Four of a Kind

1. Jesus choose professional fishermen to be his disciples because they were honest, as all professional fishermen must be.

Some people associate fishermen with liars.  There is some truth in that. When a sport fisherman catches a fish it does not always stop growing when it is taken from the water.  It often  continues to grow long after it is weighed and measured. Professional fishermen are far less likely to exaggerate the size and number of the fish they catch, as it would hurt their ability to do business. You can’t give a man a two pound fish when he has paid for a three pound fish and expect him to be a repeat customer.

In the same way, we who aim to catch people in the gospel net cannot make exaggerated claims about our relationship with Jesus Christ and expect to be successful.  If we tell people that our relationship with Jesus Christ has given us inner peace and harmony, and then live lives full of discord and turmoil. If we do, they will not be convinced.

We have to b honest. Therefore, I will not stand up here and tell you that God has appeared to me in some personal epiphany so that I might speak, for he has not. But I will tell you that I think Zinzendorf was right when he said, “The Bible is a ragged old book shot through and through with logical holes, but in it God speaks to humankind as no where else.”

Nor will I stand up here and tell you I have the answers to all your questions. I will tell you that God has taught me to live with my questions and frame some new ones.

Nor will I stand up here and tell you that God has always made my life easier. God has not done that. Every time I draw near to God it costs me time, and money. Even more disturbing, God is always asking me to love lots of people I don’t know, and some  people I don’t like. God has not made my life easier; but God has made my life more exciting. God has given me more second chances than I can count, and the energy to make use of them. Most importantly, God has surrounded me with Christian brothers and sisters who rejoice with me when I rejoice, and mourn with me when I mourn. You are all in that number.

2. Jesus chose fishermen for their patience.

An impatient person will never make a fisherman.  A would be fisherman will fish all morning, catch nothing, eat a sandwich, and call it quits. A real fisherman can fish all morning, catch nothing, eat a sandwich, change her bait, or adjust her nets, and keep fishing. A real fisherman has a motto: “Never give up!  Never give up! Never give up!”

Catching people in the gospel net requires patience. People don’t care what we know until they know we truly care. That takes an investment of time. Some Christians need patience just to win their spouses. The book of 1st Peter tells believing wives that they can win their unbelieving husbands without a word, by their patient behavior (translation my own). Likewise, we need patience to win our children and grandchildren. This, too, will take time, for Children know instinctively that their parents and grandparents spend time with what they love. 

In my library I have a biography of Ted Williams. Williams has been called greatest pure hitter ever to play the game of baseball.  He was known as “the Splendid Splinter” and “Teddy Ballgame.” His mother was known as “Salvation Mae Williams.” Mae would leave Ted and his brother home alone day and night, uncared for and unfed, while she prowled the streets of San Diego seeking to win strangers to Christ. Years later, in the middle of a magnificent career with the Red Sox, Ted was asked about his faith. He said, “Nothing could make me believe in God!” I expect Ted’s real problem was his mother. 

By contrast Bishop Herbert Spaugh used to advise parents to put extra time and effort into their children. It was not long after Elayne and I moved to Charlotte with our one year old, son, Jonathan, now 44 years old, that the Bishop said to me,“Worth, Jesus said, ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and loose his own soul?’ And I say to you, ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and loose his own son?’” Take the time for your children! Use patience!

Pastors and church leaders need a special measure of patience to build a church. Our greatest ability is the ability to hear, “No! No! No!,” and keep pushing until we hear, “Yes!” “Yes!” to Christ.  “Yes!” to church membership.  “Yes!” to stewardship of time and talent. I for one have often been tempted to give up on certain individuals, and sometimes, on a whole church. However, when I am low, I am always haunted by a sermon preached by the late Dr. Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision International. Dr Pierce said that many of us hear the call of God and we volunteer for some task.  We begin the task with enthusiasm, but when we find it is more difficult and takes longer than we though it might, we go back to God and say, “God, this task is too hard for me. Can’t you give it to another, and give me a different task, one that better suited to me?” Dr. Pierce said that the truth many of us give up just before we achieve success. He said  that we can never achieve all that we might until we have reached the end of our own resources, for it is only when we have reached the end of our own resources that we enter “God room,” which Dr. Pierce defined as “the place where God alone can work.”

The disciples new about God room. In Luke 5 we read how Peter and some of the other disciples had fished all night and taken nothing. They were ready to give up.  They pulled-in their nets and beached their boat. Then Jesus joined them, and challenged them to put out once more into the deep to let down their nets. It was only after they obeyed—and put out and let down their nets just once more, that they produced a great haul of fish. 

Many Christians have never seen any significant God movement in the lives of others.We have not because we quit just when we ought to be putting out once more into the deep. I believe we saw a little bit of God movement when we volunteered to help raise $15,000.00 for a new playground for Piedmont Park. We entered God room, because we could never guess the way Sheriff Kimbrough would step in and bring some remarkably generous and committed donors with him.   I don’t know about you, but glad we went out on a limb.  As I write this, the project has raised more than $20,000.00.

3. Jesus chose fishermen for their courage.  

According to Mark 4, there was a time when the disciples were afraid of the sea and the storm.  When the wind rose up and the water starting beating into the boat, they woke Jesus who was asleep in the stern of the boat.  Jesus rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, “Peace, Be Still.” Then the disciples took courage.

Fishermen have to be brave. In the “The Daily Study Bible,” William Barclay writes that 20th century Greek fisherman had a special prayer each time they went out to fish. They prayed,“O, God, my boat is so small, and the sea is so large, watch over me.” 

Or what about this: If you visit Gloucester, MA you will find an 8-foot-tall bronze statue of a fisherman looking out over the harbor to the open sea. The old salt is dressed in foul-weather gear, and he stands on the sloping deck of  his ship, braced against its wheel. The monument has a square base of sea green granite, it is inscribed with several verses from Psalm 107:

Some went down to the sea in ships, 
doing business on the great waters; 
they saw the deeds of the LORD, 
his wondrous works in the deep. 

First time visitors often think this monument is dedicated to those fishermen who have lost their lives at sea. It is not. There are other memorials for them. This monument is placed in honor of  those fishermen who continue to go down to the sea in their boats to do business on the great waters despite the death of those who have gone to sea before them.

A fisherman’s bravery is often rooted in his confidence in God.  The bravery of a witness is always rooted in our confidence in God.  This was true of the great Moravian missionaries of the past who pioneered work in places like St. Thomas, Greenland, South Africa, Nicaragua and Honduras. It is equally true of those 21st century Moravians who work at places like City with Dwellings, Sunnyside Ministry and Samaritan Ministries. The people who use these services are more like us than we imagine.  The principal difference we can often put down to “luck,” or “choosing the right parents.” Unfortunately, relatively few of us take are willing to step outside our comfort zone to discover that.  Many of us simply need more courage.

It takes a measure of courage the share the gospel even with those we already know. It was the popular author, Scott Peck, who said that when we share our faith in God with another, there is a sense in which we are “playing God” in the life of the other.  The other may be richer than we are, but we are bold to tell them we possess something they do not. The other may be smarter than we are, but we are bold to tell them that we know something they do not. The other may have many influential friends that we do not, but we are bold to tell them that we have one friend whose friendship surpasses all others, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our best friend, because he brings out the best in us! The wisdom of the world says that it is never correct to “play God” in the life of another. Yet, this is the very thing that the gospel asks us to do.  It was the Risen.Jesus Himself who said, “When the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will be my witnesses.” 

Of course, if we are to be effective witness, we must be like Jesus himself.  He said, “The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus was an effective witness because he met people where they were, and not where he wanted them to be. If they did not come to him, he went to them. When people had physical needs, like hunger, or thirst, or homelessness, Jesus met those needs, then he shared with them the good news of the Kingdom. Perhaps you remember how and his disciples once fed 5,000? When people were afraid, Jesus spoke words of comfort. Perhaps you will recall how Jesus told people that the God who noted the fall of the sparrow had numbered the hairs on their heads, for they were more valuable than sparrows? When people were friendless and isolated, Jesus called them into fellowship with himself and his disciples. Perhaps you will recall how Jesus gathered even the lepers to himself. And when people were more fortunate, like Peter and Andrew, and James and John, and Nicodemus, and Zacchaeus Jesus tapped into their need to feel needed and useful by challenging them to serve along side of him as he lived and preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Let me say a personal word. When I came to Fries in 1979, this church wanted to grow. In those days, it was pretty easy. It was the Golden Age of the church. All we had to do to attract people was to provide good worship and meaningful programs. When I came to Fries in 2019, this church wanted to grow again. It is much harder now. People no longer just come to us.  We can reach people in only two ways: 1) We can meet them where they are and not where we want them to be, and meet their needs, as Jesus met the needs of the multitudes. Or, 2) we can invite them to join us, and join with us as we seek to follow Jesus in meeting the needs of the multitudes.

I read recently how scientist used a 3-D printer, a loudspeaker and computer software to recreate a part of the voice of a 3,000-year-old mummy. Of course, the voice makes only a single sound, something between the  ah” and “eh” vowel sounds heard in the words “bad” and “bed.” Still,  By contrast, Jesus speaks to us today, as clearly as he once spoke to his disciples saying.  The words he once spoke during the days of his flesh were first passed on orally, then written down by the apostles. Eventually they became a part of our New Testament and when we read them, twenty centuries later, it is as if Jesus is still speaking.  And still he says, “Follow me! And I will make you fisher’s of men.”

Finis

Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

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