Over the past few weeks, we have celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have watched as the wisemen came to the infant Jesus for the sole reason to offer their worship. We have even taken a moment to remind ourselves through the waters of baptism, who we are, and whose we are. Today and for the next few weeks we will be traveling with Jesus as he begins his public ministry in the hopes that we might discover a little more about our own ministry as the church. So, I invite you to hear now our New Testament lesson which comes from the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, beginning at the fourteenth verse. Listen now for the word of the Lord. Imagine if you will that you are at home one day, engaging in some regular activity of the day, perhaps you are cooking dinner, reading the newspaper, doing the laundry, when suddenly the phone rings. Immediately all activity stops and in your mind you begin to wonder, “Who is calling?” Is it a friend calling to share some news of the day? Is it the police calling to say there has been an accident? Is it the hospital calling to say that a loved one will not be living much longer? Or, is it one of those pesky solicitors calling to make a sale? When the telephone rings, there is a sense of urgency to discover just who is making the call, and we make haste to find out. Even those of us who have caller id, we may not rush to answer the phone, but we still check to see who is calling. There is something compelling and urgent about a ringing telephone, and it creates a need in us to answer the call. But, let us change the scenario just a bit and suppose that what is compelling and urgent is not a telephone, but rather the call of Christ upon our lives. How will we respond to his call? Jesus begins his public ministry by announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, then he invites his hearers to come and be part of this Kingdom. We know how the story goes. There is Simon and Andrew, and then James and John, four men out doing their jobs one day, making their way through life, when suddenly Jesus comes to them and says, “Follow me!” These four drop everything and begin following Jesus. And, what is truly amazing is that, as far as we know, this is their first encounter with Jesus. These four men had never seen Jesus before. Jesus simply came to them, and called them. The call was compelling and urgent, and the disciples’ answered it. Now, we may wonder why these disciples left everything behind to follow Jesus. Were Simon and Andrew tired of the fishing life? Did the Zebedee boys just not want to work for Dad anymore? Were they looking for a new adventure? Obviously we do not know, but we do know that by faith these men left everything behind and followed Jesus. And, just as they were confronted with the question of faith, so too does this story confronts us with the question of faith. For you see, Jesus Christ comes to each of us and says, “Follow me!” We must decide if, by faith, we too will answer the call. We may ask the question, “Why does Jesus want us to follow him? Why is he calling us?” Well, you see, more than anything else, Jesus wants us, you and I, to be part of God’s Kingdom. He wants us to experience forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. He wants us to understand just how much God loves us. He wants us to know how we can live the best life that we can live, a life of joy in the presence of God, a life in which we know how to love one another, a life that is not obsessed with the self, but rather, one that can reach out to others, a life that is free but also disciplined enough to do what is right, a life that has peace even when there is chaos, a life that has hope even when there is hurt and sorrow. When I think about what Jesus wants for us, I find myself thinking about what parents usually want for their children. Parents want their children to have a good life, and so they teach and encourage their children and try to show them the best way to live. Jesus wants us to have a good life; he wants us to have the very best life, and the best life will be found in the Kingdom of God. That is why Jesus calls us to follow him. For you see, where Jesus is, there is the Kingdom of God. I came across a quote by the former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Tom Landry, and it really brought all of this together for me. He said, “All of my life I had made my football career the number one priority and let it dictate the direction of my life. Now here was the Bible saying I needed to make God and his will first and follow his direction for my life...What my new Christian experience did for me was to place football behind the priorities of my faith and my family and gave me a sense of confidence and peace about the future, whatever it would be.” Jesus calls us to be part of God’s Kingdom. But, what does Kingdom life mean for us? When Jesus first spoke to his disciples, he used an analogy that they would understand, that of fishing. Yet, this analogy, if we take it to heart, raises an interesting problem. What happens to a fish when it is caught and removed from the water? It dies. A fish will die if it is taken out of the environment in which it lives. Now, if we apply this notion to Jesus’ call to follow, then we quickly realize that the call of Jesus entails a radical change of environment. It is a change from living by the ways and standards of this world, to living by the ways and standards of God’s Kingdom. And, a change like this will in fact mean death of one sort or another for all who hear the word of Jesus and are caught up into the Kingdom of God. It will mean the death of the old self. But, here is the good news. With the death of the old self, comes the birth of the new self. It is the new life that is born from above, born of the Spirit. Therefore, to follow Jesus means death to our old selves, but where the old self dies, the new self is born of God’s Kingdom. That is why the call of Jesus requires faith. It requires a willingness to trust that the one who does call us, indeed, will make us part of God’s Kingdom where we will live our lives in Christ Jesus. The call to follow Jesus is not just for us alone. Jesus calls us to be part of God’s Kingdom in order that we might go beyond ourselves. Remember, we started off this morning saying that we were going to look at how Jesus began his ministry in order that we might understand our own ministry. It is very clear that Jesus’ ministry is a ministry of calling. Jesus announced the Kingdom of God, and then invite people to be part of that Kingdom. As the church, then, we also proclaim the Kingdom of God and invite others to come and be part of the Kingdom. One day, I found myself thinking about all the activities of the church. As the church we fellowship together, both as youth and adults. We provide care and support for others. We have a facility where other groups can do their activities. Yet, here is the thing. All these activities that I just mentioned, they are not unique to the church. There are other places in the community where you can do all the things that I just mentioned. However, there is one thing that you will not find anywhere else in the community. There is one thing that the church can do that no one else can do. Only the church can proclaim the Kingdom of God and only the church can call followers to enter into that Kingdom. After all, we are the Body of Christ. We are Christ to the world, and therefore, the church, as the body of Christ, is the mouth of Christ proclaiming the Kingdom. The church is the lips of Christ inviting people to follow. And, if the church does not proclaim the Kingdom of God, then the world does not hear; and, if the church does not speak the word of invitation to follow Jesus, then the world will not follow. Jesus made it very clear that follow him means calling others to follow as well. Jesus told those four men that they would become fishers of other people, and that same calling extends to us. We are called in order that we might call others. That was part of Jesus’ ministry, and now it is part of the church’s ministry. So, the question that remains for us is how do we begin? Well, just as following Jesus is an act of faith, so also, calling others to follow Jesus is an act of faith. Such a challenge does not put us at ease. Because the church in every generation has struggled to find that voice by which we can proclaim the Kingdom and call others to follow Jesus. The church in every generation has struggled to understand what it means to be fishers of people. Yet, the very analogy which has been a source of struggle is also the means by which we can understand what it means to call people to follow Jesus. Fishing, at the time that Jesus called the disciples, was different than the way in which we do it today. The disciples did not simply drop a hook in the water, wait for a fish to bite and then yank it out. Instead, they used large nets which they would cast into the sea so as to surround the fish. Then they would draw the net in. And, just as that was the way in which they would catch fish, so also it would be the way that the caught people. Being fishers of people does not mean that we dangle bait hoping that someone will bite so that we can yank into the church. Instead, being fishers of people means surrounding people with our net and drawing them in. “What is the net,” you ask? It is the love of God. As the church, we have received and been surrounded by the love of God in Christ Jesus, and now we must surround the people of the world with God’s love so that we can draw them into God’s Kingdom
Jesus’ ministry was first and foremost a ministry of calling. Jesus called his first disciples and in every generation has called God’s people to be part of God’s Kingdom. It is the call which we have heard and which by faith we have answered. So, now it is the call which we are to extend to others. For, as the body of Christ, we take up his ministry. We proclaim the Kingdom and we call people to enter in. So, let us, as fishers of people, go forth in faith and find those whom we can surround with the love of God so that we may draw them into the Kingdom of God.
Pastor Jim's past sermons:
Links to past sermons can be found at the bottom of this page.