Ps 90; Luke 5:1-11
Bob was an avid fisherman. He had half a dozen rods, several different reels, hundreds of lures and hooks, different weights of fishing line, a canoe and a motorboat, and a beautifully carved sign to put on his front door that read, “Gone Fishin’”. Bob was also a minister. Now, most guys are a little uneasy around their minister, but everyone knew that Bob was a pretty easy-going guy, and a great fisherman, besides. So when Bob asked Ted to go fishing with him one day, Ted figured he might pick up a few tips. He just hoped Bob wouldn’t get into the God-thing. Ted really wasn’t all that crazy about talking about God, even though he went to church on a pretty regular basis. He never really knew what to say.
Well, the day came for Bob and Ted’s fishing trip. All was going well. They were out on the water on a beautiful calm summer morning, lines trailing in the water and the sun beaming gently down on them. They’d been there for hours – talking occasionally about their families or the latest sports scores, but mostly, just enjoying the peace and quiet, when suddenly Bob said, “You know, Ted, fishing’s a lot like witnessing.”
“Witnessing – you mean like those evangelical folks do?” Ted was not really comfortable with where the conversation was going. “That doesn’t make any sense, Bob.”
Bob replied, “Actually, you could almost say it’s the same thing.”
“Now that really doesn’t make sense.” Ted was thinking to himself, How can fishing be like witnessing, or the other way around? I LIKE fishing! I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed in my life!
Bob said, “I know, it sounds pretty far-fetched. But you remember that song from Sunday School? I will make you fishers of men... Jesus said it, and he meant it. I was just thinking the other day that the reason we all have so much trouble with witnessing is that we’ve stopped fishing….No, I don’t mean we should run around with a rod and reel trying to hook people and drag them into church. No, I was just thinking that some of the strategies are the same.”
Ted was getting interested in spite of himself. “Like what?”
“Well. First of all, do you see Alan over there?” Bob pointed toward the shore where a guy both the men knew slightly was casting his line.
“Sure” said Ted.
“Well, if he were a fish, could you catch him from here?”
“Well, no. We’re too far away.”
“But if you were up close and could see him clearly through the water, you might be able to catch him, right?” Bob went on.
“Well, sure – depending on whether my luck is in that day or not…Oh, I see what you mean.” Ted was getting it. “So just dropping Bible tracts into people’s mailboxes or sending out a general invitation to come to church probably isn’t going to cut it.”
“Right,” said Bob. “One of the reasons we have so much trouble witnessing is we try to do it from too far away! You need to get up close to people in order to share the Gospel with them! Your chances of catching a fish are better if you know the fish you’re trying to catch!”
“I can see your point. So if I wanted to be a witness for Alan, I’d have to get to know him better. But you said there were other ways fishing and witnessing were alike. You’ve got me curious!” Ted said with a grin.
“Well, how about bait? You can’t catch a fish with the wrong bait! I can’t believe how many people still think the promise of heaven is going to be more important to a starving man than a good square meal in his belly! If you want people to know the Good News Jesus gave us, they have to be able to find in it something that speaks to their needs.”
“I guess you’ve got a point there,” Ted responded. “But does that mean we have to tailor-make the gospel to each person? That doesn’t sound right!”
“No, you’re right about that, Ted. But when you get to know your Bible and the traditions of the church, I think you’ll find that there’s something there that addresses almost any issue you can discover. I mean, think about it – what are the greatest human needs?”
“Oh, I don’t know. You ask the tough ones, don’t ya? I guess, you need enough money to get by on, you want to be healthy, you want to know that your future and the future of the people you love is secure; you want to feel like your life is worthwhile; you want to feel like you belong somewhere – that sort of thing.”
“Well,” said Bob. “What would you say to someone who wanted to know what the church can offer when they’re in financial crisis?”
“I guess, ‘blessed are the poor’ wouldn’t be very helpful!”
“No, I don’t think so! But you might remind them that God cares for each one of us in a special way, and that security lies in trusting God. Remember the verse about consider the lilies…Then I might take ‘em out for supper!”
“I see what you mean. And if I was wanting to talk to someone whose relative died, I might tell them about how much that person was loved by God, that God understands their grief, and that we have a promise that God will take care of them in the next life.”
“There, you see? You’re starting to use the right bait!”
“I don’t know if I really like that idea of bait – after all, bait is to catch fish so you can eat it! “
“Think about it then in terms of food – bait is food for fish. The Gospel is food for the human soul – but without a hook and frying pan afterward. In fact, it’s just the reverse. Following Jesus brings life, not death!”
“OK – that’s a good way of putting it. Any other ways fishing is like witnessing?” Ted asked
“Hmmm.” Bob mused. Well – it takes a lot of patience, for one thing. You may not ever see any result from what you say or do. But unlike fishing, just because you don’t have a fish to show for it, doesn’t mean you haven’t had an impact. Maybe that person will walk through the doors of the church two months from now, or two years! Or maybe they won’t ever come to church, but they might just get curious about this Jesus fellow and take it into their heads to follow him. Witnessing also takes practice. You wouldn’t expect your daughter to be an expert fisher the first time you took her out? You’d probably expect snarled lines and fish hooks through T-shirts and a pail full of bait gone to fatten fishes you never catch. The only way they learn is to keep doing it – same goes for witnessing!”
“Yah, you’re right. And I guess it’s like fishing in the way you start with the waters and the fish you know, and then move into the deeper waters from there.”
“Yep. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if when you get out into those deeper waters, that you find there an abundance of fish just waiting for you. Hey – it happened to Peter and his buddies!”
“I’m not sure I’m ready for the deep waters yet, Bob. I mean, I never really thought about witnessing before this. I always thought it was something that only real fanatics did.”
“Well, there are a lot of fanatical fishermen, too, so that would put us in good company! But really, witnessing is something we’re all supposed to do. After all, if we really believe that following Jesus makes life richer and fuller, then why be shy about talking about him?
There’s one more thing, though, that every good fisherman should know – there are a lot of fish out there who have been trapped by flashy lures…people who’ve been tricked into following some form of the Gospel that promises easy answers and cheap grace. They’re going to want to see that you believe what you’re telling them, that it makes a difference in your life. If it doesn’t, they’re going to hop back in the water faster than you can grab a fishing net.”
“ So the best way to bring the fish in is not only to tell them what I believe, but to show them it’s true for me! Boy, that’s a tall order, Bob.”
“Isn’t it though! I think it was St Francis who said: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” I actually think we’re in a time when we do need to use words; but we also need to use our ears. The best way to begin a conversation about faith is to listen for what really matters to people – to listen to what their beliefs and doubts and wonderings are.
Jesus will make us fishers of men and women and children. We’re not in it all by ourselves – and if we put our trust in Jesus, he can fill up the boat. OK, Ted, end of sermon. Let’s get back to fishing.”
“I don’t think you ever stopped, Bob!” said Ted. “You’re well on your way to reeling in a good one!”
The idea for this sermon came from a play by Ted Snook – but only the idea is derived. Preached in 2010, and 2005, with modifications.