Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Drop Your Nets

Sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

So here we are at the inauguration.

No, no. I can already hear it now…[gasp] the new pastor’s already getting political. No, not that inauguration.

I’m talking about Jesus’ inauguration. We are at the moment in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus begins his ministry.

And as we prepare to inaugurate a new ministry together, as we begin a new chapter in the life of Christus Victor, this is one of those perfect texts to look at.

Jesus has just been baptized and John has stepped into the background (or rather, forced off the stage). And so now all the attention is focused on Jesus. What’s he going to do? What’s his first moves? Maybe he’ll go to Jerusalem and kiss Herod’s ring, maybe pose for a few photo ops. Perhaps he’ll stop by the Temple and rattle off one of those great sermons of his. Well, go ahead Jesus we’re waiting…

Well, it should come as no surprise that Jesus does what any leader does first: He forms his cabinet. He’s gathering up his disciples. Hand picking his inner circle. And here’s the thing, instead of heading over to the big city, he trudges out to Galilee. And instead of choosing the best Torah students or holy mystics or wise monks, he goes with Simon, Andrew, and the Zebedee brothers. A bunch of salty, hardened commercial fishermen.

And so, our story begins with Jesus walking alone on the lakeshore. And he spies these men casting their nets. And he approaches them on the shore and calls out to them: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

And how do these fishermen respond to Jesus? They just drop their nets immediately—immediately—and follow this guy.

Well, you’d think that they’d have better judgment. Jewish teachers, rabbis don’t go out looking for students. The students have to ascend the proverbial mountaintop to find them.

So who’s this desperate guy? “I’m sorry, sir, but where are your teaching credentials? What seminary did you graduate from? Why don’t you trim your beard and cut your hair first and maybe we’ll take you a little more seriously?”

Remember that Simon, Andrew, and the Zebedee brothers have never met Jesus before. They don’t know where he came from, they don’t know where he’s going. They haven’t seen Jesus perform a miracle and they certainly don’t know anything about his miraculous birth or his baptism.

The four fishermen were not searching for spiritual enlightenment. They weren’t seeking fulfillment or looking to fill a void. No, they were simply doing their jobs. And Jesus showed up when they least expected it.

So why do they simply drop their nets and follow him?

Perhaps what we’re seeing here is Jesus’ first miracle. A miracle of persuasion. A miracle of leadership. Jesus has this ability to change people, to open up their imaginations to see the kingdom of God, to drop their nets and lead them along a different path so that they can experience God and help others experience God, too.

This story carries special importance for me and not just because it’s the first story that I get to share with you. This story is the reason that I’m a pastor.

You see, church had been a part of my life since I was born. My grandmother was one of those strong church ladies. And I remember as a child sitting with her in the pews, her helping me find the hymn in the book and whispering questions to her whenever I didn’t understand a word in the sermon. But my parents and me and my brother floated in and out like a lot of people do. It was a pretty normal upbringing.

Yet when I was 17 years old, my father, who was a lawyer at the time, was indicted for embezzling money, and he was sent away to prison for six years. And my parents got divorced. And our house was foreclosed on.

And it was during all this time, during this craziness and upheaval in my home life—that in searching for some stability, I found my own church. It was the tiny old white clapboard church with a red door. And it smelled like candle wax and musty old books. And every Sunday this little congregation would gather. And the pastor would go up to the altar and say those words: “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood shed for you.” Week in and week out.

And that is what that scared and confused teenager needed. A connection to tradition. A connection to something bigger. A connection to God.

And it was there in those Sundays in the pews that this voice popped into my head: “You need to be up there, Cuttino.” Drop your nets and follow me.

And I answered that call a lot like how Simon, Andrew, and the Zebedee brothers should have answered:

“What? Are you crazy? No. Do you know how much pastors make? I’m going to go to college. And then I’m going to law school. Or maybe international politics. And I’m going to redeem the family name. And I’m going to do big things. So no. Just no.”

And I was pretty good at avoiding that little voice—ignoring it and keeping it out of sight and out of mind.

That is until I was on a Spring Break service trip to Costa Rica with my Lutheran Campus Ministry group. One year away from graduating college with everything figured out. And this seminarian started talking about Matthew 4 and asked the question, “What are your nets? What are your nets? What are you holding onto that is keeping you from fully following Christ…fully following God’s call?”

And that was it. The little voice had grown so loud that I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I was holding onto all these nets of personal ambitions, all these ideas about life that were not true to me, not true to my identity, not true to the way God made me.

And the path was winding with a few more twists and turns, but eventually here I am, inaugurating my time with you as your pastor.

And so, I’ve got ask you: What are your nets? What are you holding onto that’s keeping you from fully following Jesus? Perhaps, like the fishermen, it’s a job. Or maybe it’s a particular image of yourself. Or perhaps it’s simply a lack of confidence in your own abilities.

What are Christus Victor’s nets? What is holding this community back from fully following Jesus in this time? Is it particular programming, or inertia, or nostalgia, or fear? What are our nets?

In the coming weeks and months and years, I hope—I know—that we will explore this question a little more together. And I hope that over time, we’ll learn to drop those nets and truly flourish the way God wants us to flourish.

Now, this can be a scary thing. None of us do it as immediately as Simon and Andrew. But nonetheless, when Jesus shows up at our door, it’s a calling that is pretty hard to ignore. And think about the promise that Jesus made: I will make you fish for people. I will make you fishers of men, as other translations put it. This is not to say that our job is to bait a hook and wait for folks to nibble on it a little bit and hopefully stumble into our doors. Nor is it to say that if we have the flashiest sign and the best programs and the coolest worship that people will flock to us. No, it’s saying that by leaving our nets behind and following Jesus’ call, we engage in the world in ways that we could not previously imagine. We connect with people in new and unexpected ways. We change the world for the better. For the sake of God’s kingdom.

It’s scary because it’s unknown, like venturing out into the great ocean on some tiny fishing boat. Like being tossed and turned in the waves and the wind. I wonder if these four disciples would have hesitated just a little bit if they knew all that their lives had in store. But I think, ultimately, they would have done it anyway. Because when you meet Jesus, when you see what Jesus is capable of, when you see all the possibilities, well, it’s hard not to follow.

God offer us so much as our scriptures today show us—in our darkness God offers light, in our scarcity God offers abundance, in our death God offers life. So much so that it may seem foolish, but to us, to us who hear Jesus’ call, it is truly the power of God.

And because of that promise, there’s work to be done. God’s new regime isn’t about fame or profits or numbers, it’s about healing the sick and raising the dead. It’s about loving our neighbor and welcoming the stranger. So friends, let’s put down our nets. It’s okay, you can drop them slowly. But when we do, whenever we do, we can be confident that Jesus is there waiting for us at the shore. “The kingdom of heaven has come near,” he says. “Come, follow me.”