Sermon: Go Fish!
January 21st, 2018 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passage: Mark 1:14-20
I’m not a fisherman/fisherperson. My brother Jim, on the other hand, loved to fish. He enjoyed all kinds of fishing, though I think his favorite was fly fishing for rainbow trout. I remember going along with him once on a fishing outing when we were kids – he was fishing off a rowboat on a lake. I was delighted to be included, …until Jim caught his first fish. Then I got so upset at seeing the fish struggle and flap and gasp that I insisted Jim throw it back. As you can imagine I never was invited to go fishing with him again! Our story today from the Gospel of Mark is about some real fishermen – not folks who just fished for fun and for relaxation, but whose livelihood depended on it!
The Time Is Ripe
Our passage today picks right up from the event of Jesus’ baptism and his time spent in the wilderness. Those experiences were not just for the purpose of startling us awake and showering us with God’s presence and God blessing, as I spoke about a couple weeks ago when we thought about Jesus’ baptism and remembered/reaffirmed our own baptisms. Mark immediately connects Jesus’ baptism and the breaking in of God around Jesus, to the start of Jesus’ ministry work. Baptism and the confirmation that we are beloved children of God serve the purpose of what is to come next, what is to follow close on its heels.
We are told that as John the Baptist’s voice was silenced, Jesus recognized that the time had come for his voice to be heard. So Jesus begins preaching. He starts with a message that is one of the shortest sermons ever preached – just three sentences. “The time is ripe!” Jesus announces. God is near! God’s inbreaking has started! God’s here! (If you recall, at the baptism God ripped open the heavens, the divide between the heavenly realm and the earthly realm – God had entered the world first as a baby in Jesus, and then as the Holy Spirit descending at the time of Jesus’ baptism.) Jesus then picks up John’s message to carry it further, “Repent (turn around, change your way of thinking/living), and believe in the good news of God.”
As we consider our time now, we too might think about the voices that are being silenced which serve as a signal that the time is ripe for us to raise our voices. The voice within so many people that ought to be saying ‘you are a beloved child of God’, is instead being silenced by drugs and addictions and despair. The voices of national leaders that should be affirming ‘all people are created equal and equally loved by God’ are being silenced by racist and prejudiced and paranoid ideologies, by a dismissive curse. The voices of the poor, the voices of the suffering, are being silenced by privilege and self-centeredness, and the idea of ‘me first’, ‘us first’. The time is still ripe today for the world to hear the true message of God’s good news – good news of love, good news of hope, good news of inclusion and reconciliation with God and with one another. The time is ripe for God’s kind of fishing!
Caught in Jesus’ Net
Jesus’ first sermon quickly bears fruit – or rather fish. Mark moves immediately to the first priority and purpose of Jesus’ work: calling and creating disciples, those who would join him in his work and join him in a relationship with the Father. Doing the work of the Father, of God, is not an individual endeavor we see – Jesus doesn’t do it alone, and even as he calls disciples he calls them in pairs. Jesus throws out his net and catches, Simon and Andrew, then James and John. Jesus invites them to follow him.
Jesus summarizes the task that following him entails with a simple metaphor. He starts with who they are – fishers of fish – and promises to change them to fishers of people. Jesus draws them into his net, in order that they might draw others in their nets. Over time we have come to call this part of the discipleship task, evangelism. The words evangelism and evangelist, all come from the same root word as the word for gospel or good news. An evangelist is one who declares the good news, the gospel. Evangelism is the work of sharing the good news, the gospel.
Evangelism is one of the scariest things to most Christians (thelifebridgechurch.com). Unfortunately, much of that fear and anxiety comes from bad examples or bad experiences with evangelism, as well as from misconceptions of what it is to be effective in sharing the Gospel. One of the unfortunate misconceptions is that evangelism has to involve scolding and judging. That method is ironically similar to the methods of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, and Jesus himself was not happy with them and their ways. Effective evangelism rarely involves threats of hell and damnation. Rather, most effective evangelism involves expressing love and concern – and you all are really good at that! Yet evangelism can still make us nervous. We want to wriggle out of it, saying “That’s just not my gift,” or “That’s the pastor’s job.” The truth is that some people are especially good at evangelism, (I think of Greg) but sharing the Gospel is to be part of the life of every follower of Jesus, every Christian. And I’ll be honest with you, even I get nervous. So let me share with you some steps that may ease some of the anxiety and provide some encouragement. Remember, this is the very first thing that Mark tells us about Jesus’ ministry and about what it means to be His disciple. We are not even half-way into the first chapter of his Gospel account!
How do we fish for people? I’ve summarized the steps into an acrostic with the words “Go Fish”, on the back of the bulletin. I had to stretch to make the H work, but let look at it step by step. How many of you have played the card game, Go Fish? Each player flips over the card at the top of their deck, and whoever has the highest value card takes the whole catch. Like the game, evangelism is aimed at finding opportunities to catch others in your net, however Go Fish is a game of chance, the luck of the draw. Unlike Go Fish, evangelism is not a passive game of chance, it is purposeful and there are definite things you can do to bring success. We are to be intentional.
First, GO, go to God in prayer. Everything we do in a day should begin and end with prayer, especially the task of fishing for people. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. Ask God to guide you each day to the one who needs to hear the Good News of Jesus. Can you think of someone right now who you know does not have a personal relationship with God? Pray for that person. Pray for God to open an opportunity for you to share and that you would recognize the opportunity when it comes. Pray for courage. Pray for boldness. Pray for success. Pray for a deep sense of love and concern for that person who does not know Jesus who will cross your path. Jesus didn’t tell Simon and Andrew that they would automatically become fishers of people, or immediately be good at it, but that he would MAKE them become fishers! Pray that God would make you become a fisher of people.
Next, F, find opportunities. After you have prayed, watch for the answer to your prayer. Be alert for opportunities to start a conversation with someone, or to be of service to someone. Don’t be so focused or schedule-driven that you miss opportunities. I need to remind myself of this often. I’ll go to a store and I’m so focused on the task at hand that I’m like a horse with blinders on. David will remind me to look around, to notice the people around me. Allow time for what may seem like an interruption. When you end up in the slowest line at the pharmacy, look around and see who else is waiting. Make time for spontaneity. Sometimes opportunities will find you if you go through your day with a deep sense of joy and peace. Your joyfulness and peacefulness and calm will catch the attention of someone who is longing for those qualities in their own life. Sometimes an opportunity will surprise you. Sometimes you will have to create opportunities.
Then, I, inquire and listen. Inquire means ask questions. Be curious about those you meet. Ask them questions, then listen to their answers. So often after we ask a question our brains leap to thinking about what we should ask next or what we want to say next. Instead, concentrate on just listening to what the other person is saying. Listen for that person’s needs, for their disappointments in life, for their spiritual longings or concerns. They may sound like these statements: “bad things always happen to me,” or “what’s the point to life anymore,” or “I’m so afraid,” or “it’s really lonely.”
Then it’s time for S, sharing the Gospel. This does not have to be long or complicated. In fact, short and simple is the best. Practice describing your Christian faith in 2-3 sentences. Something like, “I struggled, too, and felt like God was far away and no one cared. Then I learned that God loved me so much that God sent his Son, Jesus, to find me and to bring me home to live with him forever. Having God beside me through life has made all the difference!” Or introduce the person to Jesus, as you might introduce a best friend: “I’ve got this friend, His name is Jesus. Can I introduce you to Him?” Share how God has made a difference in your life. Share what it is about following Jesus that has been good news for you.
Then it’s time for H, help them in getting hooked up. Don’t let the conversation end without making some invitation to help get the person connected with God and with other believers in a faith community. The first invitation might be just asking if you can say a prayer for them right then and there, and then if it’s ok for you to continue to pray for them. Ask if you could meet up to talk again. Invite them to come to Bible study with you, or to church with you, or to join you to help in a service project – packing backpacks, at the summer breakfast table, cooking a meal for the homeless shelter, delivering meals on wheels, painting at the Twin Oaks Shelter. As much as I would like it, the point of this invitation is not just to get more people in our pews here at First Baptist. The point much bigger! It is to bring people into God’s family and to save dying souls. If someone would be more comfortable in a faith community that worships with a rock band, then help them get hooked up with a church which offers that. If someone is not quite ready to attend church, maybe reading the bible over coffee in your kitchen is the way to get them hooked up.
When Jesus cast his net over Simon and Andrew, and then over James and John, they found the invitation to follow him so compelling that they immediately dropped what they were doing to respond. They made the objective of learning how to fish for people become their first priority. Our primary discipleship task is also to fish for people. We cannot dismiss it because it makes us uncomfortable or because we aren’t sure what to say.
Unlike my brother Jim’s fishing expeditions on a weekend or a holiday, our fishing expeditions are to become part of our livelihood. Our lives and the lives of others depend on it! So, with the power of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, Go Fish!
Closing Song: “Lord of the Dance”