by Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington
Gospel: Luke 5:1-11 , Mark 1:14-20, Mt. 4:12-23
Many of us have our favorite fishing stories that have been told again and again.
Many of us have our fishing thrills. The story involves a thrill of the catch, and we remember those circumstances with a keen memory. I remember vividly the strike of a steelhead down on the Sixes River in Oregon so many decades ago, with its flashing tail shimmering in the shining sun. What a tug of war with that fish in that river. There is nothing like a thrashing steelhead caught in a river. I remember the German Brown striking on a fly rod in the Metolius River in Oregon, the fly drifting down along that bank and out from the bank, flashed that German brown. I remember drifting the Kenai River up in Alaska with bait bobbing below our boat into the riffles and that big, glorious salmon hitting it. You can see the picture of that salmon on the door to my study, and me with dark brown hair. How I remember all the salmon hitting out there in front of Redondo, so many fish, so many stories, so many thrills. It is always a thrill to catch the big one. We fishermen remember those moments with clarity.
A fisherman also has stories about "fishing fanatics." There are people who are fishing fanatics, like my Uncle Clarence. We were a family reunion one day, and Uncle Clarence, Dad's brother, brought out a whole bunch of picture of crappies from his wallet. He was a proud man, proud of all of those fish he had caught. I asked to see a picture of his wife; he didn't have one. His children; he didn't have one. His grandchildren; he didn't have one. But he had a gob of pictures of his fish. Uncle Clarence was a tad embarrassed that he didn't have pictures of his family but he was might proud of those pictures of his fish.
A fisherman has fishing friends. One of my fishing friends is Clyde Hume. We share many stories. One time, Clyde missed netting one of my salmon I had caught. I was peeved at him, to say the least. He missed with the net and the salmon got away. After I stewed about it a while, I told him that I hope that God would allow me to do his funeral, many years in the funeral of course. At his funeral I would tell how he missed netting my salmon and I hoped that God would be a better netter of him on judgment day than he was of netting my salmon today. We laughed, as fishing buddies.
A fisherman often has "fishing with grandpa" stories. Many people have memories of sitting out in a lake with a grandfather, waiting patiently for that perch or whatever to strike. My kids certainly have such memories fishing with Grandpa Cook on Turtle Lake in Wisconsin. The fish would play with the bait, the red bobber would move and swirl a bit and then suddenly, down it would go as the perch grabbed the bait. What a thrill for any grandchild. What memories with Grandpa, his long cane poles and sitting for hours in his green boat. I hope my grandchildren develop similar memories of fishing with me.
Well, today's story is a fishing story. It is a fishing story about Simon Peter. Simon Peter, as you know, was a fisherman by trade. He fished the Sea of Galilee. It was and is a big lake, thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. Like many of you, Peter had his own fishing boat and he was in a fishing partnership. It was a fishing family with his brother Andrew and his cousins, James and John. Basically, they were gill netters. They weren't sports fisherman. … Some of you have been up in the Straits of Juan de Fuca during the summer at night, and have seen all those beautiful lights of the fishing nets out on the Straits. It's a beautiful sight. … Gill netting was and is hard work. The fishermen would fish all night, so the fish wouldn't see the nets during the night. In the morning, they would take in their haul of fish, salt their fish, and take it to town to sell their fish at the market.
One particular day, Jesus was preaching near the lake, up at the north end, near the town of Capernaum. That was Peter's home village, where he had his fishing boats. It was and is a beautiful spot. Peter was fishing up there, and Jesus was preaching up there. One day, Jesus said, "Simon Peter, I want to use your boat to get away from shore a little bit, so I can speak to the crowds from the boat." Peter said, "Right on." They got into Peter's boat, rowed out a bit, set the anchor, and Jesus started to preach. After Jesus finished his preaching, he said, "Simon, let's go fishing." Simon said, "You've got to be a bit crazy, Jesus or you don't know nothing about fishing. We're tired. We fished all night. We didn't catch anything last night and we surely won't catch anything in the daytime, with the light and all. You're a good preacher Jesus, but you don't seem to know much about catching fish here in this lake." Jesus listened to Simon and again repeated his request, "I want to go fishing." "OK, if you insist.
" So they put up their sail and off they went out into the lake. They got to one spot, dropped their gill nets, and then sat around, I suppose telling fishing stories or maybe talking about Jesus' last sermon. All the while, Simon was thinking to himself that Jesus wasn't much of a fisherman but he was too polite to say it out loud. Jesus finally said, "Simon, it is time to pull in the nets." Simon starts to pull in those nets and these nets are so full of fish, that the boat starts to heel over on its side. The cousins notice that Simon is in trouble and so they come fast and by the time they get there, they see that Simon's boat is overwhelmed with fish in it. It's flowing over with fish. Suddenly, Peter realizes that he is in the middle of a miracle. You don't catch fish like this in the middle of the day. Simon Peter's brain wakes up and he says to Jesus, "I am sorry. I am just a sinner. I didn't know better." Jesus said to him, "That's OK Simon. I understand. But I am choosing you to fish for people. You are good at fishing for fish, but I now want you to fish for people. I am going to teach you how to catch nets filled with people." …When they got to shore, Peter dropped his nets and followed Christ. They walked down the beach and there were the cousins, James and John. Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will teach you how to fish for people." They too dropped their nets and followed Jesus immediately.
That is the fishing story for today.
From this and other Biblical passages, we know that the mission of the church today is to fish for people, to be used by God to catch people for Jesus Christ. We know that the symbol of the church is a fish, in the Greek language, ICTHUS. If you take the first letter of the following words, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, you get the Greek word, ICTHUS, which means fish. You often see a small, black, rectangular sign, with a symbol of the fish on it. You see this sign on car bumpers and doors. It simply stands for fish. Christians are called to be fishermen and fisherwomen. We are to be taught to fish for people. It is the central mission of the church.
Unfortunately, the Lutheran church hasn't been into this fishing mission so seriously. That is, when the Lutheran church began in Saxony in Germany, all the people in that province were either Roman Catholic or Lutheran. There was no need for a fishing mission program when everyone around you is assumed to be Christian. For 200 years, the Lutheran church did not get around to sending out missionaries. Why? Everyone around in Saxony were Lutherans or Catholics. It is called "corpus Christianum," where you assume the nation around you is Christian so you do not evangelize and then do not send out missionaries for 200 years. … It is also fascinating to me to read Martin Luther's commentary on this passage about the fishers of men. Luther missed the point of the text for today; he said that in this passage, "God gives us all the fish and food we need for daily sustenance." That is true, but not the point of the text. John Wesley, on the other hand, the founder of the Methodist church, understood this text well when he wrote: Christians are to go into the hills and dales, the highways and hedges, the markets, the fairs, the barns and the villages. Christians are to go out everywhere with the Gospel. For two centuries, the Methodist church was good at doing this. I am suggesting to you that the Lutheran denomination historically has not been good at mission of fishing for Christ.
This has also been true of our congregation, Grace Lutheran Church. When I look a the number of adult baptisms and reaffirmations of faith from those who dropped out of the church and are now coming back, prior to l973, we had almost no adult baptisms and affirmations of faith. These are two measuring sticks for how we are fishing: adult baptisms and affirmations of faith. For many years, we had numerous adult baptisms and affirmations of faith. Since we built our new sanctuary, we have again fallen back to where we were before, with little effort and energy being put into fishing for Christ. In recent years, our adult baptismal rate and affirmations of faith has been almost non-existent. Grace Lutheran Church isn't spending much time fishing anymore. We talk about fishing; we pray about fishing for Christ; se preach sermons about fishing, but not many people are acting fishing anymore in our congregation.
So how do we go about changing and becoming better fishermen and women for Christ? How did Peter and Andrew, James and John, become good fishermen for Christ. That is our focus for today. We discover that the principles for good fishing are the same principles involved in good evangelism or fishing for Christ.
What are some of the marks or characteristics of a good fisherman? Whether you are a commercial fisherman or a sports fisherman, the characteristics are the same. I have talked to the "old pro" fisherman like Norm Carlsen and Lee Jones. They should know if anybody should. This is what they told me about the marks of a good fisherman.
What are the marks of a good fisherman?
"You gotta love it. It has to be in your blood. It's an absolute pleasure. To live in that wind and rain, cold and sleet, it has to be in your blood." That is what these old salts of fisherman told me.
In order to be a good fisherman, they also said "You have to be dedicated to it. You have to get up at three in the morning. The best salmon fishermen are on the water when it is dark. The lazy salmon fishermen come at seven in the morning. When it is pitch black and there is ice coming down from the sky and you are baiting your lure with a flashlight, you have to be nuts to do something like that. You have to love it. You have to be dedicated to the task. Your dedication grows out of your love." Any good fisherman knows that ten percent of the steel headers catch ninety percent of the steelhead. That's the way it is. A good fisherman is dedicated. That is what Norm and Lee told me.
Another mark of a good fisherman is that they are experienced. If you haven't fished much, chances are that you are not that good at it. If you fish a lot, you learn from other fisherman. It is basic. If you are a good fisherman, you didn't learn it on your own. Somebody taught you. A grandpa. A grandma. A father. A brother. An uncle. If you are a good fisherman, somebody else taught you and you began to slowly develop your own experience. If you are a greenhorn at fishing, chances are you get skunked quite often.
Another mark of a good fisherman is you have to know the fish. You have to know what and where they are biting. You have to know where the good holes are. At what depth. What they are biting on. What they are hitting on. You have to get the latest information from someone who knows what they are biting and hitting on. The fish are there; that is not the problem; there are hundreds and thousands of fish in the water down below you, but how to catch them is another matter. You have to learn that information from other fishermen or your past records. That is what they told me.
Another mark of a good fisherman is patience. Patience. You have to sit so long sometimes to catch those trout, to catch those perch, northerns or salmon. You need to learn to sit patiently and wait and wait and wait, trying different lures and baits and depths and speeds and holes. You don't have to tell good fisherman about patience. They live with patience.
Those are some of the marks of a good fisherman.
Jesus said, "Simon, if you follow me, I will teach you how to fish for people." If you are a follower of Christ, Christ teaches you many things. Christ teaches you how to love. Christ teaches you how to forgive. Christ teaches you how to pray. But Christ also teaches you how to fish for people. Simon Peter had to learn. Simon had to learn a new skill, a new talent, a new ability. If there is one thing true about a good fisherman, he had to be taught by other skilled fisherman. If you are a follower of Christ, you too are learning what it means to be a fisher of people. Simon had to learn it and you and I need to learn it as well.
What does that mean for us? What are some of the characteristics of becoming good fishers for people? As a pastor, I teach many people about what it means to love, forgive and pray. I also would like to share with you insights that I have learned about fishing for people, so that they would be caught by Christ.
The first is attitude. You need to have the right attitude to be an effective fisher of people. As a fine fisherman, you need to have the right attitude and the same in fishing for Christ. It is an infectious attitude, a contagious attitude, a positive attitude. These effective fishermen love Christ, the things of Christ, the ways of Christ, the people of Christ, the church of Christ. They love bringing themselves to church; they love bringing their families here. I could give many examples of many of you here today, e,g, Carley Marchitto, a young ninth grader, who loves Christ, loves her church, loves her Christian faith, and brings most of her girl friends to church. Almost all of her girl friends are now in confirmation; their parents are now coming and joining the church. From the Bible, we know that a child shall lead them and Carley certainly is a leader in our church. She is enthusiastic for Christ, her faith, her congregation and her positive affection rubs off on her friends. She has the right attitude and you cant' be a fine fisher for Christ without the right attitude.
The second thing I notice about good fishermen and women for Christ is that it does not take fancy equipment. Some people have fancy boats and fancy down riggers and fancy rods and reels to catch their salmon, but they will all be skunked if they don't know the fish or if they fish at the wrong time of day or fish in the wrong season or fish in the wrong holes, etc. You need to have some basic, simple equipment to do the job. What is the simple equipment of most effective fishermen and women for Christ? The love of Jesus in your heart and for another human being. It is all the equipment that you need. Love for Christ; love for others as you are talking to your family, friends and work associates. You don't need to know a lot of Bible verses. You don't need to take the Bethel Bible Series or the Crossways Bible Series or go to Bible Study Fellowship and learn all that you learn. I have discovered that people with a wealth of Biblical knowledge are not any more effective fishermen and women than others. Fancy equipment isn't the key to good fishermen. Ask Carley or anyone like her. The longer that you are fishing for Christ, the longer you learn that unchurched people are not asking the hard of questions, Biblical questions, theological questions. Hard questions aren't getting in their way of becoming disciples. The point is: you need simple and good fishing equipment and that simple equipment is the love of God and love for other people in your soul.
A third quality of good fishermen and women is knowing where the fish are and what they are biting on. This is very important. There are times and places where the fishing is hot, and you need to be there fishing at those times. The same is true for fishing for Christ. There are times when people are more hungry for Christ, spirituality and spiritual values. Sociological studies have been done on people who have experienced adult baptisms or reaffirmed their faith as they come back into the life of the church after being gone for five years or more. Where are the "hot spots?"
There are three definite "hot points" or "hot holes" to use a fishing analogy. One "hot time" is in preparation for a Christian marriage. This is true of younger couples who may be more open since they know how difficult marriages can be; younger couples sense a need for Christ in their new marriage, especially since they have experienced so much divorce among their families and friends. Also, an older couple coming to the church after having gone through a divorce, two or three divorces, and are now coming to Christ and the church looking for help and guidance, looking for the love of Christ to live inside of them. You need to look for Christian conversations with friends or family during this time.
Another "hot point" has to do with family and children. 77% of the unchurched want their children to come to Sunday School. That number is incredible, if you stop to think about it. In our crazy mixed up world today, with mass murders and school murders and sex, violence and pornography a standard diet on any television show, parents are looking for another alternative. That alternative is often the Christian community, and the power of the Christian community when Christian teenagers influence other teenagers. Many people join churches looking for a vigorous youth ministry precisely because they are worried about their children. You need to be talking with your family and friends with children. Tell them about the wisdom of starting children early in church and how hard it is to start them later when they are more rebellious. Parents understand this.
A third "hot spot" or "hot hole," to using a fishing analogy is people experience a "spiritual emptiness" inside. Look for variations on the word, "empty," "something is missing in my life," "there is a hole in my heart." All of these language patterns reveal a need for God, for Christ, for the spirituality of God living inside of a person. In a materialistic, fast paced society, it doesn't take long before someone realizes that something basic is missing. Be ready for these conversations. It was Jesus who said, "The sick are the ones who know their need for a physician. Those who think they are well do not go to a doctor. Likewise with God. Those who are not well in the spirit and know their need of God for themselves, their family, their children, they are the ones who look for Christ and are receptive to the Great Physician."
A good fisherman? You need to know where the hot holes are and fish there. You don't simply troll down the middle of the Puget Sound hoping to snag a salmon. You go where the holes are, where the fishing may be potentially hot.
The fourth quality of a good fisherman or woman is this: you need to set the hook. When fishing for salmon, you need to set the hook. When fishing with grandpa and the red bobber pulls down into the water, you need to set the hook. It is an art to setting the hook. Some will pull the bait out too quickly. The fish is nibbling on the worm and the child doesn't get the fish a chance to take the bait, but pulls it up too soon. Or waits too long. There is an art to setting the hook. So it is in fishing for Christ: you need to develop the art of setting the hook. Setting the hook refers to giving them a specific invitation. The question is: "Would you go to church with me tomorrow?" Not, "would you come to church with me sometime in the future?" The question is specific, with a time frame. You ask the question, "Do you want talk about your marriage now? Your kids now? Your emptiness now?" You are willing to ask that specific question.
The last quality of a good fisherman is key: the longer you do it, the better you get. If you haven't been fishing much for Christ in life, chances are that you are not very good at it. It takes a while, but you keep at it, and pretty soon, you become a more experienced fisher of men and fisher of men, so that more people are caught for Jesus Christ.
Jesus said to Simon Peter and you and me, "Today, I will teach you to become a fisher of people, that these people may be caught for Christ." Simon Peter and his brother and cousins dropped everything else to learn this new behavior, this new skill, this new way of living. In the future, they would learn about love, forgiveness and prayer. But on this day, they began learning to fish for Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sermons and Commentaries for the Fifth Sunday After Denho (Baptism of the Lord)
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