By the Rev. Darren Miner
Today’s Gospel reading records the start of Jesus’ ministry. It takes place immediately following Jesus’ forty days in the desert being tested by Satan. News of John the Baptist’s arrest signals the end of Jesus’ testing and the beginning of his active ministry in the world. He pulls up his roots and heads for the seaside, taking up residence in a fishing village called Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee.
The message that he proclaims at first is identical to that of the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Nowadays, after having heard so many televangelists railing at us to repent of our sins, we have a hard time hearing that message with fresh ears. And so we get it wrong. For one thing, we take the word “repent” to mean “be sorry for our sins.” But that’s not the core meaning of the original Greek term. It means to “change one’s mind” or to “change one’s mindset.” In other words, Jesus was telling those who were willing to listen that the world was on the brink of a radical transformation and they would need to change their whole way of thinking. Yes, this would undoubtedly have included being sorry for one’s sins. But the call to change one’s entire mindset includes so much more.
Next, we are told, Jesus begins to call a group of disciples to help him in his work. Today’s account comes from the Gospel of Matthew. If you remember last week’s account from the Gospel of John, you’ll notice that the stories don’t match. Last week, we were told that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and overheard his master speak about Jesus as the Messiah. Andrew and an unnamed disciple visit Jesus. Later, Andrew introduces his brother Simon Peter to the new-found Messiah. This week, we are told that Jesus called Andrew and Simon Peter, and James and John, while they were fishing. Although the Church has tried, the stories really can’t be reconciled. It kind of reminds me of some family stories that get passed down for a few generations. “How did Great Aunt Margie meet Great Uncle Don?” “Well, I seem to remember that they met at a dance.” “No,” someone else says, “I’m sure it was at the check-out desk at the library!” That’s what’s happening here, I imagine. Different Christian communities preserved different stories about how the Master and his Disciples met. Which account is more accurate, we will never know.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus calls these fishermen to follow him and become fishers of people. And they do just that, without a moment’s hesitation. They abandon their livelihood and their families to accept the invitation of this religious teacher. It beggars the imagination. How could something like this really have happened? Well, imagine for a moment what it might be like to hear the very voice of God invite you to come on an adventure. The voice of God might not be completely irresistible, but it must be mighty compelling! So maybe it isn’t so unbelievable after all. Even so, these fishermen accepted the call of their own free will, and we should give them credit for the tremendous courage it must have taken to give up their whole world and follow Jesus. In a real sense, these four men by their actions indicate that they did repent; they did change their mindset. For they put God’s will ahead of their own well-being.
But the story doesn’t end with Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John. For all of us here today, if we too would be disciples of Jesus, are called to change our whole way of thinking and to go out and fish for people. It’s a tall order, no doubt about it. You might think that changing how we think is the harder of the two calls. But I suspect that the harder call is to go out and fish for people.
Next Sunday, at the annual parish meeting, we’ll look at some graphs and charts from the diocese that record the decline in membership of this parish. But you don’t really need fancy graphs and charts. If you just look around you, you’ll know that the sanctuary looks a bit empty. And why is that? Well, the main reason is that we don’t do all that we might to invite people in. Yes, we’re a friendly and welcoming bunch of folks. And if people wander in by happenstance, we do a good job of welcoming them and incorporating them into our community. And we do more than that. We take care of one another, just like a family. But what we don’t do is go out of our way to reach out to people and invite them to “come and see.” That’s the fishing part that we sadly neglect.
Oh, there are all sorts of reasons why we don’t do it. Some of us are introverted and shy. Maybe we just don’t want to offend a friend by being too pushy about religion. (That’s what evangelicals do, and we wouldn’t want to be like them!) Maybe we just don’t know how to go about inviting someone to join us; maybe the words don’t come readily. If any of these perfectly valid excuses rings a bell, recall the words of Jesus, “Change your way of thinking, for the Kingdom is just around the corner!”
Believe it or not, it’s not really that hard to go fishing for people. You do it the way that Jesus did it—by telling stories of God’s love and grace. Think about all those parables Jesus used. Recall how they engaged the listener and broke open new vistas into the Kingdom. Well, each of you here today has the God-given ability to share stories of your experience with the Divine, which can then end with an invitation.
Have you ever liked a restaurant so much that you couldn’t wait to tell a friend to go check it out? Have you ever recommended a book or a movie or a song to a friend? Well then, you can just as easily recommend this church to a friend.
And here’s how. Think about some way, small or large, that you encountered acceptance here, or were reminded of God’s love for you, or were cared for when you were in pain. Think about how you feel when you take Holy Communion and share in the Body and Blood of our Lord, given for you. Think about how every so often the music touches a place in your heart that was hurting. Find some such moment, then make it into a story.
Now some members of this parish are natural-born storytellers. (If you don’t believe me, ask Tamara about the story of the flooded hotel and the swimming pool!) But some of us need to work a bit at telling our stories. In that case, I recommend that you sit down this week, take a cherished moment from your time here, and write it all down. Then read it out loud and take note of the time. If the story is longer than three minutes, condense it. After all, people today are busy and consequently have short attention spans. When you have that cherished moment of grace down on paper, nicely condensed to about three minutes, then commit it to memory. This short story will be your fishing net. And you can cast it by telling it to a friend, or a co-worker, or a family member, or (if you’re very brave) an absolute stranger on the bus. Just don’t forget to follow it up with an invitation to come visit this church. (You might want to have the church’s address memorized, as well.)
If we all did a little fishing for people, I guarantee that things would change around here. Granted, some fish are going to slip the net—maybe even most. But some people would hear your story about how God touched your soul here in this place, and they would come to see for themselves. Jesus started with four disciples, which soon grew to twelve. In a matter of months, Jesus had 5000 people coming to listen to him speak about God’s love. Yes, we are small. But if we change our way of thinking, respond to Jesus’ call, and go out fishing, we could grow this community and, more importantly, bring God’s love into the lives of a lot of people who need to hear some Good News.
So let’s go fishing! Amen.
© 2014 by Darren Ryan Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.