Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What Shape Is Your Net?

1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Matthew 4:12-23
January 26, 2014
© 2014

Just one more football game left this season – the Super Bowl. As always, a lot of attention is focused on quarterbacks and receivers. Whom can a quarterback trust for a clutch third and long in the fourth quarter? What kind of relationship does the quarterback have with the different receivers? Once the game starts, whether the quarterback would share family dinner with the receivers and their families doesn't matter. Whatever personal issues they may have are set aside for the single goal of winning the Super Bowl.
As we read in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, the Apostle Paul is disturbed about the divisions and quarrels in their church. Some were Paul’s fans; others preferred Apollos or Cephas. I’m sure the dissension went beyond personalities to disputes about how the church should be run.
Paul wrote that instead of dividing their loyalties between favorite leaders, they should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. Just as a football team needs to unite around the goal of winning, a church needs to unite around the purpose of its mission, not around the preferences of personalities or individual taste.
In verse 17 Paul makes the uniting purpose crystal clear: proclaiming the Gospel. Energy and enthusiasm flourish; distractions and division fade, the sharper our focus on fishing for people with Jesus.
Jesus spoke of fishing for people in Matthew 4:12-23.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 
15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the 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.”
17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
18As 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 fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 
21As 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. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
As we saw last week in John 1, Andrew and Peter, John and James had already been introduced to Jesus by John the Baptist. They had spent time with Jesus, but he did not give them an entrance exam or ask them to sign a doctrinal statement or become members of his organization. He did say, “Follow me.” And he told them he’d make them fish for people.
I remember singing the children’s song “I Will Make You Fishers of Men” with the motions of casting with a fishing pole. As much fun we had with this as kids, for Jesus fishing for people had a very different image. Matthew knew about fishing with a hook and line, which he mentioned in 17:27. But Jesus saw Peter and Andrew casting a net into the sea. This word for fishing net is only used here and in Mark’s account of this story (1:16). It refers specifically to a small, round net. It was used near shore by wading in to the water, casting it in deeper water. When it is drawn in, it closes like a bag with fish inside. The more common word for fish net was for the large trawl nets dragged behind two boats in deep water. Unlike hook and line fishing, fishing for people with Jesus does not involve using bait to attract people to something they don’t want. With the image of the small, round casting net, fishing for people with Jesus implies getting into the water where the fish live and getting close enough to them to spread the net over them. An Alban Institute study concluded that many churches assume that if churches serve their own people well, outsiders will see this and want to become insiders, but they miss any desire to find out about the spiritual needs of outsiders.[1]
How does the image of the small, round casting net inform the way you think of our mission of fishing for people with Jesus? Energy and enthusiasm flourish; distractions and division fade, the sharper our focus on fishing for people with Jesus.
Jesus built his life centered around his mission of fishing for people. If we are to follow him, we must also build our lives and our church around Jesus’ mission of fishing for people.
As we saw in John last week, Jesus began his ministry alongside John the Baptist in Judea. When Herod Antipas arrested John the Baptist, Jesus withdrew to Galilee, not to escape Herod’s threats but to put himself at the hub of Herod’s domain. Herod had to be thinking to himself, “I got rid of that pest John the Baptist, and now I have to contend with this Jesus. Why can’t these preachers leave me alone?” Jesus left Nazareth where he had been raised and made his home base in Capernaum, which was the largest city on the Sea of Galilee and the crossroads of commerce and communication for Galilee and Judea. Matthew wrote that this fulfilled Isaiah 9:1, that light would shine in darkness in Galilee of the Gentiles. Though historically part of Israel, for centuries Galilee had a large Gentile population, and the Romans concentrated on Capernaum because of its commercial importance, especially for tax collecting. So Jesus went fishing for people where people were coming and going.
Everyone knew that John the Baptist had introduced Jesus. And they recognized that Jesus picked up where John the Baptist left off, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Where John the Baptist preached by the Jordan River in the Judean wilderness waiting for word of mouth to bring people to him, Jesus strategically went to where the people were. He taught in the synagogues He brought a healing ministry to the sick. Like fishing with a casting net, wading into the water with the fish, Jesus’ mission took him to be with people so he could fish for people.
So when Jesus called Andrew and Peter, John and James as his first disciples, he was calling them to join him in the mission of fishing for people. No elaborate, confusing instructions, just one simple focus: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Energy and enthusiasm flourish; distractions and division fade, the sharper our focus on fishing for people with Jesus.
For 1st Christian Church of Odessa, this transition time is not just waiting for a new pastor. You are standing on the threshold of a whole new era of mission. You are poised to reinvent yourselves for unprecedented ministry in the 21st century. You will be facing unanticipated changes and challenging decisions. You will have to sort through a myriad of controversial opinions. Unity will not come by navigating through competing philosophies, personalities and preferences. Unity will only come by sharpening your focus on your purpose, your mission of proclaiming the Gospel to people beyond the church, of fishing for people with Jesus.
Evangelism is not about programs and techniques, but love for God, church and people. Evangelism is about inviting people to church and introducing Jesus to them. People seldom come to church because of advertising or activities. People come to church because someone they know invited them. The invitation may be to an activity, group or worship, but the personal invitation is the essential ingredient! And people stay with a church if they form relationships there. Studies show they need to make five friends within a month or a little more to stay.
People who are hungry for an encounter with God in an authentic community want to know that God is really among you, as I have reminded you that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:25. In his commentary on this passage, Douglas Hare wrote, “Our task is to share a faith that is exciting enough to be contagious.” (p. 31) We talked about this kind of excitement at Leadership Conversation on January 15 when discussing Paul Nixon’s assertion that churches must chose fun over drudgery.[2] Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians that disunity was killing their fun. The solution is to take the focus off of competing personalities and unite for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel.
Paul wrote that he did not come with eloquent wisdom but with the power of the cross of Christ. (v. 17) Evangelism depends on the power of Jesus’ word, “Follow me!” Not worship styles, theological schools, social or political agendas. Not how well we argue for God. The Holy Spirit is quite capable of convincing people through Scripture to follow Jesus. Our part is to invite people to join us in following Jesus. Energy and enthusiasm flourish; distractions and division fade, the sharper our focus on fishing for people with Jesus.

[1] Why Some Churches Don’t Grow, Alban Institute quoted by Brian Stoffregen in Exegetical Notes at CrossMarks
[2] Paul Nixon, I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church, Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 2006, pp. 55fff

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