Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: Enlighten our hearts, O God, through the hearing of your word and the meditations of our hearts, that we may be strengthened in faith and bear a bright witness to the world, through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Amen.
Why do you suppose Mark tells us about the nets? Mark could have simply told us that Andrew and Simon and James and John were fishermen, but instead he seems to go out of his way to tell us what they were doing with their nets. Simon and Andrew are throwing their nets, and James and John are mending theirs.
That got me thinking about nets — and I am wondering about the nature and purpose of the nets that are in our lives — I am wondering what we are using our nets for, and if we are all tangled up in them. Are they a help or a hindrance?
Today our gospel text tells us that with Jesus in our lives, we no longer need our nets, and in fact, he has replaced them with a net of his own making — the net of God’s grace.
I have a friend who loves to go fishing on Lake Michigan for salmon. He has a 35-foot boat with radar — surface radar as well as fish-finding radar. Various radios and GPS. It has all the bells and whistles — downriggers, outriggers — big rods and reels loaded with braided steel lines. He has earned his captain’s license — He lives in Chicago, but his boat is moored 5 hours north in Wisconsin because that’s where the best fishing is — and he drives up there nearly every weekend, and I used to love to go with him when I lived up there because he doesn’t like to eat fish! All the salmon we’d catch, I’d get to keep. For him, the thrill is being on the water and having a good time. That’s a recreational fisherman!
There’s another kind of recreational fisherman — they may or may not like all the work involved in catching the fish, but for them, the real reward is eating what they catch. These fishers are selective in what they try to catch and vary their bait and techniques accordingly. Both types of recreational fishermen will use a rod and reel.
Those are recreational fishermen. But professional fishermen are different. For them, it’s not a matter of having fun or liking to eat fish — their livelihood depends upon what they do. There is a whole different level of dedication for these people — and for those who seek to make a living by fishing, using bait with a rod and reel will never do. A professional fisherman uses a net.
If fishing provides his livelihood -- puts food on the table, a roof over his head, clothes on his back -- then his net is his most prized possession, and a fisherman will take great care to protect it. He'll inspect it regularly to keep it in top shape. And at the first sign of a weak spot, he'll mend it immediately, because if the fisherman doesn't take care of his nets, or doesn't repair them properly, he won't last as a fisherman.
In a way, you could say that we are all fisher-people. We are all fishing for what we want. What we want to catch is everything from the basic staples of life like food and water, to the qualities of life that make it secure and enjoyable, like material possessions, economic stability and national security — and even relationships. We want to catch a good life, and the nets we are using are the things we spend our time doing to get these things — our jobs, a good education, our activities, the people we associate with. We are making and mending nets to catch what we hope will make us happy — but sometimes I wonder if we don’t just get caught and tangled up in our own nets.
When Jesus finds Simon and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, their fishing nets aren't the only nets that they're working on; that's not the only kind of fishermen they are. They're also fishing like you and me -- for a secure future, for happiness.
They are working hard on nets to catch these things; and they're building their nets with strong materials -- a good job, in a good community, with strong relationships that they can depend upon. With these materials they are building a net to catch a good life, just like us.
With so much at stake, it’s all the more remarkable that they just drop their nets and follow Jesus. I know that’s what they’re SUPPOSED to do — but I know that because I’ve read the rest of the story. You and I know all the things that are revealed about Jesus, and most of us have been steeped for most of our lives in teachings on how we’re supposed to behave as Christians. But how did they know to follow Jesus? These guys are all set. They have made a great net for catching a good life. What was it that kept them from getting tangled up in their nets and that allowed them to follow him?
It seems to me that the answer to that question probably has more to do with Jesus than with the disciples.
I don’t know if they were popular down here or not, but in the ‘70s in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I grew up, bumper stickers and billboards appeared that simply said, “I found it!”
I remember riding in the car with my dad, and I said, “what is it with all of these bumper stickers? What did they find?”
He told me that they were from a popular church in the area. “They want people to know that they have found Jesus and that they are saved,” he said. “That’s all well and good,” he continued, “but that’s not really how it works. The good news isn’t that we find Jesus. The good news is that Jesus has found us.”
It was Jesus who found the disciples — not the other way around — and like them, you and I won’t find what we’re looking for by clinging fast to the nets we have made for ourselves to catch things we hope will bring us happiness.
Mark tells us that when Jesus calls us to follow him, he frees us from a mere quest for happiness and draws us into lives of great purpose and meaning. Gathered up into God’s embrace and held firmly by God’s love — Jesus calls us to trust the power of that love — to let go of the nets we have made for ourselves, and to become agents of his love in the world.
I wonder, though, if we are afraid to do it. I wonder how entangled we are in our own nets. I wonder if we are afraid to let go of the things that we hope will bring us security in order to follow Jesus. And I’m not just talking about us as individuals. I wonder in what ways Christians collectively might be afraid to follow Jesus. Historically, we as Christians have fashioned some pretty fine nets for ourselves — and they have not always served us well. Sometimes they have become the very things that trip us up.
The ministry to which Jesus calls us is a way of life — a way of BEING. It is a life of following — not settling. He calls us to live as professional fishers of people, and he gives us the only tool we need for the job: love. That’s the net he throws over us. Professional fishers use a net, but too often I think the church is trying to fish with bait, like recreational fishermen.
Churches use bait when they think that their job is to attract new members, and that they need gimmicks to attract them. They are using bait when they think that what makes them special is how big their budget is, or how pretty is their pipe organ, or how young are their people or how modern is the music, or how many programs they have. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things — in fact, those things might be really wonderful. But our role as the church isn’t to lure people with wonderful things. Our role is to love them. Our role is to cast the net of God’s loving embrace into the world. As far as our job is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether or not they join the church — all that matters is that they have experienced God’s grace in their lives. We do the casting. Jesus does the catching.
That is the mission of this congregation and of each of us as individuals. Cast the net of God’s love over the waters to which Jesus leads us.
Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” He is on the move, leading you to new places. That can be scary, no doubt. But he has already given you what you need to succeed. It isn’t programs or traditions or a budget. It is his love. Grace.
Simon, Andrew, James and John could not have known what Jesus was calling them to that day by the sea. All that he would teach them; all that they would see; the events they would be caught up in that would tear apart the heavens and shake the world to its core. They could not have known on that day what it would mean to follow Jesus. But regardless, there was something in the call of Jesus that changed the focus of their lives. There was a power in Jesus’ call that changed everything forever.
Years later — following the resurrection, James was the first to be martyred -- beheaded with an axe by Herod.
Tradition has it that his brother, John, was the last of the disciples to die -- the only disciple to die of old age -- but only after several attempts on his life, imprisonment and severe persecutions.
Andrew is said to have been crucified in Greece upon a cross shaped like an “X”.
And Simon would become Peter, the Rock -- and following the resurrection he would speak powerfully about the good news -- and as tradition has it, ultimately pay with his life -- crucified upside down -- by his own request -- because he was not worthy to die in the same manner as Christ.
They could not have known that day by the sea what it would mean to follow Jesus. But something in the power of his call changed things. Mark seems to want to make sure we understand that for them, the choice was obvious. And it remained obvious to them even when it meant losing everything they had once sought to hold onto.
The kingdom of God has drawn near to us, even as it drew near to them. You are drawn forth from the waters of baptism into a new life — the essence of which is simply to love as we are loved.
Where you will be called to cast forth God’s love — and how you will be called to cast it, none of us can know. But Jesus has given you everything that you will need. So don’t be afraid.
“Come,” he says, “Follow me.” AMEN