Fishing for Christ
(Also parallels in
Epiphany 3B, Mark 1:14-20; also in Epiphany 5C, Luke 5:1-11)
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. 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 someday far in the future. At
his funeral I would tell how Clyde missed netting my big 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.
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.
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
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 started to pull in those nets
and these nets were so full of fish, that the boat started to heel
over on its side. The
cousins noticed that Simon was in trouble and so they came fast and
by the time they got there, they saw that Simon’s boat was
overwhelmed with fish in it. It was flowing over with fish.
realized 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 woke
up and he said 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.
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 was 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 was 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 the 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.
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
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” fishermen 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 these “old pros of fishermen” 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.
“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.
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
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