Summit Presbyterian Church January 27, 2008
Delivered by Jim Eby IN THE BEGINNING.... Matthew 4:12-23
There is a small chapel on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. It’s there, tradition tells us, that Jesus appeared in his risen form to the disciples and invited them to breakfast after their long night of fishing without any success. It is there that Peter was asked three times, "Peter, do you love me?" And finally, when Peter had declared his love as many times as he had denied in the dark of the night of the betrayal he had never seen the man Jesus, when Peter had done that, Jesus said to him, "Follow me."
I can’t help but wonder if that was also the spot where Peter and Andrew, where James and John had first heard the voice of Jesus say, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men and women." Did that familiar spot on the shoreline have an alpha and omega feeling about it for them in the final days of their life?
What is it that Jesus is calling you and me to become and do this new year?
Jesus called four men, ordinary fishermen, and promised he would make them fishers of people. He took the everyday work of their lives and in three years, transformed it. The transformation began when they heard his call and followed. And as they listened to what he had to say, as they saw what God was able to do through his faithfulness, they grew with him, and after the resurrection, they also, were able to do extraordinary things. Things which you and I are also called to do.
I don't remember anywhere in my Bible that Jesus said that we would ever come to the end of the fishing business. As a matter of fact, as I look at the society and the ethics and morals that some accept as okay, I am convinced that we need to be more active as fishers of people.
When was the last time you went fishing with Jesus?
Oh, I know the kinds of fears that come when we even think about being fisher folk. We don't want to force our faith on someone else. It's always a risky thing to talk with others about the important things in life. You don't know what kind of response you might get. We tend to keep life compartmentalized, hermetically sealed. Over here, we are religious, over there we go to school or to work. We separate things out, but when we look at what Jesus did, he didn't keep things separate. He met his future disciples where they were, at work or at play or at a meal.
Others of us say, "I'm just not that good at talking about my faith. I don't know what words to use. I get all tongue tied." It's clear that the church could do a much better job equipping people to share their faith, in words. But in this scripture passage, Jesus doesn't ask them to go right out and preach. He doesn't tell James and John "Come follow me and I will teach you to have intelligent religious discussions." Instead, his expectations for the disciples is much more active, much more earthly, much more mundane. He says to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." He builds on something they already know how to do. Along the way, he will give them other gifts, but for now, he tells them that he will transform what they already know how to do.
How did you come to be part of this community of faith called the church? I wish it was because of some brilliant pulpit work by one of the long line of pastors. But you didn't. Many of you came because your mother and your father brought you. And after you found that your involvement in the congregation, in church school and the choir and the youth group was not a negotiable item, many of you discovered that this is where your closest friends are. This is where many have met their life partners.
It's so easy to slip out of the fishing business, to be most concerned with the members that are here, to keep house, to evaluate the church almost exclusively on how it looks from the inside, rather than how it looks on the outside.
Will Willimon once heard a pastor say how his attitude was transformed by something as ordinary as the church softball team. "Before, we always had a rule that you weren't allowed to play on the church softball team unless you were a member of a Sunday school class. Then we realized that we were overlooking a great opportunity for evangelism. Now we have the rule that no softball team could draw more than half of its players from the membership of the church. Each team had to go out and recruit at least half of its members from people who were not involved in any church."
How can we be imaginative like that this year? How could we take what we do well and use it to invite others? We do have eyes to see the children in our neighborhood. Children who will be more ready for kindergarten if they have a positive pre-school experience. We house an excellent pre-school right here at Summit. Why not take one of the brochures and registration blanks to a neighbor who has a child who might benefit from the gifts we have to offer the community? Who knows the fish you might catch by simply sharing what we do well as a congregation by housing community organizations.
It was in the beginning of his ministry, that Jesus confronted the four with that life-changing invitation, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men and women." That is the invitation and the promise with which you and I are confronted today. Do we dare to trust it? Do we dare to follow where our risen Christ calls us to minister?
Grab a fishing pole, and let's go fishing.
God of all goodness, you sent your son to call the disciples to follow him. Then by your spirit, you transformed them into apostles. Help us to hear your call and to be transformed so we may follow as well. In the name of our risen Lord we ask it. Amen.