Come Follow Me, A tale of nets and rubble
Good morning brothers and sisters. I am thankful for the chance to speak with you this morning. It is a blessing and a privilege.
I thought I would start off today by sharing a story from my youth. When I was young, my father used to take me and my brothers fishing. We would spend what felt like hours holding fishing poles, and waiting for the signs that told us that a fish might be nibbling the bait on the end of our line. Then we would yank on the pole to try and “set the hook” so that we could reel the fish in.
I have a confession to make. Although I love spending time with my Dad and my brothers, I actually hate fishing.
To be fair, there are a few things I enjoyed about these times. I liked going to lakes. I liked sitting in boats. I love nature. I loved sitting in the sunshine and admiring the water and the trees.
On the other hand, I don’t like spearing worms with metal hooks. I don’t like reeling in some poor fish knowing its got a metal spike pierced through its lip. And I don’t like touching slimy, wiggly, unpredictable, floppy things that at any moment could make me squeal in fright.
Fortunately, in today’s modern age, we have been given Pokemon Go which has a lot of similarities to fishing, only without the hooks and the slime.
Some people love to fish. My father and my oldest brother are two of them. They can spend hours and hours fishing together. Not me. After a few minutes, I’m pulling out my phone and playing Pokemon Go, trying to “catch them all”.
In the New Testament, we read about four men who were fishermen. Their names were Simon, Andrew, James and John. They were partners in their fishing business, and apparently they were fairly successful at it considering they had their own boats and nets.
I want you to join me as we try to envision what it was like for them to live two thousand years ago. They worked by hand, lowering and raising the nets. Perhaps their hands were calloused and worn from the ropes in the nets that they used each day.
Imagine one night, they went out to fish and they didn’t catch a thing. Nothing. Their nets were empty by the time they returned to shore in the morning. I do not know if they grumbled and complained like my brothers and I may have as children when my father made us go fishing and there was nothing to be caught. But we do know that they came back from the sea empty handed. So they beached their boats, pulled their nets to the shore and began the laborious task of cleaning them.
It was then that a crowd of people approached. The focus of the crowd appeared to be a single man, who came to Simon and asked him if he would thrust out a little from the land so that he could speak to the multitude. Of course, we know that this was no ordinary man. He was Jesus of Nazareth.
Undoubtedly Simon felt something different about him, for he obeyed. They went out a ways into the water, and Jesus taught the multitude. We do not know the content of the discourse that He gave. However, we can imagine Simon sitting next to him in his boat as He taught, and marveling at the things that He said.
When Jesus was done teaching, he turned to Simon and said to him, Go out where the water is deeper, and let down your nets.
If we put ourselves in Simon’s shoes, how would we have reacted to this instruction? He had just spent the entire night fishing and caught nothing. He was undoubtedly tired, and probably a little frustrated from his lack of success.
In fact, he tells Jesus, Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing; nevertheless, at thy word, I will let down the net.
What happened next was a miracle. The net was suddenly filled with fish – so many that the net began to break and he had to call out to his partners James and John to help. I imagine that they ran to their boat and came quickly to his aid, and still the fish came to the net. Their catch was so large that their ships began to sink for the weight of the fish.
When this happened, Simon fell to his knees and beseeched the Lord to depart from him, because he was a sinful man. He didn’t feel worthy to be in the presence of the Savior.
To these men, Jesus said, and I am paraphrasing here: Come, Follow me, and you will no longer catch fish to kill them, but rather, you will bring men into the Gospel net, so that they can live. (Luke 5, Matthew 4, see Jesus the Christ, pg. 188, note 4).
There is a lesson to learn from Peter, Andrew, James and John’s response to the Savior’s invitation. We read in Mathew, chapter 4 that they straightway left their nets and immediately left their ships and followed him.
Let’s take a look at what happened that morning so long ago:
1. These four men were introduced to the Savior
2. They heard his words. They listened to his message and his teaching.
3. They were touched by the Spirit. They recognized that he was much more than just an ordinary man.
4. Then the Savior invited them to follow him; to leave their nets and their boats and their fish, and become his disciples.
Now, let us leave this beautiful scene on the shores of Galilee, and return to our present time. In a way, all of us, at some point in our lives will go through a similar experience to what Peter, Andrew, James and John went through. The Spirit will touch our lives, and the Savior will invite us to Come, and Follow him. At that point, as we stand there with our metaphorical nets in our hands, the question is, what will we do?
Elder Joseph B. Worthlin of the quorum of the twelve apostles said the following when talking about the experience of these four men, and in particular, the nets left so willingly:
(quote) “Nets are generally defined as devices for capturing something. In a … more important sense, we might define a net as anything that entices or prevents us from following the call of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.
“Nets in this context can be our work, our hobbies, our pleasures, and, above all else, our temptations and sins. In short, a net can be anything that pulls us away from our relationship with our Heavenly Father or from His restored Church. …
“It is impossible to list the many nets that can ensnare us and keep us from following the Savior. But if we are sincere in our desire to follow Him, we must straightway leave the world’s entangling nets and follow Him.” (close quote)
A few questions come to mind:
If the fish, nets, and boats the fishermen left behind represent our temporal concerns, what things might the Savior require us to set aside in order to follow Him?
What are the nets that prevent us from following the Savior with all our heart, might, mind and strength?
Before answering that question, and I promise everyone an answer, I want to talk about another story from the New Testament. This one is found in Mark, Chapter 10:
17 ¶And when he (Jesus) was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
The reason I share this story, is because I want to talk about what it means to me to truly Follow the Savior. When the young rich man asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Christ began by teaching him the basics: Here are the ten commandments that you know you should follow.
In our day, If we could approach the Savior and ask the same question, I imagine Christ’s answer might sound like this:
“You know what you should be doing: Go to Church. Read and study your scriptures. Pray often. Be baptized. Partake of the sacrament. Pay your tithing. Obey the Word of Wisdom. Go to the temple.”
And we may very well answer him with the same words that this rich man did:
“Lord, all these I have done since I was young.”
In saying that, perhaps we hope that God will say, well done, my good and faithful servant. You have checked all the boxes off. You will inherit eternal life. In hoping this, I wonder if we are not like the Scribes and Pharisees of old? I wonder if we want lists of things that we can check off so we don’t have to think too hard. We want to know exactly what the rules are and what tasks must be done so that we can check them off like items on a grocery list, so that we can then present our completed homework to the Lord and expect to be given a gold star and an A grade.
However, this is not the response that the Savior gives to the young rich man. What does he tell him?
Christ moves from following a lesser law, to following a greater law. He moves past lists, to something higher.
He tells him: Leave the things of the world behind, take up the cross, and Follow Me.
In my opinion, this is the higher law, one where there are no more lists.
It is when we go from worrying about tasks that must be checked off a list like the Pharisees of old, to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we begin to truly follow Him.
Let me repeat that.
It is when we go from worrying about tasks that must be checked off a list like the Pharisees of old, to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we begin to truly follow Him.
When we leave our metaphorical nets behind and truly embrace living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we no longer have to think about which commandment or instruction we should be obeying. We emulate the Savior in our actions and our deeds naturally. We have his image engraven upon our countenances. It is no longer about constantly checking our obedience level like a worried mother checks the temperature of her sick child to see if they are getting worse or better.
Put in a different way, we act as Jesus would act not because we ask ourselves how Jesus would respond when placed in a certain circumstance, but rather we act as Jesus would act because we are filled with His love and want to do as He would do because the very nature of our beings has changed.
- When we are filled with the Love of Christ, we see someone who is suffering, and we go to them to comfort them.
- When we are filled with the Love of Christ, we see someone mourning, and we go to them to mourn with them.
- When we see another burdened with more than they can carry, we reach out and help them without a second thought of whether or not it is convenient.
In short: We put off the Natural man.
We have a mighty change in our hearts.
We no longer have the desire to do evil, but to do good continually.
We leave our metaphorical nets and boats behind us, and Come and Follow Him.
So, I ask again:
- If the fish, nets, and boats the fishermen left behind represent our temporal concerns, what things might the Savior require us to set aside in order to follow Him?
- What are the nets that prevent us from following the Savior with all our heart, might, mind and strength?
Earlier, I promised you an answer to these questions. Let me give you that answer now. If all of us take a moment, let go of our pride, and humble ourselves so that we can hear and listen to the promptings of the Spirit, then right here and right now, the Spirit of the Lord will whisper to our minds exactly what it is that we need to let go of.
It may be something that prevents us from fulfilling our Church or family responsibilities.
It may be grievances with our ex-spouse, our families or our friends.
It may be a temptation or a sin.
It may be sorrow, or despair.
For each of us, it will be something different.
But whatever it is, the need to let it go is the same. What metaphorical net are we clinging to that prevents us from partaking of the Love of God, and - being filled with that Love - , Following the Savior and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Doubts and Fears
There may be some here today that think to themselves, Brother Nanto, that is all well and good, but you don’t understand. The net I’m holding on to is different than other people’s nets. This is no ordinary fishing net. It is strong. It is important. I don’t want to let go of it because I deserve to keep it.
Or, you may think, Brother Nanto, I want to let go of this net, but I am entangled in it, like one of the fish Peter caught. I’ve tried to escape many times. It is binding. I am too weak. It is not possible for me.
“I am hopeless.”
You may think you will never be able to escape the particular net you are surrounded by, whatever it is.
There is a scene from the musical, The Man of LaMancha, where a lowly kitchen maid named Aldonza is speaking to a dreamer named Don Quixote. He is trying to convince her that she is a magnificent Princess named Dulcinea, but when she looks at herself, all she can see is someone who is the lowest of the low.
She tells him: “You have shown me the sky, but what good is the sky, to a creature that will never do better than crawl.”
In her mind, she is just a dirty kitchen maid. But Don Quixote sees her for who she truly is. She really is a princess. She just doesn’t know it yet.
Perhaps, in the eyes of Peter, on that morning two thousand years ago, as he knelt before the Savior in his boat, surrounded by fish, all he could see when he looked at himself was an unworthy fisherman. While Jesus saw an Apostle of the Lamb and the one He would trust to lead His church after He was gone.
Perhaps in your mind, all you see are the reasons why true discipleship is unattainable for you. While Jesus sees us for our potential as children of our Heavenly Father.
I am reminded of a talk that President Uchtdorf gave last Spring in general conference. He began by describing his visit to the city of Dresden, which was located not far from where he grew up as a child. This particular city was heavily bombed during the second world war. Over 90% of the structures of the city were destroyed in a massive bombing campaign.
He writes: (quote)
During my visit I saw the beautiful Lutheran church Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady. Originally built in the 1700s, it had been one of Dresden’s shining jewels, but the war reduced it to a pile of rubble. For many years it remained that way, until finally it was determined that the Frauenkirche would be rebuilt.
Stones from the destroyed church had been stored and cataloged and, when possible, were used in the reconstruction. Today you can see these fire-blackened stones pockmarking the outer walls. These “scars” are not only a reminder of the war history of this building but also a monument to hope—a magnificent symbol of man’s ability to create new life from ashes.
As I pondered the history of Dresden and marveled at the ingenuity and resolve of those who restored what had been so completely destroyed, I felt the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit. Surely, I thought, if man can take the ruins, rubble, and remains of a broken city and rebuild an awe-inspiring structure that rises toward the heavens, how much more capable is our Almighty Father to restore His children who have fallen, struggled, or become lost?
It matters not how completely ruined our lives may seem. It matters not how scarlet our sins, how deep our bitterness, how lonely, abandoned, or broken our hearts may be. Even those who are without hope, who live in despair, who have betrayed trust, surrendered their integrity, or turned away from God can be rebuilt. Save those rare sons of perdition, there is no life so shattered that it cannot be restored.
The joyous news of the gospel is this: because of the eternal plan of happiness provided by our loving Heavenly Father and through the infinite sacrifice of Jesus the Christ, we can not only be redeemed from our fallen state and restored to purity, but we can also transcend mortal imagination and become heirs of eternal life and partakers of God’s indescribable glory. (close quote)
I echo the words of President Uchtdorf. It matters not how completely ruined our lives may seem. We may be standing amid a pile of stones and rubble that at one time were the dreams of how we thought our lives would turn out. We may be gripping tightly to our metaphorical nets, or helplessly entangled in them. We may have scars and painful reminders of the past. But that need not prevent us from our glorious destination. I testify that all things are possible through Christ. That our Heavenly Father can and will help us and raise us up if we Come Unto Him.
Sometimes I think God left us clues of our divine potential hidden around us in nature. Consider the example of the monarch butterfly.
It begins its life as a caterpillar that has no concept of flight as it begins its journey through life. All it knows is the ground. All it knows is the soil of the earth, and the weeds it crawls among. It may look up and catch glimpses of the sky and think I will never be able to reach the heavens. I am but a lowly caterpillar; nothing more than a glorified worm, forever destined to spend my life right where I am.
I do not know if the metamorphosis is painful for a caterpillar to become a butterfly. I do not know what self introspection occurs when it wraps itself in a chrysalis for days and finds a way to leave its old body behind. What I do know, is that through the miracle of nature, when it finally emerges, it is nothing like it was before. No longer is it bound to the earth and the soil and the weeds. It has completely changed. It is now a beautiful Monarch butterfly.
Before it ate weeds, now it sips nectar. Before it crawled, now it can fly.
Brothers and sisters, we are like the monarch caterpillar. We have no idea of the glories and heights to which we can ascend when we leave the world behind us and truly become disciples of Christ.
We must all have the faith to let go of our nets, rebuild the rubble that may stand around us, and Follow the Savior, Jesus Christ.
In giving this talk, I hope that I have not come across as one who has attained the level of discipleship to which I am describing. Like many of you, I have my own nets to leave behind. I have stood in the rubble of my own life and wondered if it were even possible to rebuild.
I testify to you, that with the Lords help, all things are possible. The rubble of our lives can be rebuilt. With the Lord’s help, the nets we cling to, or that have ensnared us, can be left behind. I testify that the Lord loves us. He loves me, and He loves you. He has helped me in my darkest times, and He will help you as well.
It is my prayer that our loving Father in Heaven will strengthen us and give us all the courage we need to leave behind us whatever nets we cling to that prevent us from living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that he will help us rebuild from the rubble of whatever tragedies we have experienced. I pray that all of us may accept the Savior’s invitation to Come and Follow him.
That we may live the Gospel of Jesus Christ by following His perfect example as best we can is my prayer.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.