Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Australia Day Service

   Letís go fishing

The Australian Lighthorse
This coming week we will celebrate Australia Day, a day in which we reflect
on the wonderful country in which we live and how gracious and generous God has been towards the people of this land.

Australia Day is a good day to admire again the beauty of our land. A part of that beauty is the contrasting landscapes we have in Australia Ė the rich, fertile farming country and the tropical rainforests on the one hand, and the dry and barren interior, the rugged bush on the other.

The people in our land are easy-going, friendly, willing to give a mate a hand, peace-loving and hardworking. The generosity of Australians and their willingness to lend a hand where itís needed has been evident again recently in response to the devastation of the Asian Tsunami and the destruction of the homes and farms through bushfires.

The people of this land are freedom loving people and so we experience the kind of freedom and peace that is unfamiliar in other parts of the world. Australians regard freedom as something precious, and the right of every human on this planet, and so we gladly enter difficult situations to help those who donít have freedom from hunger or freedom from tyrannical rulers.

Australia Day is a day to thank God for all the blessings that we take so much for granted Ė blessings like peace, freedom, stable government, caring friends, and loving families.

But while I mention the greatness of this land there is one huge concern, and that is the lack of spiritual direction and the ignorance of Godís love for every Australian. It is because of this concern that I have chosen to talk about the gospel reading for today from Matthew 4 (verses 18-22).

As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers who were fishermen, Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew, catching fish in the lake with a net. Jesus said to them, "Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people." At once they left their nets and went with him. He went on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat with their father Zebedee, getting their nets ready. Jesus called them, and at once they left the boat and their father, and went with him.

It sometimes happens that people do some crazy things and everyone shakes their heads at such stupidity.

The Australian Light Horse Brigades were mounted troops famous for their campaigns in the Middle East during World War One. The distinctive part of their uniform was the slouch hat with the plume of emu feathers.

Their most famous achievement was their successful attack on Beersheba on 31 October 1917. To anyone with half a brain it was crazy. After riding for a day and a night though the desert their horses were thirsty. If they failed to take Beersheba where there was an ample supply of good water, they and their horses would perish on the long retreat across the desert. Not only that, the enemy in Beersheba were dug in, supported by machine guns and artillery. Charging across open ground, they were easy targets, first for the big guns, and then the rifle and machine-gun fire. It was crazy for them to try such an attack. What is more, if they didnít get to Beersheba on the first attack, the enemy would blow up the water wells and all would have been in vain. The chances of success were slim.

However, as crazy as this attack was, it was successful. They made it through the barrage of heavy gunfire, overran the trenches and secured the wells before they could be destroyed. It was illogical, unreasonable, crazy, stupid, but when the order was given, the men of the Australian Light Horse Brigade obeyed and helped bring the end of the war closer.

Centuries ago there were 4 Galilean fishermen who did an apparently crazy stunt. People must have shaken their heads in disbelief at those crazy fishermen. Their names were Peter, Andrew, James and John. We heard in the Gospel reading today, Jesus said to them, 'Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.' At once they left their nets and went with him. These men worked together in some kind of partnership.
They were experienced fishermen owning valuable equipment.
They had boats, nets for fishing in the deep, probably some kind of transport to get their catch to the markets at Capernaum.
They had solid customers who relied on their catch for their daily food.
They were well set up as professional fishermen and were doing quite well.
Yet they gave it all away. They traded all this for following a man who walked along the beach and simply said, 'Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.'  The charge of the Light Horse Brigade was crazy, but the soldiers obeyed. The disciples left their nets as crazy as it seemed and obeyed Jesus call.

Before you abandon all your assets on the beach, it's a good idea to have some idea as to what Jesus is all about. We arenít told that they had heard Jesus preaching, or had discussed what they had heard about Jesus as they fished.

The Gospel writer Matthew simply says, "Jesus said to them, 'Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.' At once they left their nets and went with him". Jesus didnít offer these fishermen any options in this matter. He simply confronted them with his call to them to catch people. They are not being invited to a stroll along the beach, but to
- a life of discipleship,
- a personal attachment to Jesus,
- learning from him,
- and drawing others to him.

Without question or argument and as crazy as it seemed to everyone else, they left their nets and went with him. They became fishers of people.

You and I here in this church today are the modern day disciples of Jesus. Just like the Peter, Andrew, James and John, you and I have been called to help Jesus catch people, to throw out wide the Gospel net and bring people into God's kingdom. As we look into the lake Ė Australia generally, or closer to home here in our community Ė there are plenty of fish waiting to be caught.

Now here is my question.
How has your fishing been?
How strong is your desire to be what Jesus calls you to be - a fisher of people?
Have you reeled anyone in lately?

I dare say that with just a few exceptions, most of us here today would have to say that we have not been very successful fishers. And like those who come in from a day's fishing with an empty bucket, we have all kinds of excuses. We blame the weather, the tide, the bait, the wind or whatever. When it comes to fishing with Jesus, we say
- we don't want to offend people,
- religion is a private matter,
- we don't want to be too pushy,
- we don't want others to think that we are religious cranks,
- we say that fishing is the job of the pastor and the lay assistants.

On another occasion, we hear of Peter offering all kinds of excuses why he didnít want to go fishing. He told Jesus that they had been fishing all night and caught nothing. They were tired, and besides, as all good fishermen know, this wasnít the best time to go fishing. It would be a crazy waste of time and energy.

We know what happened. Peter did go out and he hauled in a huge catch, the biggest catch he had ever seen. He quickly learnt that when Jesus says, "Go fishing" there are fish waiting to be caught.

Too often we can't get excited about fishing for people. We don't take Jesus at his word and so miss out on the catch.

The funny thing about fishing with Jesus is that suddenly we get all tongue tied and shy. Strange isn't it - how people can get really excited about some things.
A fisherman never tires of talking about the one that got away or how big the fish was that he pulled in.
We never seem to tire of talking about our families, their successes and misfortunes.
We can always find something to say about the weather, prices, movies, crime and our health.
We can talk for hours about our latest holiday.
But when it comes to talking about our faith, we suddenly become unaccountably shy. Few people are excited by the prospect of sharing their faith, and of telling people about how important God is to them and indeed to the world.

There are probably a couple of good reasons why people are so reluctant to speak about their faith.
Firstly, they don't feel well informed enough about their faith. It's been quite awhile since they attended Bible study.
Secondly, the Spirit of God has been kept at arm's length. They don't see the need to express their faith and let others know what Jesus means to them. They may feel that if the unchurched seriously want to know about Christianity, they know where the church is and what time services are.
Thirdly, they donít see the urgency (Jesus is coming soon). They donít see the thousands of people who only know the words "Jesus Christ" as an expletive when they are upset. Without Jesus, these thousands of people in our shire, and millions throughout our nation, will have to face the consequences of their sin alone. Only Jesus sets them free from guilt, and the power of sin to condemn them. Only Jesus gives eternal life.

I hardly need to tell you that the last command that Jesus gave before he returned to heaven was to go and make disciples, to baptise and to teach. In the words of today's text that simply means to become fishers of men, woman and children.

Friends, the Scriptures clearly point out that God wants us to speak of him to others for him; and that God wants to use us, as individuals and collectively as a congregation, to convey the message of his love and mercy and grace.

Who will tell the people of our shire who don't have any idea who Jesus is and the forgiveness that he gives?
Who will comfort the sick and dying and proclaim God's gracious love to those whose consciences afflict them?
Who will witness to the good news of God's care, and proclaim his life giving power?
Who will reach out with God's love to those who are heading for eternal damnation?

We have the good news about Jesus.
It is the good news that tells of the love of God and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross.
It is the good news that tells us that in spite of our sinfulness we have a God who has saved us and promised us a place in heaven.
Itís the good news about a God who helps, strengthens, comforts, reassures, gives confidence to all those whom he loves.

It's the kind of good news that is worth talking about. It is good news to get excited about. Like a parent who is excited about the birth of a child and uses every opportunity to tell you about how wonderful their little bundle is, we are to take every opportunity to tell others why the good news of the Gospel is good news for us.

We live in a land that is blessed in so many ways. Our Shire is the best place in the state to live and we are truly blessed. But there are so many who are missing out on the most important blessing of all Ė Jesus Christ.

I hope that today you will give some consideration to what kind of a witness you have been. If you are just perhaps a little too silent about God you might think about why that is and what ways you might be able to change that.

You might start by asking, "What does it mean to be a Christian?? Think it through and write down what is God's good news for you, so when it comes to talking about your faith you can speak confidently.

Without a doubt our God is so wonderful. I know you believe that, otherwise you wouldnít be here today. He has given you forgiveness, help, new beginnings. He promises to keep on loving you no matter what and has prepared the way for you to enter eternal life. You know that even when the darkest clouds appear in your life, God watches over you and will bring out of every situation the victory that both he desires and you need.

So, friends, let's go fishing!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
23rd January, 2005

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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