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Sunday January 24,
Focus Text: "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 seafor they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." [4:18,19]
II. Discovering What We Were Meant To Do
"What are you going to do with your one and only life?"
I had never heard the question put quite this way. It was Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois who was asking the question of himself.Ή He was relating a time earlier in his life when he was making a choice between going into the family business or into ministry.
There is a certain urgency when you ask it his way -- isn't there? What are you going to do with your ONE AND ONLY life??
You and I are, as the old song says, going to pass this way but once. Christianity (at least in most quarters) doesn't teach reincarnation. We don't get to keep coming back until we get it right. The book of Hebrews says, "It is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment..." [9:27] The Psalmist said, "So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart." [90:12]
A young lad in our Sunday school asked me, "Pastor, is it true that everybody has to die?" "Yes," I replied, "Everybody has to die, but we don't have to be afraid of that because Jesus loves us." He thought about this for a few seconds and then said with this really determined look, "Well, I'm not gonna!" Not sure what exactly he meant, I asked, "You''re not going to what Curt?"
"Die!" the boy exclaimed, "I'm not gonna die!"
Youthful enthusiasm. Isn't it wonderful? But, protest as he might, Curt and you and I all have this terminal condition called mortality. William Soroyan, the writer was interviewed by a CBS reporter shortly before his death. The reporter asked Soroyan how he felt about the fact that he was staring his mortality right in the teeth. "Well," answered Soroyan, "I've always known that everybody has to die, but I guess always felt that somehow there would be an exception made in my case!"
In light of the fact that exceptions are not made, it is good to ask, "What am I going to do with my one and only life?" Our scripture lesson from Matthew can help us with the question.
Last week we explored the issue of who we are and pointed out that we most clearly come to discover our true self in relationship with Christ. In a similar vein, we are most likely to discover what we were meant to do as we see what it is Christ came to do.
Two striking truths dominate our scripture. 1) Jesus came to bring light, and 2) Jesus came to call followers.
1) Jesus Came To Bring Light
It is difficult for us to sense the pure joy of the words Matthew takes from Isaiah:
"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." ²
Isaiah was talking about apart of Israel that had been conquered by the Assyrian hoards just after 700B.C. Jesus brings the light of God to a place that had been swallowed up in darkness.
Maybe an illustration will help us get hold of the spiritual significance of this passage. Have you ever experienced physical darkness so oppressive that it unnerved you? A number of years ago while in seminary I had a summer job working in a mine in Timmins, Ontario. My father was the chief mining engineer. My job was to go into the mine each day, crawl over the freshly blasted rock and sample the face of the drift.
One day while getting my samples, the headlamp I wore went out. I was 1300 feet down and 1500 feet out in the middle of a huge underground rock formation. You have not seen dark until you have been without light in the middle of a rock a quarter of a mile under the earth! This was the kind of dark that truly qualifies for the term "thick." It was terrifying. I literally inched and felt my way back toward the main shaft. Without light, the way was treacherous. It took an hour (and felt like days) to reach a bend in the drift where a tiny beam of light from the main shaft penetrated the darkness. I took the Psalmist to heart and let out a "shout to God with the voice of joy!" [Ps.47:1]
There is an emotional and spiritual equivalent to this terrifying darkness and if you have ever been through a dark night of the soul, you know how oppressive the darkness can be. And when the darkness finally lifts -- even when it is a tiny beam of light -- you experience a joy you had not known for a long time.
That's what Jesus does in our scripture. He brings joy to hearts that have been locked up in darkness. He brings light and in that light we begin to discover what it is that we were meant to do. Jesus said it this way in John 8:12: "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life."
Jesus came to bring light. But that's not all. Here's where our text gets really interesting. Matthew moves from the proposition that Jesus is light to the proclamation Jesus made. In a terse phrase of nine words, Jesus states the crux of his message. In so many words it is, "Here is how the light of God comes -- examine your life and make the changes you ought to make in light of the fact that the reign of God is at hand." The wonderful truth here is that when God is ruling -- that is -- in charge of our lives, the light comes. And here's something else. Having God in charge of your life isn't something hard, or mysterious, or "spooky" -- it's right at hand, it's near and available to everyday, ordinary folk like you and me. The proof of that pudding is in the choice Jesus made about who would become his closest associates.
2) Jesus came to call followers
The fact that Jesus chose followers is not different. Every significant teacher in every age has had followers -- or disciples. John the Baptist had followers. Plato and Aristotle had disciples. Ghandi had followers. Mother Theresa had followers.
What is amazing is the way Jesus went about choosing his disciples. A contemporary management consultant would cringe at Jesus' methods and choices. Did he go to Jerusalem to pick the brightest new minds in the religious scene? Did he look for demonstrated expertise in religious things? Did he consult with the chief religious teachers of the day? Just who would he pick to entrust the entire responsibility for building the kingdom of God?
How about some fishermen?
As my daughter would say, "You're kidding me. Get out of the city!" Why would Jesus go to the likes of fishermen and tax collectors to recruit for his mission? That flies in the face of everything we know about building a successful business.
Yet -- if you think about it, this is an absolutely amazing thing. God is interested in reaching ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill, average, regular people! Had Jesus recruited only the most religious, holy, pious people of his time -- most of us would be left out. We would get the impression that genuine faith was only for the select few.
Here's the key point. If Jesus can use a fisherman, he can use me! To a fisherman he says, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." I used to think this was the singular model Jesus intended. All of us were to "fish for people." All kinds of analogies for evangelism were developed around the theme of fishing. Fishing required patience, lots of approaches (bait), willingness to go where the fish are, etc., etc., etc.
Then one Sunday after a sermon on the fishing model of evangelism, a woman in our congregation said to me, "You know something, I hate fishing. And as for fishing for people -- I don't have the kind of time available you talked about. Does Christ have any place for a harried mom with four children?"
I thought about that -- a lot. I came to the conclusion that the principles behind the text were not, "Help wanted - Fishermen Only!" The point is that you and I were meant to become a part of the tremendous divine plan to bring light to a dark world right whoever and wherever we happen to be. The carpenter's invitation reads, "Follow me and I will make you build people." The accountant will hear it as, "Follow me and I will make you help people know they count." The waitress will hear, "Follow me and I will make you serve the spiritual hunger of people." The physician will hear, "Follow me and I will make you a healer of people's souls." A beleaguered mom's call is, "Follow me and I will make you a builder of children."
Do you see? You were meant to be a part of God's divine plan to bring light, hope and meaning to a dark world. You can do this where you are. In fact, Christ needs you where you are. Fishermen will reach the fishermen. Teachers will reach the teachers. Truck drivers will reach the truck drivers. Moms (and Dads) will reach the kids.
What an amazing wonderful thing that you were designed to bring the light of God to a corner of the world that only you could possibly reach. Somewhere, someday, you will encounter that person that no one else in all of God's creation could reach with the light of God.
The only question left is -- "Are you available to bring the light of God to them?" It's what you were meant to do!
Notes On The Text
* Matthew 4:12-17 does not have parallels in the other synoptic gospels. It is a part of Matthew's "fulfillment" message relating the coming of Jesus into Galilee to Isaiah 9:1-2.
Ή A group of pastors went to a leadership conference at Willow Creek. Some thought it was great and wanted to go home and duplicate Willow Creek. Others thought it was nothing like church at all and wanted to go home and forget the whole thing. Most thought almost anyone could learn something from the experience. My most important "take home" lesson was this single question, "What am I going to do with my one and only life." Asking the question this way brings a certain urgency to the issue of how we will "spend" our lives.
² Matthew does not quote Isaiah 9:2 verbatim and for some that is a problem since there is no exact replica of Matt. 4:15-16 in Isaiah. However, Matthew does not intend nor claim an exact quote. The words are consistent with Matthew's treatment of the "fulfillment" theme -- namely, Jesus is the one who fulfills the promise of Messiah and the hopes of the People of God throughout the O.T.
v.13 "He made his home in Capernaum" from "katoikew" -- the NRSV gets the translation correct here. "oikos" is house and with "kata" means Jesus took up permanent residence or "made his home" in Capernaum. The arrest of John signaled the beginning of Jesus' wider ministry. Luke adds the information that Jesus' move from Nazareth to Capernaum also came on the heels of a violent rejection of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. (Luke 4:31)
v.15 "Galilee of the Gentiles" Galilee is literally surrounded by Gentiles. Phoenicians on the west, Syrians to the north and east and Samaritans to the south.
v.17 "Began to proclaim" "kerusso - κηρύσσω" "To proclaim as a public crier -- to publish -- especially a divine truth." Jesus comes with the proclamation that we need to examine our lives and make the appropriate changes in light of the fact that the reign of God has come near.
v.18 / 21 Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:35-41) Peter, James and John become an inner circle ... closest to Jesus. They are with Jesus in the transfiguration experience. (Matt. 17:1) They alone attend the raising of the young girl in Mark 5:37. In Mark 13:3 Peter, James, John -- (and this time Andrew) -- are alone with him to ask questions concerning the eschaton. In his Garden of Gesthemane trial, they are asked to go deeper into the garden with him. (Mark 13:3)
There is an alternate sermon in following the careers of Peter, James and John. You might also include Andrew as the "silent" disciple who nevertheless made it all happen with his quiet evangelism.
v.23 Jesus' threefold ministry of preaching, teaching and healing is instructive. Preaching ("kerusso" - see above) is to "herald or announce" the good news of God's reign - kingdom. Teaching = to develop especially the disciples in the principles of kingdom living. Healing = the work of the people of God in bringing the implications of the reign of God to the world around us.
Alternate Sermon Ideas
The Pitfalls of the Church ~ I Corinthians 1:10-18
1. The One Essential Principle ~ Unity (v.10)
Having greeted the church and praising them for their strengths, Paul now turns to the critical issue of unity in the Body of Christ. Jesus knew, of course, that the most difficult issue the disciples would face would be the issue of unity. They would have to have a common love for each other to successfully carry out the mission he gave to them. Explore John 13:31 (the new commandment) then John 15:12 and 15:17. Three times in the Upper Room, Jesus issues this commandment. Why does this command get such attention -- because Jesus knew it would be the most difficult.
Paul now encounters the human propensity for division. The fact is we are "wired" for discord. It will take the "same mind" -- which is the mind of Christ to overcome this division. See Ephesians 4:3. The unity Paul wants is available only through the ministry of the Spirit.
2. This Is Not "King of the Castle" ~ (vv. 11-16)
Paul turns to the most critical issue that has come to his attention. Visitors (from Chloe's household" have told Paul that there are quarrels in the church. People are choosing up sides. It's the old "skins and shirts" debate. It's the "us again' them" propensity of human beings.
Some people in Corinth were followers of Paul, others of Apollos and still others of Peter. The most difficult group of all was probably mae up of those who said, "I am of Christ." Most pastors face this at one time or another in their ministry. I served in a church where no one would ever fill the shoes of the great Dr. Smith. (Not his real name). You can be sure that whenever people are discussing how great or how terrible another pastor or another leader is, two consequences are inevitable. 1) Jesus Christ looses his place as the center of the church and 2) The churches witness is damaged. One of the ways I like to say this is, "The reputation of Jesus Christ is on the line in our life together!" This is not "King (or Queen!) of the Castle" we are engaged in -- it is not the body of Paul or Apollos or Peter, or Dr. Smith -- it is the Body of Christ!
Paul asks the rhetorical questions that calls us to the heart of why we have come together as a church. Christ is one, his body is one, he was crucified for us and we are baptized in the name of Christ. In fact, as Paul would say to the Ephesians church, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all...." [4:5-6
3. Back to Basics ~ (vv.17-18)
Christ is not divided (meaning there can not be groups in contention with each other in the genuine church) and Paul was not even called to baptize. One thing is essential and that is to proclaim the gospel.
(This could be a good opportunity to offer some insights into what the role of the pastor is -- really ! Of course we are called to do pastoral care and a score of other things -- but if we are not "proclaiming" the gospel -- we are out of touch with God's purpose and likely not to be building the body of Christ. Theoretical question for your folk: "If there is ever a conflict between what you believe you have called me to do and what I believe Christ has called me to do ... which voice do you want me to listen to?")
There is a simplicity to the gospel message which Paul does not want to nullify with overlays of human wisdom or oratorical skill. Paul says that the preaching of the gospel is "foolishness to those who are perishing." In 1:23ff. he talks further about wisdom, foolishness and the message of the cross. When Paul says he does not want the cross "emptied of its power" or "be made void" NASB) -- he uses the word κενόω - kenoo -- which is the word used in Phil. 2:7 for Christ having "emptied himself". The gospel message (the message of the cross) is the power (δύναμις - dunamis) of God. The term is used especially of the miraculous power of God. (Used in Phil.3:10 -- "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection."
You will need to conclude this message with an exploration of what this "power - or - dunamis" -- of the message about the cross is. (Unconditional love -- resolution of the problem of human sin -- reconciliation with God -- and ...)
A Unison Prayer of Invocation (Based on Psalm 27)
We have gathered together today, O Lord because our spirits long to come into your presence. You alone are the hope and joy we seek for the living of our lives. You alone are the salvation we long for. O Lord, do not turn away from us, but come and dwell in our midst today. Reach into every heart and soul that has assembled in this place and be gracious to us. Answer our heartfelt prayers and send us away to proclaim the glory of you name in all the world. Amen.
A Prayer of Dedication
O Lord, there is none like you, pouring out the treasure of divine blessing we can barely comprehend. Our hearts are empty and you fill them, our joys are few and your multiply them. O teach us to become like our Lord Jesus spreading light and life and love everywhere our steps would take us. And would you be pleased, our Savior, to touch other lives through the gifts we bring today. Amen.