Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 7, 2010

2010.02.07 “Disciples Wanted (No Experience Necessary)”

Central United Methodist Church

“Disciples Wanted” (No Experience Necessary)

Pastor David L. Haley

Isaiah 6: 1 – 8; Luke 5: 1 – 11

February 7th, 2010

“Once when Jesus was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.

            When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”

Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done — a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.

Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.

       Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.” – Luke 5: 1 – 11, The Message


A week ago Wednesday, at the request of our Supt. James Preston, I attended a Clergy Candidacy Mentor Training session in River Forest.  At that session, one of the questions we were asked was to describe our “call” to ministry.  As one pastor after the other shared their call, it brought to my mind people and memories I haven’t thought about in awhile.

For example, it brought to mind a conversation I had when I was about a junior in high school.  At that time I was serving as a youth leader in my local church, and also at the district and conference level. Following a church event, I was washing dishes with our church pastor, Rev. Thomas Bullock, and he turned to me and said, “Have you ever considered going into the ministry?”

At that time I had no intent of entering the ministry, so, fighting the urge to run, I don’t really remember what I said, but what it amounted to was “No.”  The thing is, I can still remember this conversation as if it were yesterday.  It brings to mind the saying of Kierkegaard that we while we have to live life forward, we understand in backwards.

About a year later, in 1969, I entered college with the intent of becoming a doctor. My part-time job, by which I worked my way through college, was as the night attendant in the local county seat/university town hospital emergency room.  So I was actually already learning medicine, even as I was pursuing the necessary academic studies. 

My call to ministry came gradually, in two ways.  First, I was disillusioned by some of the doctors I observed practice in the emergency room, and begin to feel that somebody had to do the “people” side of caring. 

Secondly, as I continued to work in college Christian ministries, my District Superintendent, Rev. Wayne Lamb, asked if I would consider doing some substitute preaching in local churches.  One thing led to another, and not in a flash of light, not in a Voice speaking to me, but bit-by-bit, through multiple experiences and mentors, I eventually heard and heeded the call to go into the ordained Christian ministry.  I’ve now been at it for 35 years, and believe me, I still have days when I regret it, and days when I thank God for it. Did it all begin with that conversation while watching dishes at the kitchen sink?

Today’s Scriptures share not my story, but three different stories of people’s call to ministry.  For the prophet Isaiah, it was while serving as a priest in the temple.  For the Apostle Paul, it was his “Damascus Road” experience, even though, as a latecomer and a persecutor of Christians, he felt like he was bringing up the rear.  For St. Peter, it was not at the kitchen sink, but at the seaside, while doing his job as a fisherman; about as unlikely place for a call to ministry as at the kitchen sink. 

So that is our theme today:  how the glory of God was seen in Jesus in the calling of his disciples.  But even better, how the glory of God is still experienced in our own calling as Jesus’ modern day disciples.

“You see,” St. Peter might say if he were telling the story (which he is in today’s Gospel), “we had fished all night and caught nothing.  Nada.  Not a fish.” 

But while we were cleaning the nets, this guy Jesus, a carpenter, who was getting quite a reputation as a preacher and teacher and healer, began preaching nearby. Not my type, really.

But there were so many people who gathered to hear him, that it was getting crowded there on the shore, so he yelled over to us, if he might be able to use our boat as a pulpit, offshore.  So, we did.  Don’t remember a thing he said.  But I do remember what happened next.

After he finished speaking he turned and said to me – I remember it as if it were yesterday – “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”  OK, it’s one thing to tell us how to live, but now he’s going to tell US how to fish?”  A carpenter?

But, after being up all night, I was in no mood to argue with a preacher, so – biting our tongues – we did it.  We went out a ways, in broad daylight, until he gave us the nod, and – mostly to humor him – threw out the nets.

I know you won’t believe it, but it was no sooner said than done — we caught such a huge, haul of fish that we couldn’t even pull in the net.  We had to call in the other boat for help, and it still wound up nearly swamping us both. 

Preaching I don’t know, but fishing I do, so that did it for me.  I fell to my knees – we all did – and said to him: “Master, just leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave us to ourselves.”

Looking back now, there are some days I wish he had, just walked away and left us alone, to enjoy a quiet life of fishing.  But he didn’t.  Here’s what he said – I can still see him as he says it: “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” We pulled our boats up on the beach, and left them, nets and all, to follow him.” 

Ever since, in hearing Peter’s story, Christians have heard in it, and experienced in it, the call of God to us.

It is, at the same time, a story both symbolic and simple. The ancient image of the church as a fisherman’s boat tossed about on the sea, which has continued to exist and carry on its ministry despite the tenuous responses of its members, sustained by the presence of the living Lord, is appropriate in every age.   

And when Jesus says to Peter, push out into the deep, is he talking to Peter, or is he talking to us?  Push out of the shallows, church, push out of the shallows, church people, and out into the deep:  into the deep spots of our lives, into the things that we prefer not to talk about and think about, into the places we dare not go.

And remember, this is fishing not with canes and poles and rods, where we wait for them to come to us, but net fishing, where we must go to them, to where the fish are: what does that tell us?

And that feeling of Peter’s – that it’s just too much, too much for simple people – don’t we still get it occasionally? Sometimes in church, like Isaiah, sometimes not, sometimes in simple things, when the grace of God breaks through our doubt and cynicism and the goodness of God is revealed even to weary, doubting minds. 

But perhaps the most simple and yet most amazing message of this story is that it tells us that God cannot save the world alone, but desires our help, our enlistment in his service.    

Perhaps, after his bad experience at Nazareth, Jesus realized this:  “I can’t do this alone.”  Or perhaps he realized, after the reaction to his message and the close call it entailed, that the day would come when he would no longer be there, and then who would carry on?  Then who would do God’s work in the world? And so he called disciples – unqualified disciples at that – who would be with him, who, when the time came for him to leave, would carry on.  Though, in our own time, we may feel like St. Paul – as the least and the last – we are the ones called by Jesus to be his disciples now.

Now, it doesn’t necessarily entail leaving our lives, our vocations, our jobs behind; the only thing it surely means leaving behind is our desire to serve ourselves above all.  Now, Jesus comes to us at our jobs, in our classrooms, in our homes, and challenges us to leave our shallow lives behind and push out into the deep.  Bring your self, your skills, your abilities, your life, and come and follow me.

Each year I conclude this sermon with the words of the famous musician, theologian, and missionary, Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875 – September 4, 1965).  Schweitzer was one of the great interpreters of Bach on the organ, studying under Charles-Marie Widor at St. Sulpice Church in Paris. He trained as a theologian and wrote one of the most notable theological books of his time, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. If that wasn’t enough, he then trained as a physician, in order to become a medical missionary to Africa, which he did for the remainder of his life, earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.  Here’s how Schweitzer heard, and put the call of Jesus:

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not.  He speaks to us the same words:  “Follow thou me!” and set us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands.  And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”  (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1906, p. 40.)

So it was for Peter, and the other disciples.

So it has been for me.

So it will be for all of us, as we follow Jesus in Christian discipleship. 

Won’t you?


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