Good morning, Friends!
I have a confession to make to you all this morning. I am not very good at fishing. When I first interviewed by phone for the opening at Springfield 3 years ago, one of the members of the Search committee asked if I fished. I said no, my dad didn’t fish and I never really learned much about it.
There was this dead silence on the phone, and finally another member of the Search committee asked sort of hopefully, “Does you wife fish?”
More in line with this morning’s Scripture, I know that all of us are supposed to be ambassadors for Christ and messengers of the kingdom. I don’t feel that it’s something I always do very well.
I try to listen to God. I do love Jesus. But I’m not always very good at communicating it to people.
I let myself get in the way. I let my fears and anxieties take first place, instead of my faith. I worry about what other people will think about me, instead of focusing on what they think about Jesus.
I’m actually pretty shy, which is kind of a liability for somebody who’s been called to a leadership position. I keep reading that leaders for Christ are supposed to be bold, brave, decisive, visionary and positive.
I try to be all those things, but it doesn’t always work out that way. A lot of you probably feel the same. We’d like to be like that kind of ideal Christian, but most of us don’t look much like the floor model.
So, here’s a New Year’s resolution I’m going to offer to all of us: let’s just ditch the guilt.
I know that I’m not a perfect Christian, and I don’t think most of you all are, either. We can all probably do better, but let’s not start the New Year with guilt.
I remember a lovely lady, back in the first meeting I served as pastor. She was in her 80’s, and she had been active at Adirondack Friends since she was in her teens. She told me that the very first time she walked in the door, she was terrified. She wanted to come to church, she wanted to get to know Jesus better, but it was just really scary.
And before she could turn around and bolt out the door, someone who was sitting in a back pew looked up at her and smiled. She patted the seat next to her and said, “Come sit next to me, and I’ll be your friend.”
She said she sat down, and this other person talked with her, and she came back the next week, and she came back every week for more than seventy years.
I would call that effective evangelism. It worked! I would also say that’s a different way to understand what it is we’re supposed to be doing.
Our Scripture reading to start off the New Year is a pretty familiar one. Most of us have probably heard it several times before. It’s about how Jesus pulled together his new group of friends.
From that time on Jesus began to preach. “Turn away from your sins!” he said. “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”
One day Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee. There he saw two brothers, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. They were throwing a net into the lake, because they were fishermen. “Come and follow me,” Jesus said. “I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers. They were James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee. As they were preparing their nets, Jesus called out to them. Right away they left the boat and their father and followed Jesus.
Jesus went all over Galilee. There he taught in the synagogues. He preached the good news of God’s kingdom. He healed every illness and sickness the people had.
– Matthew 4:17-23
I’m always fascinated by the story of Jesus calling the disciples, because what Jesus did is so absolutely contrary to the way we would go about it.
If we were recruiting people to lead a church and change the world, we would have done a lot better job of screening the candidates. They would all have high test scores, excellent references, and years of experience in leading churches through growth and change.
Every person we picked would pass a drug test, have a spouse and have 3 or 4 children, all of whom are doing well ins school. They would have a credit rating of 750 or better, no student loans, and perfect posture.
Do you see what I’m saying? Jesus did not screen his friends this way.
Jesus chose a bunch of poor fishermen, some of whom didn’t even own their own boat and who were still working for their daddy. He also chose a doctor, a member of a violent underground group, a religious skeptic, a guy who collected taxes for the Roman government, and a guy who wound up being an embezzler and a traitor.
I don’t know that Jesus chose his followers at random, but this was not the A team. It would be hard to find a more mis-matched, untrained, and unfit group of followers if he’d tried.
That actually makes me feel better!
I should also point out that although there were no women in the group of twelve who made up his inner circle, there were lots of women among Jesus’ followers, and some of these women became leaders.
There were wealthy women, whose names are recorded in the Bible. There were women who were teachers – one of them taught the Apostle Paul.
There was also a woman who had been severely disturbed – the gospel says that “seven demons” had been driven out from her. She’s the only one mentioned in all four gospels, when she washed Jesus’ feet. And in all four gospels, Jesus said, “wherever this story is told, people will remember her. . .”
About the only qualification they all had in common was that Jesus said, “Follow Me,” and they came along. That seems to be the one basic requirement for being a Christian: I have decided to follow Jesus.
And they all wound up doing different things. Some of them became preachers. Some of them started churches. Some of them were put in charge of food pantries for the poor. Some of them got called up to testify before governors and kings.
Some of them traveled to the ends of the earth, as it was known at that time. But a lot of them stayed home and went on doing their same everyday jobs that they had been doing before Jesus called them.
This ought to be pretty encouraging. To a few people, Jesus said, “Follow Me. . .” and it says that they “left everything, and followed Him.” The Christian movement really depended on people like that.
But to most people, and we see many instances of this in the gospel, Jesus said, “Go home to your family and friends, and tell people how much God has done for you. . .” That’s probably the majority of Jesus’ followers. They followed Him by going home, and by living their lives and witnessing where they were.
The Christian movement depended on people like that, too. It’s hard to figure which kind of followers made the church grow more – the ones who dropped everything and took off, or the ones who went home, and witnessed there. Probably God needs both kinds of people, don’t you think?
The basic things Jesus’ followers were expected to do were to look and listen and learn.
A whole lot of discipleship means, “Just tag along all day and watch what Jesus is doing.” Listen to what Jesus is saying. Notice where He’s going. See who Jesus is talking with. Sit down and eat with who Jesus is sharing a meal with.
A whole lot of the gospel is all about that. It’s not a classroom lecture, it’s an apprenticeship, with Jesus as our mentor. Being a Christian is saying, “I want Jesus to teach me, every day.”
And as everybody knows, part of learning is making mistakes. And Jesus’ followers made lots of big ones. On the record, they got scared. They forgot the simplest things and had to start over, repeatedly. Jesus told them that their job was to be humble servants, and they got into fights over who was going to be the greatest. Jesus’ best friend, his #1 follower, denied him three times.
Like I said, not the A team.
But Jesus hung in there with them. He forgave them. He corrected them. He gave them more examples of what He wanted. Jesus is one of the most patient, understanding teachers there is.
It’s not like you make one mistake, and boom, you’re totally rejected. Jesus seems to think that as long as you’re willing to turn back and try again, that he’s willing to work with you. The number of mistakes Jesus is willing to handle seems to pretty high. That’s a good thing for me, and probably for most of us.
If we were setting things up, and if we were sending people out to try it on their own, we would give them all kinds of tools to take along. We’d send people out with training materials, and PowerPoints, and review cards, and survival kits and all kinds of stuff.
I remember the first time I went off to summer camp when I was a kid. I was only going to be gone for two weeks, and the camp was only a couple of miles away from home. I packed like I was going on an expedition to the end of the earth.
I took a whole trunk of stuff – bed roll and backpack, swim trunks and a tennis racket, comic books and toothbrush, knife, fork and spoon and a canteen. I spent days hanging out down at the Army/Navy store. I was going to be prepared for anything!
That’s not what Jesus did. When Jesus sent his friends out, he said, “Leave your money at home. Don’t take any extra clothing or spare sandals. Don’t take any baggage at all. Don’t even take a walking staff to fight off the wild animals.”
He said, “Whenever you go into a house, bless everyone there, and let your peace rest on them. If they accept it, that’s good. If they reject you, that’s OK. Your peace will come back to you undamaged.”
All he sent them out with was the same message that Jesus used himself: “Turn back from the way you’re living now. God’s kingdom is very near to you.”
He told them to teach what He had taught them. He told them to pray the way He prayed. He told them to do the same things He did – to share God’s healing power, to bring life to people who were dead inside, to welcome back people who were cast out from society, and to cast out whatever inner demons were chaining people down and destroying their lives.
All of a sudden, that seems like a big job. I’m not sure that I’m up to even a fraction of that list!
But Jesus seemed to think that these are the things that his followers do. In fact, He said that we would do even greater things than He did.
But today, we’re at the beginning. The big thing, the first thing, is hearing Jesus say, “Follow me. . .” and putting down our tools or whatever else we’re doing, and coming along to see what Jesus is up to.
I said at the beginning this morning that I don’t feel like a very good evangelist. I think that most of us here probably feel the same way.
But we forget that the two most powerful tools in outreach are prayer, and listening.
We need to pray for all the people who are searching for God, right here in our own community. There’s no shortage of them. There are individuals, there are families, there are colleagues and co-workers.
We need to pray that we will be ready, when the opportunity comes. We need to pray, “God, I don’t know who I’ll meet today, or what will happen. But help me to be open. Help me to be on the lookout. Help me to notice other people today. Help me to see the things that you see. Make me willing to take a little risk, and Lord, please be with me when I go out on a limb. Help me to be open to whatever opportunities you send.”
And then, what we also need to do, is to listen. Most people don’t need to be told about God. They need to be listened to. They need to be heard.
They’ve probably been asking questions and wrestling with God for a long time. God is always active. But they may need someone to listen to them. And we can all do that. A friendly listener, someone who will engage with them, somebody who can reflect back what they’re saying, and tell them, “No, you’re not crazy to be thinking about these things. God is real, and these are good questions.”
Someone to say, “Come sit down here, and I’ll be your friend.” And then not be too busy when they call. Someone who can hear their fear and their shyness, and see that they’re not sure, and offer them a secure and exciting friendship. That’s what people need.
If we do that, we’ll be fishing all the time, wherever we are. And that’s what Jesus told us to do.