Sermon 01/22/2023 – Call and Response

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishers. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Sermon Text

I want you to picture yourself on a Galilean shore long ago. Two fishermen are casting nets, a man walks up to them. You recognize him from a distance, Mary and Joseph’s boy, the first one, the one all the rumors were about. Jesus greets the two, says something to them, they seem shocked for a moment, and then they throw down their nets and follow him. Weird, but hey it’s the sixteenth year of Tiberius’s reign, weird stuff happens everyday. Then that man, Jesus I think his name was, walks a little further and calls out to two men, but his words are lost on the wind. You walk over to one of the men left on the shore and ask what he said. The words that changed their lives, that made them leave, “I will make you fishers of people.”

Even if we were looking in John’s Gospel, which gives a bit more provocative promise from Jesus, “I teach you how to snatch people!” we do not see something that would entice people to join a movement. If I were watching people on a seashore go with a guy who had such a simple call to action, I’d be confused. Maybe I’d go home and tell the strange story of what I saw that day, maybe I’d follow the group and see what was going on. For me as someone on the sideline, those few words would probably not carry much power. However, as we stand on the lakeside, we must understand that those words were for Peter and Andrew, James and John, they were not for us.

Everyone in this room had something that brought them into the Church. Some of us were born into it, raised from the moment we left our mothers arms to be a follower of Christ. For others we never knew the Church, except maybe occasional visits with a relative. We never knew Christ, until something happened where God came close to us, and we suddenly saw what our life was truly meant for. Whether born into the faith or welcomed into it later, there came a moment for every person in this room where the life we knew was transformed with a word given to us from God. A word likely spoken through another.

Faith for me came alive step-by-step. First by acknowledging that I truly believed in God. Secondly by seeing in my faith in Christ a need to change who I was into someone better than I had been. Finally, and across the longest span of time, the call I had to take on leadership in the Church. That final call is the message I remember best, because it was in a crowd at a youth camp. We were asked to stand if we were a leader among the people around us, and I felt a burning need to stand up. More than that, in the moment that everyone stood following that, I was struck by something undeniable. There was no distinction between anyone in that crowd. The ones God called to leadership disappeared, making me realize that the job of a leader is to lead others into their own mastery of mission. We are all leaders of something, all servants of something, all workers in a mutual work together.

For me, “You will be fishers of men,” would not be enough to awaken my soul. “You will support and equip others to thrive,” did. Jesus finds a way to grab a hold of us, a way to call us into what our purpose is, if we are willing to listen. For the fisherman on the lakeshore they were faithful members of their synagogue, they believed in the power of  God’s salvation, but they were not awake and alive in the faith until they heard Jesus call to them from the shore. Their hearts were ready, they just needed to be told that God was too. Jesus spoke to their hearts and what they knew God wanted of them. Even without all the details of what was about to happen, they were willing to leave their nets and go.

All of us here are at different places in our faith. Some farther along in maturity than others, some going in circles that trend upward and downward at different times. All of us here, however, have a call to something. Take a moment, close your eyes and chase away all the bits and bobs that might distract you. Do not think about lunch, do not think about this coming week, just for a moment, and ask what God has placed on your heart. What passions flare up? What desires are latent and ready to become a burning fire? All of us have something. When I do this, I feel the great desire to support people, to push them to be their utmost, and to live that ideal and joy-filled life that can come from living to our greatest potential.

Your desire may be to pray without ceasing. It might be to feed the hungry. It could be to tell the whole world what God has done for you. Whatever it is, there is a call that you have ready to come alive. Last week we talked about the importance of encouragement. Let me tell you that encouragement matters for more than just what people are currently doing. Encouragement can be the word we need to go forward and take the leap into what God is calling us to do. Sometimes people have no idea that God wants them to teach, until they are told they have a gift for it. I would never have gone into ministry if a teacher had not told me that the dream God had put in my heart was ministry work.

There are things that happen in our scripture today – a call is given and a call is accepted. Both are important. God may be using us to give the call someone needs to hear to start something new in their life. We should not think that our opinion is equivalent to God’s or that we can perfectly discern what people should do with their life, but we should be unafraid to trust when God has given us a message to light someone’s life up. Likewise, we who are told that someone sees God working something in us should accept that, pray on it, and discern if it is really where we are being called to. Sometimes the answer will be no, sometimes someone will see something that is not quite right for what God is asking of another person. Yet, only with consideration, discernment, and decisions, can they become anything more than a few spare words shared between people.

As I said earlier, the calls we get are not always just for what God is calling us to do. My first two big realizations in faith were just faith itself. That God was real and I could have faith in Christ. Both of those had their own messages that brought them to life, their own words that awoke something within me. The dire teaching of a Calvinist missiologist, the ancient words of scripture where God visits the elders of Israel. These awoke my faith and brought me into the Church I had only been an attendee in before. There was a transformative power in these words, and again they would not have happened if someone was not willing to share them with me, and I was not willing to accept them.

Paul had his big experience on the road to Damascus, knocked off a horse by a bright light, blind and disoriented – but it was the gentle words of Ananias that healed his blindness and welcomed him into his renewed faith. Simpler than this was the Ethiopian eunuch, reading the Septuagint in a carriage one day, who needed only to have someone tell him about Jesus to jump into the nearest puddle of water and ask to be baptized. Simpler still were the fishermen on a muddy lakeshore, smelling of fish and funk, who only needed to be told they could fish for something else to change their entire life.

Do not be afraid to speak what God has upon your heart – with discernment and prayer – but freely and proudly. God has given us our messages for a purpose and that purpose is the transformation of the world. Likewise, do not be afraid when someone brings a message to you. With prayer and discernment – we can sort what is human of them and what is divine – and from that conversation, that dialogue, we find a deeper truth together. That truth is the redemption of the world, the saving of souls, and the fulfillment of our true purpose in Christ. Listen, speak, act, and do not fear the calls that come into our lives. – Amen.

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