1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,
1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
1:16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen.
1:17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
1:18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
1:19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.
1:20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Like Cat was just telling the kids during the children’s sermon, one of my favorite hobbies is fly fishing. In the late spring and summer I’m always trying to sneak away for just an hour to fish. And, even when I don’t catch anything, which is most of the time, I just love being there in the stream, casting each fly out like a hope.
So, I like fishing stories in the Bible, and I take special joy in the fact that most of Jesus’ first followers spent their lives fishing. And that still matters to us today because fishing is a big part of the Gospel stories. So much so, that we even talk about how our job as Christians is to be “fishers of people”.
And all those fishing stories start with this one. One day two fishermen, Simon and Andrew, were out on their boat, casting nets out into the sea. And Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee and said to them “follow me”. And they did. They left their nets right there, and they followed.
And then they all walked a little further down the shore and they saw two brothers, James and John, and Jesus did the same thing. And they too left everything behind to follow Jesus. And just like that, Jesus had made a few everyday fishermen four of his twelve disciples. And so all these years later we call this passage “the calling of the disciples”.
Last week we started a new sermon series centered around a big question: Why are WE here? That is, why are all of us, you and I, here together. And the quick answer is that we are here to be the church together. But over the next three weeks I’m going to be talking about three specific reasons we are called here together: to learn, to change, and to love.
So we have this story today, about Jesus and some guys who fish, and you might be wondering “What does that have to do with learning anything?”
The answer, sadly, has little to do with fishing, and more to do with what we call the people who followed Jesus during his ministry: disciples. And it’s important to note that in addition to the twelve disciples we often talk about, there were probably many more, all of whom surrounded Christ. And Scripture again and again uses that word, disciples, to describe them.
Take a minute and think how you understand that word “disciple”. When you hear it do you automatically think “followers of Jesus”? That wouldn’t be surprising. The word has certainly come to take on that meaning. But the reality is that the word has been used for so many others too. In Jesus’ time a lot of religious leaders, and others as well, had a group of disciples. John the Baptist, who was loyal to Jesus from the beginning, even had his own, and they followed him just like the disciples we know who followed Jesus.
Each disciple followed someone attentively because being a disciple, to anyone, had to do with one thing in particular: learning. And they thought the person they were following had something to teach. So much so that the actual word the original New Testament texts, written in Greek, use for disciples is “mathetes”. Now, you don’t need to remember that word, but know that the easiest translation of it is simply this: students, or learners.
Now, I know you all enough to know that this is a community that values learning. We have good schools in our community. We are right next door to the Academy. Many of you are teachers or other kinds of educators. You want educated church leaders. And I would guess that if I asked any of you what you wanted for your children or grandchildren or any other young person in your life, one of the things you would say would be “I want them to get a good education.” Or, “I want them to love learning.”
And that’s a good thing. Because you can’t help but grow when you learn. And when you stop learning, you stop growing. And if we stop learning and growing, then we can’t do any of the work of the church. Learning is the way we prepare to be Christians.
Cat was just talking about this in the children’s sermon. We were showing the children the fishing rod and the flies and the reel and everything else, and we were talking about how before you fish you have to have the tools you need, and you have to learn how to use them. And that’s why a community that teaches you those things, and gives you the tools, makes all the difference.
It’s fitting that we are using my fly fishing gear to demonstrate that, because the first time I tried to learn to fly fish, I didn’t do so well. I like trying to figure things out on my own, and I’d known how to fish with bait most of my life and I thought to myself “how hard can this be”? And so I ended up in a river, slipping on the rocks, not knowing how to tie the knots, getting my line tangled in the tree, and never, ever, catching anything. And after a few months I said to myself “this is boring” and I gave up.
But a few years later, I decided to try again. And this time, I decided that maybe things would go a little more smoothly if I asked someone for help. And so I took some free lessons at the local fly fishing shop. And I asked a lot of questions. And I did a lot of watching. And I even stood on the front lawn with a fly rod casting back and forth, back and forth, until I knew what I was doing. And the next time I went out on a river, everything worked. And I realized I loved it.
Being a Christian is not the same as being someone who fly fishes. It’s much more important than that. But the principle is the same. Being a follower of Jesus is not easy. And it’s hard to do on your own. And it can be so frustrating at times that if you have no one in your life that you can learn from, or ask to help you, you might just feel like throwing up your hands and giving up for good.
But if you want to learn, and if someone is willing to teach, that can change everything.
In the church we sometimes use two words interchangeably: disciples and apostles. This is especially true of the twelve we see Jesus call himself. But those two words don’t mean the same thing. Disciple means student, but apostle means “messenger” or one who is “sent out”. And the Bible doesn’t use the word “apostle” for the twelve until later on because before Jesus set his disciples loose on the world to be his messengers, he first had to teach them. They had to follow him, ask questions, and see how he lived. They had to be disciples. They had to be students of Jesus and his life. Only them could they become the teachers themselves.
Jesus didn’t call them out of the boats and say “now you are fishers of people”, after all. He called them and said “I will make you fishers of people”.
A large part of the Christian life, our life, is doing that same thing: learning to follow Jesus. And, like I said, that’s not easy to do alone. And so that’s one of the things that we in the church have to do well together. We have to learn together, and we have to teach one another.
That’s one reason that when we started searching for a new Minister for Christian Growth, the position Cat now fills, we were very careful to say that Christian Growth programming is not just a concern for our children and youth. We have to do those things well, of course, because we are teaching them what it means to follow Christ and to be the church.
But, for those of us who are adults, we can’t stop learning and growing either. We have to keep encouraging one another as we learn how to follow Jesus, whether we are 19 or 99. The task of learning and growing together should never end, because when it does, so does our commitment to the one who calls us to learn, and grow, with him. It’s like we just stop dead on the path and stop following him. And when that journey ends, so does the church, because the church that will not learn, and will not grow spiritually, is not actually being the church at all.
And so here’s the challenge: how do we all keep being learners and teachers together, here in this church? Cat and I, as your pastoral staff, are always going to work hard to teach, and we are also going to work hard to keep learning and growing in Christ. But, this is more than just the job of those of us who work here everyday. This is the job of everyone here. Each of us is called to learn, to grow, and to teach because it’s the best way to be church together, and for each other.
I’ll close with this story. Last Monday, on Martin Luther King day, I went to see the movie “Selma”. And there is a scene early in the film that moved me. (I’m not giving anything away here, so don’t worry.) In it, Martin Luther King is shown in a moment of despair and uncertainty. And he needs encouragement. And we just see him dialing a phone number written down on a scrap of paper.
A moment later the scene cuts away and Mahalia Jackson, the great Gospel singer, is shown waking up in the middle of the night. And she tells her husband it’s Dr. King on the line, and then Dr. King asks her to “sing it”. And so, with this powerful voice, she begins to sing what was Dr. King’s favorite hymn: “Precious Lord take my hand”. And every lines seems to fit: “I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.” “Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me on.”
What does that have to do with church? What does that have to do with learning or teaching?
In my mind, everything. Because when we are at a place where we need encouragement, when we are uncertain about what to do next, and when we need guidance, that’s when we need one another. That’s when we need someone we can turn to who can teach us, and remind us, what it is to follow Christ. That’s when we need someone who will call us back, and walk a path of discipleship with us. That’s when we need church. If Dr. King, who probably “got it” when it came to following Christ more than most Christians do, knew he needed it, that says something to me.
And it reminds me that at its core church is about learning who Christ is again and again, and church is about growing each day of our journey. Church is about never stopping on the path self-satisfied. It’s about knowing there’s always something new to learn. And the only way to do church well, the only way to do it at all, is to do church together. Amen.