Scripture: Matthew 4:12-23
I have found that one of the most relaxing and amazing things to do to pass time is to watch birds fly. As a child when riding in the car to town I would stare out the window and see the huge flocks of black birds jump up at once to take flight and do aerial acrobatic moves that were awe inspiring. Hundreds of birds moving in unison weaving and twisting, flipping and rolling only to settle back down onto the ground. I would stare in wonder watching the magic of nature noticing that not a single bird would fly into another while they performed their dance, each fitting in and doing their part to amaze the poor creatures that were not created with wings on the ground.
People have studied these birds and have tried to explain how and why they do these acrobatics but I could not tell you myself, to be honest I could not tell you what kind of bird they are, I just enjoy watching the show. But I do know that from observing the behaviors of birds like these people can determine things about the environment around them. From my days working outdoors I can tell you that if you have several birds in your lawn chances are very high that you would have a grub problem, and the birds are around to eat them. So if you happen to need some fishing bait you might observe the birds.
People have always observed their surroundings; they have studied how the animals and plants react. They study so they are able to survive and thrive in environments that are not always pleasant. As they studied and learned they were then able to use this knowledge to domesticate animals, to determine where the best land would be to plant crops, or when it was time to move. It is remarkable how well we have been able to do this. Just think for a bit, how did mankind eventually tame a dog, how did they learn to control a horse, the reindeer, cattle, or the largest mammal on land the elephant?
The world around us is filled with wonder if we were to take the time to slow down and enjoy it. We have yet to really observe and harness various amazing mysteries surrounding us. For example we have known and studied the forces of magnets for centuries but magnetism for the most part is still a mystery, after hundreds of years of study the forces of nature continue to cause many to wonder just as a child watching the birds perform outside a window.
Today, as we reflect on this passage of scripture, I would like us to focus on that sense of wonder and natural curiosity found in humanity. Jesus has moved from the banks of the Jordan, where John was preaching, to the Sea of Galilee. The cause of this move could be because of John’s arrest or just a change in the approach of ministry, either way the delivery method of the Gospel changes because of this move. In the ministry of John, the people would leave their homes and come to the Jordan to hear the message. In many ways that was the way the religious world worked. People would make holy pilgrimages to various sites to pay homage to God; the greatest example biblically would be the feasts that required travel to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. John’s ministry was transitioning the people out of this temple form of worship, basically telling them that God does not dwell only in a temple of stone but He can be worshiped anywhere. But the method was still similar it required a pilgrimage, people came out to listen to John. They left their community to worship God. Jesus changes the method, instead of having people come only to him, but he would go to the people. He moved to Capernaum and traveled the countryside teaching in their synagogues and ministering to the sick and hurting.
Jesus changed the method of ministry. The ministry is now active in the community, walking around and engaging people where they are, instead of requiring people to come away. This is interesting in many ways, because the methods do change at times. It like many things is cyclical. There is a time where the method is best in the heart of the community and at other times the gospel is best heard when one leaves their own community and get outside their normal routine. At times we build and people come while at other times we must go meet in the houses and parks within a community.
Jesus goes and he is walking on the shores of the sea. We do not know how long Jesus was in Capernaum before this story took place, but I would venture to say that he was there for a while. What we do know is that he was there long enough to walk around and attract the attention of the fishermen. It is the fishermen he first engages. Two brothers are casting a net into the see and Jesus calls out to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” or as other translations state, “I will make you fishers of men.”
Think about that statement. I will make you fish for people. It immediately makes one think of the art and science of fishing. One does not just simply fish. A true fisherman knows fish, like a rancher knows their cattle. They know how fish react to the climate and to the current weather patterns. They know how they react to light and what areas they inhabit at certain times of the year. They know what season the fish are mating, when they are hibernating, and how to effectively catch them in any situation. It is a skill that takes time to learn through observation and careful study; it takes years of practice and discipline. The men that Jesus is speaking to know their trade, they know when to take the boat out and when to stay home. They know where to go and what tools to use. Although it is not always an exact science, these men know their business because if they did not they would not survive.
They are also religious men. Last week we read a similar passage in the Gospel of John where two of these men were mentioned, they were disciple and students of John the Baptist. But today they are not on the banks of the Jordan but at home fishing in the sea. There is something about the Gospel that compels them, it drew them from their homes to seek out John, and it opens their lives to Jesus as well.
Jesus says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” He is offering them a new trade, a new way of life. The discipline required to learn how to fish is now being applied to humanity.
Let us go back to the human’s natural curiosity. For us to survive in our environments we must observe and adapt, we must learn skills and develop tools to survive. Andrew, Peter, James and John were master fishermen. They knew the tools of their trade, they knew the best places to fish and they knew how to read the environment to get an idea of where to go next. These same skills apply to ministry. To fish for people we first must develop an understanding of people. We need to know where they are coming from and what they hope for. To be effective we must observe the cultures we are in and adapt our methods to present the Gospel more clearly. We must devise tools to use that will effectively reach the people. This takes time, discipline, and a willingness to adapt.
These fishermen know the task at hand. They know that to be good fishermen they must use nets; these nets must be constructed properly. They are designed to catch large fish but to also let the smaller fish escape so they will grow and repopulate. These nets are thrown out into the waters and then pulled in, and as they are pulled the nets close and capture the targeted fish. This is one method of fishing, but there are other methods as well. If you were to go fishing in around Kansas City you would not use nets but hooks and lines. We place various types of bait on the hooks to attract the attention of a specific type of fish. Again one must know the fish and the tools to do this effectively. And just so you know I am a terrible fisherman so do not ask me what to use.
But in dealing with humanity we are not catching them or baiting them, this illustration was made to specific people of a specific profession. The point is discipline. Jesus is presenting to these men the ability to observe and read people, and to adapt their ministry to reach people more effectively. How do we do this? What are the forms and methods of communication utilized by our culture? What are the interests of those around us? What are their needs and what are their fears? If we cannot adjust and adapt to the culture we live in our greatest ministry efforts will be like throwing out fishing nets without the netting, as it is pulled it catches nothing. To be effective we need to first be students. We must know the Gospel as well as the culture so we can adapt to minister to those around us.
This applies to all types of ministry in every culture. Those that minister in Rwanda must know the message of Christ but they must also be able to present that message in the language of the Rwandan. For the Rwandan to listen to the message the minister must have some understanding of the people. They need to know the political, economic, and other cultural aspects affecting the people in their daily lives. What about our community? What are factors here that would affect our ability to minister?
Jesus is calling us to follow him into his ministry and to do that we need to develop a discipline to read the culture around us. To begin we first need to follow Him. We need to develop in our own lives the rhythm that Jesus himself had in ministry: a lifestyle of prayer, worship, and service to others. Without this rhythm our best efforts in ministry are empty, without power or substance. In prayer we connect to Christ, in worship we are empowered and in service to others we pass the grace on. In prayer we interact with the Spirit of God as we engage scripture and observe our community. In worship we join together to encourage one another to embrace the Spirit’s leadings and to go out and serve. In prayer we get direction, in worship we get confirmation. Both lead to service. Our prayer and worship is empty if we do not serve others. And our service is misplaced and ineffective if it is not connected to God.
We are faced with a great challenge. Jesus is calling us as he did those first disciples to follow him and he will make us fish for people. The challenge is learning and observing taking a step back to gain understanding before we move forward. The challenge is putting our own preferences off to the side so that collectively we can serve our community more effectively. It is adapting our ministry to engage with culture we are called to serve. We have a great challenge before us, but one that is filled with promise. God is calling us to become His laborers and to participate in His Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. The challenge is before us, but we are not alone in this task. The power that raised Jesus from the grave is available to each of us when we ask for it in His will and in His name. That is amazing power, power that we have only begun to understand after 2000 years of observance and study. But are we willing to rise up to the challenge, are we willing to drop the control of our own lives to follow Jesus into this great unknown? Are we willing to lose ourselves to gain the Kingdom of Heaven?
As we enter this time of open worship and holy expectancy, let us remember that curiosity of a child that would wonder about the dancing birds and other mysteries of our world. Let us remember the curiosity and the desire to know and let us apply that same curiosity to the challenge and joy God has set before us.