By the Rev. Darren Miner
Last week, we heard the story of Jesus’ call to Philip and Nathanael, as recounted in the Gospel of John. This week we get yet another story of a call to ministry, this time from Mark’s Gospel. It takes place immediately following Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness being tested by Satan. The news of John the Baptist’s arrest signals the end of Jesus’ testing and the beginning of his active ministry in the world. And so, he leaves the wilderness behind and heads for the Sea of Galilee.
The message that he proclaims at first is one of repentance: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Nowadays, after having heard so many hypocritical televangelists tell us that we need to repent of our sins, we have a hard time hearing Jesus’ message of repentance with fresh ears. And so we get it wrong. We take the word “repent” to mean “to be sorry for our sins.” But that’s not the core meaning of the original Greek term. A more literal translation is “to change one’s way of thinking.” 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 outlook. Yes, this would undoubtedly have included being sorry for one’s sins. But the call to change one’s way of thinking includes so much more than that.
Next, we are told, Jesus begins to call a group of disciples to help him in his work, starting with the two brothers Simon Peter and Andrew. 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 itinerant rabbi. Likewise, the brothers James and John drop what they are doing to follow Jesus. Now, Jesus must have been an incredibly charismatic man and his invitation to join him must have been incredibly persuasive. Even so, these fishermen displayed tremendous courage, and we should give them due credit.
But the story doesn’t end with Simon Peter and Andrew, or with James and John. For all of us here today, if we too would be followers of Jesus, are called to take some risks and to go out and fish for people. Now, our tendency is to spend a lot of time mending our nets and very little time actually fishing. The choir diligently practices its singing. The junior warden makes innumerable phone calls to builders and painters. The vestry meets month after month to discuss how to keep the church open another year. And I spend hours each week trying to write the perfect sermon. All this is well and good. But it is all mending nets; it is all preparation for the real work of fishing for people.
If you just look around you, you’ll see that the sanctuary looks a bit empty. 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 accident, we do a good job of welcoming them. And if they stick around, we do a good job of incorporating them into the family. But what we don’t do is go out of our way to reach out to people and to invite them to “come and see.” That’s the fishing for people that we all too often 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. Maybe we just don’t know how to go about inviting someone to join us; the words don’t come readily. Maybe we’re like the reluctant prophet Jonah and are afraid of sounding foolish. If any of these perfectly valid excuses rings a bell, recall the words of Jesus: “Change your way of thinking!”
Believe it or not, it’s not hard to go fishing for people. You do it the way that Jesus did it—by telling stories that invite the listener to come and see. Think about all those parables Jesus told. Recall how they engaged the listener, opened up new vistas into the Kingdom of God, and then invited the listener in. Well, each of you here today has the God-given ability to tell stories, including stories of how you have experienced the presence of God right here at the Church of the Incarnation. 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 film or a book or a CD to an acquaintance? Well then, you can just as easily recommend this church to a friend or an acquaintance. And if you have ever gone so far as to pick up a friend in your car and take him or her to a restaurant to try that spicy dish you like so much, or to the movies to see that romantic comedy that was so heartwarming you could see it twice, then you can just as easily arrange to bring a friend to church with you sometime.
If we all do a little more fishing for people, I guarantee that this parish will grow. Granted, some fish are going to slip the net—maybe even most will get away. But a few people will hear your story about how God has touched your life here in this place, and they will come to see for themselves. And of those few who visit, some will decide to stay among us for the long haul. Jesus started with four disciples, which soon grew to twelve. In a matter of months, Jesus had 5000 people come from far and wide to listen to him speak about God’s love. Yes, we are small. But we don’t have to stay that way! If we respond to Jesus’ call, if we change our way of thinking, and if we do just a little fishing for people, we could grow this community and, more importantly, we could bring the Good News of God’s love to a lot of people who need to hear some Good News. So let’s finish mending the nets—it’s time to go fishing!
© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.