Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fishing, not Hunting

Fishing, Not Hunting

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

There was once a young boy named Tommy. One Sunday, Tommy came to Sunday School very late.

His teacher, Mrs. Little, knew Tommy was usually very prompt and asked him if anything was wrong.

Tommy replied no, Mrs. Little, nothing was wrong, just that he had planned to skip Sunday School that morning to go fishing with his dad.

Mrs. Little asked him what moved him to make the right decision to come to Sunday School.

Tommy replied that it wasn’t his decision—his dad told him that he couldn’t go fishing today and needed to instead go to church.

Mrs. Little was very impressed with Tommy’s dad, a man not known for his regular church attendance, and asked Tommy if his dad had explained to him why it was more important to go to church than to go fishing?

Tommy replied, "Yes he did. Dad said he didn't have enough bait for both of us."

Fishing is a lot like hunting. You have a lot of expensive, fancy, specialized equipment that’s not really good for anything else—you can do it with almost no training, though it’s something you can get better at. It involves a lot of waiting for the right moment. And it’s something people love to lie about.

One way that fishing is different is that when you are hunting, you’re looking for just one thing. When you’re fishing, you take what you get.

It’s not like there weren’t hunters in first century Galilee. Jesus chose fishermen to make an important point—when we bring in members of the church, we take what we get.

I know that people often wish this were that: why doesn’t he talk faster, why doesn’t he talk less, why is she so cranky, I don’t like the way the podiums look, I don’t like the way the windows look, why doesn’t he get a job, why don’t they quit fighting, why doesn’t he come to church on Wednesday, why does she skip Sunday School—bickering can go on forever because, as Jesus pointed out to us, we’re very good at seeing the specks of all the eyes around us but ignoring that big stick shoved in our own eyeballs.

And it’s not like Jesus didn’t say we can’t be discerning—he spoke often about separating the wheat from the chaff and the good vines from the bad—indeed, just before he tells Simon Peter to go out into the deep water, Jesus has Simon take his boat a little off shore so that Jesus can be separated from the crowd—that separation, what we still have today as the set-apart ministry is important. Just like Jesus couldn’t preach in his home town, it’s impossible to preach if you’re just a part of the crowd.

But the discernment comes after the catch. As a good fisherman, you cast your net as wide as you possibly can. Those big shrimp and tuna trawlers don’t cast huge nets into the ocean and drag them up with dolphins and mermaids because they’re evil, they cast those huge nets because they want to catch as many fish as possible.

Likewise, we shouldn’t feel that megachurches have some “agenda” other than preaching to a huge slice of the population—remember, Jesus preached to thousands upon thousands at a time.

What we really should get out of today’s passage is a simple question: why are we not fishing in deeper waters?

Why have we not cast our nets into the sea?

Are we tired from a night of toil? Let me promise you, with a 3-day-old at home, I am deeply aware of exhaustion. But our personal discomfort is not what is at stake—Simon and his partners had been out fishing all night, but at the command of Jesus, Simon went out to fish again.

We cannot let weariness be the crutch that cripples this church. No matter how tired we are, how many aches and pains we have, how many times we have to come to the church to fix something, how busy we are—we have to remember that our call is to be fishers of men, that we are sent out into the deep waters to cast the net of the Good News to all, without regard to our solitary complaints.

If we continue to follow the example of Simon Peter—that is, the living example of the church—we can see another stumbling block, one that nearly leaves all the fish in the sea: unbelief, ill-preparedness, and pride.

When Jesus tells Simon to take the boat out into the deep waters to fish some more, Simon should have known Jesus had a fine reason for the suggestion. Simon should have said to his partners “come on over, we’ve got work to do” but he didn’t have enough faith in Jesus to “rope other folks in” so to speak. He did have enough faith to work, just not to call others in. Jesus fixed that.

When Simon and Jesus go out and cast nets, they get so many fish that Simon’s nets start to break. Now, Simon was an experienced fisherman, right? You know when you’ve got a big fish on your line. Simon knew, before he ever started to pull up those nets, that he needed help and he was ill-prepared to deal with such a catch, even though he should have known that’s what was in store. But pride got in the way. HE wanted to be the one on the boat with Jesus, he wanted to bring in all those fish—he wanted the recognition.

But then the nets started to break. Simon realized that he was going to lose everything if he didn’t call for help. And help came.

That’s something that most of us just don’t realize. I’ve been lucky in these last few days to be reminded of that fact—we’ve gotten lots of help with food and cleaning, things that we just couldn’t do on our own and properly take care of a brand-new person. And all we had to do was ask for help.

So Simon asks for help, and the sons of Zebedee, his partners, sail out in their boats and they pull in so many fish that the boats nearly sink.

Now let’s think about this for a second.

By himself and Jesus, Simon can’t hack it.

But with three together (and Jesus) Simon and his partners bring in so many fish they can barely contain them all.

I suppose you can see the parallel here to Matthew 18—where two or three of us agree on something and ask God the Father for it in the name of Jesus it will be done and done abundantly.

Simon, of course, still doesn’t understand. He’s been given a gift by Jesus—what he wanted all night, what he spent his life working towards—getting piles of fish—Jesus gave it to him.

Weary, unfaithful, ill-prepared, and prideful, and Jesus still gave it to him. Still gave Simon Peter what he wanted.

And how does Simon react? With joy? With gratitude?


With fear.

“Get away from me Lord!” Simon says, “I’m a bad man!” Well, duh. Jesus knows that. It’s not like Jesus has a supply of good men laying about to choose from. Pretty much the only option He’s got available is picking up a cranky lump of evil and showing it what to do.

So Jesus says “Don’t be afraid, from now on you’ll be fishing for men.” And Simon and his partners put down their earthly pursuits and follow the Lord.

So what lessons can we, the Church, learn from this?

First, that weariness is no excuse. Jesus isn’t going to come calling only on days when we’re well-rested. We may have spent all day or all week or all year working, beating our heads against a wall and just spinning our wheels—ready to give up—and Jesus might come and ask for more. We should remember then the full nets of Simon and James and John.

Second, that we must have faith. If Jesus is calling us to do work we must have faith that He will secure the fruits of that work for us. We must have faith in the promise of Matthew 18—that what we ask for in faith together will be done on this earth.

Third, that we must be prepared. We can’t go off on a call half-cocked and unready. If a job takes two people, we can’t do it alone. If it takes fifty people, we, the Jacksonville Church of the Brethren, can’t do it at all right now. We have to know our limits and be willing to take the time to prepare to overcome our shortcomings.

Fourth, that we must be humble. We have to ask for help. We can’t do anything alone. The greatest lie of the modern world is that people can be independent. When someone speaks of his or her own independence, your first question should be to ask where they learned to sew so well. If we can’t even cover ourselves with clothing how can we cover the work Jesus calls us to do? We must not let pride break our nets. Alone, our nets break and our work sinks to the bottom of the sea. Together our boats are filled to overflowing.

Fifth, that we must not be afraid. If Jesus fills our boats so that we nearly sink, we must have faith that he will bring us home. If we are evil and vile—and we are—we must not say “you can’t choose me, Lord” because our sin has given Him no other choice. So many people are afraid of success—something starts to work—it starts to change—and they back away. We cannot let this happen to our church. When the Lord is working, things move, ships get crowded to capacity and whole ways of living are left behind. We must embrace this, not run from it.

So remember, as we look forward to working for Jesus in this new year we should pray:

Lord, help us to

Be willing, not weary.

Be faithful, not a flunky.

Be prepared, not preoccupied.

Be integrated, not independent.

Be fearless, not fickle.

so that we may do the work for which you have called us.


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