Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fishin' With Jesus

Sermon from 1-26-14

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Are you ready to follow Jesus and fish for some people? Have you been practicing your casting technique? Are you using the right kind of rod or bait? Or are you finding that your boat won’t start, your lines are hopelessly tangled, and the juiciest worms seem nowhere to be found?

January really isn’t the ideal time to go regular, in-a-boat-on-a –lake kind of fishing like the disciples were doing… but January is perfect for ice fishing. If you’re in northern Minnesota, that is. There are people from where my husband is from who practically live on the Lake of the Woods during the winter. Over winter break one year we went up to see his family and his dad wanted us to take us… you guessed it… ice fishing.

So we bundled up, laced up our boots, and drove out onto the giant frozen lake where the ice shanty was set up. Beau very patiently baited my hook as his dad drilled holes in the ice under the very bright and very cold January sun. And then I caught a fish. And then I caught another fish. Then another and another. I think that day I caught around half a dozen fish… and I swear I had never been ice fishing before in my life.

But I couldn’t have caught all those fish without Beau to bait my line and his dad to drill the holes and build the fish house.  I would never even have gone if hadn’t visited his family in January. As much as I would like to claim that I am just so awesome at ice fishing, it wouldn’t really be true. I actually had a lot of help. And, to be honest ice fishing is not an activity I would really leap at the chance to do again. So I highly doubt that Jesus would ever say to ME, “Come and I’ll make you ice-fish for people.”

For me, and I’m guessing for many of you, Jesus would draw on other experiences and passions and expertise other than fishing. For me, my call from Jesus, put into words, might sound something like, “Follow me, and I will make you be like a camp counselor, not just in the summer, but all year long.”

Maybe you heard Jesus say, “Follow me” when you learned about him during Sunday school or vacation Bible school. Maybe you heard Jesus at confirmation camp too, as a camper or a counselor. Maybe you heard Jesus while at college, or while talking with a friend, or caring for an aging parent, or having your first child. You may even have heard Jesus’ voice here on a Sunday morning. Did it feel like a voice, nudge, a push, a feeling, a thought that grew on you and stuck with you, not unlike a fungus or that bit of a song you can’t get out of your head?

Jesus calls everyone differently, at different times and different speeds. But we have all been called, in one way or another. Like the fish, we have all been caught by Jesus. Just regular, ordinary people, scooped up together, caught up in following Jesus.

Jesus began his earthly ministry by gathering together other remarkably normal and exceptionally ordinary people. After he heard about John the Baptist’s arrest by King Herod, Jesus relocates to Capernaum, a fishing town on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a giant lake. There, he begins preaching – “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

And then… Jesus took a walk. But this was not just an idle stroll by the lakeside to watch the boats bring in their catch. No – Jesus was doing reconnaissance. He was out to do some fishing of his own.

When these two sets of brothers he calls, Peter and Andrew, then James and John, got up for work that morning, they had no idea that in the course of just one day, their entire lives would change. They had no idea that this local preacher would come out to them and call upon them to be his followers. Perhaps, until that moment, they did not even know for sure if they WOULD follow, until they found themselves dropping their nets and following after Jesus.

We’ll never know exactly why Jesus chose these four to be his first followers. But I think we can guess that he saw something in them that others did not. The truth is that Jesus did not choose the best and brightest of the seminary educated. Jesus did not choose the biggest and strongest. Jesus did not choose the wealthiest or the most powerful. Instead, Jesus choose some regular guys to do some rather extraordinary things, things that would stretch these guys out of their comfort zones pretty regularly.

This is indefinably not like following someone on twitter. We don’t get to choose to follow Jesus just to read his interesting and witty status updates. Jesus chooses US to follow him, in the flesh, with our hands and feet and hearts and minds, with our flaws and our mistakes, with our strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes Jesus does call us for the things we are awesome at, but sometimes Jesus calls us for the very things we are NOT so awesome at. Sometimes Jesus calls us because we just didn’t know that we had it in us.

Take Billbo Biggins, of the Shire, beloved creation of writer J. R. R. Tolkien. Did you know that Tolkien was devoted Christian? If you haven’t noticed, his books are full of illustrations of the Christian journey, the Hobbit included. And even though right now Hollywood is cashing in on the magic of these books, the realities of faith still are able shine through.

Take Bilbo’s own call story. Bilbo is living the hobbit dream when his quiet life is upended by the arrival of the wizard Gandalf and a group of questing dwarves who need one more member of their party. They eat his food and sing and belch and break things, and he is beside himself and paralyzed with fear at the thought of leaving home. When he wakes up the next morning to find they have gone, he is at first incredibly relieved. The house is quiet and mostly back to normal. Then he sees a list of the company, oh so conveniently left on the table for him to see, like a calling card, with a space still left for his name. In the blink of an eye, Bilbo packs up his things and dashes out the door after them, yelling, “Wait for me!” When one of his neighbors call after him, “where are you going, Bilbo?” He yells back, “I’m going on an adventure!”

The disciples who dropped their nets and followed Jesus that day did not know how their adventure was going to turn out, and right now neither do we. Some days will be easier than others. Some days we’ll catch the fish and other days it will get away.

But Jesus is the one who chose us, caught us, and called us to a life of living in his footsteps. It may seem like these would be some big sandals to fill, but really, we doing this adventure along. We have one another as companions along the way, and we, at St. Paul Lutheran church are continuing this journey so long after these first disciples. As we prepare to look back as a congregation on 2013, let’s listen hard to what Jesus is calling us to be and do in 2014 too. Together, let’s look and listen for how Jesus is causing the kingdom to come near to us, right now, with us and among us. Then we too can take up our nets in our own different ways, and follow Jesus into a new and exciting future.

There is a prayer that can be found in the ELW that is perfect for venturing with Jesus into the unknown.

Lord God,
you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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