Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
January 21, 2018
Text: Mark 1:17, O.T.: Jonah 3:1-5, N.T.: Mark 1:14-20
Jesus gathered followers for one purpose – to go fishing.
He made no apologies. He made no other promises to those He sought, and had no other expectations for them. He had one thing in mind – go fishing.
Now maybe Jesus used this image because the men He originally sought were fishermen. They weren’t traders, or shepherds. They weren’t soldiers, or political leaders. They weren’t doctors, or entertainers.
Jesus sought fishermen to be His disciples.
All of the other men He might have sought could have been candidates to be His Apostles. Traders would have given Jesus men who were experts in marketing and sales. He didn’t look for them. Shepherds had experience in caring for the vulnerable and risking their lives to save those who could defend themselves. Soldiers would have given Jesus men of self-discipline who were fearless. Political leaders would have given Jesus’ movement men with charisma that conveyed power and authority.
If Jesus thought He needed followers who could heal people of their woundedness and diseases, He would have recruited physicians. He didn’t. If Jesus thought His movement needed humor to succeed, or miraculous feats that defied nature to get people’s attention, He would have recruited entertainers for disciples.
Why didn’t Jesus first look for such people to be His disciples?
Yes, Simon the Zealot did fit the profile of a military kind of guy who was a keen student of power and politics. The disciples Nathaniel and Thomas are portrayed as skeptics – not the kind of people you would choose to convince people Jesus was God’s Son. None were the first people Jesus sought to be His disciples. Matthew was a tax collector who was despised among the Jews – hardly a guy who you would relate to being successful in marketing or having a sense of humor. James the Lesser is believed to have been Jesus’ brother – someone who knew Jesus from childhood who could have a sibling rivalry with Jesus to discredit Him.
Each of these later men who Jesus recruited to be among His chosen 12 did not represent the skills and understanding Jesus sought to be leaders of His disciples. In fact, each had troubling traits about them that could have been considered reasons not to call them as disciples.
There was something about catching fish that Jesus knew would intuitively understand what was involved in “fishing for men.” The Sons of Zebedee were fishermen. Jesus began with them as He gathered His group of followers to fulfill the Father’s mission. Their selection first should not be minimized. It was intentional.
My first theology professor at Princeton Theological Seminary was Dr. George S. Hendry. He was a slender Scottish man with beautiful silver hair who stood upright like a ram-rod. When he prayed, his rolling R’s echoed from the Scottish Highlands. He did not have an earned doctorate. But his mind was sharp as steel.
Dr. Hendry deciphered theology’s complicated code for us who were children of God’s majestic mysteries. I remember his opening words to us in his great classroom in Stuart Hall. “When you read theology, read it from the beginning.”
Dr. Hendry’s observation may seem ridiculously elementary. But his simple instruction is timeless, and critical for us in understanding the mind of Jesus. He was teaching us the first sentence in a book of theology is always the most important. From it is derived all the corollaries and maxims that are important for understanding God.
A theologian hangs the rest of his or her theological framework upon the declaration made in the first sentence. In a similar manner, the first statement made in a confession of faith is the most important statement, from which all subsequent sentences descend.
So, when we come to Jesus Christ, the great theologian, He began His mission by seeking fishermen to execute God’s plan of salvation. All the rest of Christian life descends from Jesus’ metaphor of fishing for men.
Jesus didn’t say He was gathering His disciples to supervise a church staff. Jesus didn’t say He was gathering His disciples to design proper worship services, or to run sound or media equipment. Jesus didn’t say to His first chosen they were to collect tithes or offerings for God. Jesus didn’t say He was calling His disciples to hold fellowship dinners or lead church meetings. Jesus didn’t say He was calling disciples to feed the poor or heal the lame. Each of these activities is an important part of the Church’s life.
What Jesus first said, before everything else that He later instructed His disciples to do, was He was sending them to catch fish – to fish for people. He wanted Matthew and Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, Nathanial and Thomas, and His brother James to know fishing for people was His purpose in gathering them as His followers.
What He first said to His Apostles, was also the last word to His disciples before His Ascension into heaven. This time the Master didn’t use a metaphor. He talked plainly, openly, decisively, about what He expected from His disciples. He didn’t speak words of sympathy or concern for how difficult the task would be for them.
Jesus simply said as His final word what His first words had been to them when He called them as disciples: “Go forth into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have commanded you, and Lo, I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
Jesus’ final words were an imperative. He gave His disciples an order. It was His focus when He first invited them to follow Him. It was the explicit focus of every act and every instruction He had given them during His three years with them. It was the final command He had for them before He left them for the Kingdom of God.
“Go forth into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them all that I have commanded you.”
Making disciples was what Jesus meant by catching fish. Making disciples was, is, and always will be about catching fish for Jesus.
Now a fisherman’s life isn’t easy. It’s filled with lots of disappointments and empty nets. It faces the hardships of changing tides, turbulent waves, and harsh winds that tear sales, break masts, and dash boats upon rocky coasts. Lives are lost and homes destroyed as lonely families wait endless days for their fishermen to return from the sea.
A brief moment of a large catch is followed by weeks and months with nothing at all in your nets.
Being a fisherman takes faith and perseverance. It requires strength and fortitude. A fisherman’s life will bring the strongest to their knees, and toss the weakest overboard in a moment of miscalculation.
It’s not for the faint of heart.
But that’s the life that Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John knew. They already were familiar with fishing. They generally understood what was involved in accepting Jesus Christ’s invitation to join Him and His mission. They would help Simon the Zealot, Nathaniel, Thomas, and Matthew realize what fishing for men meant. They would also work to get Judas Iscariot to understand the mission for which they were chosen.
Being fishers of men – that is what it means to be a Christian. Making disciples is our first responsibility as Church members. Everything else descends from disciple-making. Period.
It’s what you and I signed on for when we made a confession of faith as a confirmand, or were baptized as an adult.
We are sent by Christ to catch fish for the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ expects us to catch fish for the expansion of the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ commands us to catch fish for the salvation of the world.
This is not an expectation He has just for ministers, or elders, or deacons. He has this expectation for every man, woman, and child in His Church who says He is Lord.
Jesus Christ is examining every aspect of a congregation’s life to see if it is focused upon one thing – making disciples of all nations. He is watching to see if every member of a congregation is committed to this single purpose. He is pleased when He sees great and small efforts for this purpose. He is not at all pleased when church members get distracted from this purpose and think their life together as a congregation is to keep their fellowship safe and secure from outside interference.
Catching fish isn’t about being safe and secure. It’s not about protecting ourselves from inconveniences and hardships. Catching fish is about following Jesus Christ. It’s about total submission to this purpose – yielding to His mission.
When we are committed to catching fish for Christ, we are expecting that our congregation will change. There will be new people who will join us on Sundays we do not know. They will bring with them different perspectives about why they should come to church.
They will use different words than those of us use who are familiar with the Bible. They will dress and look differently than we. They will have different expectations than we have about how to interpret the Bible. They will see things differently than we do.
Their presence will challenge us at every level of our lives together. If you don’t accept this about disciple-making, then you won’t be part of the essential mission God gives every congregation.
Successful fishing requires knowing where the fish are, when they are usually there, and what they like to eat that will attract them to the fisherman. Successful fishing requires knowing baits and lures which will grab the fish. Successful fishing requires well-tended nets and a relentlessness in endeavor that lasts long into the night when the stars are shining. Successful fishing begins early in the morning before the sun rises.
Successful fishing takes wisdom and knowledge, preparation and foresight, skills and equipment. Successful fishing is not simply dropping a line into a body of water and expecting fish to willingly jump onto it.
You have to hook the fish so they can be brought to you for further preparation for the table – the banquet table of Jesus Christ.
Fish don’t come to a table where bread is broken and wine is distributed without preparation. Fish come prepared to the banquet table, which requires effort and intentionality.
The entire process of fishing from beginning to end which consumers don’t appreciate while they dine, is what Jesus had in mind by seeking Peter and Andrew, James and John for His disciples.
They intuitively knew what needed to be done. It took them time to learn. But they eventually understood what it meant to be sent to catch men, women, and children for Jesus Christ.
Our Savior has gathered us here at Bellevue United Presbyterian Church for only for one thing, to send us back out into the world to catch fish. We can either sit on our dock beside Lincoln Avenue or get on the boat amid the crowded streets of this community.
We can catch from the pier where we are comfortable and unwilling to take risks and not catch anything. Or we can get out in the ocean of life where the fish are swimming, but where the risks to our lives are greater.
Fishermen go where the fish are and feed them what the fish need for life. They are relentless in their pursuits; so, must we.
We are to catch . . . to catch . . . to catch fish who are men, women, and children. Nothing else.
Amen. His foH