“I will make you fishers of men
Fishers of men
Fishers of men
I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.”
I had this children’s song running through my head all week last week as I prepared for Sunday’s message, Go Fish. And it’s quite fitting, since all who have answered the invitation to follow Jesus are also called to invite others to join us in our journey of following him.
At the end of the service, we handed out fishing bobbers and I encouraged everyone to put it in a conspicuous place to serve as a reminder that we have a job to do: go fish.
Sorry, there’s no audio of the sermon at this time. But there is a manuscript (behind the jump).
The Journey: Go Fish
January 31, 2010
I want to start this morning by sharing a statistic that I know I’ve read before. But it’s been a while. And the implications this quote carries with it are enormous. It comes from authors Tom Clegg and Warren Bird in their book, Lost in America:
“The unchurched population in the United States is so extensive that, if it were a nation, it would be the fifth most populated nation on the planet after China, the former Soviet Union, India, and Brazil. Thus, our unchurched population is the largest mission field in the English-speaking world and the fifth largest globally.”
(Not sure about this) Maybe we could zoom things in a little tighter. The 2000 US Census reports that Delaware County has a population of a little less than 119,000 residents. According to the most recent data I could find from the Association of Religious Data Archives, the amount of people in Delaware County who listed their faith as “Unclaimed” is almost 85,000 people. 85,000 people. That’s 73 percent of the population of Delaware County. Almost three-quarters of the people in our county don’t even claim a religious affiliation. And let’s pretend for the sake of argument that half of these people just chose not to answer for some reason and they’re fully-devoted followers of Jesus. That still leaves over 42,000 people in our county who chose to say “none.” That’s a large percentage that doesn’t even pretend to know Christ. I realize this information is 10 years old, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this trend continue. And that’s a staggering number.
I realize I’m giving you some pretty big numbers right now and it’s easy to lose track of them, but let me share one more statistic before we go further. According to national surveys, 82% of those surveyed who do not attend church have said they would visit a church if they were asked. But at the same time, 70% of people who do not attend church have never been asked.
Now that I’ve thrown all of these numbers at you, let’s let them stew around in your mind and your heart a little while we approach today’s Scripture in our journey with Jesus through the Gospel of Luke. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Luke chapter 5. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Luke 5 is found on page 893 in those red Bibles. And to make sure we’re all on the same page, I’ll be reading from the same translation found in those Bibles as well.
Last week, our story ended with Jesus leaving Capernaum, ready to continue his preaching journey through the region. He had healed many of their demonic possessions and of their illnesses. He even stopped by the house of Simon, one of his Disciples, and healed his mother inlaw, who was stricken with an intense fever. And although the crowd practically begged him to remain with them in Capernaum, he had to leave because his mission was not limited to just the residents of this town but to all of humanity. His message must be spread. His Kingdom must spread.
And in that story, it’s apparent that Simon already knows Jesus. But it’s immediately after this account that we learn of how Simon and his co-workers came to become followers of Jesus. It’s at this point that it’s important that we remember that these historical accounts found in the Gospels were not written the same way historians write books today. When we pick up a biography or another book about a historical event, we expect it to begin at the beginning and follow the events that unfolded chronologically. You can take all of the events and lay them out on a timeline in the order in which they’re told. But that was not the purpose of biographers and historians in the 1st century. They were more concerned about painting a picture of who someone was and how certain events revealed things about the person, so it was not uncommon to group stories together by theme instead of timeline. And that appears to be the case here with the Gospel of Luke. So, last week we heard the story of how Jesus healed Simon’s mother inlaw. This week, we come to the story of how Simon came to be a follower of Jesus. If it helps, you can look at it as a flashback, telling the back-story of the beginning of the relationship between Jesus and Simon.
Fishermen are known for their stories about catching fish, aren’t they? A few years ago, I was fishing with my dad in Missouri and he got a good-sized trout on his line. He spent several minutes struggling with the fish, trying to reel him close enough so he could catch him in his net. My brother and I helplessly stood by in the stream, wondering what we could do as Dad wrestled with his opponent. We caught a glimpse of this glorious creature and it was, oh, about (hold up hands about a foot & a half wide) this big. After several minutes of wrestling, the fish eventually got the line wrapped around Dad’s ankles. The line snapped. The fish got away.
All three of us were disappointed. But as we walked up to the cabin, the legend of the trout began to grow as my brother and I talked about it. I think by the time we made it back to the rest of our fishing buddies, Kevin and I had turned this river trout into a fish comparable to the one Jonah encountered for three days. To my Dad’s credit, he still insists that while it was a decent-sized fish, the trout was still only about (hold up hands a foot & a half wide) this big. Fishing stories can certainly get out of control.
That wasn’t the case here. This was their livelihood, not a recreational activity. Exaggerating a catch wasn’t good business practice. Fishing was a popular trade on the Sea of Galilee. It was the most common occupation for people residing in the small villages of Capernaum and Bethsaida which were located on the lakeshore. Living on the shores of Lake Galilee with its abundant supply of fish, people understood fishing perhaps more than they did farming. Living on the shores of a fishing lake, the whole town was “into fishing.” So they would have been able to see through a tall fishing tale if it were told.
Besides, there were eye-witnesses to this event. Remember, Jesus was preaching to a large crowd immediately before convincing Simon and company to put their nets out again.
And it took a bit of convincing. After all, Simon and company were lifelong fishermen. They were the experts. They knew that the best time to fish was at night. And their efforts throughout the night had produced zero results. Who did this carpenter think he was? Word of Jesus’ ministry had spread and they had heard the stories of the miraculous healings that he had done. But catching fish? What did this miracle-working carpenter know about fishing?
It doesn’t say what finally convinced him to do what Jesus suggested. But he did it. And his obedience brought amazing results! There were so many fish that both boats began to sink. That’s a lot of fish.
And as a result of this miraculous experience, Simon Peter’s eyes were opened. The fisherman became a fisher of men. Instead of catching fish, Jesus invited him to change his focus and work towards catching people with the life-changing message of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Just like Simon Peter, when we accepted the invitation to follow Jesus wherever he goes, we have also accepted the invitation to join him on his fishing journey.
What do you think of when I say missionary? Do you think of a person who spent many hours in language school so he can move to a far-off land, attempting to communicate the gospel with the locals? Do you think of something that happens “over there” somewhere?
Or what do you think of when I say evangelism? Do you think of standing on a busy street corner in the middle of a large city, preaching to all who walk by? Do you think of trying to debate someone into becoming a Christian?
Mission and evangelism can involve those things. God’s kingdom is intended for all of humanity. It’s a worldwide movement. And God uses faithful, obedient people to share His gospel throughout the world.
But missions isn’t something that just happens “over there.” Evangelism isn’t just something that happens during a big outreach event or with someone preaching on a street corner.
Missions and evangelism happen right here, right now. They happen where we are because the call that Jesus issued to Peter is the same one he has issued to us: follow Me and I’ll use you to catch others with a life-changing message. The meaning of this story two thousand years later is that we contemporary disciples are to become fishers for men and women, boys and girls. We are to fish for people. But not merely fish but we are to catch people for Jesus Christ.
That was the first and basic mission of the first disciples and the early church and the church two thousand years later.
And when you think about the statistics I shared earlier, our unchurched population is the largest mission field in the English-speaking world and the fifth largest globally; 73% of the population in Delaware County does not claim any church affiliation; 82% of unchurched people surveyed would attend church if someone merely asked them to go with them…it’s apparent that the church in the United States has gotten off track.
We talk about fishing but never get around to actually fishing. We talk about making a difference in our communities and changing the world but we don’t even think about inviting our neighbor to worship with us on Sunday morning.
Don’t get things confused here. Church attendance isn’t the goal. Becoming a fully-devoted, life-long follower of Jesus Christ is. There’s a popular saying that says “Sitting in a church pew every Sunday doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than sitting in a garage every evening makes you a car.” But if you’re a fully-devoted follower of Jesus, you’ll be involved in His community of believers. So the statistics are quite telling about the spiritual state of the population right here in Delaware County.
You don’t have to go to Africa or China to be in a mission field. The mission field is all around us. When we leave this building in a few minutes, we’re leaving as missionaries in a culture that is dying without Jesus.
Simon Peter and his companions had some pretty sophisticated equipment for their business. They had nets. They had boats. They had fishhooks. All of these things were designed for fishing and made their job easier.
Fishing for people with the gospel, however, doesn’t require an elaborate set of equipment. We don’t have to stand on a corner and preach. We don’t have to debate our friends until they submit to your line of reasoning. We are called to serve as light and salt in our everyday lives with everyone we come in contact with. In our schools, we are fishermen. In our workplaces, we are fishermen. In the grocery store and at the restaurant, we are fishermen. God has called us to be faithful followers in the midst of a sea of people dying without Him. And in the midst of our own community right here, it’s our job to invite others to follow Him, too.
I want to close with a quote this morning from the same book I quoted earlier: “We’re letting an increasing number of our neighbors and friends die without a personal exposure to the life-giving good news of Jesus Christ. Unless we make some drastic changes, many people are likely to perish, and we’ll fail in the mission of what God has called us to become and do.”
When we leave this morning, we’re entering a mission field. We are invited to go fish.
While Simon Peter and company didn’t have plastic bobbers like we do today, when you leave this morning, take one of these bobbers with you. Put it somewhere that you’ll see it every day. Hanging from your rearview mirror, or on your dresser…just anywhere you’ll see it on a regular basis as you go about your regular daily life. When you see it, allow it to remind you that God has called you to go fishing. He has called you to share the good news with your friends, family, and neighbors. He has called you to share life with a dying world.
Let’s all go fish.
 Tom Clegg and Warren Bird, Lost in America, 25; as quoted in The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations by Dan Kimball, p. 69, emphasis mine.
 Bird and Clegg, quoted by Ed Stetzer and David Putnam, Breaking the Missional Code, p. 229