Sermon 08-11-19: “Gone Fishing… with Jesus”

September 4, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 5:1-11

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A couple of months ago, before I met most of y’all, I met with our Staff-Parish Relations Committee. They wanted to find out what kind of pastor they were stuck with. And someone asked me to share “my vision for this church.” 

That would seem like a hard question to answer, since I didn’t know anything about Toccoa First at the time—or even the city of Toccoa. I didn’t know, for instance, about “Red Rage,” and how this community gets so excited about the upcoming high school football season that they’re willing to fill up a stadium on a Friday night just to watch a pep rally and a team scrimmage. Lisa and I were there, and we were planning to sit with Josh, Jenna, Jay, Jaden, and Avery. But there was no room! The stadium was packed with people. 

So now I know that Toccoa is like that town in Friday Night Lights!

But when I talked to the SPR committee, I didn’t need to know anything in particular about Toccoa to explain my vision for the church. Because it’s going to be the same vision no matter where I am. And as I explained to SPR, my vision is shaped by the apostle Paul’s words in Acts chapter 20, verses 26 and 27.

Paul is preaching a farewell sermon to the elders in the church at Ephesus, a church he founded and at which he spent three years of his life. He told them the following: “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

“Innocent of the blood of all…” That sounds serious. Because it is. To put it as bluntly as possible, Paul is saying this: If anyone in Ephesus dies and goes to hell, it won’t be Paul’s fault. Because Paul has done everything he possibly could to let the Ephesians know how to be saved from hell. He’s done everything he possibly could to convince people of the truth of the gospel—that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son Jesus, that whoever believes in him should not perish—that is, die and be separated from God for eternity—but have eternal life through Jesus Christ. 

There’s only one way to be saved—through faith in Jesus—and the means by which you have saving faith, Paul says, is hearing “the whole counsel of God”—that is, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, the Bible, and the good news about Jesus Christ found within it.

My vision for this church is that we at Toccoa First United Methodist would be committed to saving others in this same way. Because this is precisely what Jesus teaches Peter, Peter’s brother Andrew, and their fishing partners, James, and John in Luke 5:1-11. If you have your Bibles—and you should—please read it with me now:

[Read Luke 5:1-11.]

Despite the title of today’s sermon, Jesus’ main point isn’t about “how to be successful fisherman.” Jesus’ main point is, “how to be successful disciples”; how to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission, which is what? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20. In order to make this point, Jesus does what all good teachers do: He uses an analogy—or an object lesson—drawn from fishing, something that Peter, Andrew, James, and John understood very well, because it was what they did for a living.

So let me ask you: If making disciples is like fishing what, in the case of today’s scripture, is the bait? What is the lure? What is the thing that ends up “catching people” in God’s fishing nets? 

Well, what does Jesus himself use? Verse 1: “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret…” Notice: word of God. Verse 3: “And he [Jesus] sat down and taught the people from the boat.” Taught the people what? The word of God. Finally, what is it that ultimately leads to Peter’s conversion: He says, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” But at your word. Whose word? The word of Jesus. Who is Jesus? Jesus is God. Peter responds to the word of God. This is the point that the apostle Paul made earlier. 

The one and only way that we the church will accomplish what Jesus describes in verse 10 as “catching men and women” in the saving net of the gospel is through the preaching and teaching of the word of God.

Easy, right? Well, maybe not easy. Straightforward, yes, but not easy.

Two summers ago, my family and I were visiting New York City on vacation. Lisa and my daughter, Elisa, had tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway. So we made a family vacation out of it. Anyway, once we were sitting on a crowded subway train in Manhattan. A well-dressed and well-spoken woman—with a lovely Jamaican accent—stood near a door and began preaching the gospel. She paused for the loading and unloading of passengers at each stop. For all I know, this happens often in the New York subway. While she spoke, commuters stared at their devices, their newspapers, their books… No one looked up at her, no one made eye contact with the woman… including me. I wanted to be cool, you know… I wanted to blend in alongside everyone else.

Later, when we got off the train, my family debriefed about the experience. We agreed that there was literally nothing untrue in her gospel message. She emphasized God’s love, the abundant life that we have in Christ, the opportunity that we all have to repent of our sins, to turn to Jesus, and to receive eternal life. She was faithful to talk about God’s judgment, but hers was not a “turn or burn” kind of message. She seemed perfectly kind, perfectly respectful. Even perfectly sane… in case you’re wondering. 

I admired this woman a great deal—even as I was intimidated by her bold witness. “Please, Lord, don’t call me to do something like that!” Could I do it? It’s no exaggeration to say that I’m less afraid of dying for my faith than I am of dying of embarrassment for my faith. Which is my problem, I know!

So maybe Jesus isn’t calling us to do that. That doesn’t mean he isn’t calling us—every single one of us—to do something to make disciples and fulfill his Great Commission. So what are some practical things we can do?

Well, we can continue to do what many of us did last Sunday night—at the Block Party. Granted, we didn’t preach the word of God to anyone, but we used that event as an opportunity to invite people to our church, so that, potentially, they could hear the word of God and be saved. If we get them here, I promise I’ll do my part—they will hear the word of God, they will hear the gospel, they will hear the “whole counsel of God.”

We can also do what Josh, Jenna, and Jay were doing at “Red Rage” last Friday. They painted their faces and showed up in that stadium prepared… prepared to do what? Prepared to invite young people to our church—to hear the word of God and be saved. 

Many of you say, or think, “I don’t know how to witness.” But, yes, you do… Because literally every single one of you can personally invite someone to this church—so that they’ll hear the word of God and be saved. It’s not hard!

What else can we do? We can make visitors feel welcome once they get here! My family and I had an opportunity a few months ago to attend a very successful megachurch in Atlanta—actually a “satellite” campus of a megachurch. The pastor’s sermon was broadcast to this campus. But I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that between the time we parked our car—where volunteer parking lot attendants showed us where to park—and someone showed us where to get coffee, we were greeted by no less than six volunteers wearing name tags, who found out we were first-time visitors, who handed us information about the church and all its ministries, and handed us vouchers for “free coffee.”

We felt welcome!

I know we often complain in Methodist churches about the difficulty of finding volunteers. How was this church able to have so many volunteers? I had coffee with the campus minister and asked hm. It was because these volunteers understand how high the stakes are! They understand that, potentially, nothing less than heaven or hell hangs in the balance of whether or not a visitor is made to feel welcome at their church. Of course no one is going to go to heaven because a volunteer showed them where to park, or greeted them warmly, or invited them to a small group, or gave them a voucher for free coffee. It’s just that some of the visitors whom these volunteers are greeting are lost without Jesus Christ… They have never received Christ as their Savior and Lord… Apart from faith in Christ, as it stands right now, they are bound for hell. And it could be that because these volunteers welcomed them to this church, these lost people will come back… and they’ll hear the word of God and be saved.

What else can we do? If you are a Christian, if you have been born again, did you know that have a testimony of what Jesus means to you, and what he has done in your life? Couldn’t you share that with a friend?

Or maybe… maybe God will give you the opportunity to actually share the gospel with someone. But maybe you don’t even know where to start. On the screen is something that’s often called the “Romans Road.” These are five verses from the Book of Romans that can help you understand and communicate the gospel—and even lead someone to Christ. Write them down, or I can make them available online.

And of course I’ve preached enough about this recently: Every single one of us can pray for me, for Rick, for Josh, for our church as we seek to bring men and women and boys and girls into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

So my point is, we can all do something to fulfill the Great Commission. What we cannot do is shirk our responsibility, tell ourselves that we’re not cut out for this work, that witnessing is for other people—people who are more qualified than we are; people who are more courageous than we are; people who have more faith than we do; people who are more spiritual than we are. 

We’re not allowed to do that because today’s scripture goes out of its way to tell us that no less a Christian than Peter himself was utterly unqualified to do this work.

Look at his bad attitude when Jesus gives him fishing advice: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” In other words, Jesus, you’re a great teacher and all—you know a lot about the Bible and God has obviously shown you his favor—but why don’t you leave the fishing to us ‘experts’? Stay in your lane, Jesus. We do this for a living; we were out all night fishing. If the fish weren’t biting last night, when it was dark, they’re certainly not going to be biting in the daylight.” Peter had been up all night. He was tired, grumpy, irritable… angry that he hadn’t caught anything.

He doesn’t believe Jesus knows what he’s talking about. He doesn’t have any faith, to speak of, that this is going to work. He is filled with doubt. In the previous chapter, in Luke 4:38-39, Jesus had healed his mother-in-law, so maybe, as a courtesy to Jesus, he thinks he owes Jesus the benefit of the doubt. But it’s easy to see how little faith Peter has in Jesus. It’s easy to see how unqualified Peter was.

Yet look what Jesus does through him!

So you think Jesus can’t do great things through you—with that tiny amount of faith that you have? Of course he can!

No modern person was more successful at “fishing for men and women” than the late Billy Graham. Let’s estimate, very conservatively, that there are currently tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people who are in heaven or will be in heaven because of his witness. Graham often explained his success like this:

If you are walking down a road, and you happen to see a turtle sitting on top of a tall fence post, what would you assume? You would, of course, assume that the turtle did not climb up there on his own. You would assume that someone far larger than the turtle picked him up and then placed him atop the tall post for some mysterious reason.[1]

Listen: You and I—Toccoa First United Methodist Church—we are going to be successful in the mission that Jesus has given us, but it won’t be because of who we are—how special we are. It’s going to be because of how amazing Jesus is! We’re going to look back on this time and say, not “Look what we did!” but “Look what Jesus did!” 

Peter’s example demonstrates that faith is not about a feeling—how spiritual am I feeling right now?—it’s about the person in whom we have faith. Faith is not about you; it’s about who—who Jesus is!

We’re just going to be a bunch of turtles on fence posts!

1. Terry Mattingly, “Turtle on a fence post? Concerning Billy Graham, St. Pope John Paul II, Bob Dylan and journalism,” getreligion.org. Accessed 2 March 2018.

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