Sermon: Catch and…?

January 21, 2018
Mark 1:14-20

As a child, I was aware of two kinds of fishing. Not very aware, as my grandfather’s affection for fishing had gone to my aunt and not my father (and I don’t have it either), but I was aware of two kinds of fishing. There was catch, cook, and eat, and there was catch and release.

Both, of course, are based on fishing with rod, reel, hook, and sinker. And that’s how I tended to picture these fishermen that Jesus called: standing on the shoreline, or sitting in the boat, with fishing poles, dangling their hooks in the water. It’s a patient kind of activity, a waiting on the fish, and as a fairly active child, I thought it was really boring.

I couldn’t imagine that fishing for people would be much more interesting. And, well, here I am.

Jesus, however, did not have waiting with a hook in mind, or casting, or anything that involved a fishing pole. He was speaking to working fishermen, who caught fish that other people ate. They weren’t waiting around on the shoreline. They would cast their nets, haul them in, and cast them again – at least until the nets, straining each time, would part enough strands to require mending. Cast, haul, and mend – that’s the activity of a working fisherman.

I would find that rather boring, too.

It didn’t pay well, either, and fishermen lived near the bottom of the social ladder. Ched Myers quotes the Roman poet Cicero saying, “The most shameful occupations are those which cater to our sensual pleasures: fish-sellers, butchers, cooks, poultry-raisers and fishermen.” Further, he quotes an Egyptian papyrus which reads, “The fisher is more miserable than any other profession.”

It does make the eagerness of Simon, Andrew, James, and John a little more understandable. They may well have believed that anything must be better than this.

But my mind still dwells on that question that separated fishing experiences in my childhood: What happens to the fish once they’re caught? Do you eat them? Do you release them?

And what happens to the people we’ve caught? Do we eat them? Release them? Neither one seems like a good option…

First, though, let’s get a question of method out of the way. Christian evangelism – that’s what we’re talking about here – is not a sit and wait kind of activity. Much of the American Protestant Church has been doing that for decades, now, and if there’s one thing that certain it’s that it doesn’t work very well. We lost half our membership between 1965 and 2015. Between 2000 and 2010, we lost 696 congregations.

Sit and wait fishing will not do. We’re going to have to use nets.

But because people are not fish – you heard it here first, folks – we also need to know what we do with people once we’ve caught them, or more accurately, what it is we’re inviting them to do, to be, and to grow into.

And here Jesus is really helpful: because he didn’t summon Simon and Andrew with a worship experience, or a class syllabus. He summoned them to work.

“Come and fish for people.”

One of the widely reported statistics about the younger generations is their abundant willingness to do work that creates positive change. That makes a difference. That improves lives.

The church exists as a place which can make that happen. We can look for the needs, identify the people whose lives can be improved. Then we can invite other people to come and make it happen.

The first part is really important. It’s no good if we take on projects that don’t help anyone, or at least don’t have any promise of it – it is OK if we try something that doesn’t work. We learn and we move on.

The risk is that the needs may look bigger than we can take on – because they are. It’s a needy world and we’re a small group within it. And that’s why the second part is so important: invite others to join in. From outside our congregation. From outside any congregation. From our non-churchgoing family members, from our non-churchgoing friends.

Simply say, “We’ve got this project. It’s a good one. It’s going to help some people who really need help. And we could use your help. At this place and time, and don’t forget to bring your appropriate tool for the project.”

That’s Jesus’ method of fishing for people.

He did something else there, too. Karoline Lewis writes, “When Jesus calls the disciples in Mark, notice what’s absent – no individualism, no being left on your own, no pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. No, ‘you can handle this, so buck up, buttercup.’ No, ‘follow me and good luck with that.’ Rather, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ That is, follow me and more followers are to come. Follow me and you will never be by yourself. Notice – Jesus calls them together, not separately. Andrew and Simon. Then James and John. Discipleship is not an autonomous profession.”

The companionship follows the work, and is bound up in the work, and is essential for the work.

And there is plenty of work for us to do.

We’ve got homelessness on this island, and we’ve got kupuna who need assistance. We’ve got a government that can’t negotiate issues with 80% public support into a successful continuing resolution, so now we’ve got neighbors on furlough and others without access to needed services. We’ve got hungry neighbors and sick neighbors and fed-up neighbors and frightened neighbors and there’s more work than we can possibly do.

So let’s call up some helpers. Come and help us feed the people. Come and help us shelter the people. Come and help us protect the people who are frightened. Come and help us sing the songs of joy.

Let’s fish for people. Let’s put them to the good work of our day. And let’s joyfully support them as our companions on the journey.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon:

Please note that the recorded sermon (as delivered) and the text (as prepared) do not entirely agree. They never have, and probably never will.

The photo, of a carving in Spoleto, Italy, of the call of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, is by Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , , | Posted on January 21, 2018

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