As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
I’ve never liked the fishing metaphor for discipleship. The King James translation “fishers of men” sounds more like a dating app than a discipleship plan. “I will make you fish for people” in the New Revised Standard Version is better, but I still have a cartoon image in my mind of a pastor fishing in a sea of people and one guy is hooked in the lip and is being hauled, wiggling, ashore. “We don’t hook and land unwitting congregants, and we don’t cast our nets . . . in order to haul in another unsuspecting catch: obviously. I doubt Jesus had any such thing in mind when he called out to Peter and Andrew by the Sea of Galilee…. He was starting a conversation with fishermen. Fishing was what they knew and did best. And Jesus begins right there: not with what he knows, but with what they know.” He doesn’t tell fishermen, “Come, and I will make you a carpenter.”
In my research I came across a preacher who explored some other calls Jesus might have extended:
Follow me, you builders, and I will make you builders of God’s house.
Follow me, cooks and chefs, and I will make you preserve and serve more than food.
Follow me, instrumentalists, and I will make you instrumental to others.
I like that much better. God comes to us where we are, as we are, with our own particular gifts and challenges, with our own doubts and faith or lack thereof. God meets us and calls us from where we are.
This is one of the challenges of preaching—meeting people where they are. I know that on any given Sunday, someone in the pews is grieving and needs comfort, while someone else is too comfortable in their privilege. Someone is anxious and needs assurance, and someone else needs to be reminded of their need for God. The person across the aisle doesn’t want to be here and is not even sure why he came and he doesn’t know what he needs and I don’t either but God does. And then there’s the person who is here out of habit and her faith is habit and she’s forgotten that God is in the habit of turning worlds upside down. I come to the platform every Sunday knowing that there is no way one sermon can be everything you need. I cannot simultaneously comfort, assure, teach, challenge, gently stand by your side and lovingly kick you in the behind. I can’t do it all. But God can. And that’s all that gets me up here most weeks. God knows what you need and meets you there and speaks to you occasionally through me and often in spite of me.
I also remind myself that not everything you need has to come from the sermon. During worship, the grieving person may hear a prayer that comforts. The too-comfortable person may sing a verse that convicts. That is the goal of worship planning: something for everyone, but not everything for anyone. Nobody gets everything they want, because that means someone else got nothing they need.
You see, God doesn’t come to each of us only to meet our needs where we are. God comes to us to call us to more, to meet us where we are so that God can use those gifts for God’s purpose. God comes to us where we are and calls us to discipleship—in different ways, but all with one purpose.
But back to those fishermen now. There’s something else about them that bothers me . . . The first is the word immediately: Immediately they left everything. They didn’t take time to think about it; they didn’t make plans; they didn’t say goodbye to their families or arrange for someone to pick up the mail and water the plants. Immediately they dropped their nets and followed. Boy, I’m glad I said God comes to us in different ways and different calls, because I am not an “immediately” kind of gal. I need time to think about it, weigh the pros and cons, consider my options, and plan for my worst-case scenarios.
The other thing that bothers me is they left everything behind. Think about that: they didn’t even take their nets with them in case they got hungry or needed some income while they were gone. They left behind their nets—the one thing they needed in order to make a living, the one thing they could always fall back on, the one thing consistently proven to meet their needs. And they left it behind. I’m pretty sure that “Jesus does not ask everyone to leave everything behind.”
But I’m also pretty sure that “ nobody can be a disciple without leaving something behind.” We all have something that holds us back, something that weighs us down. We all have baggage that gets in the way of following Jesus. What stands in your way?
Are you, like me, a planner? And if God would just kindly give you the trip itinerary, you’d be happy to follow . . . once you’ve checked it against mapquest, orbitz, and snopes.com to make sure it’s a direct route, won’t cost too much, and isn’t a scam?
Or are you more inclined to believe what you can prove than what you can feel? So coming to church is OK but expect me to make major changes to my life because of someone who lived and died 2000 years ago and whose bones may very well be lying in an unknown cave in Jerusalem?
Or are you inhibited by your lack of consciousness, awareness, because you tend to sleepwalk through life rather than being fully alive in the moment? After all, following Jesus might require you to stay awake.
What holds you back? What do you need to leave behind in order to follow?
That grudge you’ve been nursing for way too long?
Your anxiety about the future?
Your shame about the past?
And what about us as the church? What about us as the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, of South Portland? How are we called, and what is holding us back?
We are being called to change—to change the way we look at church, to change the way we do church. We are being called to let go of even some traditions that have nourished us because only then will we have any chance of feeding others. It’s not a simple ask. It’s not an easy answer. But then, Jesus’ call never was.
We don’t have to follow perfectly. The original disciples sure didn’t. But we do have to lay down our nets. We do have to leave the comfort of our routine for the scary excitement of the unknown. Come, you fishermen, you builders and chefs and instrumentalists. We have everything we need to begin.