Sermon: Were you ever taught how to fish?
Scripture: Matthew 4:12-25
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: January 26, 2020, Epiphany 3, Year A
Matthew 4:12-25, (MSG)
12-17 When Jesus got word that John had been arrested, he returned to Galilee. He moved from his hometown, Nazareth, to the lakeside village Capernaum, nestled at the base of the Zebulun and Naphtali hills. This move completed Isaiah’s sermon:
Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
road to the sea, over Jordan,
Galilee, crossroads for the nations.
People sitting out their lives in the dark
saw a huge light;
Sitting in that dark, dark country of death,
they watched the sun come up.
This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
18-20 Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.
21-22 A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishnets. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father.
23-25 From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God’s kingdom was his theme—that beginning right now they were under God’s government, a good government! He also healed people of their diseases and of the bad effects of their bad lives. Word got around the entire Roman province of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all. More and more people came, the momentum gathering. Besides those from Galilee, crowds came from the “Ten Towns” across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan. 
This morning’s text is where one part of the Matthew Story finishes and a new phase of the book begins. Up until now, the Story has focused upon the preparation of the setting and scene. But today we hear the ominous portent, “That John had been arrested.” Already the Good News of repentance and Messiah was burning holes of bad news into the ears of the religious and political government. John the Baptist has violently left the Story and now the full spotlight is on Jesus. It’s at this point that Jesus now gets down to work and the first thing he does is to gather others around him to learn the Way and to help him out on his mission.
He takes a walk along the beach. He sees Andrew and Simon Peter casting nets into the sea because they were fishermen. Jesus calls out to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people!” and then immediately left their fishing gear and followed. A bit further down the beach, he sees the Zebedee brothers with their dad in a boat mending nets. Again, Jesus calls out, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people!” and James and John left their gear and their daddy in the boat and followed Jesus.
It’s at this point, Church, we are to hear the first reality of following Jesus. When we say “yes” to following Jesus it’s also our way of saying a firm “no” to our former way of life. Our story says the first four disciples abandoned everything and left to follow Jesus’ call. They left livelihood, family, and the safety of predictability. When they hopped out of their boats, they were immediately put in a position of reassessing everything in their life from what security means, what their faith really required, and how they are to relate with the political systems and injustice. Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart, beloved.
Matthew spells it out pretty clearly: Change your life. God’s kingdom and reign are among you. I’m going to make a new type of fisherman out of you. There is no sense of status quo in Jesus’ words to the four fishermen. Everything changes when we say “yes” to the call of God in Christ.
This morning I want to spend some time on the one requirement Jesus places upon his first four called disciples. It’s a reorienting of their perspective from being focused on what they can get out of life for themselves towards being intent on showing others the presence of God in their midst. I love how Peterson translates verses 19 and 20: Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.
Were you ever taught how to fish my friends? I wasn’t. I had to figure it out on my own by reading, watching, trying it out and failing. Well, actually, you never really fail in fishing. Just the act of fishing is a win in and of itself. Fishing is a wonderful metaphor for our work as disciples, Church. Fishing is the biblical metaphor for evangelism. If you are like me, you may not have been taught evangelism, that is, how to fish for people. We watch others do it and we find it off-putting so we don’t try our own fishing techniques out. We don’t understand what evangelism is. So today, my friends, let’s have a brief lesson in fishing for men and women. I promise you, it’s not hard.
Let’s begin by addressing what we need to know and to have in order to be successful fishers-of-people. Interestingly, it’s the same information we need to be good fishermen or fisherwomen going after fish!
First, you need to know what you are fishing for, to begin with. What you are fishing for determines the bait you use, which lure you put on the line. Are you fishing for fish that are along the shoreline or do you need a boat to go out to where they are and like to hang out?
Once you know what you are fishing for, then you have to select the body of water to go fishing in; we will not find mountain trout seven miles off the coast of the Keys. If we are fishing for trout, then we get a fly rod and head to the mountains of North Carolina or Montana. If we are fishing for grouper, we need a different kind of pole, bait, and location to catch reel them in.
Once we know what we are fishing for, once we decide where we will drop our lines into fish, then we adapt our equipment to our needs. These are three basic items we need to know and do before we leave the house and go fishing.
What else do we need to know before leaving the house to go fishing? We need to realize that it can get uncomfortable, that it can get messy, and that it will demand we develop patience.
Fishing can be uncomfortable. If you’re deep-sea fishing and the water is rough, your stomach may feel like it’s up in your mouth. You can get sunburned and hot. If you are wading in the water, your waders may have a hole in them that leaks cold winter onto your feet and you find it hard to put a fly on the line.
Fishing can be messy. One of my favorite things to watch is a child bait a hook with a squiggly red worm. You know what I’m talking about! Cleaning fish is not that pleasant either – all the guts, blood, and smell! Your clothes get all nasty as you wipe your hands on your shirt or pants to get the goo off. For evangelism, fishing for people can be messy because you will hear stories from others that will break your heart. They are stories of pain and loss, as well as stories of hope and redemption.
Fishing demands patience, too. The fish will bite when they are ready to bite. It takes time to learn where the fish are hiding. It requires a person to be able to be within him or herself and remain still and unflappable. It requires us to wait. So, it is with evangelism; Church, we need to get over the notion that we cause the fish to bite. All we can do is drop our line into the water. All we can do is show what God has done in our own lives and let the Spirit determine which fish come into the nets. Patience is required because we understand that the starting point of our fishing is not so that we can catch people, gut them, clean them and eat them; on the contrary, our job as fishermen and fisherwomen is to attract people to Jesus’ Kingdom theme. We can’t force a fish to take the bait; all we can do is make sure the right bait, that is, good news, presented to lure other fish to bite. That requires patience. So, fishing can be uncomfortable, messy, and demand patience.
I wonder if it’s these reasons why the Church has done such a poor job at it. The Church has failed teaching her children the benefits of fishing; it has failed to remind us that we fish in order to expand God’s Kingdom theme and work in the world. So, what can we learn?
Well, Church, we are to learn that we need to decide what type of fish are we fishing for in the first place. It requires that the Church and that as individuals we look around us and note the types of schools of fish in our pond. There are thousands of apartments coming online in Fort Lauderdale and Broward, have we cast a line in that pool? Maybe it’s the pool of support staff and workers who bust their hump to keep our local businesses open and thriving. Just perhaps we build on our success at Happyland and develop ministries for young families. Is it the burgeoning homeless population that offers us an opportunity to bring the good news? Who is it we are fishing for?
For each of us personally, those who we are fishing for is determined by where you find yourselves day in and day out. If you are a corporate lawyer, the pool you fish from does not necessarily mean you are handing out tracts on the street; no, you are fishing in your circle of influence as legal counsel through places like Rotary, the club, and professional associations. If you are a teacher, the pool you fish from is with your parents, fellow teachers, students, PTA, field trips…you name it. If you are retired, your pool may be the health center, your doctor’s office, your bridge club or sports activities.
Friends, the reality is this: The Christian Church has abandoned its responsibility for fishing and exhibiting the Kingdom of God to the world. We have become lazy and let the cultural nets of politics, entertainment, individualism, and violence to drop their nets in our fishing spots. Beloved, Jesus is looking for you and me, this church, to get off our deck chairs and drop the lines and cast the nets! All of us, every one of us, is an angler for Christ’s Kingdom. Remember friends, we don’t try to convert, coerce or cajole. We simply drop the line of a winsome gospel. Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.