This sermon was delivered on January 21st, 2018. Enjoy!
–Grant, the Nerdcore Theologian
14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news,15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”
16 As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 18 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 19 After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. 20 At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.
Paul W. Powell, in The Complete Disciple, described this scenario:
“Many churches today remind me of a laboring crew trying to gather in a harvest while they sit in the tool shed. They go to the tool shed every Sunday and they study bigger and better methods of agriculture, sharpen their hoes, grease their tractors, and then get up and go home. Then they come back that night, study bigger and better methods of agriculture, sharpen their hoes, grease their tractors, and go home again. They comeback Wednesday night, and again study bigger and better methods of agriculture, sharpen their hoes, grease their tractors, and get up and go home. They do this week in and week out, year in and year out, and nobody ever goes out into the fields to gather in the harvest. (https://bible.org/illustration/laboring-crew)
Now, this is a fairly harsh criticism, but it is a harsh one because it is also mostly true.
I love when people come to church and participate in worship regularly. I love it when people come to bible studies. But learning and education is not the whole work of the church. It’s one I’m passionate for, obviously, but it’s only one part. At some point you have to go into the field. Or, for Jesus’s disciples, you have to grab your nets and get ready to fish for people.
This passage today is rather short, both on length and on details.
It’s the proper beginning of Jesus’s ministry in Mark, and Mark tells it with no frills.
This was Jesus’s message: the Kingdom of God is Near.
This was where Jesus started: the Sea of Galilee.
These were the people he started with: Simon, Andrew, James and John.
This was how he got them to be disciples: He just asked them to follow him, and become “fishers for people.”
Just the facts. What did he mean by the Kingdom of God? What did he mean by it being near? Why the sea of Galilee? Why these four fishermen? No answers to these questions are given, nor are they necessarily needed. These are the facts: the movement started here. And the message is clear: Jesus needed people to share the gospel, and cast the nets out for people who want to see the Kingdom.
Discipleship means Everyone
There are going to be people out there that want to see the kingdom of God, but don’t know that yet. The thing to remember is this: Discipleship is for everyone.
Everyone is called to be a disciple, but not in always the same way. Everyone can be a fisher, but use different techniques to catch different fish. You won’t use the same lure for a catfish that you would for a marlin or a tuna. You have to use different techniques for different places.
Put another way, everyone can be a field worker in the garden of the spirit, but assigned to a different task. Some are plowers, some are planters, some are harvesters, some are processors.
If Jesus was in a different place he would have said the famous “fishers of men” line a different way. If he was talking to construction workers, he would have said maybe “come with me, and I will make you builders of the new kingdom.” If he was talking to truckers, he would tell them that they would be deliverers of the good news. The message is the same, but it’s adaptable to the audience. That’s how Jesus did it, so that means that’s how we should do it.
Discipleship is for everyone. The gospel is not exclusive. In fact, it’s radically inclusive.
If you hear Jesus calling, you’re able to be a part of the kingdom of God. Are you poor, either with worldly possessions or poor in spirit? The good news is, the kingdom belongs to you. Are you mourning? You’ll be comforted. Are you downtrodden or persecuted? God’s on your side.
I know the word “inclusive” may grate upon the ears of some people, but it’s just a word, and a very correct word for the kingdom of God. Jesus didn’t look for the stereotypical “holy people” to be his disciples. He didn’t get a bunch of priests or scribes to be his vanguard. He got fishermen. Average joes. As blue collar as it gets. Jesus chose them first, as a statement about his movement: I’m bringing in everyone, and I’m starting with the smelliest workers I can find. Why? Because they’re not afraid of getting their hands dirty.
Think about it. If you’re a fisherman, odds are you’re going to smell bad after a day of work. You’ll smell like salt and fish guts. In fact, you might even like the smell. It smells like honesty. It smells like hard work that puts food on the table. It smells like doing what’s necessary for what’s got to get done. And Jesus chose them first.
Jesus didn’t stop there either. Later on, he called Matthew, a tax collector, Luke, a medical doctor, and Simon was a Zealot, a political revolutionary. None of these people looked like the kind of people a standard rabbi would choose as his disciples. But these were the kinds of people loved, and wanted his movement founded on.
Casting the Nets Out
There’s countless examples out there of people doing the work of the kingdom, casting out nets for Christ. Here are a couple of mine.
There is a church in Waco called “Church Under the Bridge.” It started in 1992 as a Christian couple began to make friends with several of the homeless people in their community that slept underneath an I-35 overpass. After a few weeks, they invited these men to come to a bible study they hosted. “Over the weeks and months, the small group grew to include more homeless folks, other lower income people, and local community persons who either had no church experience or felt like they did not fit in other local churches. Many of the basic needs of the lower income and homeless were met through the shared resources available. Within a couple of years, the Bible study group realized God was doing something more than just a Bible study. Thus, Church Under the Bridge acknowledged its existence and began taking on more responsibilities as the Body of Christ.” (http://www.churchunderthebridge.org/whoarewe.html)
From there on, they began to meet regularly, right under I-35. The church is led not only by the original Christian couple, but by the homeless and formerly homeless folks themselves. First, it was an effort to get them to know Christ, and then, an effort to get them help. Countless people in Waco have been helped by this church, and the fact that they are still going strong almost 25 years later is a testament to the power of a few disciples going out and casting nets.
Another of my friends is a guy named Johnathan.
He’s not someone on first glance who you would expect to be religious, let alone someone with a degree in divinity and a job as a pastor. He easily earned the nickname “heavy metal Jesus” around the seminary: he had long hair, a beard, wore black clothes, painted his fingernails black, and blasted heavy metal. He’s also one of the kindest, most compassionate people I’ve ever met, a true disciple in every meaning of the word.
Jonathan works as a “Lead Neighbor Relations Specialist” at a nonprofit agency called CitySquare. Citysquare is a charity that’s explicit goal is ending homelessness in Dallas, whether by offering housing, medical care, or legal advocacy for the homeless, low income, or veterans of Dallas. Jonathan’s role there is that he walks through the neighborhoods and tent cities of Dallas and gets to know the people who need help. More than that, he befriends them. He calls them brother and sister. He ministers to them spiritually, emotionally, and physically, all in an effort to find what they need and hook them up with someone who can help them at Citysquare. He leads bible studies, holds worship, and answers their questions. He’s a pastor in a way that nobody would probably expect, nor that many could match up to. He may look like a heavy metal fan, but the man acts like Jesus.
I use these examples partly because they inspire me in my work, but also because they draw from both ends of the spectrum. In Waco, a couple of average churchgoing folk started up their own church with homeless people. In Dallas, Jonathan, a man that on the outside nobody would expect to be religious, acts more like Jesus than anyone else I know, and offers Jesus to those who need a hand up. More than that, he offers friendship, relationship. Different extremes, same goal: Reaching the people that need to hear good news in this world.
I’m not here to say that we ought to become a homeless shelter, or course. We aren’t equipped to do that, and that’s okay. What we are equipped and called to do is to go out and Light the way to Christ in our community, through our fellowship, compassion, and spiritual growth. How you choose to do that is up to you, but I hope you get inspired by Christ to do just that.
Christ calls everyone to go out, grab their nets, and fish for people. However you want to mess with that metaphor, that’s up to you, but you are more than capable of sharing Christ with someone, and making disciples. We in the United Methodist Church are tasked with making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and the world starts at our front doors.
So go out. Make a new friend. Talk to an old friend. But make your life to be one where the good news of Jesus is pouring out of your mouth and your heart at all times. Grab your net, and cast it wide. Bait that lure, and reel in someone who needs Jesus. That’s our job. May you be ready to go out in the name of Christ and fish for people. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.