Casting the Net

It has been quite fashionable in churches over the past twenty or so years to develop a mission statement for their individual congregation. Taking its lead from successful business strategy, it made sense to have a central statement which described the church’s purpose for being. Mission Statements seemed to go in two different directions. On the one hand, there were those wanting to focus on the preservation of the faith and the faithful ones who held to that faith. Such a mission statement might focus on being faithful in their confession of the truth or caring primarily for those who are members of the particular fellowship. On the other hand, there were those who would see the mission of the church to be primarily focused on outreach, in the sharing of the faith with those not part of the fellowship. Such a mission statement would focus on the community in which the church is found, and the opportunities to evangelize though services and programs which sought to bring care and compassion to them. We were often reminded it was not enough to simply have a mission statement, but you needed to do what you could to have the majority of the members of that church buy into the mission. The mission would only work if people could articulate it and embrace it as their own.

Now, all of this makes sense. It is a very logical way to get to the heart of a churches purpose for being. Yet, I have always struggled a bit with this whole idea. It might be that I have reservations about borrowing the language and practices of big business and embracing them in the Church. Because, if we are being honest, the business of the Church has been and always will be the business of the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is the proclamation of a God who has completed the work of salvation for you. The business of the Church is not any number of social goods churches are involved in. Churches may do those things, they may feed the poor, shelter the homeless, or educate the young, but all of it flows from the Gospel, from its primary mission. It flows from a life shaped by the Gospel, not by a list of laws and commands which demand a certain level of performance. Rather, in the freedom of Christ’s work the people of God, out of joy, seek to serve their neighbor in such ways.

This means that the church, our church, our fellowship gathered here in this place, this day, ought to have at its core, the Gospel. And if it is the Gospel, the gifts of salvation, which are at the core of the mission of the church, if this is our reason for being, then everything else we do ought to flow from that core. Our worship, Sunday school, support groups, youth programs are all products of the Gospel. This also means your service in the church, your times of volunteer work, your gifts you place faithfully into the offering plate, these are not simply about keeping the lights on and the facilities looking good, they are our feeble attempts to honor the gifts of Christ. These acts are not about earning a way into Heaven, like ‘bonus points’ of righteousness. Rather, these are our collective desire for the Gospel to go forth, for the good news of Jesus Christ to be proclaimed not only to this generation but the generation that comes after us.

As we read in the Word about the beginnings of our Lord’s ministry, we read about this centering of all things on the work of Christ Himself. Jesus goes into the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali and begins to preach the message we first heard on the lips of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Along the way, He begins to call others to join in this work. That, in and of itself, is fascinating, for the task of the Gospel, the good work Christ alone can accomplish here makes use of faithful followers. Those who receive this message of hope have a role to play in the handing over of such sweet mysteries. So, we read, “He (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately, they left their nets and followed Him. And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately, they left the boat and their father and followed Him.”

This work of Christ is the fulfillment of the Word of God, the ancient prophecy from Isaiah: “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” A light of hope, a light of revelation comes as the Gospel goes forth. Christ in His work, in His teaching and promises, demonstrates the realities of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. Our text says He was, “Teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” Jesus was popular. People flocked out to see Him, to receive His blessing, to experience this good news which came in His person. His mission, the mission of the Gospel was bearing fruit as He did His work.

Now, we know at this point at least James and John, Peter and Andrew were there. They witnessed these things. They listened to Jesus’ words. They followed Him as He pressed on with His mission. They are witnessing the work of the Word made flesh as He does what Moses and the prophets never did. We know they were called to be fishers of men, we know their vocation would no longer be to cast nets for fish in the sea, but instead to cast out the promises and gifts of Christ, to capture people with the good news. In this way, they are the forerunner’s for the Church as we know it. But at this point they are just learning, just beginning to understand what this new life entails. In fact, it might be easy for them to jump on the bandwagon right now, to be eager and ready to go out and be fishers of men. After all, they love Him and they cannot wait to come to Him.

But we know the rest of the story, do we not? We know the crowd is fickle, that it can quickly go from “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The good news that is the mission of our Lord is good news which will shine a light in true darkness. For it will not simply proclaim the way of salvation, it will do what is necessary to obtain salvation. This too is what the followers of our Lord must learn if they are to become fishers of men. The work of salvation is to bear real evil, real hatred, real persecution at the hands of sinful men. So, the Church of our Lord, the church that has at its core (at the heart of its mission) the Gospel, is a church which will do more than promise good times. It is more than walking with Jesus when the crowds are celebrating and happy. The Gospel is not just about telling others about all the great works of God, it is about proclaiming these works are here for you, right now. The Gospel is how in your sin, in your rebellion, in your opposition to the work of Christ, He has still come for you. Not to destroy, not to dismantle, but to save, to forgive, and to embrace you in the darkness of your life.

Jesus calls these first disciples to be fishers of men, and they will learn through their time with Him that the heart of this mission is the Gospel. It is to hand over the freedom which comes in Christ alone. Therefore, it is fitting that it is at the end of this same book where we get the full picture of what He means when He calls them to be fishers of men. In Mathew 28, right at the end before He ascends to the right hand of the Father, Jesus says, “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

To be fishers of men, to engage in the mission of the Church, is to make disciples of all nations. Then Jesus tells us precisely how it is to be done. He describes the very nets we are to use in our fishing. We are to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Then we are to teach them all that he has commanded. Baptizing and teaching, that is our mission. It is the handing over of the goods, the act of forgiving and welcoming in the name of our Lord. And it is the mission set before you. It is why this place, and these people exist. It is time to cast our nets.