This reflection is based on Matthew 4:18-22 and focuses on how we fish for people.
So often when we hear this passage, the focus is on being called, dropping what we are doing and following Jesus.
But Jesus called the disciples to fish for people. So how do we go fishing?
I think this is a difficult thing for us. It is easy for us to say: “There are sports on Sunday.” “The culture has changed and people aren’t interested in church anymore.” There is truth that the culture around us has changed but that’s not the point. Jesus didn’t call people who were already sympathetic to his mission. Jesus called people who were simply surviving, just living their lives somewhat oblivious to the work that Jesus was doing.
When you go fishing, most of the time, you stand on shore, sit beside an ice hole, or sit in a boat. It doesn’t make sense to catch the fish that are already caught. Essentially, all of us by virtue of our participation in St. Andrew’s or any faith community are already caught. Jesus doesn’t call us to catch one another. He calls us to fish for the people still swimming free in the pond.
For many in the United Church, the idea of evangelism, the idea of sharing our faith and encouraging others to join in is uncomfortable. We somehow have gotten the idea that our faith is personal and that if people are interested in being part of a faith community they will just show up. But when you fish, the fish don’t just jump into your bucket or boat. You have to catch them.
But again, we’ve missed the point of this story. We are called to be fishers. This is an activity. It requires us to do something. If we are going to fish, we go wherever the fish are. If you stay at home, you won’t catch many fish. You have to have bait—something the fish will find attractive. You have to have patience. The fish might not be biting today but maybe if you go back tomorrow there will be a better catch.
When we fish for people, the same rules apply. We have to leave home, leave our church building. We need to know what people want and what bait they will take. And we have to have patience and keep trying.
The bait is always the same but the packaging changes. The bait is that we are loved by God…That love is constant even in a world that changes. As a faith community we work hard at sharing God’s love. In times past, sharing God’s love meant converting people to Christianity. While people might still have conversion experiences, we recognize that Christianity is one of many ways to experience God’s love. Our focus is no longer on converting but creating the world that Jesus worked for in his lifetime.
Jesus didn’t tell people they had to believe as he did but he encouraged people to do the same things as he did. We see stories of Jesus welcoming the poor and those who were considered outcasts. We see Jesus feeding the hungry, healing people’s physical and emotional wounds, turning the political structures upside down. If we are going to fish for people, these are the things we need to be doing. These are the packaging of the bait. It’s all God’s love but different people need it packaged in different ways.
And we have to be patient. Sometimes we’ll go out and be able to connect almost immediately and share God’s love with someone. Sometimes we will need to connect again and again with someone before we can catch them. By catching people I’m not talking about getting them here on Sunday morning. I’m talking about helping people to experience God’s love in their lives. Sometimes there will be an explicit expression of that love. Sometimes it will simply be they’re lives have been touched, even for a moment, by something we have said or done that makes a difference to them.
In some ways the image of fishing is not helpful because as the fish are caught, they die. The goal of our fishing is not for people to die but to become more whole, to become more of the people they are called to be. Sometimes that means that an old way of being has to die. Sometimes that means giving something up. In the story we heard this morning, Jesus caught the new disciples and they gave up their families, their livelihoods, everything that was familiar in order to follow. We are not asking people to give up their livelihoods or families but all of us and the people we fish for need to consider what we need to give up in order to be more whole. What part of us needs to die? Again, this is not language we are always comfortable with but as people who believe in resurrection we know that in order for life to come, there must be death.
For example, we know that racism is alive and well in our community. I hear and see it often. So we work to change the attitudes in ourselves, our faith community and wider community that encourage racism. As we do this people will see the work that we do, be attracted to that work and get caught in Jesus’ message. We let the attitudes and behaviors that lead to racism die so that the whole community can be healthier.
So let’s go fishing. Let’s leave our nice comfortable sanctuary, our comfortable form of worship, find some way of packaging God’s love so that others can taste it and find themselves caught in God’s love. And as we do this, let’s be gentle with ourselves and with each other. Have patience and enjoy the challenging task that Jesus has given us.