Scripture Passage: Luke 5:1-11
“Catching Souls in the 21st Century”
Good morning! This is a very familiar and important passage. It also is a difficult one for Presbyterians to hear, because evangelism is usually an unwelcome word. However, sharing the gospel is very important for all Christians, including Presbyterians, and it is one of our 6 great pillars of the Church. I think that Presbyterians are open to evangelism, but they want to do it in a way, which is respectful and not imposing on people, who are from other religions. We definitely do not like to hit people over the head with a bible! Also, I think that Presbyterians tend to be shy about talking about their faith, especially with total strangers; they tend to share the gospel, through service, by helping folks with practical needs. It’s a good thing to share the gospel through helping people in need, but we also need to feel more comfortable with speaking to people about our faith. I think the simplest, most effective way to do that, is to focus on some personal experiences of God, which excite us and make us enthusiastic and joyful about our faith. When people see our obvious enthusiasm and joy, it is contagious and it usually leads to more discussion about God!
Well, sharing our enthusiasm and joy for God is a great start, but what does this actually look like in the 21st century, when Christians in the U.S. are a minority, living in a society, where most people don’t even darken the door of a church? I think it actually takes lots of courage, just to live as a Christian and attend church in our current generation! So, the idea of sharing our faith or telling others about our church may seem overwhelming and scary. Well, I believe it does take lots of courage to profess our faith today, and even more, to talk about it with strangers. However, there are some simple ways, in which we can enter into conversations about our faith. One story came to my mind this week about this. Conner was a young man at my church in Liberal, Kansas, who had just graduated from college and was working as a civil engineer, building schools in Liberal. I had a conversation with Connor one day, about this subject of evangelism, and we talked about the practice of saying grace at a fast food place or restaurant. Pretty unusual, right, to see someone these days, bow their head, close their eyes, fold their hands, and say grace before eating a Big Mac or whatever fast food?! Well, Connor shared that he did in fact say grace one day at McDonalds, and lo and behold, someone noticed! A man, Rex, who sat across from him saw Connor pray and give God thanks before delving into his hamburger, and this man happened to also be a Christian, so he came over to Connor’s table and asked if he could join him!
In today’s passage we see something similar happening, which is also surprising and exciting: Jesus asks Peter and the disciples to put down their fish nets, just one more time at the end of a very long and slow day of fishing, and we see a ton of fish finally responding! So, just as Connor responded to the Spirit’s nudging and calling to say grace in a fast food place, Peter, James and John respond with obedience to Jesus’ request to drop those nets one more time, even though they were probably muttering under their breath, “Doesn’t he know that we’ve had enough bad luck today and are exhausted; why in the world is he asking us to do this one more time? How many of us can relate well to this situation, of wondering why in the world God asked us to try to do something, just once more time, when we’re already tired and frustrated after a long string of unsuccessful attempts?! Well, that is indeed the challenge to the disciples in today’s scripture and to us. Jesus comes to make his request, not after a successful day of fishing or work, or after Peter, James and John have filled their bellies with good food and drink and are refreshed after a good night of rest; rather, Jesus beckons them to this task, at the very end of a long and unsuccessful day. I think that Jesus often does the same with us, and comes to us with his nudge to share our faith or with his call to us as his disciples, when we’re already tired and feel as if we just can’t do one more thing or go on.
Well, thankfully, Peter and the disciples hang in there, after this very long day, and they hold onto their trust in Jesus, they do as they are told, and to their great surprise, witness a huge miracle! The fish, who seemed to be asleep or completely uninterested before, suddenly respond and fill up the nets-not just part-way, but to the brim! So, how many times have we almost ‘thrown in the towel’ and given up on something, and then tried just one more time, and wow, we found ourselves speechless at the ‘catch’ or result, which God provided?!
Well, as Connor and Rex, the man who noticed him saying grace at McDonalds, talked and got to know each other, they found they had many things in common, besides their faith! I think Connor was pretty surprised that Rex actually noticed him saying grace, kind of like how the disciples were totally blown away and shocked by the ton of fish, which nearly busted their nets. Rex rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles for a hobby and was a part of a Harley-Davidson group in Liberal, which donates to Toys for Tots, and Connor also was interested in riding Harley-Davidson
and maybe joining this group! All this came out of Connor’s simple but courageous act of saying grace in a restaurant! What a simple, but yet powerful form of evangelism, this practice of saying grace in a restaurant! It took lots of courage, but it also yielded an amazing ‘catch’ or result, of a new friend in the community, who was also a Christian! I wonder how great the ‘catch’ might be, if each of us, always bowed our heads and said grace at a restaurant before we began to devour our food?! A hamburger or cup of coffee at McDonalds, with the saying of grace, might just lead to a dynamic theological discussion or us telling someone enthusiastically about Knox Presbyterian Church! Connor felt it was very worth his effort that day to say grace and was very thrilled by the outcome of his new friend, Rex!
So, Uncle Barry, Aunt May and I always pause and say a word of grace before we eat at a restaurant. I usually pray out loud for us, when I eat with them. We even do this at the Costco food court! I hope that you and your family have a similar practice of saying grace in restaurants, or that you have been inspired by today’s stories, to start this practice. I think that we each need to think of as many creative ways as we can, to respectfully and enthusiastically share about our faith and church. We are, after all, ‘a priesthood of all believers’, and it requires every single church member’s sharing of the gospel, in order to get a healthy ‘catch’ or grow the church. I loved how the commentator this week noted that the Greek verb for catch in this passage was not simply ‘to catch dead souls’ for Christ, but the translation would be more accurate to say, “catching men and women, who are alive for the kingdom”! The souls, which we catch by sharing our faith, are not just like ‘dead fish’, which will be consumed, but they are alive and creative, and they will be active disciples, who further God’s kingdom! Also, the meaning of the Greek verb for catching, is not just about trapping an animal, but it is about saving someone, ‘before death prevails over them’. That is a powerful lesson for us, that through our simple act of sharing our faith, we could help the Spirit save someone’s soul from spiritual death!
So on that note, may each of us be inspired by today’s passage and Connor’s story, to have a practice of saying grace in a restaurant, or some other practice of gently sharing our faith, with enthusiasm and joy, so that in our response to Jesus’ call to discipleship, we may be pleasantly surprised and blown away, by the ton of results and blessings we catch! May the results be souls, which are saved from spiritual death and changed forever, into people, who are alive for God’s kingdom, and churches, with pews which begin to fill up again until there are no more seats! Amen.