Casting the Net

Today's Gospel reading speaks to how Andrew and Peter met Jesus and realized he was the one sent by God, and began to follow him. Andrew and Peter knew who Jesus was and were willing to stop what they were doing to follow him when asked.

As we listened to today's gospel story notice that Jesus offers no definitive explanation as to why the disciples are to follow him, what following him will mean, or where following will lead them. So really what we're witnessing in this pericope is a miracle, the miracle of Jesus' powerful words that create the desire to follow that makes disciples. Discipleship is not something we decide to do on our own, it's Christ who calls us to follow, and then it's up to us to respond.

And this is an important point. Again, it's Jesus' words that create the following, not something we decide to do on our own.

Also note, that Jesus calls Andrew and Peter for divine purposes, not just to perform some other task. Andrew and Peter are already hard at work doing something useful and important for their families and the community, therefore, they're not looking for a new life or for purpose.

So in the case of Andrew and Peter, Jesus' call doesn't fill an obvious void in their life, or meet some obvious need, but like the call of prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus' call is really disruptive and intrusive as he calls Andrew and Peter away from their work and family.

As a called people what is our response to Jesus' call and what is it exactly we're being called to do? Jesus' call for us to follow can in many ways be intrusive and disruptive, just like it was for some of the original disciples. We have families, jobs, and other responsibilities, and now we're supposed to add Jesus' call to our list of things to do.

And Jesus understood what it meant to have these concerns, to care for individuals and families, and what it meant to work hard, after all he was a carpenter himself, but as he paid attention to individuals and their specific needs, he maintained a focus on a larger goal for his ministry. In like fashion as we serve and care for one another we too are to maintain a focus on the larger goal of making and equipping disciples for Jesus.

So as Christian's, working Jesus into our already busy life isn't an option, it's a priority and something we need to pay attention to. To be "Fisher's of Men" means to help others find God, and this needs to be a priority for us on our list of things to do.

Jesus called Andrew and Peter away from their successful and productive trades to also be productive spiritually by fishing for souls. Fishing, not for their sake or to be seen as successful by others, but for the sake of their brothers and sisters future.

In our Thursday night Bible Study from three weeks ago we read these words written by a person describing her efforts to follow Jesus. "I love this not because it's continual fun and excitement, but because it fulfills me. Because I have a vision or goal, I am finding passion and contentment. Because I am acting on my goal, I am finding joy and freedom. But the initial act was not searching for a goal or vision, but being obedient. Out of obedience I find peace."

When Jesus calls, he's not saying his work will always be fun and exciting, he's simply asking that we be obedient to his call, and to follow-through with his vision and the goals he has set forth for us to achieve.

Those of you who have heard my call-to-ministry story know I've experienced Jesus coming to me on a beach in North Carolina, speaking to my heart, saying, "Come, follow me."

In my case, I too felt I had to leave my successful and productive career, to follow Jesus, just as Andrew and Peter were asked to do. Yes, it was disruptive and intrusive, and it required me to reprioritize things in my life. It hasn't always been fun and exciting, but it has always been fulfilling. My only regret is that I didn't follow sooner. And through obedience (reluctantly sometimes I have to admit) I too have found joy, freedom, contentment, purpose, and wholeness. Also know that when Jesus calls it's not necessarily to leave what we're currently doing. Jesus may be saying, cast the net right where you are. Allow people to see and hear the gospel through your specific witness right where you are.

You see the disciples were not called to follow Jesus just to roam around the countryside. They followed Jesus so they could learn the gospel and the ways of Jesus, and in turn they could share their experiences with others with an uncompromising confidence and passion.

Once the disciples were equipped and had experienced the good news for themselves they were sent to go fishing for souls. One purpose of the Church today is to fulfill the role of Jesus' teaching by equipping disciples to make new disciples.

In other words Jesus is saying come, follow me, and when you're equipped go share the good news of what you've experienced so others might be persuaded to follow. Again, the good news, or gospel itself, creates the following, we are the means by which the good news is heard, seen, and experienced. And notice that Jesus not only calls us to follow, he calls us to tell others about him. And it's through the church that God has chosen to spread the good news of his Son Jesus.

The Church is Christ's body filled with his Spirit, as defined by scripture, and therefore it stands to reason that the church must be about the same mission as Jesus, to address the needs of individuals while maintaining a focus on the larger goal for ministry, which is making and equipping disciples.

Jesus came to bear witness to and inaugurate the kingdom of God, the new covenant, and eternal life. Our task is to reveal this new community of divine love to our neighbors, and to invite all who acknowledge Jesus as the Christ and Son of God to join with us in his mission.

As Christ's body, the church is the ultimate evangelist. As a result we are to be more than just witnesses to the message of God's saving grace, we are to be the message! If we the church fail to live out what we're called to be, the gospel is seriously hindered, if not destroyed!

The church is a living and breathing organism that serves as the working hands and feet, eyes and ears, mouth and muscles of God for this world and for all creation. The church is not this building; this building is where the church gathers. And the focus of the church is always on people whom God has called out for service in the Kingdom, not on a building.

So as Christ's church we need to be constantly casting out our net, creating what I call entry points to the gospel, so folks can encounter the living God in a way that leads them to follow.

Just as fisherman go to where the fish are, we too have to go to where the people are, offering exciting and relevant ways for people to experience the living Christ. We have to find ways to be so passionate about the gospel that people are persuaded to hear, see, participate, and hopefully respond to God's grace.

The idea or theory that "build it and they will come" is no longer a valid fishing strategy, especially in today's world. Fish don't just jump into the boat; they have to be helped into the boat.

The church, over the years, has become an aquarium if you will. People on the inside look out, and people on the outside look in. There's maybe some interest in one another, but not much happens. As Christ's church we are to be fisher's of men and women, not keepers of the aquarium.

The focus for many Christian's has been to focus their energies internally, creating committees for the upkeep and maintenance of the aquarium if you will. This was a strategy that may have worked many years ago in this country when most people grew up in the Christian faith and were exposed to the gospel from the time they were born. But this is no longer the case. In fact in Jesus' time it was commonplace for people to seek out a Rabbi to follow.

But here again, Jesus goes against the norm by seeking out and calling disciples, to participate in his divine mission to humanity. He didn't wait for them to come to him; he went out and asked them to follow.

Over the years it seems the church has forgotten this truth and instead has institutionalized what is supposed to be ministry, which is defined as "service to God," which further implies action.

We've even created a committee focused on fishing, a committee better known as the evangelism committee. Some of you in the past may remember such a committee and perhaps even served on it. And I still get asked, in some circles, what our evangelism committee is doing.

But thankfully, many in the church are realizing that a passive committee approach no longer works and things need to change, just as a living organism needs to change to adapt to its new surroundings. Here at Trinity we've left the past behind and are embarking on a new active journey focused on a ministry of action, with evangelism as a primary focus of all disciples and all ministry teams, not just the focus of a small group of people. Jesus didn't create a group of people to focus on evangelism; he made it the task of all his disciples.

Now, as we know, some folks don't want to be bothered with church, and still others want to keep their faith a private matter. Why they feel this way is between God and them. But what these folks don't understand is the gospel is about belonging to God and God's people. It's not something that can be privatized or offered to individuals without inviting them into the life and reconciling fellowship of the church.

God's intention is that all who become Christian disciples will be bound together in a covenant relationship with God and with one another, in this life and in the life to come as Christ's body. Isolationism is not an option for Christian's.

John Wesley said, "We see - and who does not? - The numberless follies and miseries of our fellow creatures. We see on every side either people of no religion at all or people of a lifeless, formal religion. We are grieved at the sight, and should greatly rejoice if by any means we might convince some that there is a better religion to be attained, a religion worthy of God that gave it. And this we conceive to be no other than love: the love of God and all humankindů This love we believe to be the medicine of life, the never-failing remedy, for all evils of a disordered world."

To this end Christ's body, the Church needs to be a place worthy of God, a place where God's grace is lifted up, and love serves as the medicine of life.

If we practice Christ's teachings and share the Gospel with others, we will have a community of faith as intended by God, and as described by Wesley. Others will see it, hear it, experience it, and will then be persuaded to draw closer to Christ.

We each have a "fishing" role to play; but unless the whole body of Christ recognizes the work of evangelism as central to its identity and purpose, we will more than likely end up investing our energy in keeping the aquarium clean, rather than reaching out for lost fish.

If our church is to be a community of faithful disciples we need to be serious and passionate about engaging in the mission we have set forth, which is "to glorify God through heartfelt worship, service to others, and by making and equipping disciples of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit."

So let's continue on our journey, following Jesus wherever he leads us, casting out his net of grace, hoping and praying that others will be persuaded by the Holy Spirit to come and follow Jesus Christ.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade