Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fishing for People Sermon

Matthew 4:18-22

January 27, 2008

Jesus Calls the Disciples- Fishing for People?

You have probably heard it said before, “if you want to hear laughter from heaven- tell God your plans.” Many a well-laid, thoroughly thought through plan has been disrupted by the persistent call of God. God calls each of us to service, even in the midst of our well-organized lives.

Sometimes, God’s call is disruptive. God calls us, just as Jesus called the first disciples. Those fishermen were called to leave their nets, as Jesus met them right in the middle of their ordinary lives. God enters our ordinary lives and puts within in us, a calling. The disciples were given a purpose and a mission when Jesus called them. “I will make you fish for people,” Jesus said to them. We can only hope our vision and mission in life is so clear.

Let me tell you what I mean when I say that sometimes God’s call is disruptive to our lives. Have you ever thought very much about God’s plans for Noah? I mean there was Noah, in the middle of his fairly ordinary life, when God nudged him and said, “Noah, I’ve got plans for you, I want you to build this boat…” You know how the story goes after that, God gets pretty specific about the measurements- and Noah does indeed drop everything and build a boat. I was reminded of this story this week when David and I watched a cute movie together called, Evan Almighty. In the movie, the very funny Steve Carell has just moved his family to Washington because he was been elected to serve in Congress. Not long after he arrives, he is visited by God who tells him that he has plans for him. He wants him to build a boat. Evan Baxter tries to explain to God that building an ark is not at all what he had in mind when he got elected to Congress. Baxter tries to run from God’s disruptive call, but everyday more lumber appears on his lawn, pairs of animals start to follow him everywhere, and his hair and beard begin to grow uncontrollably. Baxter has no choice but to disrupt his entire life, making all his family and friends think that he is crazy, to follow God’s instructions.

Don’t you think its true that God’s plan for you can disrupt your entire life? The Bible, the course of human history, and even the stories of friends that you know will confirm that God sometimes has plans for our lives that we don’t count on. This was certainly true of Jesus’ first disciples. There they were, Peter, Andrew, James and John- fishing in the Sea of Galilee when a call comes from Jesus. “Follow me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you fishers of men.” What happens next is the most unbelievable part of the story to me- they leave their nets (in Peter and Andrew’s case), and they leave their boat (in James and John’s case), IMMEDIATELY and follow him.

Immediately? Really? Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t say that they debated about it a bit- we don’t even see them huddled in the corner discussing it. We don’t hear them asking, “You mean right now Jesus?” We don’t even see them saying goodbye to family and friends. They get up, drop the nets they are working on and follow him. In Matthew’s Gospel these men that would become disciples haven’t even heard Jesus preach yet. They might have known of him- but they haven’t even seen a miracle performed by Jesus yet. They don’t know much about him at all. Perhaps all they know is that they are being called by God, through this servant Jesus, to leave everything and follow. Maybe their innate sense of trust in Jesus was enough. We don’t know exactly what made them do it, but we do know that they allowed the call of God to disrupt their lives. Without knowing a thing about their future, the men leave their nets and follow Jesus.

I don’t think we should beat ourselves up if we’ve had a little more trouble responding to God’s call. I don’t know too many people who are prepared to give up everything they know to follow where God is leading them. It usually takes a little more coaxing than that. In my own heart and life I must say that I probably heard God’s call to ministry when I was in early high school- but I rationalized it as a call to something other than ordained ministry. Another thing I know about God’s calling is that it is persistent- and if God has plans for you- you will not be left alone until you have carried them out.

God’s call in our lives can be disruptive. Following God can mean giving up all our expectations about what we thought our life was going to be like. But following God’s persistent, wonderful, disruptive call can be one of the best choices we ever make.

One of the other things I really like about Jesus’ call to these first disciples is that he sought them out exactly where they were. Jesus was a 1st Century rabbi (among other roles he had), and when rabbis began teaching, usually students were standing in line to study with them. Not Jesus, he goes to his students- selecting them and going to meet them where they are, instead of having his students come to him.

Instead of going to the palaces of Kings, or the places where the powerful dwell, Jesus goes to the shore to recruit fisherman. And we’re not talking about hobby fisherman either. We are not talking about, out- in- the-middle- of- the- lake- with- a- cooler- full- of- snacks- with- your- grandpa- fishing, either. We are talking about a way of life for these men. First Century fishing could take three forms- if you were middle or upper class you might be a tax collector with a fishing franchise who sold fishing rights to local businessmen. Or you might have been a fisherman who owned or leased boats and employed day laborers. Or you might simply have been one of those day laborers who knew the trade but did not own a boat.

We aren’t sure exactly what the case was for the first four disciples, but we are sure that they were down in the water with their hands dirty. Peter and Andrew were fishing with nets when Jesus called them. James and John were with their father, in a boat, mending nets when Jesus came calling to them. Jesus went to the fisherman. He didn’t wait for word to spread about his ministry- instead he went for a walk. Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee and called a group of dirty, smelly, menial fisherman to follow him. Before they met Jesus, these four men lead completely ordinary lives- they were regular guys- who worked hard catching fish. I’m guessing they never expected to be called by God.

So the truth is none of us are safe from the call of God. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, or how much money you make, or if you even have a job at all. God calls you. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if you are able to make it to church. God’s call is not only for those of us sitting in this sanctuary this morning- but also for the people out there in the world- minding their own business, leading their ordinary lives.

So what in the world does it mean to fish for people? When he called the first disciples, Jesus simply said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men, (I will make you fish for people).” Jesus had a clear mission in mind. They would be going forth together to bring the good news of God’s amazing love to others. Just as their lives had been spent in pursuit of fish, their lives would now be about reaching out to people. If you fast forward a bit in the gospel to after the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is a call, a great commission that says much the same thing. In Matthew 28 Jesus says to his followers, “go and make disciples of all nations…”

That little word “go” presents us a bit of a challenge in the church I think. While it is vitally important the we spend time and energy making sure that people feel welcome and included once they get within the doors of the church- our real mission lays beyond these walls. What Jesus did in his ministry was fish for people. Any fisherman would be silly to think that if he took a boat to the middle of the lake the fish would just jump in there on their own. So it is with people, the word of God’s love can only spread if we carry it to people. Jesus went and met with people where they lived, where they worked, were they went to gather water. He met them in the midst of their everyday lives.

When we share the message of God, and speak to the power of what God is doing in our lives we better get moving beyond the church doors. We need to meet people wherever they are. We need to talk to people in our neighborhoods, at our jobs- but we don’t need to stop there. Sometimes we need to load up a trailer or two and haul them down to Mississippi or Louisiana and remind folks down in the Gulf that Jesus loves and cares about them- even in the middle of their storm-ravaged lives. We need to met people where they are- particularly if they are hungry, hurting or afraid. We are God’s hands, feet and mouth in this world and it is up to us to be fishing for people. We can carry the message of God’s love into all the ordinary, non-glorious places in our lives.

I know God will be with us on the journey. And if we forget about our mission, God will find a way to meet us in the middle of our hectic lives and disrupt us once again, and set us to our mission. May we truly be worthy of the name “Disciples of Christ,” as we share the love of God with others. Amen and Amen.


Steve said...

Sunny, the world would be a much better place, and more people would be coming to Christ than ever before if we would simply be true disciples of Jesus Christ. Thank you for this message.

Elisa said...

Hey Sunny B! We had a blast seeing you at dinner and look forward to connecting again soon. Glad that everything is going so well and also thrilled that I found your blog - I need some solid spiritual guidance (no pressure!).

Shalaidah said...

Well said.