By William Willimon (source lost)
In Matthew 4:19 Jesus called some fishermen, ordinary folks like you and like me, to be his disciples. He said to them, “Follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.” Jesus has promised that those who follow him shall work with him in ‘catching people,’ that is, in leading others toward his kingdom.
When was the last time you shared your faith with someone who is not a believer, not a member of the church? Many people have never had that experience. We are uncomfortable talking about religion with other people. We Americans like to say, “Religion is a private affair,” something to keep to yourself. Of course, we don’t want to be “pushy,” but fear of being too “pushy” leads most of us to say nothing at all about what we believe.
Do you know the major reason given by people who don’t go to church when they are asked why they don’t go to church? “Nobody ever asked me.”
We’ve done a poor job of fishing with Jesus. And yet Jesus has commanded us to share the gospel. Think about the people with whom you work at the office the people you enjoy having lunch with at school, or your next-door neighbor. Have you invited them to come to church with you?
Maybe we still live with the old assumption that this is basically a “Christian country,” where being Christian comes with breathing the air and drinking the water. We don’t have to tell people about the kingdom because they are already in it just by being lucky enough to be born in North America. Not much need for fishing.
If we were ever correct in those assumptions they are not correct today. Increasing numbers of people are utterly befuddled by the church, have no knowledge of the Bible, and feel alone and disconnected from religious faith. Rather than wringing our hands over the church’s decline, perhaps we ought to see this as a great opportunity for us again to enjoy fishing with Jesus, reaching out, and pointing others to God who has loved us and called us and calls and loves our neighbors as well.
Thus, I shall tell you a story:
When evangelical activist Dr. Tony Campolo was to speak at our chapel, a young man appeared at my office and asked to introduce Dr. Campolo before he spoke. He told me that he would like to share something of what Dr. Campolo had meant to him.
“Such as?” I asked.
“Such as when I worked for him last summer, in Philadelphia,” he replied
I asked him to tell me about it.
“I got converted my senior year of high school. I was a fresh, eager Christian, so when Dr. Campolo came to our town to speak, I went to hear him. He was great. After he spoke, he asked us to sign up for his program of inner-city ministry in Philadelphia. So I did.
“Well, in mid-June, about a hundred kids met in a Baptist church in Philadelphia. We had about an hour of singing before Dr. Campolo arrived. When he got to the church, we were really worked up, all enthusiastic and ready to go. Dr. Campolo then preached for about an hour, and when he finished, people were shouting, standing on the pews clapping. It was great.
“’OK gang, are you ready to go out there and tell ’em about Jesus?’ he asked. ‘Yeah, let’s go’ we shouted back.
“‘Get on the bus!’ Tony shouted. So we spilled out of the church and on to the bus. We were singing clapping. But then we began to drive deeper into the depths of the city. We weren’t in a great neighborhood when we started riding, but it got worse. Gradually, we stopped singing and all of us college kids was just staring out the windows. We were scared.
“Then the bus pulled up before one of the worst looking housing projects in Philadelphia. Tony jumped on the bus opened the door and said, ‘Alright gang get out there and tell ’em about Jesus. I’ll be back at five o’clock.’
“We made our hesitant way off the bus. We stood there on the corner and had a prayer, and then we spread out. I walked down the sidewalk and stopped before huge tenement house. I gulped, said a prayer, and ventured inside. There was a terrible odor. Windows were out. There were no lights in the hall. I walked up one flight of stairs toward the door where I heard a baby crying. I knocked on the door.
“‘Who is it?’ said a loud voice inside. Then the door was cracked open and a woman holding a naked baby, peered out at me. ‘What you want?’ she asked in a harsh, mean voice.
“I told her that I wanted to tell her about Jesus.
“With that she swung the door open and began cursing me. She cursed me all the way down the hall, down the flight of steps, out to the sidewalk.
“I felt terrible. ‘Look at me,’ I said to myself. ‘Some Mr. Christian I am. How in the world could somebody like me think that I could tell anyone about Jesus?’
“I sat down on the curb and cried. Then I looked up and noticed a store on the corner, windows all boarded up and bars were over the door. I went to the store, walked in, and looked around. Then I remembered the baby had no diapers. The mother was smoking. I bought a box of paper diapers and a pack of cigarettes.
“I walked back to the tenement house, said a prayer, walked in, walked up the flight of stairs, gulped, stood before the door and knocked.
“’Who is it?’ said the voice inside. When she opened the door I slid that box of diapers and those cigarettes in. She looked at them, looked at me and said, ‘Come in.’
“I stepped in the dingy apartment.
“Sit down,’ she commanded.
“I sat down on the old sofa and began to play with the baby. I put a diaper on the baby, even though I have never put one on before. When the woman offered me a cigarette, I smoked it, even though I don’t smoke. I stayed there all afternoon, talking, playing with the baby, listening to the woman.
“About four o’clock, the woman looked at me and said, ‘Let me ask you something. What’s a nice college boy like you doing in a place like this?’
“So I told her everything I knew about Jesus. It took me about five minutes. Then she said, ‘Pray for me and my baby that we can make it out of here alive’
“And I prayed.
“That evening after we were all back on the bus, Tony asked, ‘Well gang, did any of you get to tell ’em about Jesus?’
“And I said, ‘Ya, I got to tell ’em about Jesus. I went out to save somebody, and I ended up getting saved. I guess I became a disciple.’”
The moral of the story is that a tangible expression of care and concern might open the door for a few words about Jesus. Watch for such opportunities and be ready to respond.
Matthew 4:18-22 — As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Lord, open my eyes so I may see the opportunities around me to tell others about you. Amen.