I have two questions to begin my sermon and I won’t give you the answers until the end. The questions are very different, but have the same answer: 1) Are you a follower of Jesus? 2) Are the doorknobs in your home on the left side of your doors or the right side?
You can be thinking about that doorknob thing as I recount the events in Today’s reading from Luke’s gospel: Jesus is on the side of Lake Geneserret He sees fishermen casting their nets. He gets into one of the boats – not for the purpose of helping them fish, but to be able to teach them from the boat. When he gets done teaching he invites them to put down their nets one more time. They haven’t caught anything all night long. But they end up pulling in boatloads. Peter and James and John are beside themselves with amazement and begin to recognize Jesus as Messiah. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid: from now on you will be catching people.” These fishermen bring their boats to shore. Then they immediately leave their fishing profession to follow him. They went from their vocation of fishing to discipleship – being followers of Jesus.
This morning we’re going to talk about vocation and discipleship. Does one have anything to do with the other? The answer sort of depends on what side of the door your doorknobs are. We’ll get to that.
An Hasidic story tells of a little boy playing hide-and-seek with his friends. For some unknown reason they stopped playing while he was hiding. The boy began to cry. His old grandfather came out of the house to see what was troubling him. After learning what had happened, the grandfather said, “Do not weep, my child, because the boys did not find you. Perhaps you can learn a lesson from this disappointment. All of life is like a game between God and us. Only it is God who is weeping, for we are not playing the game. God is waiting to be found, but many have gone in search of other things.”
Good sermon illustration, I think, but the gospel story is sort of opposite. The disciples had gone in search of other things, but found God. And God wasn’t waiting to be found. He found them. He got up in their face. He got their attention by giving them a miraculous catch of fish. Then, when he had established who he was he said, follow me! Follow me. From now on you won’t be catching fish, but people.
First he got their attention. If they hadn’t been listening to his words they sure understood the significance of a boatload of fish. Jesus always confronts us with radical ways of getting our attention. And then he asked, “Will you fish or follow?”
Now, that may be one way we are to approach that first question I asked in this sermon, “Are you a follower of Jesus?”
Luther’s concept of work was that any job should be a vocation and a vocations should be an extension of who we are as people of God. A few decades ago that concept got resurrected as a slogan: If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Answer the call of God by doing, in your life’s vocation, something that directly promotes the kingdom of God.
At the very least, keep from doing something, in your life’s vocation, that directly harms the kingdom of God. Jobs that take advantage of other people come to mind. Or jobs that hurt the environment. Or jobs which promote bad values.
That’s the fish or follow approach. Leave what you are doing and do something else. James and John, in Mark’s gospel, just up and left their father, Zebedee, sitting there in a boat on the beach, to follow Jesus. Some people can do this. Some people can leave jobs, leave family, leave town and pursue a calling from God. It may be the ministry. It may be teaching. It may be social work. I’ve known people who have done this. Over half of the students in our Lutheran seminaries today are second career, may of them in their forties or fifties. They have left careers in insurance, business, or whatever to enter the ministry. Ministers who have had secular job experience often can relate more directly to the problems and challenges faced by their parishioners. I am a second career pastor. Your previous pastor was second career. Marina Flores, a pastor in this congregation, is second career.
Heather and I are just finishing the annual statistical report to churchwide. One of the questions goes like this: “In the past year, did the pastor, deacon, or a member of the Congregation Council encourage members or friends of this congregation to consider rostered ministry in the ELCA? I had to answer “no” for 2018. That made me feel guilty. So, for next year’s report, here’s the invitation. Could you consider leaving your profession and would you consider rostered ministry in the ELCA. There are some, among you I think, who could do this.
But not everybody can do this. Not everybody should do this. Most of us need to fish just to survive. Going to work day in and day out is the way we keep roofs over our heads and feed our families. This, in itself, is a godly thing to do.
But there is an alternative to “fish or follow.” And that is “fish and follow.” Think about it. The disciples were invited to imagine that there was something more, something richer, something fuller, something different, something better than throwing nets into the sea day in and day out. They were being invited to find brokenness and provide wholeness. They were being invited to find hunger and provide food, to find illness and provide healing. They were being invited to search out injustice and provide justice.
When we approach following in this way we come to find out that this is something we can all do. Fish and follow. Each and every day we come across some sort of brokenness. Jesus calls on us to make it whole. We have hungry people right here in and around our plaza. Jesus calls our congregation to address that situation. Each of us lives in an economic system which is rigged for the healthy and wealthy. Jesus calls us to follow his example of putting our thumbs on the scale in favor of those whom the powerful have labeled as “losers”. Jesus wants us especially to follow him across the border to those who seek asylum from oppression and violence. “From now on you will be catching people,” Jesus said. Catching people, for some, means “winning people to Jesus.” I prefer to taking “catching” more literally. Catching those who have tripped or fallen. Catching those who are on the way down and helping them back up. Jesus calls on us to “catch” people.
Now, have you figured out the doorknob thing yet? Are the doorknobs on the right sides of your doors or the left? Well, for any given door it depends on how you approach it. From one side of the door it is on the right. From the other it is on the left. But you had already figured that out, hadn’t you!
Are you a follower of Jesus? Well it depends on how you approach it? If it means fish OR follow your answer may be one thing. If it means fish AND follow, it may be another. Whichever way you approach it, Jesus is on the other side of it. Beckoning you. He says, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.”
Text: Luke 5:1-11