We will get back to talking about that, to talking about trial and tribulation and evil, but today we are here to celebrate. As with the first disciples, these leaders have been called to serve. As with the first disciples we are being called to be fishers of people. Frankly, we don’t have an option not to be fishers of men and women. For our future we must add new members to our family.

Our passage today is weird for a variety of reasons. First of all note that it is Jesus doing the calling, it is Jesus recruiting his own disciples. In the ancient Jewish tradition a true Rabbi would gain a reputation for his teaching it was tradition for the disciples, which is just a Greek word for learner, to seek out the teacher. But here it is Jesus putting himself in the seeker position. Second, Matthew and Mark describe this incident as if Andrew and Simon had no prior knowledge of who Jesus was. The Gospel writers suggest that it is by the authority of his presence alone that these disciples drop their nets and leave their families even though fishing for people, while put in the language of their trade, is certainly a foreign experience to them.

Most likely Jesus choice of fisherman as his first disciples was not an accident either. Andrew and Simon’s skills as fisherman would both aid and hinder them in service to the Kingdom of God. For fishing and fishing for people are similar and different. A minster friend of mine in the area often says that ministry can be spelled W.O.R.K because ministry is a lot of work. And certainly Andrew and Simon were hard working men. The fundamentals of fishing haven’t changed in thousands of years. And many of the techniques that Andrew and Simon used back then we would use today. Often they would fish at night, since that is when fish are closets to the surface. Their nets were made of delicate linen and thus needed constant drying and repair. The type of fishing net the disciples used was a circular fishing net 20 feet high and 25 feet long that the disciples would cast out into the sea of Galilee and drag back in, thus where we get our term dragnet. Thus fishing and ministry in the Kingdom have several things in common. Both require work, both require patience, both require faith, since fisherman worked at night and casts nets into the depths of the sea they couldn’t see what they were doing. Finally, both fishermen and fisher of men cast out their nets expecting a catch. They are not satisfied with one fish, they are hoping to break the nets, they are looking for a harvest. I have heard many times in the Presbyterian Church that our faith is not about the numbers but about the depth of faith we teach and develop. And while I believe many mega churches can be lakes of shallow waters, that don’t mean we should be a deep well that is so narrow that only a few people can enter. Faith and numbers are important and we as the mainline church should admit that.

Where ministry differs from fishing is that ministry is not about method. It is not about twelve principles that work in every church. It is not about taking what Jesus did and turn into a philosophy or mantra. Yes there are principles for ministry in the Bible, we are talking about some of them in our Sunday school on hospitality. The essential key for ministry is not having the right nets, or knowing what neighborhood all the fish with young fish who are interested in church have moved to so you can build a church there. Ministry isn’t about principles it is about relationships, it isn’t about watching the waves for the right time to drop your nets, its about dropping your nets when Jesus tells you to.

The vogue term for following Jesus these days is not calling oneself “Christian” but calling oneself a “disciple”. Discipleship is somehow considered to be a more serious undergoing than Christian education. And there is a move in the church for “Radical Discipleship” to take seriously Jesus’ call to serve the poor, to give away everything you have, to preach the Gospel to the nations. David Platt’s book, Radical: Taking Back Your Life From the American Dream, is such a book. Platt makes several suggestions, such as praying for the nations, reading the Bible in a year, and giving sacrificially for a cause. But Platt’s and many Christians mistake is thinking that the Bible is our B asic. I nstructions B efore L eaving E arth. That it is some kind of rule book to live our most radical life or our best life now depending upon which author you read. For example, sacrificial giving while commanded by Jesus, was not so that we could solve poverty, it was instead to guard our hearts against the lure of wealth. As Kevin Deyoung points out in his fine critique of Platt’s book , “ we need a better understanding of poverty and wealth in the world. The Christian needs to be generous, but generous charity is not the answer to the world’s most pressing problems of hunger, inadequate medical care, and grinding poverty. Wealth is created in places where the rule of law is upheld, property rights are secured, people are free to be entrepreneurs, and there is sufficient social capital to encourage risk-taking. We can and should do good with our giving. But we must not lead people to believe that most of human suffering would be alleviated if we simply gave more.” (

Often people think they are doing good buying people mosquito nets in Africa when what they are actually doing is putting folks who make mosquito nets for a living out of business and keeping those regions dependent upon our charity. Why we give, how we give, and if we are called to give, are as important as what we give.

Before I came to Pierceton, I considered working with a radical ministry in Washington State. It’s called Tierra Nueva. The ministry works with immigrants and ex-offenders and is one of the most powerful ministries I have seen in my life. But then the Lord reminded of our verse in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul admonishes the his people to live as they are called. It as almost as if the Corinthians so get the radical nature of the Gospel that some of them think that it means that if they are circumcised that they should try to remove the mark of circumcisions, which Paul, though he is not a doctor, advises would be a very bad idea. It is not that this means that we should just be content with our lives and think that God has nothing else for us, but it is that perhaps there are more steps to achieve one’s calling than just jumping from A to Z. Sometimes God does call us to leave our nets. Sometimes God calls us to stay with our nets and serve faithfully because the nets are preparing us for something we do not know, or perhaps the nets, and the people we fish with are our ministry. For me God reminded me that I was raised Presbyterian, and part of my calling was as a teacher, preacher, and Shepherd. He may have other things for me but I am not ready to jump from A to Z. The radical thing for me to do was for me to finish my ordination process and trust that God would speak to my heart. And I do believe he did. That is why I am here.

I don’t know if I submitted my PIF to Pierceton or if the system matched me with you all. I just remember that for months while I was interested in every other church this guy named Andrew Ott kept emailing me. And because I had closed doors that didn’t need to be closed before I kept interviewing. And at the end of six months of searching I stood before you and I knew in my heart I was meant to be here, though with much of my experience being in urban and multicultural ministry I couldn’t tell you why. But I had been caught. The dragnet had struck. And I was be reeled in. Willingly and unwillingly. Usually when God puts his hook in you, you fight it for a long time and then you go along with it. The Calvinists call it Irresistible Grace. I don’t understand the relationship between Free Will and Predestination and all that, I just know you can’t run from God.

This isn’t to say that I am not a person with radical ideas as you no doubt know if you have spent any time with me at all. And you did hire me to challenge you all and to push you beyond your comfort zone while at the same time spending time with you all so that you may know without a doubt that I love you all and am not out to turn your church into my church. It’s a hard balance I know. I am not all that good at striking the balance but I am learning, I thank you for your patience as I learn.

You know I think we are having a lot of good discussion in our Sunday School class, Making Room: Recovering The Tradition of Christian Hospitality. I know it isn’t the typical thing taught in Sunday school here, but in this time in my ministry and the life of this church, I think welcoming folks is essential, having an open spirit is essential, and it just happened to be that the best text I found on the subject talked about welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the lonely, the poor, which frankly Jesus talked about, but not your typical Pierceton Sunday school I would think, though I haven’t been here all that long. But I have been seeing lights click on, I’ve been seeing people getting it, what it means to have an open spirit. I didn’t have one until I lived in a retreat center. But Richmond Hill opened up my Spirit to embrace people for who they are and not what I can get from them, and that changed my life. Still there are tensions in class. Folks have asked me, “Well does this mean you want us to do this or that?” Well of course I have ideas about what you all should do, how I would have things. I have an idea a minute, my head can be in the clouds sometimes, I can get caught staring off into the distance and if I do you just need to give me a dope slap to the back of the head to bring me back down. Of course, I have ideas. But this isn’t my church. It isn’t your church either. It’s Christ church. And I am sure he has given me part of the picture a vision of what this place could be. But you all are the pillars, the roots of this church, and without roots a vision is just a dream that just as well be forgotten. I think what we are most learning in Sunday School is that you just got to see people’s gifts and you just have to shape your ministry around that and not have preconceived notions of what that looks like. And I am really passionate about seeing people reach the fullness of their calling, because for so long I didn’t have much help reaching mine. The future of this church is not something for me to decide, some of you may want the pastor to decide, some of you may not, but that is not why I am here, though I have to remind myself of that often because I forget and I fall into pride. I am here to help you discern, to sift through the sands of possibility, to help you see where the Holy Spirit is leading our congregation. This is the classical discipline of spiritual discernment and it differs from normal Presbyterian polity and how we regularly run a church. We need more than a strong pastor or strong Elders to lead this church. During this critical time during the life of this church we need spiritual consensus as a community. To quote the classic book Grounded in God, “When a group operating under parliamentary procedure considers a controversial proposal, it normally works out compromise in order to produce a majority vote. While spiritual consensus can produce compromise, more typically those gathered start to see the situation from a new perspective that reveals a path not previously envisioned. Whereas a compromise rarely energizes anyone, a totally new idea that breaks through from God enthusiam (en theous, literally “in God.”). We cannot achieve spiritual consensus by merely fine tuning group skills and techniques. Although spiritual consensus takes practice, ultimately it comes as a grace-filled gift from God. Those who wait for the Spirit as they confront their common concerns can hope to experience the love of God bonding them together in heart and mind.” I don’t know why you think you are here. But together, in unity, with the mind of Christ, we are going to find out. Because we have all been caught. And Jesus doesn’t do catch and release.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

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