Sermon for February 6th, 2022. Annual Meeting Sunday
“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”
This is how Simon Peter first responds to Jesus when Jesus tells him to go fishing again. He basically says: “well, what do you think I have been doing all this time?” Peter is tired, hungry, probably cold, and then the man who has been telling the crowds “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” that same man is now telling him that he needs to row out from shore, go back to work, and drop his nets again. So much for rest.
You know, I think it is important when we are talking about Andrew and Peter and James and John to remember that when we talk about them as fishermen, we aren’t talking about a bunch of weekend anglers that just want to have some beers on the lake with their buddies in their free time. This is their livelihood. Empty nets mean empty pockets. Those fish didn’t just represent something to toss in the frying pan for supper. The fish was food, but it was also their security. It was their healthcare, it was their retirement, it was the mortgage, it was their children’s tuition. That empty net means more to Peter than you think. Peter needs fish.
And maybe it is because Peter so desperately needs fish that he is willing to go out again when Jesus tells him to. Maybe he figures what else does he have to lose. He’s tired now, he’ll be more tired in a couple hours. Maybe it’s worth trusting Jesus, or at least giving him a chance. So Peter says, “alright, if you say so, I will do it. Let’s give it a shot.” They row out from shore, let down their nets, and well…you know what happens. They catch more fish than they know what to do with. Peter needs help getting the net full of fish into the boat.
And Peter is so stunned. He can’t imagine why this is happening to him. He’s just an average working man. He’s not special. And he knows that he’s a sinner. He’s not some holy roller that sits in the synagogue all day reading the holy books. He doesn’t deserve this blessing. He’s not worthy of it. But Jesus blesses him anyways and it completely changes his life. Completely changes it. There is a transformation that happens in Peter in this gospel passage and I want you to watch for it because it would be easy to miss it. It’s critically important though.
In the beginning of this gospel passage Peter is a man who needs something. He needs fish, that is his pressing concern. Actually Peter probably needs many things, he needs fish, but he also needs rest, he needs food, he’s aware that he’s a sinner so he also needs forgiveness, he needs some sense of holiness or righteousness or relationship with God, he knows that that is missing in his life too. Peter is a man in need. He starts out as a man who needs something, and then he has this encounter with Jesus. He takes a chance on Jesus even though he is tired and worn out. He decides to trust him and not only is he blessed with the fish that he had spent all night looking for, watch what happens when he gets to shore: when Peter and James and John get to shore they leave everything behind and follow Jesus. Everything, the fish, the boats, the nets, they leave all that behind to become fishers of men. After Peter has this encounter with Jesus, suddenly those things that he thought he needed don’t seem so important anymore. Peter started out as a man who needs something, but he has been transformed into a man who has something. He has Jesus. He has a relationship with God. He has grace. He has forgiveness. He has a message about God’s miraculous power, and Peter hasn’t even seen the empty tomb yet. The really stunning earth-shaking miracles haven’t even happened yet, but Peter has already been transformed by meeting Jesus and trusting him.
He has been transformed from a man who needs something to a man who has something. That is the difference between being a fisher of fish and a fisher of men. When you are a fisher of fish, you are catching something to keep. It is for your own profit or your own empty stomach. It is something you need. But when you are a fisher of men, you don’t do it for your own benefit, you do it for theirs. You aren’t getting something, you are giving something away. You have something they need. You are giving people Jesus. You are giving them a relationship with God and forgiveness and grace and everything that comes with that relationship, including the promise and hope of eternal life. To be a fisher of men is not about catching something that you need, it is about knowing that you have something that others need and being willing to share it with them. That is why Peter can walk away from his boat and all the fish at the end of this gospel: Jesus has changed him from a man who needs something into a man who has something, and what Peter has now is more precious than all the fish in the lake, because Peter will never have less of Jesus by sharing him with others. God’s grace works differently than human economies: with God’s grace the more you give it away, the more you get back in return.
That is the transformative power of meeting Jesus. It isn’t just that Jesus can fill your nets with fish. Obviously, Jesus has the power to do that. Jesus can and will see to your needs, but the more amazing thing is his power to completely reprioritize your life to the point where the things you thought you needed now seem insignificant and you can walk away from them or not focus on them. Jesus can transform us from people who need something, to people who have something. People who know they have something of immense value that the world needs. People who have something that has the power to change, and yes even save, lives. That is what happens when you really meet Jesus.
Every week we come here to meet Jesus. We meet Jesus in baptism, we meet Jesus in the proclamation of Holy Scripture and in listening to his teachings, and we meet Jesus in the sacrament of Holy Communion where we are regularly fed and nourished by his divine life. We meet Jesus in the place in so many ways, through the sacraments most fully, but also in music, in prayer, in art, and even (as hard as it may be to believe) we meet Jesus in each other. And you know what, that meeting should change us. We come here every week as a people who need something: people who need guidance, people who need forgiveness, people who need courage or hope. And when we walk back out those doors, we should be walking out as people who have something. We should be walking out as people who have met Jesus once again. As people who know that we have something, and have something that the rest of the world needs. And the best thing of all, it is something we can give away and never have less of. That is what it means to be a fisher of men. It is having something of immeasurable value that you can give to others.
So often when we talk about Church growth and evangelism and “catching” new Christians or new parishioners, we think about it in terms of the benefit that it will be to us, or our needs as a parish community. We think about it like we think about catching fish for supper. It’s human. We all do it. Every parish does it. You’re here five minutes and we are already measuring you for a cassock and trying to convince you to serve on the vestry. It is so easy for us to become so focused on what we need, or what we think we need, that we forget or lose sight of what we have. And that is never more true than when we are talking about parish finances. You’ve probably already seen our budget for 2022, if not you will at the meeting later. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a little scary. Not so much for this year, but five or ten years down the road and the loss of five or ten tithers or faithful givers and we could eventually be faced with some very hard decisions, as many, many churches already have. Do I worry about that? Of course I do. I have a lot of sympathy with Peter at the beginning of this gospel; sometimes it feels like we fish and fish and fish and at the end of the day still have an empty net. It is so easy when you have needs that you become so focused on them that that is all that you see. And then evangelism becomes about balancing the budget, you worry about getting new people to help us pay the bills and you start to think that we need new people, more than they need what we have. And that is where we fail. Peter and James and John, they knew what a treasure they had. They knew just how transformative an encounter with Jesus can be, and if we don’t know it we will never really grow this church. Certainly not the way that they did.
Because the truth is that we have something that other people need. We have grace; we have hope; we have an intimate relationship with God; we have Jesus. We need to know that and know it deep down. Now I’m not suggesting that you need to walk up to every person on the street and say “you need Jesus” although some days I am tempted, but I am suggesting that when you leave here every week you should do so as someone who has just been given something that the world needs and is ready to share it with them. People need Jesus and we’ve got him. We may not have a monopoly on him, other churches may have him too, but we’ve got him. He is in the boat with us. We’ve got a lot of things going for us as a church and I could stand up here and brag all morning about the choir or the kids, or any number of things that we do well, but at the end of the day what matters most is that this is a place where people meet Jesus. That is the most precious thing on earth. That is more important than anything we might need, or think that we need. Because Jesus has the power to transform us from people who need something into people who have something. So let’s let him do that. We have something that the world needs; we have a blessing to share with others. That is the real difference between fishing for fish and fishing for me: When you are fishing for fish it is the one who is fishing that has the most to gain, but when you are fishing for men, the one who stands to get the biggest blessing is the one who is caught.