Sunday’s Sermon – To Catch a Fish


Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 10, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio and Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. 

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Mark 1:14-20

And after the arrest of John, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, "The time has been fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is near; repent and trust in the good news."

And as he was passing by the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew, Simon's brother, casting out their nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Here, follow me. And I will make you to become fishers of people." And immediately, after they'd left the nets, they went after him. And after he'd gone farther a little way, he saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, and they were in the boat, mending the nets, and immediately he called to them. And after they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired man, they went after him.

To Catch a Fish

There’s an old saying that I think makes a lot of sense, and it goes like this: Send a thief to catch a thief. Now the actual saying may go back to a guy named Thomas Fuller, an English churchman back in the middle of the seventeenth century, who wrote in his Church History of Britain: “Always set a thief to catch a thief; the greatest deer-stalkers [in other words, poachers] make the best park-keepers.” But whether he was the first to say it or not really doesn’t matter, like I said, I think it makes a lot of sense. Who better to catch a thief than someone who already knows all the tricks of the trade. I mean, dah.

But I’ll tell you, this isn’t just an assumption that seems to make sense, it’s actually supported by real, scientific research. You see, in a study done at University College, London, researchers “...graded 51 volunteers simultaneously on their abilities to tell lies – and spot other liars. [And when they graphed] the results, it [was] clear that people who are good at telling lies can also spot them far more easily than ‘normal’ people.” And this wasn’t based on their intelligence or emotional makeup; liars were just able to spot other liars far more accurately than people who told the truth. And if we have any really good liars here this morning, you can confirm that I’m being straight with y’all. I guess the premise of that old Alfred Hitchock-Cary Grant-Grace Kelly movie was right on the mark.

And you know, I think Jesus recognized the same kind of thing when he called out to Simon and Andrew and said that he would make them fishers of people. You see, using the imaginary in the passage, I think he knew that the best way to catch other fish, other people, was to use some fish that he’d already caught himself. In others words, to invite regular, average folks, living out in the real world, to follow him after he’d gone, it didn’t make sense to send down a bunch of angels or even to send out a group of scholars who’d spent their entire lives studying the Bible. They wouldn’t be able to identify with people. It just wouldn’t work. You see, it takes a thief to catch a thief. And in a symbolic way, it takes someone kind of fishy, you know, someone who can almost think like a fish, to catch a fish. Therefore, to reach out and bring in people who were fishers or tax collectors or even prostitutes, you know, sinners who desperately needed to hear some grace, he really wanted folks who could understand their thoughts and feelings, their hopes and desires, their fears and frustrations. You see, I really think Jesus understood this, because that’s exactly how he approached those four fishermen, And what’s even better, it worked, because later, that’s exactly what Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John did.

I mean, just think about what Jesus accomplished in these verses. He saw these guys doing exactly what you’d expect them to be doing given their occupations. Man, they weren’t praying. They weren’t reading the scriptures. In fact, they weren’t demonstrating anything that would mark them as super-spiritual or even a little bit faithful. No, Peter and Andrew were casting out their nets and James and John were doing some repairs to their equipment. They were regular fisherman, doing what fisherman were suppose to do. That’s what Jesus saw. And after seeing them and what they were doing, he called out to them right where they were. And then he gave them a command and a promise. He said, “Here, follow me. And I will make you to become fishers of people.” You see, in a very real sense, Jesus had baited his hook, cast out his line and was about to bring in his catch. But what would make these guys different than fish you scale, clean and fry up, they would be sent out to bait their own hooks, cast out their own lines and bring in their own catch. Just like Jesus, they would be fishers of people.

And I’ll tell you, when you read the rest of the story, that’s exactly what they did, isn’t it? Good night, in our passage, Mark tells us that immediately, after [Peter and Andrew had] left the nets, they went after him.” And a little later, James and John did the exact same thing. Good night nurse, they even left their dad with the hired the man and went after Jesus. And as we know from the rest of the gospel story, as they followed, they became disciples and joined with eight others. And they learned from Jesus by listening to his words and studying his example. And even though, from time to time, they proved to be very flawed themselves, I mean, they competed for attention and they vied for position and ultimately they either betrayed him, denied him or just ran away, they would step out into a world they knew well, and they began to share with folks who were no better or no worse then they, folks whom these disciples knew inside out, but with one difference. Peter and Andrew and James and John had been caught by the Savior and they could trust that their lives were in the loving hands of God and that the words of Jesus were true, you know, that “the time has been fulfilled and the Kingdom of God [was] near; [therefore, now they could all] repent and trust in the good news.” And you know, because they were so much like the people with whom they were sharing this message, they could do it in a way that their friends and neighbors could understand and they could show how the good news of Christ might relate to them and what they were going through. Those who were caught by Jesus became the people God used to catch others for Jesus. He sent bunch of fish to catch fish.

And I’ll tell you, this is just as true today as it was then.Although we might not like to hear it, we are here because we’ve been caught. Do you realize that? We are here because God used folks who are more like us then they are like him to reel us in and bring us into the boat. Now, it may have somebody in our family. It may have been a friend or maybe a neighbor who took a special interest in us. My goodness, it may even have been a Sunday School teacher or a youth leader or, perish the thought, a minister through whom Jesus saw us. Man, through that individual, Christ saw us, maybe at home or at school or at work, maybe even at church. But regardless of the place, through the eyes of that person, Jesus saw us, you and me. And he saw that there was, well, maybe something missing, maybe a sense of peace that had gotten pushed aside by worry or a feeling of confidence that had gotten swallowed up by shame. Man, he saw that we needed to hear that we were and loved by God and that nothing could separate us from that love. And then through the mouth of that other person, that other fish, he called out to us with words we could understand and trust. And even though that call might have become muddled with a lot of stuff that has far more to do with what we’d like to hear than what Jesus is actually saying, the promise he made to us, that he makes to you and me is the same as the one he made to those guys two thousand years ago. You see, speaking through that parent or that teacher or that preacher, he said and says, “Here, follow me. And I will make you to become fishers of people.” In other words, with all our thoughts and feelings, with all our hopes and desires, with all our fears and frustrations, Jesus has called and is calling us to follow so that we can learn from him, from his words and from his example. And then we can step out and take what we’ve learned and combine it with what we already know, and man, we can start to fish.

And who better to do that then us? Man, we know the kind of mess and stress that people are going through now-a-days, whether that involves dealing with all that stuff that’s associated with aging and having to let go or living in a world where hatred and violence are becoming the rule rather than the exception or watching their children or grandchildren grow up in reality that, whether they like it or not, has changed and is changing and they just don’t know what to do beyond remembering the “good old days” and pretending they can be recreated. You see, we know what they’re going through, because we’re going through it too. And for that reason, we can share something that we believe but that they may not, at least not yet, and I’m talking about how we’re all loved by the creator of the universe and how our past has been cleansed and our future secured and how right now we’re surrounded and actually filled with the Spirit of God. And we can show what that means not only through words, but more importantly through the kindness, through the compassion, through the love we show.

Of course, we may not all be at the same point. Some of us have believed in this stuff for a long time, and for some, this just might be the first time you’ve heard it. But you know, that’s fine, because this doesn’t change the fact that we’ve have been draw here, drawn into this boat together. And together, Jesus is challenging us to take who we are and what we have and combine it with all the stuff we’ve learn and then to do a little bit of what we’ve been called to do, and I’m talking about becoming fishers of people, because we’re in the best position to catch some fish.

Of course, after saying all this, I recognize that there’s a problem with this business of sending a thief to catch a thief. I mean, let’s face it, if you actually do it, you may end up having twice as much stolen. And putting a poacher in charge of the game preserve might be a little like putting a fox in charge of the hen house.  And how can you ever tell if a liar is really on your side, unless that is you’re a liar yourself? You see, there are some real problems when we take this idiom too far. But as it relates to Jesus and his disciples, I really believe that he understood that regular people, with all their strengths and flaws, are the most effective instruments he could use to share the good news. And so he saw and he sees. He called and he calls. And he promised and he promises to enable and use folks like us to communicate to folks like us. You see, they were and we are called to be fishers of people, because in this particular instance it really does make sense to use a fish to catch a fish.