Fishin’ ‘n’ Mission
Matthew 4:12-23

We’ve heard a familiar story today about Jesus calling the fishermen for a change of careers, he wanted them to follow him and become fishers of people.

The fisherman in our reading were using nets, in fact when Jesus came along Peter and Andrew were casting a net into the sea and James and John were in the process of mending their nets. That’s a very different style of fishing to what most of us are used to these days. I remember going net fishing when I was much younger, but net fishing has been banned in all of the places that I used to go. These days in Victoria you even have to have a recreational fishing license before you can fish at all! Let alone with a net.

I was also a bit surprised when I got back to South Australia for my holiday when I realised that the daily bag limit or quota on King George Whiting was no longer 60 per boat but 36, when I was a boy there was no bag limit at all, only a minimum size. The way we fish and when, where and how many we can catch have all changed dramatically just in my lifetime, who knows what’s in store for us in the future?

The fishermen that Jesus called to follow him were professional fishermen though, they did it for a living. Hasn’t commercial fishing changed in the last couple of thousand years? These days aquaculture has become a bit of a buzz word. The goal now is to breed and them farm fish rather than catch them in the wild if at all possible. They are doing it now in South Australia with Yellowtail Kingfish and Mulloway and whoever can manage to do it with Southern Bluefin Tuna will have pretty much a license to print money. No more heading off into the deep blue sea searching for those elusive fish, they will just hatch them in tanks, feed them up, grow them out and sell them when they mature.

You might ask yourself why I’m giving you all this seemingly useless information? Jesus himself made the link between fishing as a career and fishing for people, I want to make that same connection.

The first thing we need to clarify is the term fishing for people, lets use one familiar word instead – MISSION! Fishing for people means doing mission work, spreading the message of the gospel with others, in whatever form that takes.

Fishing takes on various forms as well. Sometimes we fish with a single hook, like when I go beach fishing, one hook, one piece of bait, albeit a triple gang hook with a full pilchard, but with the goal of catching one fish at a time.

When I fish for King George Whiting it’s with two hooks and two cockles as bait, (you probably know them as pipis). We have the potential to catch a double header, but that happens fairly rarely.

Then there is the American ‘Trot Line’ a series of baited hooks along a long line.

We could also fish with lures or flies. Each of the above methods is effective in their particular context or situation.

The same could be said of fishing for people, mission. It is done in very different ways, some are effective and others are not, but in the right context each form of mission has merit. The difficult thing for us ‘fishermen or women’ to do is choose the right method at the right time.
The whole church around the world is struggling with the question, “How do we best do mission, how do we reach the unchurched, the marginalised, the lost?”

When you think about it many congregations they are a bit like fish farms. I was reading a report last week I think from the Alban Institute in the US and it referred to the Lutheran Church as an institution that sees its role as feeding and nurturing its members, but struggles to go beyond that point. I couldn’t help but see the similarity to fish farming. Take Yellowtail Kingfish farming as an example, they no longer go out and catch fish in the wild, then bring them closer to shore, still in fairly deep water and put them in big circular pens. They breed them in tanks on land and then place them out in those pens when they are big enough, then they feed them and nurture them and this is where the metaphor gets a bit shaky, they then harvest them and sell them off to be eaten!

Sometimes the church can be a bit like a fish farm or holding pen, we just want to be in maintenance mode, looking after those inside the pen until they die and we think we’ve done what we are called to do, but when we do that we forget about the call to take the message of the gospel to all nations. If we stay inside the confines of our pen, we are eventually going to run out of fish! Some of our young couples are doing their best to grow the church through breeding, but we really need to go fishing to restock the pen don’t we, and we do that through mission.

As a congregation we ask ourselves that same question. We see our schools as our mission field. Our way of doing mission, and I think given our context that’s a valid conclusion to come to. As individuals we can go fishing one at a time, like when I fish for Salmon or maybe with two hooks like Whiting fishing or we could use a big net like the fishermen that Jesus called to follow him.

Here in our community we have access to something like 1500 students and their families on an almost daily basis. Some might say that we have them caught in our nets, they are in our ‘fish farm’ for a fixed number of years, and we have the opportunity to either feed them well or if we don’t seize the opportunity, to starve them, literally to death. We have the chance to grow them and nurture them to maturity. Fair enough, the congregation might not have direct access to this group, but we are an integral part of the community to which they belong. As a church council and as a congregation we are looking at ways to better integrate what we do and how we do it. How we can help the students and their families as they learn and grow together.

Along the way we will probably try various different methods, through the way we worship, through teaching, interaction at various levels, even just walking together along the journey. We should remember to look at Jesus’ example; the last verse of our reading is helpful. Jesus went through Galilee teaching in synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, exactly what we do in our services here on Sunday mornings and in our schools throughout the week. But Jesus went further, not just staying within the synagogues, he went out among the people, into their world teaching, healing and curing people as he went. The disciples followed his lead; they learnt from him and grew in their faith and knowledge along the way.

We need to do the same, follow Jesus’ lead, learn from him, pass it along and share it with others, and not just here in our own little fish farm, not even just within the broader net of the schools, but eventually we need to go out into the wild, and share the message with the whole world, and bring them in so that they too can be nurtured and fed and receive everything that God offers to those who follow him.

Jesus called his disciples to be fishers of people and he calls us to do the same. It’s a huge challenge in this ever changing and self centred world, but with his help all things are possible.