Sermons That Work

The Gospel for Today Is…, Epiphany 5 (C) – 1998

February 08, 1998


The gospel for today is the story of Jesus taking some of his disciples on a fishing expedition on Lake Gennesaret. We are told that Jesus was standing by the lake and saw the crowds fast approaching him. He saw Simon the fisherman and asked to be taken out onto the lake in one of the boats. Jesus then taught the people from the boat and when he was finished he asked to go out further from the lake shore.

Once in deep water, he told Simon to let down his net for a catch. Simon, obviously not impressed with Jesus’ credentials as a fisherman, told him “master we have worked all night long but have caught nothing, yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

What followed was a fisherman’s dream. The catch was so big the nets broke and the boat began to sink! Suddenly Jesus’ stock as a fisherman began to rise and Simon, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were thoroughly impressed. Jesus told them not to be afraid and that from now on they would be catching people. The boat was returned to shore and the fishermen left everything they had and followed Jesus.

In the reading from 1 Corinthians, we are reminded of the good news of Jesus Christ and its power grounding our lives. Paul writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain…”

The readings for this fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, like all readings for the Epiphany season, teach us about the effect that God’s manifestation (Epiphany) in Christ can have on the lives and mission of those who believe. Most modern North Americans are not fishermen. Many view fishing as a leisure pursuit for aging baby-boomers or contemplative retirees. The imagery is a bit archaic for those of us who get who get fish from the supermarket and sushi from bars. Despite the imagery, the message is clear, those who let down their nets in faith, will harvest a catch.

Today’s texts can speak to the reluctant evangelists in all of us. Most of us have no problems with getting into a boat with Jesus and listening intently to his wonderful teachings, but when it comes to dropping the nets to fish, we often shake our heads. Not only can we doubt our abilities, we doubt the fact that Jesus can catch anything either!

There are many and varied reasons why many are shy evangelists. Some of us believe that to be Christian, is primarily a “private matter.” It is hard to resist this view as it is the primary view about religion communicated to us by the culture. Religion for post modern folk is supposedly “between you and you God” like your socks are between you and your shoes. Socks are a good thing, wear them, but keep them under wraps.

Many Christians buy into this cultural view. Getting in the boat is fine, after all, water is calming and therapeutic, good for the blood pressure, other words, the real goal of post modern “spiritual” fishing is not to actually catch fish, but to “get in touch with your inner child” or “contemplate the vastness of God’s universe.” “Oh God, your cosmos is so big and my boat is so small.” UGH!

It is true, boats are cool, water is therapeutic, God is great, and the cosmos is big. But it is also true that everything mentioned above does not alter the fact that God wants us to go fishing, not just as a spiritual exercise but to actually catch some fish! “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people,” says the Lord.

Another reason we can we can be shy evangelists is that we like Simon can believe that we are not up to the task at hand. The faith is great, but we are not up to sharing it with others. We are afraid that they won’t listen. We are afraid they will think we are fanatics. We are afraid they won’t get it, so we say “why bother?” If God wants to catch more people, then it is up to God to do God’s own fishing. Right?

It is true that fishing is God’s preserve and any harvest will be God’s catch, yet at the same time God calls all disciples to fish! No if’s and’s or but’s about it. Christianity is not a spectator sport. There are no armchair faithful. Everyone out on the water, all hands on deck, everyone help cast those nets, and everyone help haul them in.

If the gospel of Jesus Christ is truly good news, then everyone should be able to hear it.

If the gospel of Jesus Christ is truly the way of salvation, then all people should be exposed to it. Those of us who have been to the lake shore and heard the message of light and life are the ones who are called to share the message with others. For as Paul writes in our reading from 1 Corinthians: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve….”

The fact that we have been called to fish for people, shows that God has remarkable hope for and great confidence in the church, for God has given the work of making disciples to us, a bunch of rank amateurs, those who don’t know a trout from a salmon, those who can’t distinguish port from starboard. It is not because we are able, but it is because God is able. God is able to work a work within, giving us what it takes to haul in a great catch.

The point really is Epiphany. God is manifest. Let us get on with sharing it with others. God is telling us that the ministry Christ began in the world is now ours. Congratulations! Now get to it! The world is in dire need of the good Word. People are in dire need of being caught up in God’s Epiphany, of being exposed to God’s light.

All we need do is to get out on the water, drop our nets and hold firmly to the gospel message that has been proclaimed to us. God will be in the boat beside us, and God will give us our catch, so that God can gather God’s harvest, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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