Sermons That Work

Showing God’s Love with Open Arms, Epiphany 3 (B) – 2003

January 26, 2003


Simon and Andrew were literally just minding their own business, that day on the Sea of Galilee. It was just a day like any other day. How many days of their lives had they spent in the same way — casting their net into the sea and hoping for a good catch? Fishing wasn’t just a hobby for them — something to look forward to on the weekends. One of those weekend fishermen was once asked: “Do you fish because you really want the fish to eat, or is it more an excuse to get away from it all, to ‘get back to nature’?” “You know,” the fisherman said, “it’s actually neither one. It’s the sport of it. It’s just to see if I can catch them. Most of the time, I throw them back.”

Well, that’s not what it was like for Simon and Andrew. Fishing was what they did. It was their livelihood; it was also their way of life. That was true for James and John as well. Obviously they had been brought up to be fishermen; on the day that Jesus of Nazareth came bursting into their lives, they were in their boat with their father, Zebedee, busy mending their nets in preparation for the next catch. You don’t bring in many fish if there are holes in your nets!

So there they were, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, in the same place where they spent most of their days, doing the things that took up most of their waking hours. No doubt they expected that the next day would be much the same, and the day after that, and many more days and weeks and years. These people didn’t have much. They were poor men; they had to work hard to make a living for themselves and their families. No doubt they were good Jews and they observed the Sabbath and listened to the readings from Scripture and spent time with their families and friends. But mostly, they fished.

And then along came this man, Jesus, passing along the Sea of Galilee. And what was he doing? “Proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.'” With what power he made this proclamation we can judge by the response of these four fishermen. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people,” he said to Simon and Andrew — and immediately they left their nets and followed him. Then he called James and John, and they left their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men, and followed Jesus. They followed Jesus, apparently without a backward glance.

Why do you suppose that was? If you were hard at work and some street preacher came along telling you to repent, because the kingdom of God was coming, and, furthermore, wanted you to drop what you were doing and come along, would you be likely to do it? Was it just because Simon and Andrew and James and John were extra-gullible men? Or was it because there was something so compelling about Jesus that they didn’t even think twice about it? They didn’t know, they couldn’t have known, at that point, who he really was or where their choice to follow him would lead. But there was apparently something about him that they just could not resist. In a way that they would not understand for a long time, God was being made known to them, and would continue to be made known to them in the person of Jesus Christ. It was an epiphany! Well, that’s what this season is about, isn’t it?

And it isn’t just Simon and Andrew and James and John to whom God is made known in the person of Jesus. And it isn’t just Simon and Andrew and James and John who are called to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus calls each of us to follow him — and he calls to us every single day, wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

We don’t have to be rich; we don’t have to have a lot to offer. We just have to be willing to follow. We have to be willing to make ourselves available, so that God may use us.

Cesareo Gabarain was a Spanish priest and author of a number of beautiful hymns. Perhaps his most loved work is Pescador de Hombres, “Fisher of Men.” It was originally written in Spanish, but the English lyrics have much to say to us today:

You have come down to the lakeshore
seeking neither the wise nor the wealthy,
But only asking for me to follow.

You know full well my possessions.
Neither treasure nor weapons for conquest,
Just these my fish nets and will for working.

You need my hands, my exhaustion,
working love for the rest of the weary,
a love that’s willing to go on loving.

You who have fished other waters;
you, the longing of souls that are yearning:
as loving Friend, you have come to call me.

And the refrain:

O Jesus, you have looked into my eyes;
kindly smiling, you have called out my name.
On the sand I have abandoned my small boat,
now with you, I will seek other seas.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, help us to hear and to answer your call, today and every day.

Amen.

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