STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH                                                                                                  JANUARY 25, 2015



Jonah 3: 1 – 5 & 10; Mark 1: 14 – 20


When I was 11, my family rented a cottage equipped with fishing rods.  Excited, my siblings and I headed to the water to try our luck.  My sister landed a fish; she had her picture taken with it and we put it in a bucket with water.   Later my brother hooked one; he too had his picture taken.     All day I sat on the dock, stopping only to eat.  I’d been told to hold still or the fish wouldn’t bite – I stopped breathing.   The sun set.  I stood in the dark, cold and damp with mosquitos devouring my blood.  Bedtime came.  I refused to give up.   My Dad took a picture of me fishing.  Finally he took a fish out of the bucket and took my picture with it.  There I stood on a dock of lies, an imposter with a borrowed fish.  I didn’t fish again for 40 years until Terry took me to the French River.  That day I caught a fish!  A big fish.   I got a picture to prove it.


I imagine there were days when Simon Peter and Andrew, James, John and their father were excited about fishing as they’d dragged in a full net.  On other days though I’m sure they waited patiently and caught nothing.  This was their life, until the day Jesus came by the shore.  Last week Torrey spoke about the importance of listening for God’s call and listening to God’s call.  He said the call of God invites us to respond.  When Jesus saw these fishermen he called them with the words, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  (Mark 1: 17)  Without knowing what lay ahead, the men left their boats, families and livelihood to follow Jesus.  They heard the call and responded.   The call to follow Jesus is, in part, a call to call.  Discipleship includes calling others to join us in following Jesus.  The metaphor of “fishing for people” was powerful for these men as it tapped into what they knew best.  Casting a net into the sea is different from using a pole. The nets were weighted to sink into the depths of the water.  They were released in a broad sweeping gesture.  The whole process was designed to produce an abundant catch.   This is an image of the open heart of God, longing to draw into his Kingdom, as many people as possible.


Just as there are obstacles to fishing – broken nets, bad weather, sea sickness, a lack of skill or a lack of fish, there are also obstacles to our call to draw people into God’s realm.   One obstacle to inviting others to follow Jesus is our mistaken belief that people don’t need to be saved.  Many of us lived in the days when everyone was “Christian”.   We still have vestiges of that in our culture: Censi always reveal more Presbyterians in Canada than the PCC has on our roles.  Most of these “Presbyterians” have never met Jesus, but they identify themselves as such because it’s their heritage.  Another mistaken reason people don’t need to be saved is that everyone goes to heaven, with or without Jesus. Another more rare reason for not sharing our faith is that God has already chosen some to be saved – the elect; so case closed.


Another obstacle to evangelism is embarrassment.  The Church has a great deal of shameful history – the Crusades, the Inquisition, Colonization, Residential Schools.  Even today many “Christians” shame the Church – pedophile priests, corrupt TV evangelists, people with plaques that spew hatred, those who expound a “prosperity gospel”, those who are disrespectful to other faiths.  We may feel embarrassed by Christians who view each person they convert as a notch on their gun rather than a beloved child of God.  And we can be embarrassed by our own imperfection; who am I to tell someone else about Jesus?


A huge obstacle Christians face in our culture is the value placed on so-called “tolerance”.  People are askance that we would claim Jesus is the son of God as no other faith group says that of their leader.    All religions are considered equal.  The church is seen as an exclusive club of self-righteous people who push our unproven beliefs on others.  On the whole Christians are labelled as intolerant.


Another obstacle is fear.  We’re afraid that speaking of Jesus will be met with ridicule, anger or punishment.  Recently a Christian woman in England was fired from her job for “praying with a colleague, giving her a book and inviting her to church events”.   (The colleague had been open to the woman’s friendship.  They had engaged in sharing their views, some of which they agreed on and others not. She had consented to being prayed for).    Two related areas of fear are that we don’t know our Bibles well enough or we may be challenged with a question which we can’t answer.  The first concern is easily solved by immersing ourselves in scripture, reading and studying the Bible and memorising key passages.   The second challenge is more difficult.  It’s okay not to know – we aren’t there to argue; we can look up what we don’t know or we can simply say, “I can’t answer that”.  Billy Graham tells of being in a strange town for a Crusade and asking a young boy for directions to the post office.  After getting them, Graham told the boy “if you to come to the Crusade tonight, I’ll tell you how to get to heaven”.  The boy replied, “I don’t think so, you can’t even find the post office.”


These concerns all have some validity yet when Jesus called the disciples they didn’t stop to tell him about all the obstacles – they followed him without a second thought.   Jesus calls us to share our good news.  Isn’t that a normal thing for us to do?  Aren’t we quick to tell our friends when a baby is born or a grandchild gets married?  How do we engage the people we know with the good news of our faith?  How do we “draw people to follow Jesus”?


There are two things Christians need to be sure of before we cast our net:  Do I really believe I have good news to share?  How has this good news changed me?  Our good news is that God loves us and came to live with us in Jesus Christ; it’s a story of forgiveness which offers us a second chance; it’s a story which gives us the hope of abundant life now and eternal life after we die.   Our good news is that God is still with us in the Holy Spirit guiding and encouraging us every step of our journey.  Our good news is that God has a plan which will end with a world at peace where hearts are healed and sorrow is unheard of.    As I watch the news night after night, year after year, I realize Jesus Christ is the only ever-lasting good news.   So we need to know the good news story of our faith, and we need to know how that good news has impacted our lives.  How has Jesus changed you?  Who would you be without him?  Have you been healed in some way?  Set free from habits, behaviours or addictions?  Rescued from a hopeless situation?  Given the ability to love?  People can argue concepts until they’re blue in the face, but they can’t argue with your experience.  You are the authority on your own relationship with the risen Christ.


There are small moments in life which can become God moments if we’re a-tune to the Holy Spirit.  When you or another Christian has done something kind for someone and they ask ‘why?’ don’t slough it off as ‘Oh well, I felt like it’.  This is an opportunity to say, “I did it because of what Jesus did for me”.    If you’re asked why you are so caring or patient, it’s an opportunity to say, “The Spirit of Christ has changed me.”  And never be afraid to say, ‘I struggle with that too and my faith helps me in this way…”  Stay awake and watch for these moments.


We can be invitational.  Most people aren’t converted like Paul on the road to Damascus, they come to faith gradually through knowing other Christians.  Inviting friends to pasta supper, a study group, a film night or to worship is a gentle, caring way to introduce them to Jesus.


We, as the Church, need to live as the body of Christ.  This congregation is very warm and welcoming.  We co-operate and we’re enthused about what we’re doing; we care for one another and we care for people beyond our walls; we worship regularly and we find opportunities to grow in our faith.  These are things people look for when measuring the sincerity of a congregation.   The Church is a living body.  Reputation counts but it’s not something we can rest on.  We need to be like Christ, continually showing the love of God.  We’re only as good, real, caring, hopeful and alive as we are in any given moment.  We need to live as the body of Christ and when we fail to do so, we make it right and continue on.


In all we do as followers of Jesus we need to be loving, gentle and respectful of all others while holding fast to the truth and to our faith.  Living Faith encourages us to tell the good news as one beggar telling another where to find food.  We need to be open to others instead of judgemental; find the common ground you share; meet your friends, neighbours or colleagues where they’re at.  The brilliance of programmes like AA is no one needs to pretend they’re perfect – they just need to know and admit their need and heal together.


Finally we need to trust in the Holy Spirit.  Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6).   He might have put that differently, “I sailed the boat, Apollos threw the net, but God caught the fish.”  The famous evangelist Dwight Moody was confronted by a woman who said she didn’t like his style of evangelism and went on to tell him why.  He responded, “You’re right, I’m not completely happy with it either.   I’d be open to suggestions – what do you do?”  She replied, “I don’t share my faith.”  “Oh,” Moody said, “Well I think I like my way of sharing my faith better than your way of not sharing your faith.”   When we share our faith we don’t control the outcome any more than when we drop a line into the water – the “catch” belongs to God.  But one thing is certain: if you won’t throw out a net you’ll never catch a fish.