Saturday, January 31, 2015

Before fishers, fish. . .

Sermon for Epiphany 3B, preached on Sunday, January 25, 2015.

    How easy it is to jump to the call to be fishers of men – too easy – to begin with the fishing and forget that we were fish before we were fishers of men.  Before we were set apart for the work of the kingdom, we were the work of the kingdom.  We often assume that fishing for men is a matter of strategy, planning, and expertise.  We forget we were caught up on the net of Christ's Word and Sacraments.  We were the sought out of the Lord who made us His own before we were ever called to seek others out with His Word.  To forget this is to lose sight of who is at work in the fishing and how it works that God catches us up in the net of His grace.  More than this, it calms the fears of those who know not what to say to those who have not heard of Christ and what to do for those not yet of the Kingdom.
    Where are the fish?  Who of us does not know those without faith? Who do not get up and dress for church? Who are not found in worship on Sunday morning?  More than this, they are among our own households and kinfolk.  Think how God called you?  Was it through a stranger or was it through family and friends who surrounded you with the words of the Gospel and the witness of the cross every day?  God works through means and those means includes those who know Christ by faith.
    We also forget that the caught contribute nothing to the catching.  The fishers of men are not miracle workers but mere witnesses of the Gospel who speak of Jesus, so those who are caught are merely hearers through whom the Holy Spirit imparts faith.  The main thing in common for those caught and those catching is that it remains about Jesus.  It is God's work for us and God's work still when it happens through us.
    So what does it mean to be fishers of men?  It does not mean strategic planning or creative methodology.  It means we speak the Word of Christ where we are.  That seems a novelty in a world looking for success in how-to books that lay out the plan step by step but it is the actual way of God.  With those at home, those at work, and those in the neighborhoods where we live, we speak the Word of the Lord and God has promised to work.  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God and all God is asking of His people is that His Word be on our lips and visible in our lives.  Can we do that?  Can we not do that?
    We have come to believe that the net is something from us.  So we mistakenly assume that fishers of men have some special charisma or gift, know some special wisdom, or are special people.  Surely God cannot work through ordinary people!  Or can He?  And does He?  Pastors have no special gift other than a bit more learning about the Word of God. 
    Some folks around us may also excel in this area.  But God does not call those with a special knack; God equips those whom He calls.  He gives us His Word and His Word has the power of the Spirit in it – the guarantor who makes sure that this Word does what it says and delivers the results God designs.  Because this Word is our certainty and hope, we can believe that this Word will work with certainty and deliver the hope to those who have not heard it.
    The main thing in fishing for men is to remember that it is God's work and your main thing is to keep it His work.  For as surely as we begin to believe that we possess some special charisma or gift, have some special ability or skill, the fishing will become our domain instead of His.  The key to fishing is patience and trust.  Too often these are in short supply among pastors and the people of God.  We grow impatient and frustrated that God is not working according to our timetable or at our desired speed.  We want to control things, to direct them, to make them happen.  But the Spirit blows when and where it wills.  Or to put it another way, God moves in a mysterious way. 
    The key to fishing is not learning to think like the fish but patience and trust.  God has promised us that His Word will not return to Him empty handed but will accomplish His purpose.  Whether on Sunday morning as you look around a half empty church or Monday morning as you look around a broken family and life, our call remains the same. Trust in the Lord and be patient.  His Word is still working. . . in the parish and in us as people.
    Where the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments are, God is still fishing.  Whether we hear that Word here on Sunday morning or speak it on Monday morning, God is the voice and the Spirit is the power.  And if we ever have trouble figuring it all out, we just need to look into the mirror.  Whom we see are fish, once lost, caught up in the net of grace, by the Spirit, and now sent forth in the world to be fishers of men.  Before we were fishers of men, we were fish.  The net that will capture the world for the kingdom is the same one that caught us – His Word and Sacraments.  It is enough for us to witness these means of grace with enthusiasm and joy, knowing that God is at work and will finish His new creation, and if our voices and examples have had any part in it, thanks be to God.
    Today we remember how St. Paul who hated Christians, persecuted the church, and even participated in the murder of those who confessed Jesus Christ became a Christian.  It was a dramatic journey to be sure but no longer and no different than the path that led us to faith through the preaching of the Gospel, the teaching of the faith, and the washing of water with the Word.  To the world living in darkness and the shadow of death, the witness of the Church is clear: "Repent and believe the Gospel."  We were once the pagans and heathen who knew nothing of God's grace and favor until that voice called to us.  Let us then with confidence address the world with the same call, trusting that God will work in it and through it as He promised and did for you and me.  "Repent and believe the Gospel."

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