How many of you remember your first job that actually had a written job description? What was the job title and did the description match it?
Now forgetting that one little line at the bottom of most job descriptions, you know, “Other duties as assigned”, you can get the basic understanding of what the duties of a job will be just from the title. Like, ‘Banana Gasser.’ Everyone knows what a Banana Gasser does, right? Since bananas are shipped under-ripe, they arrive in this country very green. Banana Gassers place these bananas in a room and give them a shot of ethylene gas to speed up the ripening process. They use highly complicated calculations to know exactly how much gas to give the bananas so when they leave the warehouse on a truck for La Grande, Oregon, the bananas can be placed on the grocery store shelf looking perfect. They do exactly what their title says they do, they gas bananas.
How about Pet Food Taster? Ever wonder what that Alpo tastes like that you just scooped into Fido’s bowl? Well, you might have a career as a Pet Food Taster waiting for you. Yes, there are people who are out there making sure that the combination of ingredients in the dog, cat, and even gerbil food is just right for your pet’s taste buds. I’m not sure if many of the dogs I grew up with actually tasted the food they ate because they ate it so fast. But, based on their title, you can rest easy knowing someone is out there making sure Fido’s glob de jour is just right.
What comes to mind with the title fisherman? We can get a pretty good idea of what the job description was for Peter, Andrew, James, and John from what we know about fisherman today. Now, I’m not talking about David Still standing on the banks of the Grande Ronde River, pole in hand, fishing for steelhead. I’m thinking more of those fishermen on their boats working the Columbia River or Pacific Ocean. Just picture a much smaller boat without all the modern aids to fishing like cranes and GPS’s and you can get an idea of what they did. Then and now, it was backbreaking work, hours spent out on a boat, praying there would be a good catch. And these fishermen on the Sea of Galilee primarily did their fishing at night. They would row, or if the wind was right, sail to the spot they thought would be good for the night and drift. Then they would constantly be throwing out their nets, letting them settle, pulling them up and sorting what was caught. Then they would do it over and over again until the sun crept over the horizon and they would head back to the shore to sell what they had caught, eat a bit themselves, mend the fragile nets they used then rest to prepare themselves for another night of fishing. Fisherman: you basically know what they do based on their title.
But then Jesus comes along. He calls out to them, “Follow me! I have a new job for you. You will no longer fish for fish, but you will be fishers of people, you will fish for men and women.”
What does this new job title mean? It’s not clear. I can especially picture James and John sitting there with the nets in their hands they were mending, hearing this cry from Jesus as people walk along the shores to buy the fish they just brought in from the night’s catch. Fishers of people? They look at their nets, and then the people, and then the nets, and then the people. “Does Jesus want me to throw my nets at them?”
In studying this text, I came across commentators who said this story was all about evangelism and church growth. To become a fisher of men and women and grow the church, you have to have a sharp hook and just the right bait to throw out there in front of people to draw them in. It has to be something they just can’t pass up, like that just right program or gathering that fits their niche. Then when they “snap” and take the hook, you can reel them in, and throw them into your creel. Then you keep doing it, sometimes changing bait, like adding a praise band to Sunday morning worship or installing a coffee bar, but keep throwing something out there that looks good and appealing and they will come and before you know it, your creel with be full, your church will be overflowing, and everyone will be happy! Praise the Lord!
But, I don’t think it works quite like that. I don’t think it works that way because of how these new disciples of Jesus fished, they used no bait and they had no hooks. And fishing with hooks versus nets looks drastically different. I think Jesus is talking about something deeper than evangelism as he changes their titles from fisherman to fishers of men and women. I think he was talking about how we live our lives. Here’s why: We can see it in the way they fished. Remember when I said they fished at night? They did that for a reason. During the day, the fish swam deep. But at night, the fishermen would hang a light from the side of the boat and the fish would be attracted to and transfixed by that light and swim closer to the surface, closer to experiencing that light that hung over that waters edge. What would bring the people they would now fish for? It would be that great light that the people who sat in darkness now have seen. And, friends, that great light is Christ. In calling these first disciples, he is calling them to be his light in the world of darkness so other can experience God’s redeeming love and grace.
Friends, Christ calls us to his light and to share his light as well. When we say yes to his call to follow him, seeking to live obediently in his ways through the power of the Holy Spirit, a little bit of that great light of Christ shines out from us. In our jobs, he shines forth. In our homes, he shines bright. In our relationships with friends and families, people will be blinded by something brighter than ourselves, and that is the love of God that shines forth from us. It doesn’t mean we are perfect, but it means we are his.
And Jesus isn’t bait; he is our Lord and our God who has called us into relationship with him. And we live into that relationship by sharing the light of that relationship no matter who we are or our circumstances. We live by sharing the light of Christ as it manifests in us. In the next chapter of Matthew, Jesus calls his disciples as light and light-bearers. It is our task, whether preacher or plumber, teacher or technician, hotel maid or hospital orderly, baptizer or business person to become fishers of people to share the divine light of Christ we have received. It doesn’t mean shoving Jesus down their throats and hook’em with Jesus. It means living a life so transformed by the light of Christ that people will say, “I want what she has!” “I have to have what they have!” What we have received in the light of the cross amidst the community of believers we are to proclaim and share with a world that is in desperate need of his light and love. What we have received is Christ himself and what we share is Christ himself.
Now, over the course of history, people both inside and outside the church have given a different job title because of our sometime failures to totally live into Christ’s calling. That job title is “keeper of the aquarium.” The implications of this critique is right there in the title. In a world of so much hurt outside the walls of the church, people want to know, “Why are you so intent on building your own ministries and taking care of your own?” When I first read this critique, I was somewhat angered, because I know of the work that so many of you who are part of this church do outside the walls of the church in the name of Christ. But the more I thought about it, sometimes the church has to be a keeper of the aquarium in order to go out and fish for people. But it is when the upkeep of the aquarium gets in the way of the light of Christ showing forth to others, that’s when we get into trouble. And this afternoon, your session will be dealing with the aquarium. We have to. Giving was down from estimated last year and this year’s giving estimates are down even farther. The session will have looking at the church budget to decide how we proceed in the calling God has given us to be a light of Christ in this community. Some hard decisions will have to be made, times of prayer will be called for, and each elder will have a copy of the church’s mission in front of them as they vote. It is a challenging time, but I think it is also an exciting time. I don’t want the budget to drive the mission of the church, I want Christ’s mission for the church to drive the budget. He still calls us to follow him, and as a church together, we are listening and we are responding. But most importantly, we are following.