Sermons That Work

You Will Be Catching People, Epiphany 5 (C) – 2001

February 04, 2001


Gordon Cosby at the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC, tells the story that when he was a teenager, he and his brother promised not to come home unless they had brought at least one person to Jesus Christ that day.

One day Gordon had not been successful, so he climbed on board a bus in Lynchburg, VA, where they lived, and worked the crowd. Long into the night no one was interested. Until the bus driver had driven his route for the last time. Gordon knew would have to get off the bus. He began to tell the bus driver about Jesus, about Jesus in his own life, about all that Jesus taught and did. And so very late that night, Gordon returned home able to tell his brother that, yes, he had brought a new soul to Jesus that day!

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

“Give us the liberty of that abundant life,” we pray this morning.

Abundant life comes from listening to Jesus, following Jesus and catching people for Jesus.

Even though the Decade of Evangelism now draws to a close, we need to remind ourselves that it will always be the Decade of Evangelism for Christians. It never ends. There are always more fish to catch. It is very much like the old song:

Peter and James and John in a sailboat
Peter and James and John in a sailboat
Peter and James and John in a sailboat
Out on the deep blue sea
They fished all night and didn’t catch any
They fished all night and didn’t catch any
They fished all night and didn’t catch any
Out on the deep blue sea
Along came Jesus over on the shore
Along came Jesus over on the shore
Along came Jesus over on the shore
Out on the deep blue sea
He said throw your nets over on the other side
He said throw your nets over on the other side
He said throw your nets over on the other side
Out on the deep blue sea
The nets were filled with very many fishes
The nets were filled with very many fishes
The nets were filled with very many fishes
Out on the deep blue sea
The lesson of the story is listen to the Lord
The lesson of the story is listen to the Lord
The lesson of the story is listen to the Lord
Out on the deep blue sea

Now there are several issues raised here. First, Jesus says, ” Let’s go fishing,” and Peter answers with a statement that some people might call a “typical Episcopal whine.” “We’ve tried that before but it didn’t work.” Only surpassed by that other variety of Episcopal whine: “But we’ve never done that before!”

But, lo and behold, there are fish everywhere! The boats are sinking! Mind you, this is not the typical fishing experience most of us have, but every now and then in the Florida Keys you can have one of those days when every time your line hits the water, you pull another kingfish mackerel into the boat.

Suddenly, Peter appears to have confused being in a boat with Jesus with being on the set for Wayne’s World. “I am not worthy, I am not worthy!” he begins crying out.

Like Gideon in our first lesson: “What? Me go save our people from those nasty Midianites? I am the smallest guy from the smallest tribe in the smallest clan in all of Israel! Surely you do not mean me?”

Or Paul reminding the Corinthians: “Hey, remember, I am the least of the apostles. I was not even fit to be an apostle. I spent my days persecuting the church. But believe it or not, Jesus appeared to nasty, little old me and, well, here I am founding churches and standing ready to help out with whatever problems you are having here.”

Peter stands in a long and hallowed tradition. Reminding us all of the central truth of the Bible: God always chooses the least qualified people to do God’s work! That’s how we get to know Jesus is God: he chooses Peter to follow him and become a fisher of people.

And then Peter and James and John follow. They leave everything behind and follow him, fishing for people.
Why? Because of all those fish?

Not on your life! If they were impressed with Jesus’ “bassmaster” techniques and technology and all those fish they would have kept him there and filmed an “infomercial” and gone about the countryside selling people on a program on how to catch fish out of the Dead Sea!

It is not about the fish.

The lesson of the story is, ” listen to the Lord.” We are not told by Luke what Jesus was teaching from the back of that boat. We might guess that it sounded a lot like the stuff he laid out in Nazareth the week before about good news for the poor, release for captives, vision for the blind, and the Acceptable Year of the Lord!

Whatever they heard, they liked it enough to leave everything and take on a new vocation: fishing for folk. People-catching. The activity we now call Evangelism.

So the task for us modern-day Christians is to listen to the Lord, follow him, and begin catching people.

And this will always mean trying things we have tried before. And trying things we have never done before. Peter knew how to fish. He really knew how to fish. Soon, however, he was off healing people, teaching people, catching people for Jesus, and writing scripture!

Like Peter, none of us thinks of ourselves as evangelists. Let alone that we might heal people or write scripture.

But one day, a letter you write to someone might bring that someone closer to God in Christ. That is scripture.

One day you will reach out to care for someone and they will be healed.

One day you will say something that will cause someone else to say, “You know, I never thought of things that way before,” and you will have become a teacher.

Jesus does not call us because we are worthy. Or, because we are qualified for the jobs he calls us to do. We are worthy and can do everything he did and more because he calls us.

Everything and more! Our boats will be filled with fish, our pews with people, our school with children, if only we will take the time to listen to the Lord and follow him.

From now on we will be catching people for Jesus so they too can know what it feels like to be made worthy to stand before God.

If Peter could do it, by golly, so can we!

Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema

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