First I wanted to start with a quick note. For many people the last verse of this reading is familiar as “do not be afraid, from now on you will be fishers of men”. For many centuries, that is how this verse was translated. Over the past 40 or 50 years a lot of research into the language (Koine Greek) and social context of the New Testament. It was discovered that during New Testament times, the Greek word for a group of men, a mixed group of men and women or even a group of 100 women and 1 man was the same (all used the male word). As Jesus gave his first disciples their first mission, he meant that they would be fishers of all people, that they would tell the good news to everyone. More recent bible translations like the New Revised Standard (which we usually hear at worship) have updated the verse to reflect this more clearly.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Today’s sermon is one that I have shared 3 or 4 times during my ministry. I only have 2 fishing stories and I have not been fishing since the last time this reading came up so I do not have anything new to add. As I prepared for today, I realized that the first few times around, I focused too much on the stories and made being fishers of people seem obvious and easy.
First I wanted to share my two and only 2 fishing stories (bear with me if they are repeats). The first time was about 20 years ago, My family and I saw a sign that read something like “NY C Parks Department offers free fishing lessons, all equipment needed will be provided”. We decided to go and when we arrived, we were given a soda can with a piece of string, a hook and a plastic spoon (to catch worms for bait) The lesson was throw this string in the water and roll it up with the can when you get fish. We did not catch any fish that morning (we honestly got bored in about 20 minutes and called it quits).
My second trip was a few years later. I heard a friend at church talking about fishing and I said “fishing is so boring, why do people bother” and then I told the sad tale of my only fishing trip. The man I was talking to has spent most of his life on the water, in the Navy, driving commercial boats and then in the shipping insurance industry. He laughed at my experiences and then offered to take me out on his boat to show me how fishing was done. We went out on his boat and he had 15 or 20 fishing rods to pick from, all sorts of different hooks, baits and shiny stuff and a vast knowledge of the area we went out to. We had a great trip and caught 4 or 5 fish that morning.
I have always compared these 2 stories and mentioned that Jesus making his disciples fishers of people was like my second story, he gave them everything they needed to do the work, to share the Gospel with joy and confidence.
I wanted to focus less on the stories and say more about how Jesus equips us to be fishers of people (an area that we are all very weak in). It starts with trust in God’s promises. Jesus tells his disciples to cast their nets in an area where they failed to catch anything in all night. They listen and trust Jesus advice. They witness God’s power in nets filled to the point of breaking, they know that with God, all things are possible. Is also means being present with people. Jesus is on the boat with them, sitting with them as they cast their nets and celebrating the catch with them.
Jesus equips his followers, the 1st century fisherman and us all these years later, by showing us to trust in God’s promises and to be present with each other. The promises to us are much bigger and much different than a net of fish. Jesus promises us that our sins are forgiven, that God’s kingdom has room for all people, that good will overcome evil, grace, love and compassion will overcome all of the things that separate, hurt or scare us.