Friday, January 29, 2016

Jesus Called Fishermen (Matthew 4:12-22) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

The movie, The Perfect Storm, described the dangers of the fishing industry through the eyes of the crew of the fishing boat, the Andrea Gail.  Out of their need to bring home a prime catch of fish, the captain and crew decide to risk everything and travel to the distant, but fertile fishing ground, called the Flemish Cap.  It is a dangerous journey during the unpredictably stormy month of October.  On their way back to Gloucester, Massachusetts, the Andrea Gail encounters the "perfect storm" of 1991 and is never heard from again. Sebastian Junger, author of the book The Perfect Storm writes:  "There are many kinds of work that are dangerous, but one of the interesting things about fishing is that it really hasn't changed much over time.  It's been mechanized, of course, but the basic reality of going to sea for months at a stretch is the same as it was 100 years ago. You're way beyond help from anyone else; you're on your own. I think that forms a certain kind of character. Not only does everyone know someone who has died at sea but everyone who works in the fishing industry has almost died.  Every single fisherman you talk to has almost gotten nailed at one time or another."

Our story from the Gospel of Matthew says that one day Jesus was walking along the Shores of Lake Galilee, when he sees Simon and his brother Andrew fishing with nets.  Jesus calls out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  He was asking them to leave their fishing business, their trade, their livelihood, and to help others find God, to change from being fishermen to becoming missionaries, to stop catching fish and to start catching people.

Our story says that at once they left their nets and went along with him.  A little farther up the beach, Jesus sees Zebedee's sons, James and John, in a boat with their father preparing their nets.  He calls out to them too, and immediately they leave their father Zebedee in the boat and follow him.

Now in Jesus' day, like today, fishermen fished both from the shore and from boats.  The difference is that in Jesus' day they didn't use fishing poles.  While walking along the shore, you would cast out a large net into the sea to catch fish.  When fishing from a boat, you also would cast out a large net into the water, wait for awhile, or troll a bit, and then haul the net into the boat.  Now maybe that's why I'm such a poor fisherman, I've been using fishing poles, I should try a net.

Some thoughts come to mind when you hear this story.  Fishing from boats was indeed a dangerous business.  The Sea of Galilee was notorious for fierce sudden storms appearing, threatening to capsize boats and drown fishermen.  I think about how these fishermen didn't know Jesus, he was a stranger, and yet they trusted him enough to leave everything and follow him.  I think about how these fishermen didn't take time to return home and consider carefully about changing professions.  Clearly it was something about Jesus' personal magnetism, his spiritual power, that motivated them to go with him. 

And I always wonder about their father, Zebedee.  I can picture him shouting: “James, John, Son's, where are you going, what are you doing, you can't just leave me like this, what about your poor father, what about the family business?”  I wonder how happy he was at seeing his sons walk off with Jesus.   Regardless, Jesus called them to go with him to share the gospel, to draw people to Jesus, like these fishermen used to draw fish to their boats.

Why did Jesus call fishermen and what are some implications for our lives in this story?  I think Jesus called them to be his followers because they were teachable.  Dr. David McKenna writes:  “Jesus chose working people rather than the well-trained religious leaders of his day, because it is easier to learn than to unlearn.  One must have a teachable spirit in order to learn.  One must be open to the truth in order to receive the truth.  Truth and teachability go hand in hand.”

No, these fishermen didn't have the whole truth about God, the whole truth about Jesus and the Kingdom of God imparted to them instantly or magically.  But they were willing to take the first step.  They were willing to learn.  They were going to spend three years in training as Jesus' followers in the power of the Holy Spirit.  They would be learning each day from Jesus' teachings and example.

There are some churches today that won't change, change the way they have done things for many years, because sadly, they are no longer willing to learn or experiment or try out new ideas, they are no longer teachable.  There are some believers who have been longtime followers of Jesus who won't re-examine their thinking, they believe they have heard it all, there is nothing new for them to learn about faith.  They are unwilling to look at their faith in a new way, because they are no longer teachable.  There is still much to learn about what it means to stand for Christ in our fast changing world.   So the question is are you still teachable?  Do you have a desire to continue learning and growing in your faith?  Are you still open to hearing a new word of God?

Which brings us back to the first disciples.  Why did Jesus call fishermen?  I think he also called them because they were decisive, no rash or impulsive, but decisive.  They made their decision without undue delay.  They saw a new opportunity before them and seized it.  They left their nets and followed Jesus.   Procrastination is a problem for most people.  Is it for you? Procrastination has been called the thief of time and the graveyard of opportunities.  Why decide today when we can put if off for tomorrow.

This is a criticism I have heard for years from church members.   Our church, PBPC, being the exception of course.  People have said:  “I will serve anywhere in church except on a committee.”  Someone comes up with a bright and exciting idea.  It sounds right.  It is the right idea for the right time.  And then another person says:  “Good, let's form a committee to talk about it.”  And it takes time to recruit committee members, to find a chairperson, to set schedules, etc. and months go by with no results.  It is the problem of too much talk and too little action.

No not always, not in every instance, I agree.  As a pastor I have worked with many teams or committees over the years and we have accomplished some great things for Christ.  But we know there are times when you have to act quickly.  Like the story of the man who in a panic called an insurance agent.  He asked, “Can I insure my house?”  The agent said, “Why, of course you can.  We'll set up a time and I'll come out, probably next week, I'll bring all the paperwork and look at your house.”  The caller replied, “Oh, well, can I do it over the telephone?”  The agent responded, “No, I'm sorry.  I'll have to come over and look at your house first.”  The caller said, “Well, you better hurry and get out here my house is on fire.”

Sometimes there are issues, there are challenges, there are crises too important to put off.   When we hear God's word, we often find two conflicting inner voices.  One telling us - look before you leap, don't get involved, you can always put it off and do it later on.

The other is a voice urging us to trust and obey God's call today.  We can't have it both ways.  We can't waver.  Like those fishermen, can you still act decisively when you hear the word of God?

Why did Jesus call fishermen?  I think he called them because he knew they possessed courage.  Maybe that comes with the trade.  You can't be a wimp and brave the storms and perils of the life of a fisherman.  Perhaps this is why Jesus started with lay people, rather than clergy, fishermen, rather than highly educated priests or rabbis.  He wanted people who had been tried and tested by the wind and waves of life, not people who had been sheltered in the Temple.  Jesus knew these fishermen had been tested in every way.   He wanted people who could look persecution, and even death itself, in the face.

At age 26, Ken Elzinga joined the faculty of the University of Virginia. After a tenured colleague warned him that being explicit about his faith would hinder his career, Elzinga was stunned to see a flier with his face on a bulletin board on campus.   It was promoting a talk on faith he had agreed to give.  He started to worry. Would fellow professors think less of him? Might this harm his tenure chances? He experienced a dark night of the soul, returning to campus that night and secretly taking the poster down.  But the next morning, Elzinga put the poster back up. After hours of soul-searching, he concluded that his life was not about career ambition, but about faithful discipleship, and that being private about his faith was not an option.

In the four decades since, Elzinga has been named professor of the year multiple times and is still a speaker in high demand. He will be the first to say that serving only one master has been liberating. Why? Because pleasing an audience of one makes us less anxious, less sensitive to criticism, and more courageous. Because it’s about His honor and not ours.

We know that in those times when we lack courage, and we all face such times, we can pray to God for a spirit of courage, and God will answer our prayer.   Yes, it takes courage to be a fisherman. And it takes courage to fish for the souls of people.

The story raises questions.  Does the church too often play it safe rather than taking risks?  Do we Christians, including pastors, too often play it safe, rather then stepping out in Jesus' name?   Like those fishermen, can you act with courage when you hear the word of God calling you?

Jesus called those disciples and He calls each of us to follow him.  He calls us to be teachable, to be decisive, and to witness with courage.  Those fishermen followed Jesus and little did they know that day, that their decision would change their lives forever.  When Jesus calls you to serve him, to worship him, to lead a life like his, remember the inspiration of the fishermen and follow.  Amen!

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