Text and Tune: Harry D. Clarke (1888-1957)
I will make you fishers of men,
(Because of copyright I can't put it here, but the words are pretty simple and you can hear them on the links below.)
Text: Gracia Grindal Tune: James Clemens
He stood beside the lake and said,
“I am the shepherd, feed my lambs;
Give them my Word, they will be fed.
I am your God, the great I AM,
And I will lead you to the spring
That bubbles with the life I bring.
I wondered where it all would end,
But reaching out I followed him,
I trusted him, my God and friend,
Who was the new Jerusalem.
And every step ahead I take
I follow in his sparkling wake.
So long ago, but now I see
Ten thousand thousands round the Lamb
The crystal stream, the living tree.
The gate to life, the great I AM
For he has opened heaven’s door
To wonders never seen before!
My four year old nephew, long ago, had a tape of Sunday School songs that he loved, especially this Sunday school song. He played it over and over and over. The young woman who was his baby sitter grew weary of hearing the tape playing this song on repeat over and over again, but it became a marker of the little boy’s life. There is something insistently charming about it and it bears repeating, almost like the Song that never ends. It is the essence of a good Sunday school song. With its repetitions and basic message, it is easy for kids to learn, and they love it. And it is pure Scripture.
While Jesus in the text for this Sunday is not quite talking about being a fisherman to Peter, he is on a lake, and he has just told the disciples to let down their nets on the right side. When they do, they net a catch too great to haul in, 153 fish. And their nets do not break. They immediately suspect that the one on the beach is The Lord!
After their breakfast, Jesus speaks especially to Peter. Do you love me? he asks three times, almost as if to erase the three denials of Peter on Holy Thursday. It grieves Peter, and he answers with increasing passion. Lord, you know everything, he finally says, and you know I love you.
Feed my sheep, he then commands Peter. Three times.
That is the calling that the pastor should hear as the main task of his or her ministry. Feed my sheep. That is not all that hard, the menu is pretty clear: the Word of God, in word and sacrament. I was talking to someone today who had noticed that a preacher she knew had stopped searching Scriptures for the word and seemed to be wandering off into other pastures. Like one saint who noted that when her preacher started talking about bird houses, she knew he had lost his faith.
The operative word in Scripture and the Sunday school song is “make.” Georg Sverdrup (1848-1907) the long time president of Augsburg Seminary wrote a series of sermons on Matthew that I still find surprising. What he noted about Jesus’ request to Peter and Andrew was that if they followed him, he would “make” them fishers of men. He was not just going to send them out without training. He was going to create them to be missionaries. They would learn by following. And what they will learn by following Jesus is what to do as fishers of people. As Sverdrup says, you invite them with a friendly invitation to the banquet, to the wedding, for now all things are ready. Go out into the highways and byways, and invite them to come in. There is room enough for all.
We cannot force people to become Christians. Jesus shows us that our work as disciples is simply to issue the invitation: Come, follow me. That is all we can do. The Spirit will work with those words and create faith in the one who has heard. It is for us to spread the word. Thus, Jesus could give this great commission to the simplest of folk on earth—fishermen, tax collectors, carpenters—earthen vessels. It is easy to issue an invitation, Come and see. We invite, he cooks dinner. When we speak his word, we invite people into a world of eternal pleasure and beauty which begins now. Simply by glimpsing a piece of it, Jesus knows, they will follow him eager, one day, to get the whole nine yards. What glory that will be!
Clarke, an orphan, escaped the orphanage where he had been put, and ran away to sea where he served for nearly ten years. Clarke lived in London and then came to America. After attending Moody Bible Institute, he became a composer and music publisher alongside his work as pastor. He became a close associate of Billy Sunday whom he came to admire. He built the Billy Sunday Memorial Chapel in Sioux City, Iowa. He served as pastor in the chapel until 1945.
Christian Edition men's chorus
Rhonda Vincent and the Rage (Kind of a riff on fishers of men)