A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 22, 2006
Text: Mark 1:16-18
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Come with me,” Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, “and I will make you fish for people.”
I was a fisherman once.
Well, that might be overstating things just a bit. I wasn’t much of a man in those days – not many grade school boys are, I suppose. Nor was I out on the water five or six days a week – I’m not even sure I thought about fishing that often. In fact, the handful of times each summer that I did get out to Lake Jennie, Lake Erie, or Lake Minnie Belle, I never really seemed to catch much of anything – at least, things that were worth keeping.
I always dreamed of catching a northern. My friend Greg had a northern pike mounted and displayed proudly at his house. It wasn’t a huge fish, not by northern standards, but it fascinated me just the same. I’d never caught a fish so big and so powerful-looking. Those afternoons in the boat with Dad and Grandpa Jorgenson, I’d cast my line out with visions of a monstrous northern cruising just below the surface, practically mine. It never happened.
I would have been glad for a walleye, too. In fact, now I think I’d prefer a walleye – there’s hardly a finer fish out there. And I did manage to snag one or two walleyes over the course of many summers. But if I’m honest here, I didn’t have much skill for catching them, either.
Even a nice big sunnie or crappie would have been welcome. There was no shame in reeling in a good-looking panfish which would taste even better hot out of the pan. There were plenty of them in all the lakes around Hutchinson, but, like I told you, I wasn’t really much of a fisherman – I didn’t even snag one of these very often.
So what did I catch, you wonder? A whole lot of stuff we threw back, I’m afraid. I was brilliant at catching little baby crappies and sunnies. They’d seem so big when the bobber ducked down beneath the waves, but by the time I had my fishes reeled in, they’d somehow shrunk from three feet, to two feet, to eighteen inches…aw, shucks, you know as well as I do they were never more than three or four inches to begin with. Too little – nothing worth keeping. I’d swing my line over to Dad so he could unhook my catch, and then it was back into the lake with that little fish.
I was also pretty good and reeling in bullheads. Now I know that there are some folks out there who think these things are delicacies, but I’ll tell you – there aren’t a whole lot of uglier fish in a Minnesota lake. And they’re mean! They’ve got sharp dorsal and pectoral fins, and little needle teeth, and they know how to use both against unwary fishermen. If you’re not careful handling a bullhead, you’d better have a bandage on hand. Yech – bullheads were not my thing at all. And so they’d get sent over to Dad or Grandpa, and in a short minute my bullheads were living their ugly, fishy lives again down at the bottom of the lake.
One thing more I was good at catching – and that was seaweed. Lots of it. Tons of it. I believe I single-handedly plucked clean the floors of at least three different lakes. This was perhaps the most disappointing catch of all for a little wannabe fisherman – itty bitty crappies and mean, ugly bullheads at least were fish, but weeds? How embarrassing. No fins, no smarts, just a slimy clump of plant life tangled around my hook. This stuff I unhooked on my own, and it got pitched back farther and harder than any of the others.
Most summers we threw back 70 or 80 percent of what I caught as not worth keeping. Praise God that Jesus is a much different kind of fisherman than I was!
Jesus is a master fisherman who is willing to teach us everything he knows about reeling in a catch. Just don’t expect to be tossing much back. Jesus is a lot less picky about what’s on the other end of his line than I was. Just take a look at the people he caught!
There’s Peter, for starters. Now there’s a tiny, disappointing little panfish for you! With all he’d seen since he started following Jesus, Peter should have been big and strong in his faith. He knew enough to come running when Jesus first called, and he quickly befriended his master. His heart was in the right place. Peter should have been a fine catch for Jesus – a real prize.
Instead, Peter turns out to be undergrown, a runt in the faith department when al is said and done. He’s brave (or foolhardy) enough to step out of a boat and walk on water, but even with the Lord right there, his faith fails him, and he starts sinking like a rock. He’s bold enough to confess Jesus as the Messiah, the savior of the world, but when the going gets tough, Peter starts denying he even knows Jesus’ name. Nope. Nothing worth keeping there – just an itty bitty little crappie. Throw him back!
But Jesus reels him in.
And what about Paul? If ever there was a sharp, nasty, ugly bullfish of a man, Paul was it. He was raised on the law, and figured that he knew better than most what God wanted of a man. His arrogance left him with a blind spot when it came to Jesus, and he used his sharp legal teeth and fins to carve up anyone foolish enough to speak that name in his presence. There may have been some good meat to Paul, but hidden beneath that hideous face he showed the world, who would have bothered to look for it? Nothing worth keeping here, either – a fish this unpleasant isn’t worth the trouble. Throw him back!
But Jesus reels him in.
Then there’s the Samaritan woman Jesus meets by a well. Everything in Jesus’ upbringing – the law, the traditions, the longstanding rivalries – would have screamed that this lady was a nasty clump of seaweed, nothing more. The Messiah was sent to the Jews, to God’s chosen people. But Samaritans were a whole different thing. Good Jews like Jesus and his disciples should have known that Samaritans were dirty, heathen people. They weren’t like the Jews. They weren’t even close.
Peter and Paul, as Jews, at least could pass as fish, even if they weren’t terribly impressive. But this woman? She was as far removed from the “right kind” of people as a glop of stringy, soggy weeds is from a beautiful northern pike. Definitely nothing worth keeping here! Fishermen are all about catching fish, not plants. Throw her back!
But Jesus reels her in.
Over and over again, Jesus catches the kinds of folks that, if it were me, I’d have thrown back. Jesus reels in the outcasts – the people who’d make you and I squirm if they came to church this morning. Jesus reels in the sinners – from sex criminals to petty thieves, they’re all part of his haul. Jesus reels in the poor, the sick, the broken-down, the lost causes. And he reels in the arrogant, the powers-that-be, the rulers of this world, too. If there’s a kind of person Jesus would throw back, I can’t imagine what that would be.
And that’s good news for us, because friends, let’s be honest – you and I are no northern pikes. There’s not a trophy fish among us, and probably not more than a few decent walleyes or modest panfish. The truth is, we’re the undergrown crappies and the nasty bullheads and…yes, even the seaweed of this world – and yet, Jesus the fisherman reels us in.
He doesn’t despise us and throw us back where we came from, any more than he threw back Peter, or Paul, or the Samaritan woman at the well. By his grace, we are all keepers – all part of the catch he intends to bring home to his Father.
I was a fisherman once. But now, against all odds, Jesus has made me – and all of you – part of his catch. Thanks be to God!