Leaving Our Nets
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
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. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
For a minute, try to imagine yourself in the position of these first four disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Imagine that you are a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. It’s what you have known for your whole life. From as early as you can look back, you were taught how to fish. Look down at your hands. They are rough from holding those nets and pulling them. Your face is weathered from the wind and the sun. You know how to cast a net the same you know how to breathe. There’s not a second thought. This is what you do. And it is what has always been expected of you.
Your father was a fisherman. Your grandfather was a fisherman. Your great grandfather and his father and his father before him were all fishermen on this sea. And they look to you to carry this work on, this family business. From the time you were a child, everyone was expecting you to be a fisherman. This is what you have believed your identity is.
Then one day, a person from this tiny town up north named Nazareth comes to where you are fishing. He begins talking about God’s Kingdom coming on earth, God’s love for this world, and good news for all people – those who are poor, those who are outcast, those the world doesn’t often think too much of, including fisherman like you. It is a message that is hopeful and joyful, and connects with something deep inside of you. It is a message you know you have been waiting to hear your whole life.
And somehow, you trust that these words aren’t empty words. That this person speaking them is ready to back them up, is going to prove them to you. There’s something different about him. And you want to know more. Who is this person? And what is he about to do?
And then, as you are throwing out your nets, trying to go back to your daily routine, you hear him call out your name: “Peter, Andrew, James, Alex, Nick, Sue, Robert, Genevieve, Karen…Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
I don’t know what I would do in that moment. I would be both overjoyed and absolutely terrified at the same moment. I don’t know if I could even move.
But Peter, Andrew, James, and John did move. As soon as Jesus called them, they decided to follow him. And not half-heartedly. Not, I will give you a day. Or I will see what my schedule is like next week. No, right then and there, they decided to give up everything to find out who this person was and what this Kingdom of God looks like. Peter and Andrew dropped their nets on the shore, their family business, their expectations, their whole lives. James and John did even something even crazier. They jumped out of their boat and left not just their nets, but also their father Zebedee behind. These first disciples heard the call and decided to give up everything they had ever known, everything that anyone had expected of them, everything that was comfortable, safe, and planned, to follow this call from Jesus.
These first disciples knew something. They knew that in following Jesus, they couldn’t hold on to everything from their past. There were some things they needed to let go of, to leave behind. Once they began following Jesus, they weren’t going to be the same people. They were about to have a new mission in life, a new purpose, a new message of who they were as people made in God’s image and what this world is meant to look like. And if they were going to take those steps into God’s Kingdom, they needed to drop those nets and jump out of those boats and leave behind those old expectations.
Maybe I should be a little afraid today. Because those words Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago, he is still speaking to us today. He is still speaking to me. He is still speaking to you. He is still calling us to follow him.
You have probably heard me say many times that God welcomes us just as we are. And I believe very strongly that that is true. God does welcome us all as we are. God wants a relationship with each and every one of you here today. And God wants to know you, no matter what label the world has put upon you, no matter how wealthy or poor, good or bad, inside or outside, you have felt in your life. God wnts that relationship.
But in that relationship, God doesn’t want us to remain the same. Christ came to transform this world. And that begins with transforming us, as his followers. Changing our hearts, our lives, our minds. Making us see the world differently and setting us to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world. Christ came to welcome us, to forgive us, and to transform us.
And being transformed means there are some things we need to let go of. There are some things we need to set down and leave behind. And these can be hard things.
Later on in Jesus’ ministry, he will meet a young rich man who very much wants to follow Jesus and discover what God is about to do. And Jesus invites him, but with one big caveat. He tells him that to follow him he must sell everything he has and give it to the poor. That is the net this man must let go of. But he can’t do it.
Others tell Jesus they can’t leave their family or friends or the lives that have been expected for them. The Pharisees and Saducees can’t follow Jesus because they can’t let go of their old views of God. God would take on flesh and become like one of us? God would welcome sinners? God loves outsiders and Gentiles as much as God loves us? Impossible! They think. They can’t let go of their old ways of viewing God.
For myself, the hardest thing for me to let go of are plans and expectations. I almost didn’t become a pastor, because what I had planned, and what others expected of me was that I would be a journalist, a writer. That is what I had planned out from my middle school years. And even after I started feeling the Spirt pull me towards studying religion and faith and considering ministry, I fought hard against it. I didn’t like speaking in public. I didn’t know how my friends and family would respond. I had worked hard for my school paper. How I could leave all that behind? It was only once I began mentoning it to a couple close friends, and their support that surrounded me, that I realized, this is something I can do. This is something God wants me to try out, even if I have to leave my own plans behind.
And I know that there are still times, when I see someone in need, when I see an opportunity for ministry and faith, when I see God giving me an opportunity to serve, that I often walk by it. My plans for the day get in the way. My schedule is too busy. Even as a pastor, I know that I still carry that net, and need to learn how to drop it. Remember, in the story of the Good Samaritan, it is a priest, and then a Levite, another religious leader, who walk on the other side of the road because helping the man in the ditch doesn’t fit into their schedule for the day.
Now those are my nets that I know I need to learn to drop and leave behind. But all of us have nets that need to be dropped. Because all of us are called by Christ, all of us are called to be transformed.
So my question to leave you with today is, “Wat is your net? What in your life, may be safe or comfortable or what you have known for so long, but God is calling you to let go of? Maybe it is some wealth, and God is calling you to look at where you can use your treasure to join in God’s Kingdom work? Maybe it’s something that takes up so much of your time, and isn’t allowing you to grow and serve the way you know you are called by God? Maybe it is some part of your own theology. Maybe Christ is calling you to know God in a new way, to look at your neighbors in a new light, to see this world God has created as something more wonderful and beautiful than you ever thought before, but it needs some letting go. It needs us to let go of our own assumptions and old ways of thinking. Or maybe you are like me, in need of letting go of expectations and plans for your life, and being more open to where the Spirt is calling.
This can be a scary message. We have to let go of the nets in our lives, and often they feel like safety nets. We have to jump out to something new. But it is also a joyous message. Because Christ is calling us by name. Christ is telling each and every one of us here that you have a purpose for your life, you have a calling, you have a part to play in God’s Kingdom work. Don’t let that pass you by. Amen.