Fishing with God's net

Jesus called His first disciples, “Come, follow me. And I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). When we apply that verse to our work within the Church, we admit that each one of us – pastor and lay people – could be more diligent in our fishing.

At the same time, we need to remind ourselves that the results of our fishing excursions are not up to us. “The wind blows where it wishes,” Jesus says in John 3, “and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” In other words, you can’t predict who will be converted or where. And you can’t make anyone become a Christian. That’s up to the Spirit. Our Augsburg Confession picks up on this and states: “Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.”

When you go to North Beach, you can watch the tides roll in and the tides go out. There are also tides within the Christian Church. There may be a tide of worshipers who are coming to worship. At other times, it appears as if the tide has gone out and the church is empty. The same is true on a larger scale within our country. For a time, the tide seemed to be coming in and Christianity was growing. The net of the Gospel was catching lots of souls. For the last several years, however, it appears as if the tide is going out in our nation. There do not appear to be many who are being caught in the Gospel’s net.

Does that mean we need to use a different net? Maybe the one we’ve been using all these years isn’t doing the job anymore. Maybe we should switch and use different bait to lure the fish into the Church. Programs. Fun and games. Peppy music. None of this sin-and-grace business anymore. That’s not what today’s people want to hear. We have to appeal to people’s desires; give them what they want; keep the customers satisfied. So, get rid of crosses; get rid of the Christ-crucified talk; get rid of the Sacraments; and go for the saccharine! That will bring people in!

Well, maybe it will and maybe it won’t. But when we do away with discussing sin and grace, Law and Gospel, crosses and Savior, Word and Sacrament, within the church … then it won’t be the Church anymore! Then it won’t be Christians we will be gaining if we switch the net. We may become more attractive to people, but that’s only because they are attracted to everything except for what they really need – a Savior from sin. We will just be affirming people in their sin and lostness – making them feel like everything is all right – when it isn’t.

No, if we are going to be fishers of men, women, and children, then we need to use the net that Jesus gave us to use. That net is the preaching of Law and Gospel. It is the same preaching that Jesus preached: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

There is our net. There is our message. Repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name. Nothing else will get the job done as Jesus would have it be done. Nothing else will condemn and save. Nothing else will convert sinners into saints. The problem is not in the net. It will catch the fish that are meant to be caught. So let’s make sure that that is the net we are using – the Word of God, the Gospel in its truth and purity, Word and Sacrament, the very tools that Jesus would have us to use.

Let’s use that net, really use it, and then leave the results up to God. He’ll catch all the fish He wants to be caught. None will be lost. But the ones that are caught will be caught in the right way, through repentance and faith.


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