Posted on Feb 10, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
So, how many of you woke up today and said to yourself, "Today, I will be an evangelist!". No one? Well, I guess that doesn't surprise me, but you know, week after week, we end our time of worship with something like, “Go in peace, share the Good News!” and in return, we shout back “Thanks be to God.” In less fancy terms, it is as if at the end of the worship we are saying, “Go, evangelize to the world,” to which we always respond, “It is awesome that God has prepared us and called us to be evangelists!”. Pretty sneaky, huh! I mean, how many of us would be so excited at the end of worship if I said, now go evangelize the love of God to the world. But, as we already saw, not many of us want to go out of here to evangelize.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe we want to be those that share God with the world, but I also believe most of us don’t think we know how to do it, nor are we good enough to do it. In fact, for most of us, evangelism is best left to the professional. But the truth is, evangelism is best done by those of us who don’t think we are good enough, and I would argue that is a key part of our message today.
Now, before we go any further, let’s take a look at where we are in Luke’s Gospel. When we finished last week, Jesus had been kicked out of Nazareth (end of Chapter 4). Actually, the folks there tried to kill him, but somehow he got away and he went on to Capernaum. When he got to Capernaum, which is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, he again began to teach in the synagogue on the sabbath, and while doing that he cast out a demon. And again the people were amazed by the authority and power by which he spoke and commanded demons. Then, that night he went to Simon’s house for dinner, but before dinner he healed Simon’s mother-in-law, who had been very sick. That evening everyone brought their sick to him to be healed, and it is after all this that Luke then begins this story we read today.
The word had spread about Jesus, and people were gathering from all over to see him, listen to him, and be healed by him. But Jesus needed to get away from the crowds, so one morning he goes down to the shore and gets on Simon’s boat. Now, Simon and the other fishermen had been out all night fishing; they fished at night because it was too hot during the day. During the day, the fish went much deeper into the cooler waters, but at night they came up into the shallower waters to feed, and so the fishermen usually fished at night in the shallower waters.
Now, I am sure Simon and his friends were exhausted; after all, they had been casting their nets all night. It was time to clean up, go home, and get some rest before they had to go out and do it all again. But Jesus shows up, invites himself onto Simon’s boat, and instructs him to push out a little ways so he could speak to the crowds. And if that wasn’t bad enough, when he was done speaking to the crowds, he tells Simon, “go out into the deep waters and cast your nets.” Now, there a couple of interesting things to note here. First, these fishermen didn’t usually fish in deep water, that was too hard. It was easier to wait for the fish to come up at night. Secondly, Simon was exhausted, as he had been fishing all night and he and the other fishermen had caught nothing. The odds of catching anything now were very slim, because the fish were probably not in their part of the lake. But out of respect for this great teacher, Simon does what Jesus says, and to his surprise, he not only caught some fish, but there were so many in the net that he had to call for help.
Now, Simon was amazed, and he realizes that he had doubted Jesus, and he asks Jesus to leave him because he knows that he is not worthy to be around this incredible man, but Jesus didn’t think that about Simon. In fact, Jesus thought Simon did fantastic, and he says that infamous line that we all know, “Simon, don’t be afraid, from now on you will be catching people" (5:10). And, with that invitation, Simon, James, and John leave everything to follow Jesus.
So, what does this story mean for us today. First, let’s talk about this notion of catching people. Many don’t like this imagery because it sounds like we are supposed to trap people into the church. But that is not the meaning of this phrase. You see, Jesus wasn’t talking about fishing in the sense of casting a net, like Simon always did, and then pulling in a bunch of dead fish to eat. No, the term in Greek Jesus used that we translate as “fish for,” or “catch” is “zogron.” Literally it means to “rescue alive” or to “catch alive.” In other words, Jesus more literally said to Simon, “Do not be afraid, for you will now rescue people from their deaths.”
That day, Jesus invited Simon, James, and John to become people who would be those that freed people from the oppression and the poverty that was “killing” them. They would become those that would rescue people from this broken world. He invited them to be evangelists, and that is what Jesus invites you and I to be today, as well.
Now, I know that we don’t want to be evangelists. I mean, the negative imagery that most of us have about evangelism is well deserved. The church over the millennia has been awful at it, but in its truest form, evangelism is nothing more than sharing God’s love with the world. Evangelism is not about coercing people with fear to be part of the church. It isn’t about inviting them to sit in a pew on Sunday morning. It isn’t about judging others and condemning them. No, being an evangelist is about being invitational. That is inviting people to be part of community that will accept and love them as they are and inviting them into a healthy, friendly, open community.
To put it another way, as we heard the past two weeks, evangelism is the act of sharing the Good News with the poor, setting the oppressed free, and offering sight to the blind, and we do that by inviting people to be part of our community. When you hear me talk about being invitational, I’m not talking about inviting people to come sit in the pews on Sunday morning. No, I am talking about inviting your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors, and anyone who needs it into this community so that they might experience the same love and support that all of you do and that you so often talk about. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think we all need to attend worship regularly, but first, we need to be part of a healthy community if worship is going to be meaningful to us, and this is what Jesus did when he invited those men that day to be disciples and to follow him.
Now, there is one more point I want to lift up for us today. So often when we talk about being invitational and growing the kingdom, we also want to put it off until we are ready. We will do that when we fix buildings, when we have better programs, when we have more money… Too often we think we are too tired to do this work. But remember when Jesus went to these men that day. It was at the end of a long night of backbreaking work. Those men would have been exhausted and ready for rest, and yet, Jesus said keep working. We, too, are tired of all we do, and in the midst of that Jesus is saying to us, keep working, cast those nets, and go catch people. And to make matters worse, he told them to go into the deep waters, which was an even harder place to catch fish. Today, with all our shortcomings, fears, and hesitations, Jesus is inviting you and me to go, be catchers of people, and grow His church.
May we all desire to be catchers of people. Amen.