I Cor 1:1017
Epiphany 3A RCL
FISHERS OF MEN/EVANGELISM
Rev.from Chelsea 3/18/84 & 3/11/90; Quincy 1/24/99, Ascension Fall River 1/21/96,Grace Norwood 1/27/02,So.Weymouth 2/20/05 (Blizzard on planned day 1/23/05) Credits: Pulp.Resource 1/22/84 pp.12-14 & TEAM Newsletter (NY State) (See on last page)
Fishing is the oldest pastime known to humankind. People have fished and hunted to obtain food for half a million years. We have been growing our food for only the last 5000 years.
Today we fish more for fun than to obtain food. And that may be just as well, considering the luck that most of us have with hook and line.
But aside from food and fun, fishing provides considerable insight into human character. I don't mean the proverbial exaggerations that fishermen are famous for, but I mean the revelations of human character that pop out on a fishing trip. It was Herbert Hoover who said that the surest way to get to know a person was to take him on a fishing trip; and a person's good qualities would come through then, also. A business executive once said in a speech that when he was considering a bright young person for a promotion, he always took him on a fishing trip before committing himself to the promotion. And a father of four daughters once said, "Whenever one of my daughters gets serious about a young man, I don't look up his family tree; I just take my prospective son-in-law on a fishing trip I know no surer index to a young person's character than his conduct on a fishing trip."
Perhaps that is what Jesus thought when He chose His first disciples. For He picked them from among fishermen. We can imagine Jesus watching Peter and Andrew working, for a while one day, and perhaps noting something about their character while they were fishing, that caused Him to invite the two brothers to discipleship: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men, of people." Down the lake shore a ways, Jesus watched another set of brothers fishing and issued the same invitation. And James and John gave up their fishing to become fishers for people.
Evidently Jesus saw something basically solid in these four fishermen, qualities that He knew could be molded into something good, and He right away caught them for the Kingdom of God. Christianity was first organized that day on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, among fishermen. The first four disciples were fishermen, and three of those four became the closest to Jesus of the original Twelve.
The fishing for people to which Jesus invited the two sets of brothers, is what the Church has always referred to as EVANGELISM - and that long word refers simply to sharing the Good News of Jesus. We are all called, as Christians, to do that.
But there are various ways to do it.
1) We have probably been on the receiving end of those fishing for converts, at our front door or on the street. So we all probably know the over-zealous and clumsy types who confront and sometimes outrage prospective converts, and who succeed only in annoying. That way of evangelism puts people off.
2) Then, on the other hand, there are the timid, indifferent Church members who miss genuine opportunities for Christian witness. Most Episcopalians fall into that group. We are so timid about sharing our faith that we hide the light that we do have, and if the subject of evangelism comes up at all, we change it quickly. That way of evangelism isn't evangelism at all.
3) But notice how Jesus handles the matter in the Gospel story of Nicodemus (John 3:1-16 Gospel story for Lent 2A): Jesus takes the initiative and begins fishing for Nicodemus, in terms of being "born again". With Jesus, the things of God are up front, but not up front in a pushy or aggressive way - but in a way such that you have no doubt where Jesus stands, and which makes you prick up your ears in curiosity. Evangelism is like the old-fashioned Town Crier crying out the news that is essential for everyone to hear, for it concerns them all. He goes down the street beating a drum still today in the lands of the East - and people run out to ask him what the news is. The early Christians referred to their own preaching as Proclamation (Kerygma) - what a Town Crier might say - news every citizen must know, every citizen must reckon with, news that concerns all citizens and concerns them vitally.
That is the fishing that Christians are called to do. It isn't a numbers game, or coercing or manipulating; it is simply proclaiming the message - and those who do respond, we rejoice over. But we don't expect that everyone will respond to our particular fishing, any more than a fisherman expects to catch every fish in the pond!
Early Christians were willing to suffer and die for their faith. They proclaimed the Good News, often at great cost. They witnessed and stood up for their faith in Christ in ways that put us timid Episcopalians to shame. So that leads me to ask: "If you were being prosecuted because of your Christianity, would the police have enough evidence to convict you?" (REPEAT) *2 (How many people have you brought to Christ?)
And it leads me to ask further: If Christ were to come to visit this congregation today, what do you suppose He would find?
Would He find this to be a fishing congregation, one reaching out beyond itself to spread the Good News of Christ, or would He find this congregation turned in on itself?
I doubt if He would be interested in Sunday attendance, or the bank balance, or whether the service were Rite I or Rite II, or in how this building is decorated.
I think He would be more interested in what is moving in the hearts and minds of those who worship here. He would want to know whether we are resentful for what we do not have, or grateful for what we have been given- grateful for those who gather here for worship, grateful for those seriously trying to learn how to give themselves to Christ through giving themselves to each other; - grateful for time to worship, for our health and our talents, our families and our friends, for our work and our leisure, and for opportunities through which we can grow.
Gratitude grows by being shared with others, to feed them with the bounty we have received. All of that is to go fishing and bring the Good News to them.
My friends: Christ is fishing for you and for me, and for us as a congregation. When Christ comes, He is not impressed with our shimmering memories of how things once were, nor will He be impressed with our dreams of "if only" thus and so were to happen. He will ask us only if we are truly grateful for what He has given us today, and whether we are trying to use that for His glory, by serving not just ourselves, but others.
*TEAM Newsletter = Tri-County Area Ministry --------Newsletter, Monticelloo NY, quoted-in Shepherd's Pipe, Good Shepherd, Reading MA, 2/26/84
*2 Quoted in Runcie/Simpson, Seasons of the Spirit, p.236, and posted in Rector's study at Christ Church, Quincy