The sermon for today is posted below. The scripture was Jonah 3:1-10 and Mark 1:14-20. The title was “Fishers of Men.”
The phrase “fishers of Men” is one of those old iconic phrases that we associate with Bible stories that we learned in our youth. Now, when you read some of the more modern interpretations of the Bible as we did today, it says, “fish for people.” I understand the reasoning behind the change, and I appreciate it. We do this to show that it is all people who are sought by God. It is all people who are allowed access to salvation and the fullness of God’s kingdom. It isn’t limited to just the gender of men.
And such would never have been the intent of Jesus. Anyone who has ever studied the gospels knows that Jesus was a standout in his day in how he treated women. He accepted women into his following and gave both women and children more acknowledgements that others of his time, but that is not the point of today.
We are talking about the phrase, “fishers of men/fish for people” and in terms of the purely poetical sound of it, I kind of like “Fishers of Men.” Of course you need to remember I like reading Shakespeare and other writers of the time that the King James Bible was written. In fact, I have to be careful to remember the King James Bible Version has some translation errors, and so as much as I like the poetry of it, you compromise accuracy when you read it exclusively.
But, the fact is that no matter how you read it, the meaning of our focus today is the same. Fishers of Men with men meaning humankind, or fish for people, Jesus was calling a group together to work with him and learn the truth of the Good News that he had come to earth to proclaim and to fulfill. He came to share the love of God with the entire human race so that all people who had been formed by God would get the opportunity to share eternity with God.
Today’s Old Testament story is not really a fishing story, but it follows a story about a really big fish. I don’t suppose there is anyone in the room who is unfamiliar with the story of Jonah and the whale. And even if you didn’t hear it in church, there certainly are plenty of chances to hear about it on the history or discovery channel. Every now and again, you see those shows or documentaries or such where they are trying to prove or disprove certain events from Bible history. This story is one that really troubles those with scientific minds.
But the scripture today is not about Jonah’s let’s just call it an encounter with the whale. Today is about what happened when he was back on land, and God asked him again to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. This time Jonah obeyed. And because he obeyed, there was a total turn around by the people in Nineveh, and God forgave them and spared them from all the destruction that was coming their way. For some readers or “experts” and even Jonah, this story is about God being wishy-washy. The focus becomes that God throws down an ultimatum and then backs off.
What if this story is really about the fact that God forgives those who repent? What if this story is about second chances? What if this story is about God calling out and waiting for the people of Nineveh, for us perhaps to change our ways and come home to loving arms that want to enfold us in comfort and shelter?
The metaphor, the common ground for the scriptures today seems to me to be fishing. We might think that fishing would be a pretty simple word to look up for a definition. Fishing is: working to obtain fish with a net or a string and a hook from a body of water. Yes, Fishing is a verb. It is something you do.
But it is more than catching a fish. It is also: To search carefully, or To seek to obtain something perhaps indirectly. I am many times guilty of this sort of fishing. I am not so good at the direct route of asking questions, though I am working on it. I often with ask a question hoping for the answer without really asking the question that I want the answer to. I need to learn to be more direct when I need to know, and less nosey when I don’t.
And with current technology there is the Phishing thing where someone is trying to hack into your technology by sending you something that puts a virus onto your computer or website or all of that sort of thing that goes a little bit/no, a whole lot over my head. All I know for sure is that sort of Phishing is not really what we want to do or have done to us or any of our technology.
We talked about the fishing of the disciples back at the end of March last year during Lent when we discussed who the disciples were and what they did before Jesus called them. The disciples who were involved with fishing did it for a living. They were in the business of fishing with boats and nets and groups of others, and each of them had an important function in the group. It wasn’t quite like the fishing that we have around here especially at this time of year.
Lately as James and I drive north on US Highway 83, we pass a couple of lakes, Rice Lake and what is called Baumgartner Lake both south of Strasburg, and they have a few fishing houses on them. The other day with the thawing, one of the houses looked like it had sunk into the ice a bit. I don’t think you would get me out there, but sometimes there are people walking around those houses before 8 a.m.
I had a step-grandfather, who had a saying that the time you spend fishing is not subtracted from the amount of time you are given on earth. I am not sure where that saying came from, and I don’t have a comment on its accuracy, but it is sort of an interesting thought. Perhaps for some, the time spent alone on the water or the ice is sort of a prayerful, centering time. I don’t really know.
What I know is that Jesus saw something outstanding in those young men who were fishermen. He saw a good and an ability and a passion in them that made them suitable for the work that he needed done. He needed them to be as good at fishing for people to tell the gospel to as they were at fishing for fish to eat.
I guess they traded in the fishing for food that feeds the body for a kind of fishing for what feeds the soul. They went from working with boats and nets to the: search carefully or seek to obtain something type of fishing. Perhaps that is more of the common ground of the two scripture lessons we looked at today. Maybe we need to think of God as fishing with or for the people of Nineveh instead of being wishy-washy as Jonah saw it. The calls to repentance and threats of what God was planning to do to them, that Jonah preached to the people as he crossed that city may have been just a “fishing” expedition, sent to the people to find those who would repent. In their case it seems it was quite successful.
Jesus too was successful when he called out to the young men in the fishing boats asking them to follow him and eventually help spread the gospel, the good news that God was sending his son to bring salvation to all. Those young men took the bait, so to speak and followed Jesus. They gathered around him and learned and worked and did as he asked.
As we talked about it last year at Lent, Jesus called them to be in fellowship and to work together, just as we are called in our day to do things in fellowship and together in his name, to continue sharing the gospel with each other and those around us. Next week we come together as a church to review the events of this past year, and to plan the outline of where we go next year. As we do that, let us remember that we are called to follow the ways of God and the gospel of Jesus, just like the fishermen in Galilee and just like the people of Nineveh were asked to do what was right in the eyes of God. May we enter into that meeting with an attitude that is more than just a nibble on the fishing line. Let us take the bait that is offered to us, and be prepared to do the tasks we are asked to do. Amen!