The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on Matthew 4:12-23.
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
That is how Jesus calls his first disciples in our Gospel story today. And that simple call, that one simple sentence, speaks volumes about the meaning and the means of discipleship.
In the first place, it says that Jesus calls disciples where they are. And the story itself makes that pretty obvious: Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and he sees Andrew and his brother Simon, who later on will be called Peter, tossing a net into the water. Maybe they were in their boat, just a little way out from shore, and they wanted to try to get in just one more catch before calling it quits for the day. Maybe they were standing on the beach, just rinsing the sand out of the net before laying it out to dry. But whatever they were doing with that net, they were doing it because it was part of their job, part of their daily routine, part of the skill set and the practical know-how and the personal experience that was the stuff of their ordinary lives.
And it is there, right in the middle of things, right in the middle of business-as-usual, that Jesus calls them. The call to discipleship doesn’t come in some extraordinary moment, some crisis of faith or some mountain-top experience. Those things will come later on, as Simon and Andrew follow Jesus and their discipleship deepens. But here, at the beginning, when the first call comes, it comes right along with all the ordinary, everyday things that Simon and Andrew always do. When Jesus says “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” he recognizes Simon and Andrew first and foremost as fishermen – Jesus calls his disciples where they are.
But having called them where they are, Jesus also points them toward where they could be. “Follow me,” he says, “and I will make you fish for people” – the call to discipleship will take Andrew and Simon as they are, but will also open them up to becoming something more. Jesus recognizes them as fishermen, to be sure; but from now on, Jesus will invite them to direct their fishing skills to a somewhat higher purpose.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that Simon and Andrew will go out and throw nets over people and drag them in to meet Jesus. I admit, sometimes when we talk about growing church attendance, netting people and hauling them in does sound kind of attractive. But coercing people into believing never works; and anyway it’s a contradiction in terms: true faith can never be forced, and if force is involved, it’s something other than faith.
So Simon and Andrew aren’t literally going to drag people in in nets; “fishing for people” is more symbolic than that. But the symbol does mean that Jesus offers to take them, as they are, with the skills and talents and abilities and histories and identities and strengths and weaknesses they actually have, and Jesus will show them how to take all that, and direct it to a new purpose, orient it toward a new horizon, how to take the work they do and work it for the sake of God’s works.
When Jesus offers to show them how to fish for people, he is offering to take everything that makes them who and what they are and set it in a new context, in a new network of relationships, in which they will be connected to each other, and to strangers, and to themselves, and to Jesus, and to God in a new and deeper and more life-giving way. They’ll still be who they are; but they’ll also be something more.
Jesus says “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus calls his disciples where they are, and he points them toward where they could be.
And Jesus makes that same offer of discipleship to us. Jesus calls us where we are, and Jesus points us toward where we might yet be. Jesus takes us with all the peculiar and idiosyncratic qualities that make us just who we are and no one else; Jesus takes us with the strengths and the weaknesses, the hopes and the dreams, the memories and the aspirations, the gifts and the skills and the talents we actually have; Jesus takes us with all the ordinary, everyday stuff of life intact – and Jesus offers us the opportunity to become something more.
For us too, the call to discipleship comes in the midst of things, in the middle of business-as-usual; the call to discipleship doesn’t require an extraordinary moment or a crisis of faith or a mountain-top experience in order to be real. For us too, the call to discipleship does not require us to become somebody else, to turn into some imaginary perfect version of ourselves, before Jesus will be interested in having us around. For us too, Jesus’ call to discipleship comes to us just as we are, and offers to open us up to a range of possibilities, a network of relationships, that will connect us to each other, and to strangers, and to ourselves, and to Jesus, and to God with an energy and a love and an abundant life that transforms everything. For us too, Jesus calls us where we are, and points us toward what we could become.
And we see that illustrated for us, made concrete and tangible, right here in this Eucharist. In our Communion liturgy we take bread and wine, and we put them on the altar, and we pray over them in Jesus’ name – and by doing that, we put the bread and wine in a new context of relationships, we connect them in a special way with Jesus, and God, and the Holy Spirit, and us, so that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.
They’re still bread and wine, they’re still the products of natural growth and human work, they’re still tangible, touchable, tastable physical realities – they’re still the same bread and wine they’ve always been. But they are also something more. In their new context, in their new relationships, they become connections with Jesus, they become physical places where we can touch and be touched by the divine and human life of Christ. In this Eucharist, Jesus takes the bread and wine where they are, and points them toward being something more.
And that is precisely what Jesus promises to do with us. Just as ordinary bread and wine become signs of connection with Jesus, so we ordinary people, as disciples, can serve as signs of connection with Jesus for the world around us. So we can meet the people around us where they are, and point the way toward being together the community of peace and well-being in Jesus that is something more.
And that is something our world needs us to do right now. Where there is so much division and fear and partisanship and breakdown of cooperation all around us, the world needs disciples of Jesus who will connect for right-relationship and mutuality and genuinely building up each other’s well-being. The world needs that. And we don’t have to wait for an extraordinary moment or a crisis of faith or a mountain-top experience to do that. We can do that with the ordinary personalities and friendships and abilities we already have. We can decide that, in the name of Jesus, we will dedicate ourselves to the faith that Love Wins – and we can act that out in the connections we have. And we will be amazed how Jesus will take our ordinary connections where they are, and point them toward becoming so much more.
How will you let Jesus take you where you are and make you something more in your relationships this very week?
Jesus said “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Let us pray today that God will empower us to follow Jesus, and that we may fish for people into his beloved community. Amen.