ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH                                                                                  FEBRUARY 5, 2017

Rev. Sabrina Ingram


2 Timothy 4: 1 – 5; Matthew 4: 17 – 22


Little Lucas and his mom were digging for fishing bait in the garden. Uncovering a many-legged creature, Lucas proudly dangled it before his mom.  “No, honey, it won’t do for bait,” she said. “It’s not an earthworm.” “It’s not?” Lucas asked, his eyes wide. “What planet is it from?”


If you’d asked me 20 years ago if fishing would be a part of my life, I’d have guffawed at you.  However, not only did I marry an avid fisherman who has fishermen friends and relatives, living on a lake exposes me to many fishermen.  And when I say “expose”, that’s what I mean.  Nothing’s weirder than opening my bedroom drapes early on a sunny, summer morning to discover some guy, in a boat right off my dock, bass fishing in my weedy water.   A bathrobe is a must.  One saving grace is that fishermen are so focused on fishing they don’t register anything else they see.  This has prevented many embarrassing moments. It’s a good trait for the most part, except when my husband is the fisherman.


When Jesus called his disciples, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee – James and John, to follow him, I wonder if he had anticipated that kind of focus.  All four were fishermen; fishing was their business, through it they made their livelihood and provided for their families.    As Jesus passed by the Sea of Galilee one day he spotted them at work.  Peter and Andrew had a large, circular net – about 25 feet in diameter with lead sinkers around the edges to weigh it down.  They usually fished from a boat but on this day they were casting from the shore.  Jesus, with playful banter, called out, “Hey you fishermen, follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men”.  Surprisingly the brothers dropped their net and went after him.  James and John were a little farther up the lake with their Dad, doing some maintenance on their equipment.  While they were mending their nets, Jesus approached them with a similar invitation.  I imagine the brothers looked at Zebedee, who gave them a nod, and off they went.  When we hear this story we are always amazed at the immediacy of the men’s response; to quit one’s job to follow an unknown, spiritual guru is not something we encourage.  The risks are too many.  If we heard of someone doing this, we’d be worried about their sanity or if they had joined a cult.  But off these men went with curiosity and confidence to follow this punster Rabbi.  And after 3 years of intense training, these guys became world famous fishermen, who through their actions and words engaged, encouraged and motivated thousands of people to follow Jesus.


What can we learn from them?  Well, a good fisherman understands how fish behave.  From ice out to ice in, fish swim at different levels and in different places. Different fish respond to different lures of variable size and colour – different colours work in different light.   My “son-in-law” has quite a varied collection of lures.  When I asked for the number, he said it’s easier to estimate the weight – about 2000 pounds worth of tackle.   It takes him an hour to choose the ones he thinks he’ll need for the type of fishing he wants to do.   He knows it’s important because it’s very rare that a fish just jumps into a boat.  There needs to be something that grabs their attention, meets their needs and entices them.   When we’re reaching out to people, the same things apply.  Paul chose his lures carefully too, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law so that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people so that I might by all means win some.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)  Paul wasn’t being phony or hypocritical and he wasn’t adapting himself to “ungodly” practices.   He was a bit of a chameleon, adapting to the environment to relate to the people; he was an astute fisher of people.  We can’t just open the church doors and expect people to funnel in.  One size doesn’t fit all.  To “be all things to all people” we need to know them and honour them.  We need to make a genuine connection with them as individuals.  What are their pleasures and pastimes, their needs and struggles?   What interests or bores them?  Where are they spiritually?  Have they begun a faith journey?  Did they get off the path and if so why?  What do they need that will feed their spirits?  What issues do they wrestle with?  What is their deepest need?  How might faith in Jesus Christ change their lives?

We also need to be aware of their culture and of our culture and of the differences between them. When missionaries go to other countries they engage the people around them.  They learn their language, they develop a taste for their food, their bodies need to grow accustom to the water and they need to learn their social customs so as not to give needless offence.  Churches do things in particular ways.  Many of them are culturally bound – they’re things we have learned to do, such as worshipping in a particular format.   They’re not essential to our faith. They may simply be practices that we enjoy or have sentimental meaning for us, such as the types of hymns we like.  Or they may run deeper, almost like part of our DNA, for instance Presbyterians tend to be uncomfortable with great displays of emotion.   The same is true of everyone.  Their tastes are a personal part of who they are and we need to discover what they tastes are.  We’re not the church for ourselves, but for others so we can’t expect people to adapt to us, especially in a post-Christian era.  A young person who listens to The Red Hot Chili Peppers or FETTY WAP is unlikely to relate to “A mighty fortress is our God”.   It’s also unlikely that Jesus, a Jew from Nazareth 2000 years ago, would relate to it either.  He likely danced to folk songs in a circle with other men.  (I do believe the ascended Christ appreciates the worshipful intent of all hymns- even those we may not care for.) That doesn’t mean we become phony or bend ourselves like pretzels; it does mean we need to understand the differences and either work with or around them.  We need to know what is essential to our faith and what is simply a personal preference.  We need to be open to moving out of our comfort zone and exploring places or pastimes that are important to people beyond the walls of our building.  Most of all, since we won’t be able to relate to everyone or share their interests, we need to build relationships and show the love of Christ without judgement.


To extend the fishing metaphor further, many people don’t like fishing.  It can be complicated.  It requires preparation and equipment.  You need to learn about species of fish and bait and casting and reeling and water depth and temperatures.   When it comes to people, it also seems complicated.  There’s so much to learn about the Bible, and people ask hard questions, and we have our own questions and doubts and sometimes we don’t feel so close to God.   Just as you don’t need to be an authority on fishing to catch a fish, you don’t need to have a theology degree to reach out to people.   I know people who read books and watch videos about how to fish.  For me, that’s never going to happen, but I’ve still caught fish.  Once I caught a real beauty!   You don’t have to be an authority on fishing to enjoy it or have some success; as long as you get out there, there’s the possibility that you will catch something. What you do need is the desire to fish, and as you fish, you listen, learn and grow.


Many don’t like fishing because it’s a messy, smelly business.  Fish right out of the water are slimy and hard to hold.  Sometimes they bite.  Cleaning them up is absolutely gross.  In the Church we don’t always get a choice about who we attract – some people are easier to love than others; some have a lot of needs; some are takers, not givers.   So we worry about what could happen if new people actually get into the church boat.  What are we going to do with them?  They may have their own ideas about things or want to take over my job, they may even sit in my seat!  Do you know how most congregations deal with these challenges?  They implement a catch and release policy.  We drag them into the boat, get our picture taken so we can post it on snapchat and then throw them back and let them swim away, hoping we haven’t hurt them too much.   Or we try not to have any more fish than we can deal with at one time.   According to Acts, when the apostles fished, thousands responded on the same day – it was messy but somehow they made room for everyone, shared the love of Christ with one another, told them the gospel – and then taught them to fish.


Rain or shine, messy or not, easy or trying – serious fishermen fish.  As one congregation put it,“our life as a church is essentially a story of evangelism.  23 years ago when we began, our hearts were overwhelmed with the need to reach unchurched people.  Today, our heartbeat remains the same.  We believe lost people matter to God.  They matter to us.” Jesus called people to follow him, not so they could all have a good time together, but so they would become “fishers of men”.    He calls us for the same purpose.  And so with Paul “I solemnly urge you:  proclaim the message; be persistent…convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching…do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4: 2 & 5).