“How would you expect to find [a sense of] community while you intentionally withdraw from [that community] at some point [in some way]? The disobedient cannot believe; only the obedient believe.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
You may be aware that Bonhoeffer was a 20th century German theologian and Lutheran clergy who could have chosen to stay safe in the US during the Nazi era – but chose to go home where he felt he was needed, even at great risk to his own life. He was executed by the Nazis on 9 April 1945. It is this reality of Bonhoeffer’s obedience in abiding faith which gives his observations credibility in the 21st-century Church because Bonhoeffer was a true “fisherman” for Christ.
So Jesus wants to go fishing, and He invites these fishermen to come and “fish for people” with Him. They seem to drop everything without question, surely much to Zebedee’s dismay! I like the idea of fishing, and I love being on boats. .
Yet as much as I like boats and being on the water, taking a Caribbean cruise does not appeal to me in the least; and sitting still in a boat while waiting on fish to bite also has no appeal. I know plenty of folks who love to fish even if they don’t get a bite all day, so it seems clear I don’t care much for fishing – in reality – as much as I might like the idea of fishing.
This may well be the prevalent state of mind and being of the Church as a whole. We like the idea of Christ and being “saved” and going to heaven, but we don’t really believe it or care enough to completely submit to the life a disciple is called to.
Sadly, however, for too many churches it is not about what The Lord would have us to do, and it is not about those we are called to reach out to, or holding one another accountable. The life of the Church today seems more about what we feel like doing, what we enjoy doing, what we are willing to make time for - ostensibly on behalf of our respective churches but not purposefully in the Name of The Lord. Bottom line is, if it ain’t our thang, it ain’t gonna happen by us – regardless of the need of the Church. And we seem perfectly ok with this.
This sad reality suggests there is no real thought toward evangelism, reaching out in the Name of The Lord with The Lord’s message, “fishing for people”, the very mission of the Church itself; because we have been conditioned to believe there are those we hire for the task of evangelizing. By the nature and meaning of the word “evangelize”, however, this cannot be strictly true because such a proposition implies only the evangelist knows of and believes the Gospel; that only the evangelist is justified before The Lord.
So if Bonhoeffer’s observation is correct – and I think there must be a component of truth to it - the lack of a mind and willful desire toward evangelism and Divine Will may mean we simply do not “believe”. Maybe we “hope”, but we do not really “believe”. Not enough to be obedient.
We may care about our individual churches (to the extent that it does not ask “too much” of us, and allows us to do as we please when we please). And don’t dare hold us accountable. MYOB. We may like the idea of a Savior when we are weak or needy, but we still miss the point if we are unwilling to obey The Lord and follow The Lord faithfully. We don’t really believe – OR CARE. Maybe we need to stop kidding ourselves.
Or maybe we need to make some corrections.
Notice Jesus’ ministry does not begin with a call for a few disciples to “fish for people”; it begins with Jesus’ call to all to “repent and believe the Gospel”. Jesus’ ministry begins not strictly with an admonition to “stop sinning” but with an encouragement to begin something new – within a whole new context, that context being the Gospel itself. The Good News. And note Jesus was referring to the Good News long before He was murdered! Just like fishing, there is much to be done before we can even think about getting in the boat.
In reading this text it is also important to remember Jesus is very likely not talking to a bunch of atheists and agnostics. This is a largely Jewish audience; they are “believers” in the most general sense much like 90% of Americans claim to be “believers”. They may even think themselves to be very religious, very devout. However, the question to be answered may be, ‘What exactly are they devoted to?”
My guess is they were devoted to much the same things we are devoted to; making a living, taking care of loved ones, raising children, being happy, having “enough”. They, like us, are completely devoted to the government, completely devoted to the Temple of The Lord – OR – completely devoted to self in trying to make both work somewhere in the safe and mushy middle. This way they don’t run afoul of the Empire – AND – they can still feel good about their religious devotion ... even if that devotion is, by biblical standards, rather “lukewarm”.
Therefore in order to even be able to “fish for people”, first things must come first. First there must be an assessment of faith in our level of care and concern for the Church. By faith I do not mean an intellectual acknowledgement with a mind that has been taught religious principles, practices, and doctrine (i.e., ‘habit’); I mean a total devotion of mind and heart and soul. It is the difference between the flesh which pursues and loves the things of the flesh, and the spirit which pursues and loves the things of the Spirit. It is about the Body of Christ being real in the world today.
It occurred to me, however, that sometimes our own bodies do not always function as they should. Our limbs and our organs, for any number of reasons, do not always function according to what is on our minds. Even when we sleep or sit in an awkward position and a limb goes to sleep or we get a crick in our necks, things don’t function the way they should.
You and I know the frustration when all parts do not cooperate, when we are hindered or incapacitated in any way. Our minds say “Go”, but our limbs and organs sometimes say “No”. Imagine, then, the frustration of our Lord when His whole Body the Church does not function according to the will of His Mind … His Heart!
The present and future of the Church are not dependent on more or better preachers or “programs”; preachers are a dime-a-dozen as are “programs”. The present and future of the Church are not dependent on reaching the “right” people; “recruiting” only those whom we believe will properly fit in. I say to you now that if the Church is not filled to overflowing with “misfits”, the Church is EMPTY! The “live well” (of the “boat”) has only stagnant water it in and no fish, and the “stringer” is merely floating on the surface according to the will of the cultural current.
The present and future of the Church are entirely dependent on believers, those for whom The Lord has burnt a hole through the heart, those for whom the reality of the Presence of The Lord in the Church in the here-and-now is not simply a doctrinal concept. And make no mistake: this message is not for “them” (whomever “them” is) – it is for “you” and for “me”. It is not about what “they” (whomever “they” is) should be doing or not doing; it is entirely about what “you” and “I” must be doing – according to what we claim to be True, what we believe to be The Truth.
It is long past time for the Body of Christ to “go fishin’”. It is now only a matter of whether we will need a bigger boat. Amen.