Sermon – January 22, 2012 – Listen…Follow…

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli at St. Matthew’s UMC January 22, 2012, the third Sunday after the Epiphany.

Texts: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20

Explain Community Bible Study process and that we used it on retreat…

Sunday, we heard the passages from last week—the call of Samuel and the call of Philip and Nathaniel.  Heard the passages three times and the words that resounded then and now:  “Listen…follow.”

This seems to be the message for me—and for US at St. Matthew’s coming out of the retreat.
And the passages this week continue this theme:  Listen to God’s call and seek to follow…commit to moving forward.

In the Gospel, we hear Jesus saying to Simon and Andrew:  “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Part of what Jesus seems to be saying to these first disciples is that as they follow, they will be focused not on catching fish but on catching people.  One way of interpreting this is that followers of Jesus are to be about the work of “bringing in” more followers of Jesus—just as a fisherman “brings in” the catch of fish.  //  I want folks to know Jesus and to experience the Life that he extends, but the fishing metaphor has always been a little frustrating for me, because, well, if you think about it who wants to get “hooked” or “caught”?

And those of us in the church can get caught up in this “fishing” metaphor in a troubling way if we’re not careful…  Every congregation I have served has had, as one of its goals, to grow.  We need to “get more people” is a common refrain.  And, in fact, congregational growth is one of our goals here at St. Matthew’s.  This is a good goal—and as we see today, a Biblical goal.  But we need to take care in the ways we think about and conceive the goal.

Why do we want to grow?  Are we just focused on “getting” more people “in the doors”—so that we have more people to help us do the things we want to do or so that we will have more income or so that we can feel like we’re “successful”?  Is our expectation that people who we “get” will be like us or will want to become “like us”?  If so, we might tend toward thinking that we need to find the right “bait” to “reel them in.”  In all of these ways of thinking, those we are imagining are little more than objects that we can use for our own purposes—fish that will feed us.

But I don’t believe this is what Jesus had in mind when he called out to the fishermen so long ago.  I don’t believe that Jesus intended his followers to manipulate, entrap, or devour other people.  Rather, I think Jesus encountered fishermen and so he talked with them about fishing.  The most basic point seems to be that Jesus invites these guys to bring WHO THEY ARE,  their skills and experience and knowledge as they follow him—and that these gifts will be used for a bigger purpose, to make a larger impact on the world.  If this is the real message, then “if Simon and Andrew had been carpenters, would Jesus have invited them to be “fishers of men” or might he have invited them to follow him and learn how to be “builders of the God Kingdom?” If they had been physicians, mightn’t Jesus have invited them to follow him and learn how to be “healers of people’s souls?” Or if they had been weavers, mightn’t Jesus have invited them to follow him and learn how to “weave people into God’s community of love?” Or if they had been mechanics, mightn’t he have invited them to follow him and learn how to “repair broken lives?” In short, I think Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to follow him and joined him in God’s work in a way that fit for them!”#  The call of Jesus is an invitation to participate in God’s Way, in the Kingdom of God.  And Jesus calls us to follow him and share in God’s work in a way that is suited—that fits who WE are.

This has at least two major implications.  First, it means that the invitation we extend to others is that they can come just as they are and experience the ways in which following Jesus will help them use their gifts and talents and experiences for a larger purpose—to serve others as part of the Kingdom of God.  It means that our invitation is not to try to make anyone “like us” or to get them to serve us and our purposes, but rather, our first call is to welcome them into life in Christ and to serve them.  We are called to invite others to share who they are—and then, together, as followers of Jesus and by the grace of God, we will transform the world for the better.  What do people “hear” when they encounter us as people or as a church family?  Do we communicate Jesus’ call to a life of freedom, purpose, and joy or a desperate plea for self-preservation?

The second implication is that we don’t really have excuses for not following Jesus.  We might want to say that we don’t have what it takes—as individuals or as a church—to follow where Jesus is wanting us to go.  But if we believe that Jesus sees us just as we are (like Simon, Andrew, James, and John) and calls us to follow, then perhaps we need to reassess our resources. Jesus doesn’t call us to become something or someone we aren’t.  “Instead, he frees us to bring the best of who we are to him and offer it up as we join him in God’s work in the world… Imagine the freedom and purpose Jesus offers each of us by inviting us to join him by being who we are and investing this in blessing others?  …So, if Jesus calls us to invest who we are in serving others, it also means we can (and should!) quit focusing on what we don’t have or who we aren’t as an excuse for not ministering to others.”#

What is your favorite excuse for not following Jesus more closely?  What is our favorite excuse as a congregation?

Today Jesus is calling you.  Jesus wants YOU—and so this is the day to let go of all the excuses as disciples and as a church.  The message is very clear:  Listen…and FOLLOW.

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