January 24, 2021 – “Something’s Fishy”
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Welcome to our Worship Service at West Tulsa UMC!
Well, you know how much I love to fish, so you probably won’t think it’s unusual that today’s sermon in our “Follow Me!” series is titled, “Something’s Fishy”
In today’s message we’re going to compare and contrast Jonah’s fish story with that of the Galilean fishermen, Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John.
We do this because their stories relate to our stories, and taking a close look at them helps us develop as disciples.
The people that Jesus called to join His disciple team were normal everyday people. They weren’t seminary students or eloquent speakers.
They weren’t in the position to influence anyone…They weren’t born into money or privilege…They didn’t have retirement accounts or nest eggs saved up…They were simply hard-working people who believed in the God of Israel.
But then Jesus walked into their lives and said, “The Kingdom of God is near. Turn away from your sins, believe, and follow me.”
The thing is, God’s Kingdom isn’t about earning and deserving; and that’s good news for us, because it means that Jesus calls us so that we can believe and receive.
He calls ordinary people like us into a lifetime of love, trust, faith, and service.
So, come, jump in the boat, let’s see how Jesus’ invitation to teach us how to fish for people applies to us.
The Lord is present wherever two or more are gathered, even during church over the Internet…So we’re here to worship God!
Let’s begin with prayer.
The last time we were together we looked at the call the Lord placed on Samuel, Philip and Nathanael.
We learned that whether it is Samuel having to learn that it was God’s voice calling him, or Nathanael having to drop his prejudice and disbelief in order to answer Jesus’ call, OR you and I having to find a way to hear the Lord’s voice cutting through all the noise of the world…
The bottom line is that answering the Lord’s call will always mean that we must move from the comfort of the familiar…to another place of God’s choosing. God’s voice calls us to a place of transformation.
Transformation involves change, and we don’t always like change, but God’s wisdom always calls us to something better. We are “good” in God’s eyes, and yet the Lord wants something “better” for us.
Today, we’ll look at Jesus calling Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John to join his ministry team.
The thing is, sometimes the Lord spells out where, when, and to whom we are called to. Other times, well, let’s just say the Lord doesn’t spell it all out so clearly.
And because we don’t like change and uncertainty, we begin to hear competing voices that try to supply all the reasons and excuses as to why it would be better to turn away from partnering in God’s work in the world. So we end up turning to something more comfortable and familiar.
Our text from the 3rd Chapter of Jonah begins, “GOD spoke to Jonah a second time: ‘Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.’” (Jonah 3:1 MSG)
A second time, did you hear that? The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time… because the first time didn’t go so well.
God gave an itinerary both times He spoke to Jonah. The Lord told Jonah exactly where He wanted Jonah to go.
The first time the Word came, Jonah went … the other way. God’s Word said go; Jonah’s feet said no. The inner voice of doubt spoke and Jonah chose to follow those travel plans to the farthest point in the known world…
He ran in the opposite direction…of God’s directions.
And for his troubles, he got a sea cruise berthed in an inside cabin with no view and a pervasive smell. But that was then; this is now. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” And this time, he decided he’d better go in the direction the Word pointed.
The problem was it pointed toward Nineveh in Assyria. I’m telling you, if there was ever a town you didn’t want to go, it was Nineveh. If there was ever a place full of the wrong sort of violent, brutal people, it was Nineveh.
You know how some cities have a part of town you’re told you ought to avoid?
Well, that’s the good side of Nineveh. No wonder Jonah didn’t want to go. They didn’t like him, and he didn’t like them; and they were both happy keeping things that way. Except… “the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”
God has a thing for lost causes. And Nineveh was a cause God was trying to enlist Jonah in. So Jonah went, dragging his feet all the way into a city that was “a three day’s walk across.”
He walked one day and was a third of the way in. He planted his feet on a busy street corner and muttered his eight-word sermon while cleaning whatever icky stuff you find in the belly of a whale out of his pockets.
“Check that off the list,” Jonah thinks to himself and turns to make his way back out of town. Ready to duck the rotting vegetables and pointed sticks, he pulled his collar up close to his face and tried to look anonymous, when all of a sudden he realized that the city was eerily silent.
His seven-word sermon froze people in their tracks.
Well, I guess if a person were to stand at the intersection of West 23rd and SW Blvd. and shouted, “In forty days Tulsa will be destroyed!”, we’d either fall over laughing, or fall on our knees and ask for forgiveness!
The people of Nineveh were staring at Jonah with that “deer-in-the-headlights,” “hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar” kind of glaze. And one by one, they turned. First they turned and looked inward and didn’t like what they saw.
Next they turned and looked outward and began grasping at straws. They put on sackcloth as a sign of how bad they felt. They poured ashes on their heads in repentance.
Whole families, whole neighborhoods, turned. That’s what repent means; they turned. They were heading in one direction and then because of a word, well seven words, they turned a whole new direction.
That’s kind of “fishy” isn’t it? How could a few words turn a life around?
It’s almost too incredible to believe.
I mean, if we were to accept the possibility that a few words actually have the power to change situations and change peoples’ lives, wouldn’t we find that there isn’t a situation beyond our ability to affect?
Wouldn’t we find that there isn’t a life that can’t be redeemed?
If that were to be true, would there really be ANY excuse to wash our hands of ANYONE at ANY time?
You never know, we might just have the word that would cause their lives to turn around.
But maybe that isn’t possible in the real world. The real world is hard and cruel, and there are good guys and bad guys, and we know who is who. (In normal times)
We live a world different from Nineveh, at least the Nineveh that Jonah found.
No, our world is a world of hard work, back-breaking labor to get anywhere. The kind of world guys like Simon and Andrew, James and John lived in. Men who knew their trade, who knew what mattered, who kept their noses to the grindstone.
They must have known him before. Or maybe they heard about Him. It just seems incredible that with a word – “follow me” – that they would follow Him. It seems like there must have been more than that. More to it than we see. It seems too fishy.
Jonah was given an itinerary…Were these fishermen from Galilee offered a copy of Jesus’ travel plans? The thing is, I don’t see any mention of Jesus’ previewing the next three years schedule with these guys.
One could imagine that if He had, they might’ve thought of all kinds of other things they should be doing. The competing voices would’ve really tugged at them.
But Mark’s Gospel says, “They dropped their nets and followed.”
Months before Theresa, Hailey and I traveled to Italy, we knew our travel schedule.
We knew the date we’d be flying to New York, and on to Europe. We had a print out of the names of the hotels and the dates we’d be staying in Venice, Florence, Rome, Sorento, and back to Rome. We were informed of the meal plans and the sites and museums we would visit.
We also knew every detail about the return trip home when our eleven-day tour was complete. The itinerary of our whole trip was designed in advance and shared with us. All of those plans were made for us, and it provided a level of certainty and confidence.
But, it isn’t always like that God. Sometimes we’re on a need-to-know basis.
If God were to show us His complete set of plans earlier than we need to know…
We’d do our best to mess things up, either consciously or unconsciously.
“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will teach you to fish for people.’” (Mk. 1:16-17)
He didn’t say, “Hey guys, come here a second. I have some exciting travel plans to show you.” He didn’t explain that His itinerary would consume the next three years of their lives…
I mean, do you really think that Jesus’ disciple would have signed up for the trip if Jesus had told them what the last week in Jerusalem would be like…right there on the Sea of Galilee shoreline?
I’m not so sure they would have been gung-ho about that!
Jesus didn’t tell them that the real truth was that being His disciple would require a lifetime commitment.
No, Jesus didn’t do any of those things. That’s because “Follow me” takes “Believe in me” to a higher level. First you believe, THEN you follow.
We’ve already seen that the first time the Lord called, Jonah went … the other way.
God’s voice said go; Jonah’s feet said no. The inner voice of doubt, fear and prejudice spoke and Jonah chose to follow those travel plans in the opposite direction that God wanted him to go.
Yes, Mark writes that as soon as Jesus called them, four working men dropped what they were doing, and followed Him.
The thing is, I’d like to know what other voices they were hearing. I imagine if in the same situation, many of us would struggle with the “What about?” question.
“What about my family? What about my career? What about my possessions? Where will we stay? What’s on the menu? What about the fact that I don’t have Bible verses memorized? What about my yard work? (Who’s going to cut the grass?) Won’t it be dangerous and scary? What about my retirement account?”
Have you ever looked back and wondered, “What if?”
Many of you know my story. But as I was reading about Jonah, Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John’s stories, I was reminded once again of my story.
Jonah heard God calling and ran away as fast as he could. So did I. Looking back I can see a number of instances when I had the opportunity to answer God’s call.
The problem is, I ran away, and got on a boat and set sail for distant harbors that I felt were safer and more predictable.
I closed my soul and hardened my heart to God’s call, and followed the advice of the other voices calling for my attention. There were times it seemed that I had been cast into a raging sea, just like Jonah.
Fortunately, God’s story is that God never gives up on us. You and I worship the One True God who gives second and third chances.
My family has joined me in this ministry for the last 15 years, and the time has flown by. Now, I look back and wonder, “What if?”
Actually, what I wonder is, “Why?”
“Why did I not respond sooner? Why was I so stubborn and so determined to do my own thing?
Why did my feet say “No” when God’s call was to “Go”?
To be honest, that was a rhetorical question. I know the answer now, and while I kinda wish I had made different choices; in reality my perspective in ministry has been greatly shaped by who and what I was before I entered the ministry.
So, it’s not ALL bad.
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”
Yes, God has a thing for lost causes, and calls out to us again and again in order to draw us back into relationship with Him.
We don’t have fog horns in Oklahoma, but on the Great Lakes and on the coasts of this land we love, fog horns call out loudly, letting ship captains know they are nearing safe harbor when there is a dense fog.
God’s voice is kind of like that, calling out over-and-over, “Come home, come home, all who are weary come home.”
Jesus calls us to, “Repent (turn away) from your sins and believe the Good News!”
If repentance indicates the things that we turn FROM, then belief indicates that which we turn TO.
The life that Jesus calls His disciples TO – requires a fundamental change of perspective…That was true for Jonah, it was true for the four fishermen on Galilee’s shore, and it is true for us. We don’t normally like change, but to follow Jesus we are called to have our mind on the things of God, rather than ourselves.
There is a cost associated with serving Christ. It requires separation from our former allegiances, so that we can be free to devote ourselves to Jesus.
Amazingly, turning AWAY FROM the things that once held us captive to their destructive forces, means turning TO the Captivating One who sets us free.
At that point we should not look back and ask “What if?” or “Why?”
We’ve become a new creation, the past is washed away…There’s NO looking back now.
“Follow me,” says Jesus; “and I’ll keep you busy, I’ll keep you bubbling over with a desire to connect with other people, to share with people, and to gather in fellowship. Follow me, and you’ll never be alone again!”
“Follow me,” says Jesus; “It’s about a life of engagement, NOT isolation.”
“Follow me,” says Jesus; “It’s about a life of hospitality, NOT hostility.”
“Follow me,” says Jesus; “It’s about a life of inclusion, NOT exclusion.
There is power in God’s word certainly, but there is power even in our words.
Knowing this, we now have the responsibility to use our words, to help turn lives around.
It begins with looking inward and turning our lives around, followed by looking outward and helping other people turn their lives around.
We have an obligation and a joy; we have been given a gift that we can’t horde, that we can’t keep secret. This gift we have been blessed with is woven into the fabric of love that it is shared and multiplied infinitely until all know what we know, all know who we know.
Even those we don’t think are worthy of it.
That was Jonah’s problem. That’s why the word had to come a second time. We discover in the Third chapter of Jonah that his reluctance came from the fact that he was afraid that God would love the Ninevites as much as God loved him.
He was afraid that God would forgive the citizens of Nineveh as God had forgiven Jonah. And that burned Jonah up. God’s grace was fishy to Jonah.
It was too incredible, too encompassing, too accepting. After all, Jonah was caught up in that net of God’s love. Who knows who else might be included?
“I’ll teach you how to fish for people,” says Jesus.
Something’s fishy about that! How does a person fish for people? They don’t live in water!
Well, one thing is for sure, it’s going to take a much bigger net than each of us as individuals if Jesus wants to accomplish that feat.
Fortunately, Jesus wants to teach us, and as we focus our attention outside of the boat, and the circle remains unbroken, we’ll begin to widen the net.
Do you understand what I mean by, “Outside of the boat”?
When we are in this holy space, we view the world from “inside the boat.”
It’s comfortable here. It feels safe. That’s what sanctuary means: “safe harbor”
But the foghorn only calls out, “come home” when the sailing is under dangerous conditions…The foghorn’s purpose is NEVER to keep boats in the harbor.
We are called to get in the boat, go out where the fish are, and cast our nets OUTSIDE of the boat.
Something’s fishy, alright. “Follow me,” Jesus says; and we follow. Most of the time, some of the time, we follow. And as we do, we live into His invitation.
“Follow me” calls Jesus.
Who knows if we follow in His footsteps closely enough, we might even find ourselves in downtown Nineveh.
“Follow me” calls Jesus.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 NRSV
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Mark 1:14-20 GNB
After John had been put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee and preached the Good News from God. “The right time has come,” he said, “and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!” As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, catching fish with a net. Jesus said to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.” At once they left their nets and went with him. He went a little farther on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat getting their nets ready. As soon as Jesus saw them, he called them; they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with Jesus.