The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 24, 2021
In South Australia a wedding party was posing for photos along a scenic cliff overlooking the ocean. A woman, unrelated to the wedding, fell off its edge into the water and started to drown. The best man, still dressed in his tuxedo, dove in after her, and pulled her to shore. The bride, still dressed in her white gown, waded through the waves, to lay her down on the sand and start CPR.
By the time the paramedics arrived, the woman was smiling with relief and profusely thanking her rescuers. After giving her a parting hug, the heroic but drenched bride and best man re-joined the wedding celebration.
By worship a church gathers for a celebration at least once a week. Yet, a biblical church knows that diving into mission to meet human need, even if inconvenient and dangerous, takes precedence over enjoying any celebration.
The first promise Jesus made to would-be followers was that He’d make them, not party-goers, but fishers for people at risk. Worship and mission, serving God and serving neighbor, belong together as two sides of one gold coin.
As soon as Jesus had announced “the good news” of God’s kingdom drawing near, He invited people to start participating in it by following His example and inviting still others to participate in it. “Follow me,” He said, “and I will make you fish for people,” He said. The One who came “to seek and save the lost” modeled the life of casting God’s word of hope broadly about and netting those who allowed themselves to be caught up in the glory and goodness of it.
Jesus used the fishing metaphor only because He was talking at the time to fisherman. I’d bet that if He’d been talking to farmers, He’d have said, “Follow me and I will make you sowers of God’s seeds”; or, if He’d been talking to fellow carpenters, He’d have said, “Follow me and I will make you builders of God’s homes.”
In speaking of fishing, Jesus wasn’t suggesting His disciples should sink sharp hooks into folks. (After all, Palestinian fishing back then was done entirely done with nets.) Nor was He suggesting they should drag folks out of the environment necessary for their survival. (After all, He promised the “caught” “abundant life”.) Jesus spoke of fishing to paint a picture of widely and wildly casting forth an invitation that might draw some into a life-giving adventure.
Of course, evangelism can be a hateful enterprise. But at its best is it not it an expression of love? If walking with Jesus is the best discovery we have ever made, how could we not tell those matter to us about it and give them a chance to make the same blessed discovery? Yes, some will respond with a “Thanks, but no thanks”, and we’ll respect declining our offer and drop the subject. But few will be offended by a well-intended invitation, and most will be touched by our wanting to share with them what we cherish.
But we never know how someone will respond until we try. And, until we know, how can we not reach out to those we care about to encourage them to check out who Jesus might be for them? Don’t we tell a friend about a new restaurant we think they’ll also enjoy? Don’t we introduce one friend to another we adore on the chance the two of them might hit it off?
We know how to fish for people in the way Jesus has in mind. It isn’t rocket science. It can be as simple as telling someone’s who’s interested what we do Sunday mornings and watching if they show any curiosity about hearing more about it; or asking someone if they’d like to join us at some church affair (online for now of course) that would be fun or engaging for them whether or not they shared our faith. And if we’re not sure how to do this exactly or how to respond some challenging questions that might arise, we can always ask for help and support from fellow followers of Jesus. We may not never do evangelism perfectly but we will do it well enough – especially compared to not doing it at all – if we stay in the game just because we care about others so much and know so well what Jesus can do for a person. And we will learn as we go and get better as we keep at it. Improving in reaching out is no different than improving in any other field of endeavor.
In his book, The Social Animal, David Brooks cites studies that indicate that the common denominator in attaining excellence in any field is a long-term commitment to discipline and practice. Brooks refers, for example, to one study that shows that by far the best single predictor for gaining proficiency in playing a musical instrument is – not IQ, opportunity, aural sensitivity or a sense of rhythm – but a resolve to play the instrument throughout one’s life and a determination to put in the time to develop one’s ability.
May we, with that kind of dedication, develop our ability to “fish for people”. May we resolve to practice reaching out throughout our life. Though we’ll stumble from time to time, over time we’ll step up our game – and we will have quite a catch.