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storm.jpg (4910 bytes)Nets, Menders, and Followers
based on Matthew 4:12-23
By Rev. Thomas Hal
l, DPS homiletics editor

I grew up singing I will make you fishers of men just like we sang here earlier this morning. And because I had little opportunity to go fishing, this seven year old really got into this song. Every time I sang that little tune I entered a surrealistic world. I envisioned myself hooking three piece executives on my worm bait. I had watched fishing shows on TV so I knew how to set the hook and wear those big fish down. No matter if it didn't make any sense at all. I was catching my limit.

Anything under six foot and two hundred pounds had to be thrown back into the water! My teacher once tried to get me to see that the point of the song is that Jesus calls us to use our skills and gifts to bring men and women to faith. That seemed boring to me; hooking executives in Sunday School was far more adventurous and I always got cookies and Cool Aid afterwards. So my understanding of this passage was skewed at a very early age. I later understood this story to be about Christians evangelizing their world. We were called to become fishers of men and women.

But in preparing for this homily today, I have been bothered by something odd. Something that seems to challenge my understanding of this passage. Here’s the story: Two brothers-Peter and Andrew-are casting nets in Lake Galilee, "for they were fishermen," our text says. That means they fished to survive; perhaps even to earn their livelihood. Their fathers fished. Their grandfathers fished. As far back as they had memory, fishing had probably been in their family. Suddenly, some passerby, who doesn't even introduce himself waltzes up and "nets" them. Says, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."

Our storyteller at once interjects the word euthus, "immediately," to describe their response. At once they drop their nets in the moist sand and foam at the edge of the boat and these anglers follow this passerby. The trio now follows the water's edge behind Jesus until they happen upon two other fishermen. They're not fishing but carefully mending a broken net. What happens next is deja vu.

Two brothers. Both anglers at work. Called. And the same word is used to describe their response, euthus "immediately." They too, drop what they're doing and follow. These four men, skilled anglers just up and turn their backs on everything they have held sacred. All commitments are dropped. A father still sits stunned in the boat as he watches his son leave the family business. A hired man whistles his disbelief. The last scene we have are five men walking single file off around the shore of Galilee.

The difficult thing about this story for me is the fishermen's unflinching, immediate decision to follow this man. Where’s the rational "let’s think this over." Or "I’ll get back to you?" We have no indication that they had counted the cost. We’re not even sure that they stopped long enough to say goodbye to family and friends. Just up and leave everything connected to their life, like a bunch of privates snapping to a sergeant’s command. Is this responsible behavior?

How would feel if your daughter came home after her first high school dance and announced to the family that she was getting married to this wonderful guy. "What's his name?" we ask. "Oh, I don't know, but we're getting married next week." She hardly knows the guy. Doesn’t even know his name and yet she’s ready to give her life and future to him.

"Hi, honey. Guess what I did at work today? I decided today to retire early."

"Oh? But you're only 35 years old."

"I know, but I've been thinking about it for awhile."

"And when did you come to this decision?"

"During lunch."

No, that's not normal behavior to just up and throw caution to the wind and make quick decisions. To make commitments without thinking things through. Were these four guys foolish, fickle, irresponsible or what?

Or is there something else going on here that Matthew wants us to catch? Have they heard something, some scrap of good news, something that generations of their fishing people had waited to hear?

Just prior to this episode our lesson says, "From that time on Jesus became to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’" Mark’s account of Jesus' message is even more explicit: "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.’"

Good News had finally come down to the docks. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Those were code red words to pious Jews. Their idea of the scheme of things consisted in a single line drawn in the dirt. On the left side of the line was the Age of the Evil One-a kingdom where a cruel Satan ruled his subjects; a kingdom marked by darkness, sin, sickness, pain and death, and evil demons which made life difficult. But on the right side of the line was the promised Age of the Spirit-a kingdom brought about by Messiah in which light, healing, restoration, wholeness, and forgiveness ruled.

How convinced are we of the Good News that Jesus brings?

Maybe you've had some hesitation like I had growing up. I could go along with fishing for people while I sang in church on Sunday, but I always had the sneaking suspicion that the Good News was really bad news in disguise. That if I really took this stuff seriously I'd end up in Nepal as a missionary wearing hand-me-down clothes. Maybe we're all of us deep down inside frightened of the changes that such a commitment might require of us.

Take sharing the gospel for instance. How do we do that for heaven's sake? Are we supposed to go around and buttonhole people and mumble something about how God can change their life? Well our story does encourage us not to keep the faith, but to share the faith. But is that all? This big, fat command to witness? To evangelize? No, that's not all there is to this story.

Remember the second two fishermen? They're the ones sitting in the boat and mending their nets. Remember them? They're not out there pounding the waters for fish or people. Just sitting there mending. That word "mend" means to "restore to its former condition," "to fix or repair something."

Jesus watches those thick fishing hands deftly repairing the frayed, broken cords of the fishing nets. Fishing involves not only throwing a net to catch fish, but also mending nets. This same Greek word is later used by Paul to describe our task of mending people. That's also our job. People menders. Broken life-fixers. Repairing torn lives.

Recently I took some of our elementary aged children on a fishing trip. We went to the fishing hole at a local assisted living and nursing home. We saw some torn nets. Some lives that needed mending. So they went from room to room some with kazoos and others singing a little song that goes like this:

Behold what manner of love

the Father has given unto us,

that we should be called the children of God.

Some tender moments when our kazooers could no longer play because they got so choked up.

I guess they began to realize that God was using them to mend some nets; to repair lives their presence and youthfulness. One resident grasped the hand of our littlest fellow and refused to let him go. So the mother just stood there in the hallway holding her child and the aged gramma holding on to his little hand.

Are you convinced that God's Good News is Great News? Those who accept the challenge to "follow Jesus" and become fishermen and women in God's kingdom will make the joyful discovery that using their gifts and mending lives is the one of the most rewarding avocations in life. No wonder the four fishermen left immediately and followed Jesus. So move over, Peter, Andrew, James and John, make room for a new generation of followers. Amen.