A man standing next to a body of water

Caught by Jesus

ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Epiphany 3B2024
Mark 1:14-20

Today, Jesus catches his first disciples, Andrew and Peter. He observes them casting a fishing net into the sea, and Jesus says: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” So often, I have read this story and grumpily wondered: What does it mean to fish for people? Grumpily wondered because no person is an object meant to be caught by Christian marketing schemes. So often, I have read this story and guiltily wondered: How can I do a better job of fishing for people? Guiltily wondered because, to be honest with you, I am terrible about sharing my faith, silently hoping the person sitting next to me on the plane won’t ask me what I do for a living. So often, I have read this story and wanted to ignore it.

But it occurred to me in rereading this story that Andrew and Peter were not only invited to fish for people; they themselves were caught by Jesus, not in a binding way, not in a lured-into-my-scheme way, but in a they-couldn’t-turn-away-from-a-good-thing way. We don’t know why Andrew and Peter followed Jesus, seemingly out of nowhere and immediately. Regardless, in following, they didn’t receive salvation or glory. Instead, in following, they adopted a certain way of being in the world, the way of Jesus, the way of forgiving even unreasonable people, the way of letting go of certainty and walking by faith, the way of compassion. Andrew and Peter literally followed Jesus—and because they followed him, because they traveled with him, they healed and fed people and shared the good news of God’s kingdom come along with Jesus. It all sounds glorious to our ears—traveling with Jesus, but to any first century person, following Jesus sounded like madness. We don’t know why, really why, they followed.

But perhaps you know why you follow Jesus, how you were caught. I mean, there are a nearly unlimited number of things you could be doing on this fine Sunday morning. Lounging in bed, going to brunch, watching a game, reading a good book, spending time with family, going for a hike, but you’re not doing any of those things. You’re here, at church, standing up and sitting down, listening and praying, singing and connecting, sharing the peace and receiving Christ’s body and blood, soon to be drinking coffee and eating cookies. Is it the cookies? 😉 How did you get “caught”?

I was born into the church, and I imagine the same is true for many of you. Baptized at three weeks old and the daughter of a pastor, my life and the life of my family revolved around the church. My childhood memories are a menagerie of church images: days of VBS and weeks of Bible camp, darkened Good Fridays and bright Easter Sundays, soup on cold winter Wednesdays during Lent and lutefisk at Syttende Mai (a Norwegian holiday), playing games in church basements with other pastors’ kids and answering every question in Sunday school. But as a teenager and college student, I swung from great Jesus-following passion to the depths of doubt and despair, only to end up, naturally, in seminary. I wasn’t “caught” by virtue of being born into the church. I got caught by Jesus himself. The way he teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That got me, loving my enemies, probably more than anything else in all of scripture.

In my last year of seminary, I remember my calculation about going to church on Sunday mornings. Throughout the rest of seminary, I had had nearly weekly compulsory church attendance while completing my internship and other contextual education requirements. But my last year of seminary, I had a choice: would I go to the Lutheran church across the street from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago or would I sleep in? It was my last chance for 40 years to not go to church on Sunday mornings. I could have, along with some of my seminary classmates, succumbed to the Church of the Holy Comforter. That was the actual joke at seminary, Church of the Holy Comforter. But darn it all, I couldn’t help myself! I yearned to go to church. I wanted to hear the good news. And I was kind of mad about it, like Jesus had swindled me into a life of following him. Then and now, I want to follow. No one drags me here on Sunday mornings, and I don’t complain about church. I want to be here.

For you, it might be the music that caught you or the community or a particular biblical promise or opportunities to serve. Whatever it is, you got caught, and now, you’re following Jesus. How did that happen? How did you get “caught”? Why do you show up here on Sunday mornings? I invite you to share at the lectern. Give time for people to share.

I have long shied away from this story of Jesus calling Andrew and Peter—for I have never felt good at fishing for people, have never really understood what that means, have actually felt uncomfortable with the theological implications. But let me tell you, I don’t shy away from loving people, from digging deep and loving even my enemies in word and deed. Doing so brings me joy and energy and purpose. And I don’t shy away from telling people that it’s Jesus who teaches me to love my enemies. So, fishing for people, for me, is maybe about sharing with others the life I have found in following Jesus, the life I have found in loving all people, even my enemies. While I have long shied away “fishing for people,” it occurs to me that, because I know why I follow, fishing for people might mean sharing just that. Fishing for people might be saying: “Hey, Jesus teaches me to love my enemies, and I really dig it—and him.” For you, fishing for people might mean sharing not a set of doctrine or memorized verses of scripture but just whatever is actually compelling to you about following Jesus, about being part of a church community.

When Jesus calls out to Andrew and Peter, it sounds like he’s commanding them, commanding them to follow him and fish for people, but what Jesus really does is offer them a life they can’t refuse: a walk with him, sharing the joy and energy and purpose of their days. Jesus offers us the same—for which we can say: Thanks be to God! Amen.