Sunday, January 22, 2023

“Fishing for People” The Gospel Message for Sunday, January 22, 2023 — 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 4th chapter of Matthew, beginning with the 12th verse.

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:12-23)

Dear Heavenly Father, you have revealed yourself to us through your Word, recorded in the Scriptures, spoken by the prophets, but most clearly, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Word become flesh. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to your Word, so that we might perceive your presence among us, embrace your truth for our lives, and gain the courage to witness to others of your redeeming grace. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

“Fishing for People”

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, who is the fisher of people. Amen.

Our gospel lesson is the familiar lesson of the call of the first four disciples. Jesus returns to Galilee to begin his public ministry after hearing that John is now in prison. Jesus starts by preaching to the people that they must repent, for the kingdom of God is near.

God’s time was now breaking upon the earth. It was the time that salvation would come in the form of Jesus. The time was now beginning to be fulfilled. The people who walked in a great darkness were going to see the light. The light of the Epiphany was now upon the earth and was beginning His ministry.

“Time’s up! You’ve been waiting how many years for the Messiah to show up? Well, I’m here. And right on time.” God’s people can trust in the perfect timing of God. He may not always come when you want Him, but He is always right on time, and when He shows up, it’s with supreme authority.

We’ll be a lot happier if we remember that sometimes God answers our prayers by saying, “Not yet.” A man once asked God how long a million years was to Him. God replied, “It’s just like a single second of your time, my child.” So the man asked, “And what about a million dollars?” The Lord replied, “To me, it’s just like a single penny.” So the man gathered himself up and said, “Well, Lord, could I have one of your pennies?” And God said, “Certainly, my child, just a second.”

The timing of God is perfect.

God’s timing was now at hand. The time had been fulfilled, the Messiah had come, and He had to begin His ministry.

And one of the first things he did was to call four ordinary men to follow him, to be his disciples. Jesus had a dream about His ministry. It would be a ministry that would reach out to those who were in deep darkness. Jesus needed others to make His plan a reality.

He needed others to dream along with him.

But dreams can be dangerous.

In 1988, Hollywood came out with a movie about a man named Tucker. It was the story of a man who tried to fight the Detroit auto industry by creating a car named after himself. In one scene, Tucker recalls how, as a young boy, his Italian-born mother would warn him, “Don’t get too close to people; you’ll catch their dreams.” She had meant to say, “you’ll catch their germs.” But in broken English, she had mistakenly used the word “dreams.” So Tucker grew up keeping himself from others lest he catches their dreams. Dreams are dangerous, after all, for they have the power to change the human soul and to overthrow the status quo. Just ask anyone whose heart was filled with fear when a black preacher declared on national television, “I have a dream.” Dreams are dangerous things. They are to be feared. They are to be avoided at all costs.

But merely avoiding other people’s dreams out of fear of what might happen can cause us to miss the wonder of what does happen. Jim Egan worked at computer fairs helping customers decorate their booths. In the ’70s, Egan was approached by a couple of long-haired kids who wanted some chrome displays to make their booth “look flashy.” They were short of cash but offered him some stock in their new company as a trade. Egan, who had seen businesses come and go in his twenty-year career, said he would accept only hard cash. So Steve Wozniak and Steven Jobs did without the chrome, fixed up their booth, and kept their stock in Apple Computer to themselves. Presumably, Jim Egan is still decorating booths for hard cash. To be caught up in another person’s dream can be dangerous, but to avoid that same dream could be disastrous. So to dream or not to dream, that is today’s question.

Jesus had a dream, and he let others catch it. The four disciples were not afraid of Jesus’ dream as the text says: “At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:20)

At once, they did not give it a second thought. At once, they caught that dream of Jesus and left everything behind to follow him. At once, they left family and friends to follow this man they had just met. They left their comfortable trade at once, which was probably making them a comfortable living as they were professional fishermen. They gave that all up to follow Jesus, not knowing where they would go or what they would do for sure, or what they would do to sustain their lives, but at once, they left and followed Jesus.

And Jesus wants us to catch that dream, also. He wants us to go fishing, fishing to spread the forgiveness and grace of Christ to others.

But sometimes we do it all wrong, as seen in the following:

“On a beautiful autumn day a few years ago, we went with some friends to float the Muskegon River not far from our home. It was during the Salmon run, and it was something to behold. We lived near the world-class tailwaters of Lake Michigan, where Salmon as big and nearly as fast as torpedoes cruise the river in the fall. There were seven of us on the river together that day: Tim and three of his sons, myself, Kyle and Chuck.

We planned to put in just below the Croton Dam and float down a few miles fishing and enjoying the bracing autumn day. We had taken up fly-fishing, but Tim had rigged a spin-casting rod with some spawn. We had gone on ahead with the younger boys while the older boys were taking their time seeking out fishing holes. They had Trout in mind. We were mostly canoeing with plans to take a few Salmon if they were trying to jump in the boat. The older boys had fly rods, and they were mostly ignoring the Salmon and fly-casting for Brown Trout and Rainbows.

The first time I saw a Salmon cruise by upstream, I was shocked at its size. It was a huge, very fast fish. But about an hour into our trip, we rounded a bend, and ahead of us, three or four huge Salmon were churning the water like a washing machine. It was a spectacle impossible to ignore. I quickly grabbed the rod and began frantically casting into the pool. For the next few minutes, it was like we were taken with a fever. Tim and I are both professional men, but we lost all reserve and reflection and began to flail the water with our lures. My first cast landed on the bank, and the second cast snarled in an overhanging tree. Tim waded over into the whole to get my line free while I made wild gestures upstream so the boys would know we had found a hole inhabited by monster fish.

Upriver the guys saw we were into something, and they began to paddle fast to see what it was. By the time they were close enough for us to gesture to indicate the size of the monster Salmon, the big fish were gone, and the hole was as still as a church on Monday morning. In our enthusiasm to land a big fish, we had so fouled the hole that there would be no fishing there for the rest of the afternoon. The worst part was that we had to put up with the boys ribbing us for the rest of the day.” — Kenneth L. Pierpont

Jesus called himself a fisher of men and expected that all who considered themselves his disciples would follow him in the same pursuit. If we are not careful in our eagerness to catch people for God, though, we can drive them away. This especially happens when people don’t feel that we genuinely care for them. When they sense we see them as a project or a Sunday School assignment, we are clumsy fishermen. When we just unload our canned speech on them while we are keeping them at a distance relationally, they will usually not hear with their hearts. We want to be ready to give the message of the gospel. Without it, no one will ever have eternal life. We need to tell it well and tell it often, but if we are not careful to accompany the words of the gospel with the music of genuine love, we will foul the hole and ruin the fishing.

Sometimes we get so caught up in ourselves that we cannot feel the hurt, the pain of those living around us, and we ruin the fishing. We foul up the fishing hole.

Notice the last verse of our lesson. Jesus has asked the four to follow Him. Then it says: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23). Jesus took the disciples and did not foul up the fishing hole but went and told the good news to all who would listen and reached out to the sick and the infirm.

Jesus did not make so much noise with his preaching that he scared the people away as the fishermen did in our story. No, Jesus preached and reached out to those that needed Him the most.

I think Jesus would like us to be like the girl in the following:

Mary was a little girl who was asked to run an errand for her mother shortly before supper. She dashed away to the store to get a loaf of bread. But supper was on the table, and the family all gathered, and still no Mary. Finally, she came skipping in with the loaf of bread. Her mother scolded her for fooling around on the way home. Mary said she had seen Susan, and Susan’s doll just broke. Her mother asked, “Did you help Susan fix her doll?”

“No,” Mary said, “I helped her cry!!!”

I helped her cry!! Isn’t that what the good news of the gospel is all about? Jesus is with us in our time of need and helping us cry. Jesus, standing with us, giving us a shoulder to lean on.

We are not to foul up the fishing hole with our noise about the gospel, but we are to be there alongside those who, yes, need to hear the gospel but, more importantly, feel the gospel in their lives. People need to feel the gospel from our helping hand.

Will you go at once and become a fisher of people?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, how easy it is to get wrapped up in our own lives and priorities and forget there is a sea of men, women, and children who need to know Your love and salvation. Give us a longing, Father, and the desire to fish for men, women, and children and be faithful witnesses until You return to take us home to be with You forever. Amen.

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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Sermon contributed by Rev. Tim Zingale.
The call of the first four disciples.

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