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The following sermon as preached on January 26, 2014 at Bethel Lutheran Church.  This text was based on Matthew 4:12–23.

“I will make you fish for people.”

There are some phrases in our scriptures that are somewhat iconic, phrases that bring images to our mind and people can quote with ease.  How do you remember this passage?  When you hear this phrase, what images or feelings come to your mind?

“I will make you fish for people.”

fishing_3For some, perhaps we envision the disciples casting large nets into the Sea of Galilee.  Maybe our minds flash to the Jesus fish found on back bumpers of neighboring cars during rush hour traffic.  I have a friend who got her doctorate in contemporary Christian music, and this phrase reminds her of a Christian Rock station called “The Fish.”

What image does this phrase bring for you?  For me, I am reminded of my home church pastor, who takes off the first day of every hunting season and fishing season and goes on a spiritual retreat in the wilderness.  Over the years these retreats have proved to be restorative moments in his ministry and the ministry of our church, even if that restoration is accompanied by pictures with his largest catch of the weekend.

As a church, this phrase is strongly associated with evangelism, the ministry of going out into the world and telling people about the good news found in Christ Jesus.  Just as this phrase brings up our own images, our Gospel author Matthew also was trying to draw an image to mind of his audience.

Matthew is deeply invested in the Jewish tradition, proclaiming that Jesus has come to fulfil what has been spoken through the prophets.  Jesus quotes the other prophets frequently and uses prophetic imagery throughout his ministry to help emphasize this message.

Just before we enter today’s lesson, Jesus has been baptized by John in the river Jordan and anointed by the Holy Spirit.  These images of anointing is once again a connection to Jesus and prophesy, as prophets in our Hebrew Scriptures were frequently anointed with oil before they began their public ministry.

Soon after his baptism, John is taken by Herod, a somewhat prophetic foreshadowing to Jesus’ own public trial before the crucifixion.

“I will make you fish for people.”

Matthew tells this story with purpose, forsaking the backstory of the disciples we find in other gospels.  This brings us to the iconic phrase faster. “I will make you fish for people.”

While perhaps images of Jesus fish bumper stickers, radio stations, and pastors fishing may float to our mind, Matthew’s version of this story is for a specific purpose.  He is once again making the bridge between Jesus and the prophets, this time using fish as the bridge.

fishing_4In prophetic literature, fishing imagery is all about discovery, about uncovering what is hidden beneath the waters.  Amos talks about communities finding the faithful in a sea of dangerous figures, like a fishhook draws out the fish from the water.[1]  In Jeremiah, God sends out fisherman to catch those who are hidden in communities filled with inequity. [2]

Fishing in prophetic literature is about finding, it is about unveiling, it is about discovering what is lying deep within the waters, beyond what the eye can see.  Fishing is about seeing how God has faithfully stood beside humanity throughout the ages of time, working to draw us out of the dark depths into an intimate and compassionate relationship.  Fishing is about reaching deep into the wells of our souls and seeing God waiting at the bottom.

Through this prophetic understanding of fishing, we discover that what is necessary to share the good news of Christ with others is to uncover what is already lying beneath, to uncover how God is already working in places and in ways that may not be obvious when standing on the river bank.

Through his death and resurrection, the blessings found in Jesus have been given to all of creation.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the waters of our baptism, we are each called to unique ministries and opportunities.  We have been resurrected in Christ, freed from the restrictions of sin and brokenness that would hinder our ability to proclaim God’s gift of reconciliation and love.  As resurrected people, the Holy Spirit works through our shortcomings and limitations, transforming obstacles into opportunities.

fishing_2This is what happens with the disciples.  While in a secular world, the lowly occupation of fisherman would seem like an obstacle, through Christ this same occupation becomes an opportunity to serve God.  That transition from obstacle to opportunity is immediate, propelling the disciples from the jobs they had to the vocation of following Christ.  “Immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus.”   Through Christ’s affection, they instantaneously discovered that God had equipped them to be disciples.  “Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

We are empowered to fish for people because through the cross, Christ first fished for us.

This weekend Bethel has been supporting the students of Lutheran Campus Ministry through Trivia Night and other fundraising efforts.  In a few weeks, many of these students will head to Guatemala, and there they will live into their vocation to fish for people.  They will be fishing in the prophetic sense of the word, exploring how God is already at work in the community they are going to serve.  They, like other mission ventures in the ELCA, will join the efforts of an already existing ministry to help strengthen and support how God currently tends to that context.  In seeing how God blesses and resurrects the Guatemalan people, our students will delve deeper into the waters of their faith and discover in new ways how God blesses and resurrects their own lives here in St. Louis.

Fishing for people is not about telling others what they need to do to be better followers of Christ.  It is about talking with others, hearing their resurrection stories, and sharing our experiences in return.

Fishing for people moves beyond assuming that what motivates someone’s involvement is based on their age, education, or financial status.  Instead it is about uncovering the gift that God is already nurturing within that person and helping them join a mission that suits that gift.

Fishing for people is about serving as a witness to the wondrous and endless ways that God is present within the midst of every person, and then sharing what we witness as proclamation of how the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Fishing for people is about uncovering ways that we can work together to glorify our God who loves us beyond our understanding.

fishing_1When we fish for people in this prophetic sense, the kaleidoscope of our faith shifts and we are nurtured to spread the message of Jesus’s love and reconciliation to others.  Our relationship with God strengthens when we see how strongly God supports others.  We more fully understand how we are forgiven when we witness how Christ’s forgiveness transformed another.  We have hope for our own healing when we see how the Spirit has unexpectedly brought life to someone who lives in their own health battles.

The beauty about being called by Christ to fish for people is that there is not an expectation that we will do it perfectly.  The likelihood is high that we will make mistakes, yet God calls us anyways.  As a member so wisely pointed out in our Bible study this past week, the disciples called at the river bank are the same disciples that will deny Jesus and send him to his crucifixion.  These same disciples that denied him are the same disciples that 50 days later are resurrected in Christ and given the task to tell the world about Jesus.

This ability to move forward and proclaim Christ after we so epically fail is a gift that has been given to us by the resurrected Christ.  That we can be advocates for all of creation all the while we pollute the earth can only come from the love of a creating God.  That we can be given the privilege of seeing how God works in others when we ourselves make choices which limit that work within ourselves is a blessing that can only be given to us by the resurrected Christ.  That the tragedies of our life stories can be transformed for compassion to serve others is only a gift that comes from a life-giving Spirit.  Christ calls us to fish for people, and we can do so boldly because no matter the joys and sorrows along the way, our Triune God continues to resurrect us from our mistakes, trust us and stand by us.

We are empowered to fish for people because through the cross, Christ first fished for us.

Amen.


[1] Amos 4:2

[2] Jer 16:16

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