Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fishers of men? Who me?

Sermon for Epiphany 3B, preached on Sunday, January 22, 2012.

    Nuance is so often lost in translation.  Just the slightest emphasis on another word may stilt the whole meaning of the text.  For centuries the Word of the Lord we heard read in the Gospel has been used to stir up the mission pot.  The goal either to get people to heed the call and head out as missionaries to the mission field or to dig deep into their pockets to pay for the cost of sending others.  In other cases it was a witness workshop in miniature – guilting or goading people into sharing their story with their neighbors who do not know Jesus.  This is not exactly what Jesus is saying.
    In the Gospel lesson we need to pay attention to three things – the timing, the call to follow, and the declaration of what we are (not what we should be).  In the words of Jesus and the witness of the prophet Jonah, we find the same point.  "The time is come..."  This has nothing to do with our estimation of the proper moment and everything to do with God's determination. The time has come.  You did not make it come.  It has come by the action and the determination of God.  It is what God said to Jonah of old and what He speaks to us today.  The time for the kingdom has come.  This is not about your readiness but about God’s act and God’s call.
    The time for the kingdom is always accompanied by the time for repentance.  So, as of old for Jonah, and in Jesus own words, the right time is the time for repentance.  Repent and believe the Gospel.  Repentance is not something we do so that God finds us approved.  Repentance is the lament of the heart that knows the grace and mercy of God and looks into the heart and sees only filth and sin and death.  Too many assume that repentance is a choice, a decision, to give your heart to Jesus – as if their hearts are what Jesus wants most of all.  But as in the Hammer of God, Jesus takes our hearts and says, "What shall I do with this filthy thing?"
    We are to give our hearts to Jesus alright but we give them with the acknowledgment of their wretchedness and with the prayer that Jesus cleanse and heal the filthy things.  Is this not why we sing "Create in me a clean heart, O God?"  Repentance is faith’s response to the call of God and the prayer for Jesus to wash and make us clean as He has promised and as His saving death has made possible. 
    The time has come.... "Follow Me."  How easy it is for us to think that Jesus wants us for what we can give Him.  As if He needed advisors or executive assistants to sit at His right and His left in glory.  But Jesus does not ask for help.  He calls us to follow Him.  The is the perspective of faith.  We do not lead and drag Jesus behind us but follow Him where He leads the way because He is the Way, the Truth and the Light.  Faith does not advise God but trusts in His wisdom, His will, and His works.  When our Lord calls us to follow Him He is calling us to faith – the very faith His own Spirit gives.
    The time has come.... follow Me.... and I will make you fishers of men...  The same goal as the prophets of old.  Notice here, Jesus is not asking you for a decision.  This is not will you... but I will make you.  In the same way, this is not about gifts or convenient times or interest.  This is not about what you or I might like or volunteer for.  "I will make you fishers of men..."  The emphasis here is on God's work and not our work – God’s work in us and through us.  Now to be sure, this call is to Pastors, but not only to Pastors.  The Word of the Lord is the domain of Pastors but not exclusively so.  The difference is the venue -- Pastor to the people of God and the people of God to the world.
    Fishing for men is not our work but God's work in us and through us.  The repentant speak to the world the call to repentance which the Word spoke to them.  The Gospel of the cross that worked salvation in us, is what we speak forth in words of witness and works of mercy.  And through it all we humbly acknowledge that this is not our glory or our work but God's glory and God's work, by the power of the Spirit.  There is no word in the text about results or measures of success – only the call to follow Jesus.
    There is no statistical guide to see how effective we are nor is any mention made of charting our success.  Because success is none of our darn business.  We are not in the executive suite but on the assembly line.  We simply follow Jesus, we speak the Word spoken to us, we announce the day of salvation.  Let the Father in the executive suite deal with the results.  It is not given to us to judge.  We, like Jonah of old, announce the day of God's salvation, we call others to join us in repentance, and we trust that God’s Word will not return to Him empty handed but will accomplish His purpose and achieve His results.
    We are given the history of the prophets to know that God works in this. A reluctant Jonah spoke and the people believed the Word of the Lord.  Jesus announced the Kingdom and His disciples followed Him.  The Word of the Lord still accomplishes its purposes and never returns to God empty.  It is given to us simply to trust this.  Where the people of God speak forth the Word of the Lord, announcing the day of the Lord, repentance results and people believe the Gospel.  It is not our work but God’s work.
     The day of the Lord is now but it will not always be.  The day of the Lord is in season now but the day will come when repentance is too late and judgment will begin with the faithful.  We have not been given explanations or charged with calculating the results.  We are given to speak the Word of the Lord.  His success will follow that Word.  We are not given a choice about the time or when it might be convenient.  Today is the day.  So you will get no pep talk from me except to hear that today is the day, repent and believe the Gospel, follow Jesus, and you will become, by His power and design, fishers of men.  Period.
    What can we say to what God has said, except – Make is so, Jesus.... Make it so. Amen!

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