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Our sermons are available as audio files to listen at your convenience.
“Catch of a Lifetime”
Luke 5: 1-11
February 6, 2022
I grew up in a small town in Indiana surrounded by fields of soybeans and corn. We did not have large bodies of water. There was one small creek, called Back Creek, that wound its way down one side of the town, and my most vivid memory of that creek is how much trouble I was in after I fell in the creek when my mother had forbidden me from going near it. Fortunately, I was in little danger, because even as a six-year old the water barely reached my knee.
No, there wasn’t much water where I came from, so growing up, I was not exposed to fishing. When I married Joseph, who had grown up on the water and fished from the time he was a small boy, I learned about the art and craft of fishing. So I have to give Joseph credit for shining light on this passage about fishermen and fish.
Fishing as a pastime is fun; fishing for a living is hard work. When we lived on the Georgia coast, we would sometimes walk on the beach in the early morning and see the shrimp trawlers coming back in after being out on the water all night. You may have seen the commercial fishing boats on the TV program, Deadliest Catch. The people on those boats brave treacherous waters and tremendous storms in the attempt to make a living catching seafood. If you’ve watched that program, you’ve agonized with the fishermen, when despite all their efforts, they come up empty.
This was the situation Simon and his partners found themselves in that morning. Just as it is today, fishing for them was dangerous and difficult work. It involved strange hours, physically demanding labor, callouses and strained muscles, the backbreaking job of throwing nets, the tedious task of mending them.
And this was one of those difficult days. Simon, James and John had been out all night, and they had nothing to show for it. Finally, weary and worn, they returned to shore, where they were washing their nets in discouragement.
That was where Jesus found them. Jesus already knew Simon, so he jumped in the boat and asked him to take him out, so that he could teach without being overwhelmed. I imagine Simon sitting there drowsily, wondering when Jesus was going to cease droning on so that Simon could go on home and get some sleep. But when Jesus finally finished speaking, he said, “Hey Simon, let’s not go back just yet. Let’s go fishing!” Simon, with what I consider to be great restraint from one who had been up all night and was frustrated for earning nothing for his time, replied, “We’ve been out there all night long and caught nothing. But if you say so, I’ll go where you want me to go, and I’ll let down these nets—that I just washed—and we’ll see.” I imagine Simon muttering to himself, “What in the world is this carpenter thinking. Telling me, a lifelong fisherman, how to do my job.”
But he did as Jesus asked. He went out into the deep water, let down his nets, and what happened next was amazing. The catch was so great that Simon had to call his partners to come with their boat to help, and even then, there were so many fish the boats began to sink under their weight! In the presence of this miracle, Simon fell at Jesus’ knees. Jesus assured Simon, James and John: “Do not be afraid! From now on, you will be catching people.” And they left everything and followed him.
We, too, are called to catch people for Christ, and we can learn from the first disciples something about fishing for people.
Over the last several weeks, we have been thinking about what it means to be a Vital Congregation, that is, a church that is vibrant, alive and thriving. The PCUSA has identified seven marks of Vital Congregations:
Today, we are considering the next to last point, “Caring Relationships.”
The PCUSA says a church that offers caring relationships is very different than a church that functions as a “social club.” Those kinds of churches are marked by façades, hypocrisy, and judgment. Instead, churches that practice Caring Relationships help “people find identity, purpose and belonging in the household of God.”1
Having caring relationships is at the heart of fishing for people. If we wonder why Jesus chose these fisher-folk as his first disciples, when we think about it, we may find some remarkable similarities between catching fish and catching people.
First of all, you need the right bait. Everyone who fishes has their favorite kind of bait: live bait or artificial lures; plugs or spinners; nightcrawlers or insects. When it comes to fishing for people, here’s the thing to remember: using anything artificial just won’t work. Sometimes churches try to create the latest greatest thing: spending massive amounts of money on huge events or slick swag, trying to out-do neighboring churches with bigger and better programs. What people are hungry for is not gimmicks or give-aways; they are looking for an authentic, genuine relationship with God and with people.
As Darrel Guder said, What we as the church have to offer is not a product to buy, but a person to believe in. Not a product to buy, but a person to believe in.2 A saving relationship with Jesus Christ is what we have to offer. While it is appropriate to use tools and technology to reach people so that they know about the church, what attracts them is Jesus. And they see Jesus through us. Again and again in the gospels we read about Jesus having compassion for people. Jesus cared for his disciples and for others, and through him, they learned how to care with the compassion of Christ. In the same way, we do not need to bait people with something artificial; we need to be real in showing them who Jesus is by living out his love in our lives. We need the right bait.
Second, we have to go where the fish are. Some fish like structure; others prefer open water. Some fish like fast moving streams; others like still lakes. Some hang out in the shallows, while others go deep. A good fisher knows to go where the fish are. In this passage, when Jesus told Simon to go out into deep water, at first, Simon did not believe Jesus knew what he was doing. But Jesus proved that he knew where the fish were. When the first disciples left everything to follow Jesus, they learned from him how to find fish. Jesus did not stay in synagogues or speak only to scholars. He took the disciples out into towns and villages, shared meals with tax collectors and sinners, visited the homes of all sorts of folks. In the same way, we, too, have to go to the people. Long gone are the days when the church could sit back and wait for people to walk through the doors. Beginning with the Baby Boomers and on through the younger generations, finding a church is no longer the first thing people do when they move to a new community. People today are less likely than ever before to be engaged in a church, and the pandemic accelerated the trend.
One recent survey indicated in-person worship attendance for many churches is 36% of what it was pre-pandemic.3 But overall worship attendance has increased, through online worship! So if people are seeking God but not coming through the doors of the church, the church has to go to them. Church leadership expert Carey Nieuwhof said, “The church is still around, it’s just leaving the building.”4 Vital churches go out and build relationships with people where they are, so that we can then help them engage with God and the church more fully, by becoming part of in-person worship, ministries and relationships. We need to be intentional about being involved in our communities, in our neighborhoods, building relationships with people we meet at work or at the gym or through clubs and civic organizations. Vital churches go where people are to build caring relationships.
Next, just like in fishing, timing and patience are important. Fishermen choose the right time to fish. Some fish bite best at night, like walleye, bluefish and catfish. But if you want to catch bass or trout, daytime is best. And sometimes you have to wait hours to get a bite. Timing is also important in fishing for people. We would not go to someone we just met and start telling them about Jesus. We need to take time to build caring relationships. Someone once said, “We are like books. Most people only see our cover, the minority read only the introduction, many people believe the critics. Few will know our content.”5 We need to be interested in getting to know people, listening to their problems, supporting them when they are struggling, so that they will have trust in us and know that we genuinely care about them. Timing and patience are important.
Finally, we need to be equipped. Fishing requires the right equipment: rods and reels, lines and hooks, bait and nets. Simon and his partners had all the right gear: the right boats, the right kind of nets. But it was the presence of Christ that yielded results. As Christians, we need to be equipped by being strong in our own relationships with Christ. We are able to build caring relationships with others only when we have the right relationship with Jesus. When Jesus told Simon to put out into deep water, Simon obeyed. He trusted Jesus, and the results were astounding! The same was true when they were fishing for people. We, too, need to be equipped by trusting Jesus and doing what he tells us. He is the one who yields the results, when we faithfully follow.
Use the right bait. Go where the fish are. Practice patience and timing. And be equipped. That’s the way to fish for people.
For Simon, James and John, what started out as an ordinary day of work turned out to be life-changing. Through his miraculous power, Jesus turned their evening of emptiness into overwhelming abundance. They realized he was the holy one of God.
Here was the one for whom they had waited, the one who had life-giving power. They could have no greater work, no higher calling, than to follow him. Like the first disciples did, we too have to center ourselves on him, to leave behind our old way of life and let go of anything that would hold us back from following. And when we do, what Jesus does through us will be miraculous and life-giving, for the people we reach, for the church, and for us.
So let us follow Jesus, and through caring relationships, let us catch people for Christ. Amen and amen.
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church