One of the most well known images for evangelism comes from today’s gospel lesson: “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” This same invitation is found in Mark’s gospel, almost word for word.
The image of fishing for people is well known in Christian circles. It’s been emblazoned on T-shirts and posters. I’ve seen little gold fish hooks in Christian bookstores that you can pin to your clothing. Entire Vacation Bible Schools have been built upon this theme.
Adults have been subjected to numerous sermons on this topic, including the types of lures we should have in our spiritual tackle boxes, as well as what the most favorable fishing conditions are in order to “snare” people for Christ. I must confess, I’ve been guilty as charged on the spiritual tackle box sermon. However, I’ve never been tempted to take the “snares for Christ” approach!
Yet, after last week’s sermon on John’s call story, which is an invitation to “come and see” rather than “fish for people,” I have to wonder if fishing for people is the best analogy for evangelism in 2020. It may be popular, but that doesn’t make it the best option!
Let’s set the scene. Imagine yourself as a fish in a quiet, tranquil lake. You’re blissfully swimming along with all the other little fishies. You’re happy and content, when all of a sudden you see what you thought was a tasty snack. You swim up to it and swallow it whole only to discover that you now have a hook snagged in your jaw. Before you know it, you’re snatched from the lake and are flopping desperately on the shore, trying to breathe. Then you’re gutted, cleaned, dusted with flour and cornmeal and end up in a frying pan. Is this really the image we want to use for evangelism in 2020?
The idea of being entrapped in a net by a fisherman is not any better either. There may be no hook involved but it It implies being taken against our will and held captive by a ruthless fisherman who is also hoping to see us end up in a frying pan. Again, I ask the question…is this really the image we want to use for evangelism in 2020?
It goes without saying that some of us have been on the receiving end of these kinds of fishing expeditions by the Church of Jesus Christ. Some of us have felt like we were snared, gutted and fried by well intentioned believers. For the life of me, I cannot imagine that this is what Jesus had in mind for the church’s primary evangelism strategy.
Is it possible that we are so familiar with the image of being fishers of people that we’re missing the deeper meaning of what Jesus was trying say? Perhaps Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to “fish for people” because that’s who they were…fishermen. If Simon and Andrew had been carpenters, would Jesus have invited them to “fish for people” or would he have used another metaphor instead, such as learning how to be “builders of the kingdom of God?” If Simon and Andrew had been farmers, would he have issued an invitation to become “Kingdom seed planters”? I think you get my point.
Perhaps Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to “fish for people” because it fit who they were. It was a metaphor they could understand. It took advantage of their unique abilities.
If this is the case, then it only makes sense that Jesus calls us to follow him in a way that fits who we are, too. We don’t have to become someone we aren’t in order to follow Jesus. We don’t have to have a special skill set in order to be used by God to build the Kingdom. Instead, Jesus frees us to simply be ourselves. Do you hear what I’m saying Jesus frees us to simply be ourselves; to use our unique abilities to love and serve others in the name of Christ.
Whether we’re a doctor or an artist, a factory worker or a stay-at-home parent, a teacher or a supervisor, an engineer or a waitress, Jesus calls us to use the unique talents and strengths, knowledge and passions we have to make a contribution to the God’s Kingdom that we alone can make.
Imagine the freedom and excitement Jesus offers each of us by inviting us to be ourselves and use our unique abilities to bless others! We don’t need to be anybody other than who we already are. We simply need to trust that God can and will use us to be living signs of his kingdom. Therefore, we can stop worrying about what we don’t have or who we aren’t and use this an excuse for not ministering to others. Instead, we can celebrate our uniqueness, as individuals and as a church. We can begin to ask the exciting question “What metaphor does Jesus intend for us as we answer the call to follow him? How can we use the abilities we already have in order to contribute to the work God is doing in our lives and in our world?”
Imagine if every person in our church followed Christ like that? WOW! What if every person heard Jesus’ invitation to follow him, being who they already are, investing their amazing gifts and talents, skills and experiences, passions and knowledge to serve others in Christ’s name? Imagine the impact this could have on people’s lives and on the community in which our congregation is located.
Let me give you a little history of our congregation. Back in 2012 the Church Council and the Reconciling in Christ Taskforce asked this very question. We looked at the unique talents and abilities I have as your pastor. We looked at the uniqueness and gifts of our congregation and its membership. We prayed, researched, listened and dreamed. The result of this process was that we came up with a better metaphor to describe our church than being a place where we fish for people. This metaphor is summed up in the words of a song I wrote a few years back whose first verse goes: “Jesus is our center. He brings us all together. ‘Round the cross we will gather. Jesus is our center.”
The image the RIC Taskforce kept coming back to after visiting literally hundreds of church web sites is that of a banquet table where all people are invited to come and dine on Christ’s love and forgiveness. The chairs at that table are quite diverse. It is a place where All means ALL with no exclusionary clauses attached to it. We worked with a graphic artist on a new logo that would convey this metaphor so that anyone who looked at it, whether they are church-goers or not, could easily understand the mission of our church.
This logo has been at the top of our worship bulletin for eight years now. It’s in our brochure and on our web site. We refer to what it stands for every time Church Council makes decisions regarding the ministry of our church. It is the theological hill I will live and die on. It is the metaphor that fits Abiding Savior to a “T.”
We are “United in Christ.” We are “Welcoming All” where all really means all. We’re not afraid to name names! We are all those dots that surround the cross. As long as we put Jesus in the center, everything else will fall into place! We are, as our Mission Statement says, “A diverse church united by a deep love of Jesus and a heart for service in the community. We are dedicated to being a sanctuary (safe-haven) for all of God’s people.”
I believe we are living into this metaphor for what it means to follow Jesus in a way that is stronger and more vibrant than ever before. So, I think I’ll pass on the metaphor of fishing for people. [Thank you very much!] Instead I will go with John’s gospel and simply issue the invitation to “come and see.” I hope that you will do the same.
“Come and see” what Jesus is doing among the people known as Abiding Savior. “Come and see” our care for one another and our passion for serving those less fortunate than us. “Come and see” this diverse group of people who truly are “United in Christ” and “Welcoming All.”
I will be forever grateful for the hard work of our Church Council and RIC Taskforce who helped to shape who we are as a faith community today. I hope each and everyone of us will embrace our identity as a church and claim it as their own.
So if you want to fish for people, go fish for people! If you want to be builders of the kingdom of God, then get to building! If you want to plant kingdom seeds, then get to planting! You don’t have to be anyone else than who you already are. You don’t need any special gifts that you don’t already possess. We are United in Christ. Welcoming All. I believe that God will use each and every one of us to make a difference in our community and in our world. AMEN.
NOTE: The main insights in this sermon regarding Simon and Andrew’s call to become fisher of people came from, The Future Starts Now: The Renewable Organization for Faith-based Groups (Kelly A. Fryer, scribe for a whole team of persons. Chicago, Illinois: A Renewal Enterprise, Inc., 2009).