When I was 10 years old, I knew something deep within my soul – you know how that is, right? That deep knowing that comes from an outside source. I knew that I needed to go fishing. I’m not sure where this deep knowledge came from, I only knew its resounding truth. I needed to sit by the side of a body of water, fishing rod in hand, and wait patiently for a fish to bite.

My mother, in her infinite wisdom, had me work to earn a fishing rod. This meant I spent the summer swimming laps at the local pool – which I hated – to earn my way to the coveted Fisher Price Fishing Rod.

Once I swam the laps and had my gear, I was ready to embark on my dream of fishing. The perfect opportunity came on a crisp, cool morning on a father-daughter weekend that fall, and my knowing became reality. I marched right to the end of the pier, baited my hook, and plunked it in the water.

I was prepared to wait, to recast, to test my patience because as we all know, I was meant to fish. But no such feats of endurance were needed that morning because within minutes I felt the tell-tale tug. With ever growing excitement, I reeled in the line and pulled up my very first fish.

My 10 year old brain hadn’t prepared me for the reality of an actual fish. Did you know fish are alive when you pull them from the water? And flopping? And I was supposed to touch it?

Thankfully at that point my dad stepped in to rescue me, removing the fish from the hook and casting it back into the water to live another day.

I recognize that my experience with fishing looks nothing like what Jesus’ first disciples did day in and day out before he called them to fish for people, but I wonder if there is a resemblance to how some churches approach evangelism.

Oh, evangelism. The longest four-letter word in the church lexicon. It’s the topic most mainline churches tiptoe around because it’s easy to get it wrong and feels hard to do it right.

I would wager many of us in this room or watching online have at one point or another been bombarded with a message like “Follow Jesus or else!” You might see the words “Turn or burn!” posted on a billboard, or have folks come to your door telling you the only way to follow Jesus is their way, and if you don’t you’re in for a world of hurt.

I’ve spent most of my life living in the Bible belt either in North Carolina or Georgia, and let me tell you these evangelism tactics–and more–are real. It’s really no wonder that evangelism has turned into a word-that-shall-not-be-spoken by those of us with a kinder message than what’s typically presented.

Ironically, “turn or burn” is the exact opposite of what evangelism means. At the opening of our passage, we hear John the Baptist’s message saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Did you hear that last part? Believe in the good news. In Greek, the word for good news is euangelion, sometimes transliterated as evangelion which is where we get the word evangelism. Evangelism comes directly out of good news.

If evangelism is all about sharing good news, then why are we so afraid of it? Why do we think we’ll pull a writhing, floppy, smelly fish from the water and not know what to do with it?

I’d wager it’s because we think we’re fishing a bit too literally. We’re thinking that just like I did many decades ago, we have to have a hook, and a lure and some bait to draw people in. Perhaps the process will sting a bit, but it’s all worth it in the end, right?

As you might imagine, Jesus offers us a different way.

His offer to the brothers Simon and Andrew is simple: Follow me and I will make you fish for people. As one commentary noted, “It’s worth thinking about that Jesus doesn’t say to the first disciples, ‘Believe in this way of thinking, and follow me’ or ‘Sign on to this cause, and follow me.’ He simply says, ‘Follow me.’ The sheer minimalism of the call is striking. It may signal that while beliefs and behavior do play a role in discipleship, they’re not really the heart of the matter; rather, walking alongside Jesus is the heart of the matter: listening, reflecting, learning, and listening again.”1

So what if we shifted our thinking about evangelism from asking others to follow a set of right beliefs, to inviting them to dwell in Jesus’ presence.

Author Brian McLaren, who transitioned out of the evangelical church, says, “I noticed… that people who spend a lot of time in church often seemed to be some of the meanest, more arrogant, and most judgmental people that I met. I noticed the same being true of me at times as well…. It seemed that Christianity had become for many people an evacuation plan (how to get your soul out of earth into heaven) rather than a transformation plan (how to help God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven).2

Jesus’ ministry focused on transformation. He transformed the idea of messiah from one who is king to one who serves others. He transformed the standard of whom he should associate with from those who hold power, to those who have no power. He transformed the notion of who to call disciple from a group of religious folks to a group of rag-tag, uneducated fishermen, a tax collector, and even the one who was to betray him.

Jesus is all about transformation.

Maybe that’s what those earliest disciples sensed in him when Jesus said “Follow me.” Making a living as a fisherman would never earn the two sets of brothers wealth and prestige. It’s doubtful that they would change the world or even have their own worlds changed by continuing with that work.

Jesus offers them something more. A chance to be transformed and to be part of the transformation of the world.

And isn’t that what we’re still seeking? A chance to be transformed and to be part of the transformation of the world.

Jesus invited those first disciples to fish for people. As professional fishermen, Simon and Andrew, James and John did not use my method of casting a single line with a baited hook into the water. No, they used their strength and skill to cast a net out into the water and then draw many fish in.

Jesus invited them to use their context and skills of casting as a metaphor for sharing the good news. By casting their net wide among the people, Jesus and the disciples did not discriminate among who was pulled in.

If you were a fisherman, you were welcomed in. If you were a woman, you were welcomed in. If you were a tax collector, you were welcomed in. If you were sick or disabled, you were welcomed in. If you were a Roman soldier, you were welcomed in. If you were hungry or thirsty or lost, you were welcomed in.

Or as our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry says, “The gospel way of welcome was Jesus’ way to bring together all of our incredible diversity and differences into one people, one faith, one Church. And if the gospel way of welcome was Jesus’ way, then as followers of Jesus, this way of welcome is our way, our call, our mission.”3

It’s easy to find messages of division—simply tune in to any sort of news media and discord or division will show up. But we who are hearers and bearers of the good news, we can choose and practice a different way, the gospel way of welcome.

Jesus knew the people around him needed to hear a different message. They needed to hear that their lives could be more than the drugery of daily life living within the bounds of both Temple law and Roman law. I don’t know about you, but I often need to be reminded of this myself. We live within the bounds of a 24-7 news cycle that only highlights divisions and discord. We live within the bounds of watching innocent people die for no reason other than where they live or the color of their skin. We live within the bounds of any system of injustice that keeps our siblings from experiencing the fullness of life.

But, as Bishop Curry reminds us, we can transcend those bounds. He says, “If we live only in the context of the way things are, we are condemned to live according to the vagaries of the present time and the dictates of the status quo. But if we live in the context of that which is greater than ourselves, we become open to the possibility of action and transformation.”

We are hungry for this transformation. Our world is desperate for this transformation.4

Perhaps my 10 year old self was more right than I gave myself credit for, because I still have that deep knowing that I am called to fish. You won’t find me standing next to a body of water casting a line and waiting for a bit. No, I’d rather buy my actual fish from the grocery store.

But you will find me casting out nets of hope, nets of peace, nets of love, nets of justice, nets of transformation. I’m not looking to trap or trick anyone in these nets, but I do hope and pray that the messages I cast out into the world will draw people to the Source of All Life, to the only One who can truly change the world by transforming each and every one of us with a message of love, peace, welcome, and justice for the world.

Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

I hope you too find yourself called to fish.


1 https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2018/1/16/follow-me-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-epiphany-week-3
2 Adapted from Brian McLaren, “What Is Engaged Contemplation?,” Essentials of Engaged Contemplation, Center for Action and Contemplation, 2024. Presentation for the Living School.
“The Gospel Witness of Welcome Will Rearrange the World” sermon by Bishop Michael B. Curry as published in Crazy Christians, p. 112
4 “We Are Part of Something Greater Than Ourselves” sermon by Bishop Michael B. Curry as published in Crazy Christians, p. 13


The Rev. Jo Nygard Owens

Pastor for Digital Ministry