3 Epiphany Proper B3                     
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 1:14-20 Sermon                                                
January 22, 2012

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
508 "Thou Whose Almighty Word"
270 "Jesus Calls Us O'er The Tumult"
436 "The Lord's My Shepherd I'll Not Want"
511 "Jesus Shall Reign Where E'er The Sun"


TEXT (vs. 16-18):  “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 

            When I was growing up in Emerson, our local game warden was a man by the name of Dick Turpin.  He lived in Ponca, which was about 12 miles due north of Emerson.  Dick covered three counties--Dixon, Dakota, and Thurston, and Emerson was right on the boundary of all three.  And if you were any sort of outdoor sportsman at all, you'd perhaps know that those three counties tucked up in the northeastern part of the state is a virtual paradise for hunting and fishing.

            I think that it was sometime in the early '70's that Dick moved to Lincoln and took a job at the main headquarters of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.  He has since retired, and now hosts various shows on PBS.  One of his more famous shows is called "Turpin Time," which is a series of short segments where he gives all sorts of tips and tricks for the outdoor sportsman.  He is also very famous for his custom-made turkey calls, which he sells over the Internet on his website.

            Besides hunting turkeys, Dick loves to go fishing.  He's even done a series of videos entitled, "Grandpa, can we go fishing?" that can be seen on You Tube.  If you have any questions on fishing, Dick is definitely the "go-to" man for that subject.  He can tell you all about types of bait, lures, hooks, and other types of tackle.  He knows what it takes to catch about any kind of fish there is.

            Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not much of a fisherman at all, let alone the outdoor sportsman type.  But you can't be around this kind of stuff without learning at least a bit about it.  I know that catfish love to bite on "stink bait," which is usually made from shad, blood, and other things mixed together with sawdust into a type of paste.  It comes in a jar, and you sort of roll a bit into a ball and then form it around a treble hook.  Then you fish on the bottom for the catfish.  And unless you want your hands to stink, you'd better wear rubber gloves to bait your hook.

            I also know that you can't take that treble hook loaded with "stink bait," and use it to go fly-fishing for trout in a stream.  It just won't work.  That takes completely different tackle.  The avid fly fisherman ties his own flies, which when pulled through a stream through continual casting and reeling, will look like a flying insect, and the trout will go for it.

            Like I said however, I really don't know all that much about fishing, and I don't have a lot of experience at doing it.  If you want to know about fishing, you'd be far better off going to an expert like Dick Turpin.

            Our Gospel lesson for this morning deals with fishing.  Jesus is calling his first disciples from amongst those who were professional fishermen.  This wasn't something they did as a weekend leisure activity.  This is how they earned their living.  And you can be sure that they were experts at it, or they wouldn't have been able to support themselves by doing it.  That's what makes the analogy Jesus uses so appropriate.  Jesus uses the fishing illustration because it is something they could easily understand.

            It's not that difficult for us to understand either.  Even though many of us aren't Dick Turpins when it comes to fishing, we still can "get it."  Even Sunday School children will sing, "I will make you fishers of men...if you follow me."  This is a concept that virtually everybody knows.

            In our Gospel Lesson for today, Jesus calls four of his disciples.  He first comes upon two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew.  Jesus tells them to follow him, because he wants them to become "fishers of men."  He then comes to another two brothers, James and John.  They were working with their father Zebedee in the family business.  When Jesus calls them, they immediately left their father, the hired employees, and all their equipment.  They left everything behind, including the family business, and followed Jesus, so they too could become "fishers of men."  People would respond to them because of the Holy Spirit working through the call of the Gospel.

            The one part of this analogy that differs is the end result.  When a person goes hunting or fishing, they have to use deception and trickery.  A person selects bait that the fish will think is food for them.  A fishing expert like Dick Turpin knows what kind of bait will appeal to a particular variety of fish.  It might be stink bait, or a fly, or a lure, or a night crawler, or a minnow, or a tadpole, or even kernels of corn.  The fish see this and will go after it, thinking that they will be getting a meal.  But instead, they eventually wind up on a dinner plate being somebody else's meal.  Turkey calls, duck calls, and decoys are also carefully designed to be as deceptive as possible.

            When Jesus instructs his disciples to be fishers of men, there is no trickery or deception.  The reward of something good is offered, and it is very real and genuine.  When people experience the attraction of the Gospel, it is the Holy Spirit working the miracle of faith in their lives.  Through faith, people come to know their Saviour Jesus and the forgiveness that is theirs by grace through faith alone.  Even though different things will pique the interest of different people, the reward at the end is always the same.  Heaven is a guaranteed reality.

            As we bring this to both a personal and congregational level, the Apostle Paul provides us with a very good perspective.  In 1 Corinthians 9, verses 22-23 we read the following words:  "...I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share with them in its blessings."  This is probably one of the clearest descriptions as to what it takes to become an effective "fisher of men."

            The goal here is to share the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That's the whole point.  There's no false pretense or hidden agenda.  Fishers of men are to do everything possible to save souls.  Collectively, that's what we do as a congregation.  And that's what we have to always keep in mind.

            I'd like you to consider this statement:  "God wants us to be fishers of men, and not keepers of the aquarium."  That's not new or original either.  I've heard it off and on for quite a while.  I used it one time in a sermon a long time ago, and someone challenged me on it.  He said, "Pastor, aquariums need to be kept up.  They have to be cleaned, and the fish need to be fed.  We need aquarium keepers."

            I guess I hadn't really thought of it in that sense.  So I changed it a little bit.  Now I prefer to say, "God wants us to be fishers of men, and not JUST keepers of the aquarium."  I think that puts it a lot better.  Neither thing should be neglected; however we can't be satisfied to just sit and do nothing while we stare at a bunch of fish swimming around.  There is a need to do something.

            There are two key concepts that are brought out in our Gospel lesson for today.  When Jesus asks us to be fishers of men, the first thing we note is that it is a call to action.  Jesus says, "From now on, you will catch people."  You can't do that while staring at an aquarium.

            Congregations have this tendency to become selfish in their attitude.  They want to do those things that please themselves.  They focus more on what they want, rather than what's good for God's kingdom and the Church.  As a result, people on the outside are made to feel more like intruders rather than people each having a precious soul.  That's an inward looking church. 

            An inward looking church has no outreach and no vision.  Evangelism efforts are no more than a waste of time in their opinion.  And being a fisher of men is something they can't be bothered with; that's a job for somebody else.

            So the first key concept is a call to action.  We must be ready and willing to do those things necessary to win souls for the sake of the Gospel.  It's like going fishing with the proper bait.

            The second key concept is a call of urgency.  Our Gospel lesson for today makes this very clear.  When Jesus came to Andrew and Simon Peter and asked them to follow him, we are told that they did so immediately.  And then after a while when Jesus came upon James and John, they also left everything and immediately followed him.  These men knew that the message of the Gospel couldn't wait.  The grace of God couldn't be postponed.  It needed to be brought to the people right away.  There were souls out there that would die without the Gospel.

            Here's where we can compare an outward looking church with an inward looking church once again.  The outward looking church will be looking for effective ways to be fishers of men.  They'll try to meet the spiritual needs of the community in which they exist.  But the inward looking church sees being a fisher of men as a person sitting in a boat holding a landing net, hoping the fish will jump in.  If that was the way people went fishing, they would be waiting there a very long time.  It just doesn't work that way.

            One of the best examples of this urgency can be seen in our Old Testament lesson for today.  Here we have the prophet Jonah.  God tells him to go to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, because there was this enormous city that needed to be saved.  God was going to destroy the whole city in a very short time.  But what does Jonah do?  He goes to Joppa instead.  He thinks only of himself and his own wants.  He really didn't care about what God needed him to do.

            So when Jonah finally did go to Nineveh, he got to witness how powerful the Word of God really was.  There was mass repentance, even from the king himself.  The Gospel changed the hearts of a great number of people.  And because of this, God spared the city.  It wasn't because of any personal power or charisma of Jonah either.  The message of the Gospel, God's Word itself was the power that accomplished this.  The Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of the people, which brought about repentance and faith.  Indeed, the Gospel was a very attractive message.  It was the bait that Jonah used to be the fisher of men that he was.

            So what kind of fishermen are we?  Our Gospel lesson today gives us a lot of food for thought in this area.  We have a call to action.  We can't be just sitting back watching the fish swim around in the aquarium.  We have a call of urgency too.  The message of the Gospel isn't something that can be postponed for a more convenient time.  People will experience eternal death without it.  And we also have to be outward looking, and not always selfishly thinking of ourselves with our personal wants and desires.

            But as we look at ourselves, we know that we haven't been perfect fishermen.  We've been sitting back when we should have been acting.  We've taken what is urgent, and put it off until later.  And we've regarded ourselves as being more important than others.  Yes, we've failed miserably.

            So when we look at the message of the Gospel we are to be proclaiming, we need to apply it to ourselves first.  We need to be convicted of our sin.  We need the Holy Spirit to bring us to repentance, just as he did with the entire city of Nineveh.  We need the Holy Spirit to give us the faith we need to accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour.  We need God's power to provide us with the bait we need to be effective fishermen for him.

            Jesus looks at us just like he did with those fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.  To us, he says those same two words:  "follow me."  When we follow him, then we lay all of our sins and failures and faults upon him, with the absolute assurance that he has taken them from us willingly and lovingly.  He took our sins all the way to the cross, where he paid the price for them.  He did this all out of love for us, so we would be rid of the burden of sin.  And because we have been freed from all this, we are now free to serve him as his fishermen.  The salvation he has given to us is what he has given the whole world.  This is the powerful message of the Gospel that we use as we go fishing for men.

            Dick Turpin is an expert outdoorsman.  He knows the perfect bait or lure to use for whatever kind of fish you want to catch.  He's an expert in the field of fishing.  So if you want to go catch a mess of crappie, or blue gill, or northern, or catfish for supper, Dick is the person to talk to.  His advice will help you be a successful fisherman.

            But when it comes to being a fisher of men like Jesus wants, then we go to him for the message of the Gospel.  When we follow him and invite others to do the same thing, then we are tools of the Holy Spirit.  People will respond to that very attractive and powerful message.  And when they do, they will have the gift that God has given to all Christians:  the forgiveness of sins and the absolute assurance of everlasting life.

Dick Turpin 
Dick Turpin catches a piranha in a lake west of Lincoln, NE.
Click here to go to Dick Turpin's website.