Today is the first of a five-week sermon series based on each night of VBS’s scripture lesson. Our VBS this year was Rolling River Rampage, with our friend Romper the River Otter. During VBS we learned that we experience the ride of a lifetime with God! The first night our lesson was about Jesus calling the disciples to follow him in Matthew 4:18-25. This account is also partially told in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are commonly referred to as the “synoptic gospels” meaning seen together. That ties in perfectly with the fact that Jesus was not a lone ranger in this ministry of bringing the kingdom of God near. In fact, He (Jesus) immediately invites/calls 2 sets of brothers; Simon and Andrew and James and John of all whom were fishermen, and he invites or calls them to be disciples, helpers, and followers in this ministry.
Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents; and I spent even more time with my Grandpa, in the summers trotline fishing on the Rock River. (I called him “Gramps”) Now anyone who has been around a fisherman for more than 5 minutes knows they tend to slightly over exaggerate the size of their catch both in individual size and total number of fish caught.
Today’s message is not just another fish story, but it’s a story of adventure and how we experience the ride of a lifetime with God.
As we heard the text read, it probably leads us to ask and wrestle with some questions. First, did the disciples really leave as soon as Jesus called them; and if so, had they known who Jesus was? Did they question Jesus? I mean, it would be a normal human response, even if we knew someone and trusted them and they said to us, “Come follow me!” for us to ask “where are we going?” “How long will be gone?” “What exactly are we going to do?” “What do I need to take or pack?”
Second, why would the disciples leave their job and family to follow Jesus? “Was the fishing bad?” “Did Jesus offer them something better?” “Was there discord in the family fishing business?”
Third, what does is it mean to be a “fisher of people?” “What does Jesus’ invitation to common people mean?” “What does the kingdom of God has come near mean?” These are just a few questions that we might ponder in light of this text. And furthermore, what is Jesus saying to us as individuals and as a church about how we navigate life and faith right here in St. Joe in 2018?
So, let’s answer some of those questions. We know from a few verses earlier that Jesus had been in the Galilee region, and so people would have most likely at least known about Jesus and who he was.
Most likely Jesus had been in and around the Galilee region after his time of temptation in the wilderness, so word had spread. It is likely Simon, Andrew, James, and John were familiar with who Jesus was and may have even heard him preaching/teaching. As far as, did those fishermen question Jesus, we simply don’t know. We have no record of them questioning Jesus, rather they simply responded in a favorable and positive manner to his call and invitation to join him and to become “fishers of people.”
As to the question of why Simon, Andrew, James, and John would leave their family and career to follow Jesus, the best we can assume is that Jesus’ call and invitation was so undeniably avoidable that they couldn’t help but follow him. The text doesn’t tell us the fishing was bad or they were tired of slaving away for their father or some other manager for meager wages. It simply says they were going about their normal routine when Jesus approached them.
In researching the social context of this text, fishing was very profitable for land owners, royalty, and tax collectors, but less lucrative for the actual laborers engaged in the day to day work of fishing. Amazing how there seems to be some similarity to today, where laborers do the hard work and executives reap the big profits.
But I digress.
In the text we hear Jesus use a brilliant metaphor, one that would have resonated with those Jesus was calling and inviting to “be fishers of people.” Generally, fish caught with a net meant death, yet Jesus invites these fishermen to follow him so he can train them to cast the net of the gospel; so fishing for people becomes a saving activity that brings abundant life.
This invitation to common working-class people, (fishermen in our text) meant Jesus’ message was for all people, not just the elite or religious leaders, but that Jesus was calling and inviting common ordinary people to take part in sharing the gospel and about being involved with bringing the kingdom of God near to all. The kingdom of God coming near meant, that by Jesus being born a human birth and coming to earth, God had broken into creation and humanity and eternity in a completely radical and different way. God through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit was saying, “I’m for you and I’m with you, and I invite you to join me!”
All of this is great, it gives us a glimpse into this text and may help us understand it a bit better, but what does it mean for you and me, right here, and right now in St. Joe, IL in 2018?
The first thing that it means is that you and I are included in this invitation and adventure! Jesus calls out to you and me much like to Simon, Andrew, James, and John and calls us in the midst of our ordinary common lives to “come follow him!” Jesus calls us to cast the nets of our lives and faith stories so others may realize the kingdom of God has come near to them.
Second, we are important to God and to God’s kingdom; but more importantly we are important to our community and world. Stop and think about when someone first told you about God, or you heard God speaking to your heart, and you got caught up in God’s net of love and salvation. Remember how exciting it was, how your heart longed for God and to be in right relationship with God and others?
The third thing it means is we can have all kinds of great things in the church, including music, choir, praise band, preaching, Sunday school classes, Bible studies, and hands on ministry opportunities, but do you know the real reason people get involved in a church community? The reason people become active in a church community is because they have caught a glimpse of the Spirit of Christ shining through one of his followers and been excited by it, felt embraced and welcomed by it, felt accepted by it. It’s because a disciple or Christ follower spoke affirming and life-giving words to them and into them!
They too have heard the voice and call of Jesus across the waters, sometimes very stormy, dangerous, and frightening rapids of their life, saying to them personally, “Come follow me, and I will teach you something new; I will give your life meaning and purpose,” you will find acceptance, joy, rest, and peace and they have been captivated and empowered by it!
So, what do we have church, that would attract others, and make them want to be a part of this church community? You see it’s not about having all the right answers, the right theology, the really cool music, the right look or anything else!
What it is about, is the Kingdom of God coming near, and about God calling and inviting us to be a part of the community of faith. We are called to be the bearers of God’s good news! We are the ones invited and empowered by God to show in real and tangible ways that the kingdom of God has in fact come. We do this when we do things like sitting with a family and offering hope and prayer and support when their child or family member has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or when we visit those who find themselves living in an extended care facility with no other family, or we feed hungry people in our community, or we go repair homes devastated by natural disasters.
Or maybe, it’s when we offer ourselves in hands-on mission work either in our own community or some other place in the world so that we offer the hope and good news of the gospel to the least, the last and lost. It is in doing these types of things that we are answering Jesus’ call to “come follow him,” and in doing so, we are carrying the message to our community and world that “the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!”
Maybe God called out to you this morning through the scripture and or message to “come follow him” in a new way; or maybe for the first time you actually heard God call your name and invite you to be a “fisher of people” and to get actively involved with sharing the good news of the gospel with this community and the world. If so, tell someone about it, those first 4 fishermen certainly did! The kingdom of God has drawn near; God has called us and invited us to be “fishers of people.”
What will be your response and mine? Will we cling to the things that consume us and hold us, or will we drop the proverbial nets that are familiar and comfortable and follow after Jesus immediately? God has called us, and so church, we have work to do! May we find adventure as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God. Let us pray!