This morning’s story is one of the most familiar of all the gospel scenes, and one of the most familiar of all gospel challenges.
When I was a child, I remember singing the action song “I will make you fishers of men” - and I'm willing to bet we could do a reasonable job of it here and now.
We all know the idea.
We, who have heard and responded to the call of Jesus, must in our turn share that call that invitation with others.
We’ve been fished – and now we are sent to fish in our turn.
But maybe it’s not the best metaphor for us as we consider our calling.
A fish, after all, doesn’t exactly thrive after it has been caught.
Think of a net full of fish, floundering and gasping on the quayside. It's a death sentence
…but when Jesus invited those men on the shore of Lake Galilee to “Follow me”, he was calling them to a more abundant life.
That call, to which they responded, apparently without a backward glance, was going to change everything.
That's how it is with God.
The world turns upside down.
They left home that morning as ordinary Palestinian fishermen – hoping for a good catch and a good return on their day's work.
But by bedtime, everything was different.
So, let’s think for a moment about all they left behind, the good things and the bad.
Most obviously, they left their boats – the way that they had earned their livings, the hall-mark of the people they were.
They had been independent, self-reliant - but no longer.
Suddenly they had to trust that they’d get by without the wherewithal for a day’s catch.
They left the damage of a day’s work behind, too – torn and tangled nets.
No time to sort things out, set their houses in order…they just had to go!
AND, they left their families. That's a hard one.
Zebedee, the father of James and John gets a special mention as we imagine him staring after his sons, wondering how he’s going to get the work done, whether his boys will be back in time to go out on the evening run – or every be back at all.
We know that Simon had a wife at home, AND a mother in law, and he certainly didn’t run home to tell them he’d be a little while.
He just went…in instant obedience to Jesus…he turned away from his undoubted ties and responsibilities and simply followed. How rash! How inconsiderate! How irresponsbile.
He just upped and offed and so found a wider world, a place of hopes fulfilled and wonders unfolding…a world in which the limitations of life as a lakeside fisherman simply had no meaning.
But it can't have been easy...for not one of those men knew exactly what, or who, they were getting involved with.
There was no small print to read, no consultation period in which to weigh their options.
They had to decide in an instant.
Jesus or not?
Their safe familiar present or an unknown future?
I guess the story has added punch for me at the moment – and I'm thankful that I'm preaching to you now that you know our news. The process of exploring an invitation to apply for the Coventry job, of crafting an application and spending 2 days in interviews seems a far cry from that moment on the sea shore – and yet, as I wrestled with God during that December night, trying to decide what to say to the bishop next morning, it seemed clear that it was the same call.
Are you coming, Kathryn?
I didn't want to leave this community, the dear people I've been with for almost 6 years...
I didn't feel qualified for the job ahead...I wanted to cling to my safely familiar routines and my lovely vicarage as well...but God reminded me repeatedly that we were on a journey together , that if I was serious about the promises I had made to Him along the way, then the next step was not really optional.
“Follow me. And trust me to take you safely where I need you to go”
And I realised that I had to leave some other things behind too....particularly the burden of insecurity and self-doubt that might stop me believing in God's future at all.
I needed to travel light – just like those fishermen.
They left not just their past career – but a host of other things...things we should all abandon when we turn to follow Christ.
Selfishness, insecurity, prejudice, fear of those who are different, apathy, inertia…things that inhibit our relationships with one another as much as with God.
They left those things behind, - though once or twice in the gospels we hear that they’d returned to claim them (think of the great debate about who would be the right-hand men in the Kingdom!), and needed some help from Jesus in order to lay them aside decisively.
As one who has to relearn the same faith lessons, who often returns to pick up the self-same baggage that I know I should lay down, that's quite encouraging. I'm not alone. Those first disciples made most of the same mistakes that every other disciple has made since...but they never doubted the value of their journey.
You see, it wasn't just about leaving things behind – it was – and is – about heading into a new future.
A change of role – for them (and for me)
Fishers of men?
It’s a great image in its original context – but don't be misled.
At our baptism, we are commissioned to work for God's kingdom, and that is far more than an invitation to a fishing trip.
We hear so much about the mission imperative in the wider church today, and rightly so...
It's part of the Great Commission, the last words that Jesus spoke to his disciples – no longer by the lake but on a mountain top.
“Go and make disciples of all nations...Keep on fishing for people”
The drive to bring others to join us, to draw them into relationship with Christ so that they too may know the joy of his love, - well, that is HUGELY important.
The Church is here today because through the centuries ordinary women and men have shared and lived their faith in ways that made their neighbours, colleagues, family, friends long to live that way as well..
They have been magnetic Christians, drawing others to follow their Leader...and we should be inspired and encouraged by their example.
BUT we need to beware the danger of seeing people as simply targets for our evangelism, to be caught and dragged into the kingdom (or the Church), regardless of how they feel. There are some Christians for whom this calling to mission is so central that they only spend time with people outside the church in an effort to convert them.
That seems very risky – for it dehumanizes people and devalues relationships, turning the world into “them” and “us”…insiders and outsiders…trappers and prey.
Fishers of men - as if we planned to haul people in and serve them up with a side order of chips!
That couldn't be less like Jesus, could it?
Jesus, then and now, meets us where we are, spends time with us so that we are in no doubt at all that we are loved and valued – then challenges us to become our very best selves.
He sees potential where we'd never dream of it – and with His help we can dare to live so that our hidden potential is realised -and invite others to do the same.
You see, though all fish look very similar, there's an endless variety of people for us to introduce to God's love.
Old and young, chatty and quiet, thinkers and doers, the highly successful and the defeated and struggling...
One size, one style of church will NEVER fit all exactly – but we need to be ready to make all welcome even if that sometimes means setting aside things we ourselves have loved.
The church was never intended to be like a pack of fish fingers – processed so that everyone is identical...
Let me say again, this journey we're on leads us to become our best selves...to experience life in all its fulness...and that's worth a bit of risk.
So, as we travel together through these weeks of endings and new beginnings, the central call remains the same “Follow me”...
Follow from the place where we now stand into a future that we can neither fully predict nor wholly control.
Follow believing that the One who called those ordinary blokes from their working day has work for us as well
Follow knowing that all that we have, all that we are, can be given in service to God’s kingdom of justice, peace and love.
We'll sing this later, but let's pray it now:
Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.