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The Fishing is Good
November 16, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MARK 1:14-18

Last year, we worked our way through the windows depicting events of the Old Testament. As the New Testament windows begin with the Christmas story, I’ve waited until this time of the year. In two weeks on the first Sunday of Advent, we will begin the Christmas windows. But the window in the narthex seems to be placed at the beginning of the New Testament windows as a symbol, setting the context in which we are to view the New Testament. When we enter the narthex, and we look to the New Testament side, we see this window which sets the stage, sets the context, sets the spirit by which we come into worship, by which we understand ourselves as a church, by which we view the remaining remaining events of the New Testament is the calling of the disciples by Jesus, the calling of you and me, the calling of this church. As we enter the narthex, we are bombarded immediately with a window of Jesus saying to us, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” 

When we read the Gospels, in those early pages, we see Jesus setting himself on the course of his ministry. Especially the Gospel of Mark is succinct and so sharp. In its accounts, we see Jesus beginning his ministry with baptism. Following baptism, he goes into the wilderness for forty days. Forty days in the wilderness he struggles, he questions, he doubts, he comes to grips, comes to terms with what kind of a ministry he is going to have. What is his purpose? What is his message? What are his methods? He comes out of that wilderness experience into Galilee. We see in the Gospel of Mark, as it was read this morning, that he determined his message, he announced his message to the world. Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” 

That is his message. We see him deciding how he’s going to give this message, the methods he chooses. He chose the method of itinerancy of going about from place to place. He chose the method of preaching, of teaching whomever would stop and listen. We see him choosing who would help him. The strategy that he used to fulfill his work was a common practice of that day— a rabbi would surround himself with disciples. Through intimate daily contact in a relationship between the rabbi and the learners, the learners would come to new character, a new understanding of their code of behavior, and new insights through listening to him and living with him. Jesus selected the strategy of choosing twelve men to be with him in a very close relationship. Jesus seemed to have chosen a strategy of a support group, that this task is much too big for him alone. “In this task, I need help. I need support. I need a group with whom I can relax, with whom I can share my thoughts, my dreams, my hopes. I need a group who will pray with me. I need a group that will go with me and will stick with me to the end.” 

But this was not just a support group. This was not just a group that learned from him. Jesus gave this group a task. This group is also an action group with a task to do, almost as if Jesus said, “Give me twelve good persons. Let me train them and I will change the world with the power that is in a group of people.” There is power in a group that is united in commitment, united in their dreams, united in their fellowship with each other. Strength can come from that kind of relationship. Jesus then went forth into the world with this group. 

He first of all chose fishermen to be in his group. Fishing was a very important industry of that land, especially on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is really a lake. They say it’s a very beautiful lake. It’s 13 miles long north to south, it’s eight miles wide east to west. At the time of Jesus, there were nine cities around this lake, nine large cities. Fishing was the major industry with hundreds of boats out on the water. But in 1930, the same lake of Galilee had only one small village left, and hardly any fishermen. How times change! In the time of Jesus, it was a busy place. 

There were three methods used in fishing. The first was fishing with a pole and line. Secondly, there was a method called casting net. The net was circular, nine feet across, a large net. Men would stand on the shore on the bank and cast the net, throw the net out into the water. It was weighted, so it would sink to the bottom. Then they would pull it in and catch fish. A third method was called the drag net, the same principle except it was done from a boat out in the water. A net was cast over the side and the fish dragged in. The disciples practiced all three kinds of fishing. 

Why did he choose fishermen? If you were the Messiah, if you were the Christ, if you were out to change the world, if you went forth on a great cause using a strategy of surrounding yourselves with a group of people that would have the power to change the world, who would you choose? Notice who Jesus did not choose. He did not choose the wise of the world. Wisdom was characteristic of Greece— philosophers Plato, Aristotle. Jesus didn’t choose a philosopher. Jesus did not choose politically powerful people. He didn’t choose the Romans who not only had the military might but had the political know-how to control the world. Jesus didn’t choose the politically powerful. He did not choose religious people. He did not choose the religious leaders, the people of influence—the Pharisees, the Sadducees. He did not choose the Sanhedrin.

He began, first of all, with fishermen. He chose outcasts like Matthew, the tax collector who was despised. He chose some zealots who were political revolutionaries, who were intent on overthrowing the government through violence. He chose some of them but, first of all, he chose fishermen. What is there about fishing? What is there about fishermen? What are some qualities in fishing, or in fishermen to which Jesus was attracted, that Jesus saw possibilities. What is there about fishing? Former President Herbert Hoover has written, “To go fishing is the chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, with the shimmer of the sun on blue water. It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature, charity toward tackle makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of prophets and eagles, a quieting of hate, rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darn thing until next week. And it is discipline in the equality of men for all men are equal before fish.” 

What would you say are some of the qualities that Jesus probably saw in fishermen that enabled them to be good disciples? Holler them out to me.  Patience. That’s why I’m not a fisherman; I have no patience. Perseverance, stick in there. Optimism, eternal hope. Good. How about boasting? Have you ever known a good fisherman who didn’t like to brag? Can you imagine anybody coming home with a 155 pound sailfish and not telling anyone about it? Now there is such thing as carrying boasting too far but the quality of boasting, of being able to talk about and share what you have, what you’ve discovered, is very essential in a disciple. How many good things do you enjoy, how many good restaurants have you found, how many good vacations have you had because someone came and told you, boasted about the great time they had and thereby enriched your life? The characteristic of boasting is a good quality in a disciple. 

A good fisherman, a successful fisherman is a student. He knows his tackle, he knows what tackle to use, how to use it. He studies the fish. He knows where they live. He knows where they are at a certain time of day. He has a great sense of timing and a sense of place. He knows his fish, he thinks like a fish, he’s a student. 

A good fisherman, a successful fisherman has had a lot of experience. Perseverance enables him or her to really work at it. John Fabian has written, “You’ll find that more fish are caught in water than in books.” Right. Jesus called people who are not just sitters, not just thinkers, not just analysts. Jesus called people who acted. He called people of action to participate with him in this venture. 

When you look at the qualities of a fisherman, anyone can qualify. Everyone can fish, can enjoy fishing and can learn to be a good fisherman. The qualities are characteristic of all people. Whatever one’s talents, whatever one’s intellect, Jesus can use him. I think Jesus chose simple, ordinary people, like you and like me, as an example to the whole world that whoever and whatever we are, we can serve Him. Jesus called people to be around him and participate in this venture who came with little to offer outwardly, who came with no great honors, no great achievements, no great wealth, no great prizes that they could contribute to him and contribute to the kingdom. He called people who outwardly had very little to offer. 

One man came up to Socrates, the Greek philosopher, wanting to be part of his group. He said, “I really have nothing to give you, I can only give you myself.” That’s what Jesus was looking for when he called fishermen, when he called simple, ordinary people like you and like me, who come with no big pretentions, no big achievements, no big honors, no big rewards, who come with just themselves. That’s the most precious gift. What he is looking for is you. 

And to these disciples, he gave them the invitation to participate in the greatest venture on earth. His invitation was twofold (and these are the words on our window). First of all, “Follow me.” He didn’t talk about believing all kinds of things. He didn’t talk about even sharing his visions, his dreams, his hopes, he didn’t talk about living a good holy, noble, pure life. He didn’t talk about accepting a whole system of beliefs in theology, he said, “Follow me. Enter into relationship with me, enter into dialogue with me.” The essential characteristic of Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and called into partnership, called into fellowship with him in a dynamic, vital living relationship. “Follow me.” 

A friend of mine was visited by two missionaries of another denomination whom I won’t mention, who attacked him about Methodism, what Methodists believe about this and what Methodists believe about that, and comparing their particular set of beliefs, their particular interpretation of life against Methodism, trying to make the point that Methodism is weak in beliefs, doctrines and theology. And he said to them, “That is the glory of our church. We are not a doctrinal church, we are not a creedal church, we accept the basics of Christianity, but the specifics are up to the individual because Christianity is not an intellectual exercise. Christianity is not a system of beliefs in the head. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Christianity is a fellowship. Unity among us Methodists is not in our beliefs, but in our faith in God, our love of God, and our love of our fellow people. The essence is in relationship with Christ and with one another. Jesus called us, “Follow me.” 

The second part of that invitation was, “I will make you become fishers of men.” That is the mission. That was what they were to do. That was the task he gave them—to be fishers of men. And that’s the task of this church. That’s the reason why this church is here according to our windows, according to the gospel, and that’s your mission in life— to be fishers of men. A fisherman reaches out. He cares. He throws out the line. He throws out the net. A fisherman takes the initiative and reaches out, invites. He just can’t sit and wait. A good fisherman cannot sit in his living room with his feet up on the stool and wait for some fish to come knocking on the door and say, “Hello, I understand you’re a fisherman. Well, I would just love to get caught.” 

Or a good fisherman cannot just sit in his boat and look at the sky and wait for some fish to bob his head out on the water and say, “Here I am just waiting for you.” A fisherman takes initiative. He casts out the line. He baits the hook. He throws out the net. He takes the initiative. When someone is hurting, a Christian just can’t sit in his living room waiting for that person to come knocking on the door and ask, “Will you help me?” Jesus calls us to take the first step. Reach out to that one who is hurting and say, “Is there anything I can do?” A Christian doesn’t wait for the neighbor to say, “Tell me about your church. I am looking and waiting for a church, waiting to get caught.” That rarely happens. You cast the line, you cast the net, you extend the invitation to come to church, to come into relationship with Christ. 

This week I visited a Methodist Church in quite a good sized community. This particular Methodist Church has a handful of children, five youth and 15 of the active members are under the age of 65. The rest are all over age 65. Through the years, their children moved away, their grandchildren moved away, and that church did not reach out. That church sat there in their pews waiting for the community to come, “Anybody wants to come here, they’ll certainly be welcome.” That church is now almost dead. If you don’t fish, you don’t catch fish. A church that does not reach out, a church that does not care is a dying, stagnant church. We reach out not so we can fill the pews. We reach out not so we can have a big membership. We reach out not so we can be the largest church in town. We reach out because we care about people. And because I know, based on my own experience, that faith in Christ and fellowship in his church, enriches my life, makes my life better and gives me a purpose, direction and meaning in my life. I know that it’s good to be in a church. I know that it’s good to have faith in Christ based on my own experience, and I care about you. So I invite you to come and participate in my church. 

Jesus called the disciples to himself and with a task. Are you following him? If you’re not following Jesus, who are you following? Or what are you following? And are you fishing? Are you casting the net? Do you care? “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.”

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris