Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jesus Speaks to Modern Problems: Limited Vision - Luke 5:1-11 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

I was a senior in high school when I first felt called into the ministry. It was October and we were in the middle of a fall revival at church. It was the last night of the revival and I had decided to stay home. I had been to all the other nights of the revival and I needed to study for a test at school. So my parents left and I sat at my desk in room trying to study. But I couldn’t concentrate. It got to the point where I almost couldn’t breathe and I knew that I needed to be at the revival. So I walked to church – you could see the church from my front yard – we only lived four houses down and across the street from it. I slipped in and sat towards the back since I was late. The minister was speaking about surrendering to God’s call upon your life and as I was sitting there I got the most profound sense inside of me that I needed to turn the direction of my life over to God. I had felt for a long time, ever since I was in second grade, that God was somehow going to use me in ministry, but I didn’t know what that meant. I figured I would grow up to teach in a Christian school, because I loved school and the teaching that I did with kids at church. I responded to the invitation to go down to the altar and pray and while I was there I felt God speaking to my heart that I was supposed to go into ministry, into pastoral ministry. And a great sense of peace enveloped me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to that, but it certainly felt like the right thing to do. My pastor came and I shared with him what I was feeling and he prayed with me.

I wish I could say that everything from that point on was smooth and easy. It wasn’t. Sometimes I wandered and wondered about my calling. While I had sung solos in church for years, I couldn’t imagine standing up in front of people and preaching – I knew I could do the administrative stuff and visit people and lead Bible study – but not preach. Another obstacle was that I’d only met one female pastor in the United Methodist Church. And the Baptist high school I attended was not supportive of women in ministry – unless they married a pastor, served as a teacher or as a church musician or secretary. It took me a while to overcome those barriers in my mind. It was two years before I had worked my way through those issues and was ready to start the candidacy process to be a pastor. It took getting hit by a drunk driver in a parking lot to wake me up and help me realize that I’d never be really happy until I followed along with God’s calling on my life to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church. It wasn’t what I had planned, but the last ten years as a pastor have proven that I am right where I am supposed to be.

Last week we talked about the end of Jesus’ ministry and Peter’s failure and redemption. But this week I want to go back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he first called the disciples. The people in our Scripture lesson this morning from the gospel of Luke were called out by Jesus to do something beyond the scope of their limited vision as well. In the beginning of the story, Simon Peter and the brothers James and John are fishing for fish and by the end of the story Jesus has called them to be fishers of men.

When we first meet them, they are frustrated fisherman. They have been out all night by the Lake of Gennesaret (another name for the Sea of Galilee) and they have caught nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. This was their livelihood and there was nothing to show for a long night’s work. Dejected, they are now sitting on the shore cleaning out their nets. Jesus has been teaching and people are crowding around him. He approaches Simon Peter and asks him to put the boat out a little from shore. Jesus is able to get a little distance from the crowd and keeps teaching while in the boat. I find this pretty interesting. Simon Peter apparently knows who Jesus is – in the Gospel of John we find out that his Peter’s brother had first been a follower of John the Baptist – and so Peter is not put out in the least when Jesus asks him to put his boat out in the water. Simon does it and patiently listens to Jesus teach.

When he’s done talking to the crowd, Jesus asks Simon Peter to put the boat out into deep water and “let down the nets for a catch” (Lk. 5:4). Here Simon Peter starts to protest a bit: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything” (Lk. 5:5a). But as if he thinks better of his words while he’s speaking, the next thing he says is: “But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Lk. 5:5b). There were certainly reasons for Peter to be skeptical. After all, the experience of the previous night seemed conclusive. As a professional fisherman, Peter knew the lake. And he knew that sometimes even the best fishermen get “skunked.” He could have said, “Sorry, Lord, but it’s not worth the trouble.” Or “I’m the expert here.” But he goes fishing, not because it makes logical sense to him, but because Jesus says so.

And Scripture tells us that after letting the nets down, “they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink” (Lk 5:6-7). Please note that the fish were there all along. It’s not as if Jesus created the fish on the spur of the moment. Those fish were in the water the night before; Peter just couldn’t find them. But when Jesus is in the boat with men, everything changes. Everything is happening according to God’s plan. Peter’s failure paved the way for him to understand what he could do with Jesus’ help.

And a catch like that is what fishermen dream about. They spend a lifetime fishing in hopes that maybe one day something like this will happen to them – no exaggeration necessary here about the catch. But interestingly enough Simon Peter wasn’t bragging about the catch. But he’s overwhelmed, astonished. He sees Jesus for who he really is – the Son of God – and he says to him, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" (Lk. 5:8). Like most of us, Peter thought in “man-sized” categories, not “God-sized” miracles. He had room in his mind for anything he himself could handle. But when Jesus got involved, the results were more than he could wrap his mind around and it drove him to his knees in desperate prayer.

Interestingly, Jesus ignores Simon’s protest of unworthiness and says to him: "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men. So they (Simon Peter, James and John) pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (Lk. 5:10-11). By trade Simon Peter and James and John were fisherman. And now Jesus is giving them a new occupation. Before they had fished on the seas for actual fish; now they will fish on land for the hearts and souls of men.

This Scripture lesson of these frustrated fishermen this morning really speaks to my heart. And there’ are several things that I think we need to consider in light of this passage for our own lives. The first is this – God called people then, and he still calls people now. What is that call? The original call was for the fishermen to come and follow him – to be Jesus’ disciples, that means students, followers. Nowadays we who have accepted that call refer to ourselves as Christians, bearing the very name of Jesus Christ himself as we move in this world.

Sometimes I think that we in the church have the tendency to think that only pastors are called to be “in ministry.” But the reality is that every person who accepts Jesus’ call to follow him is called to ministry. For some of us that calling is to be a pastor and to help shepherd other believers. But that doesn’t make my calling any better or more important than your callings to ministry. For most people, the call of Jesus Christ to “follow him” means letting of our old lives of sin. It means going back to work tomorrow morning with a new determination to serve God on the job. It means going back to the classroom determined to be a disciple for Christ no matter what anyone else may say or do. It means going home to your family and sharing the love and faithfulness of Christ with them through your words and actions. It means going to work and living a life where your actions match your words of faith so that others may see.

God still calls. And second, God often calls us into deep water. By deep water, I mean areas outside our comfort zones, places where there is sometimes risk, called to activities that are not always easy. Just imagine that God sent you a pretty clear order today to pack up and move to Canada. Now, if the Lord sent me that message, I would ask him to put it in writing. But when we look back in the Old Testament at the book of Genesis, we find that God sent just such a message to Abraham – “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you." (Gen. 12:1) God called Abraham into deep water and Abraham took the risky step of faith to follow where God was leading, even though it meant leaving behind everything that was familiar and safe to him and going out into the unknown without any tangible proof of what or where God was calling him to.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, experienced God’s calling to deeper waters. A pastor’s kid, a pastor himself, he knew there was something missing from his relationship from God. Wesley wrote in his diary one day in May, 1738, "I went quite unwillingly to divine services on Aldersgate Street." Well, that night on Aldersgate Street, John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed and he experienced God in a totally new way and because of that he launched a renewal movement within the Church of England that would eventually grow to become the United Methodist Church. It was amazing to me to stand in all of the Wesley sites in England this past summer and realize that we wouldn’t be sitting here if Wesley had been content in the shallow waters of his own limited vision.

If I had stayed in shallow waters, if I had followed my vision for my life, I could certainly have served God – as a Christian school teacher and a faithful active local church member. But in my life, God was calling me to deeper waters. When I surrendered my will to God’s and began to let him set the vision for my life, he stretched me way out of my comfort zone, and that was a good thing.

God calls. He often calls us into deep waters. And finally we have to remember that God doesn’t call the qualified, but qualifies the called. Many of us feel unworthy of serving God. We believe in him, we love him with our whole heart, but we don’t really feel qualified or spiritual enough to lead, let alone follow. But the wonderful thing about the great God we serve is that if God asks you to do something, he will give you the resources and equip you for the task.

When you look throughout Scripture, what you find is that God often calls some of what we feel are the most unlikely candidates to do extraordinary things for him. In Exodus, God sent Moses to demand freedom for the Hebrew people from an Egyptian Pharoah. But Moses had several reasons – EXCUSES – as to why he could not go and God answered every single one. One of Moses’ excuses was, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent." And with remarkable patience the Lord replied, "Who gave man his mouth? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say." (Ex. 4:10-12). There’s no excuse we could come up with that would be new to God or that God cannot answer.

Remember our Scripture lesson from II Corinthians? “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Cor. 4:7). We are the jars of clay. Pieces of pottery that can be easily broken. Nothing special or remarkable about these everyday containers until they are filled with the power of God. God often does his best work through those who seem unqualified because it is then that his glory shines brightest and best – when others know you couldn’t have done it on your own but were guided by supernatural help. Need more examples?

  • When God called Gideon to lead Israel in fighting against the mighty Midianites, Gideon only had an army of 300 against tens of thousands. It seemed insurmountable odds. It seemed stupid and foolish. But God gave them the victory.
  • When the entire army of Israel hid in their tents when faced with the prospect of doing battle with the great Philistine giant Goliath, God called a young shepherd boy named David to fight. No armor, no sword, just a small stone and slingshot. And God gave David the victory as the giant went down.
  • When God called Saul the Pharisee to serve him, he was traveling around persecuting Christians – arresting them and in some cases helping to execute them for their beliefs. And yet after encountering God on the Road to Damascus, Saul turned his life around as the Apostle Paul and became the early church’s greatest missionary.

And just as God qualified those he called in Scripture, he qualifies and equips us still today for his work in the world. Giving us the heart, giving us the love, giving us the words to say, giving us the strength through the Holy Spirit to put aside our own limited vision and cast out into deep waters.

It was no mistake that the first word Jesus spoke to Peter and the other disciples before saying “Come, follow me!” was “Don’t be afraid!” Getting past our limited vision and casting into deep waters is often scary at first. We’re so aware of our own limitations and problems. Yet God calls to us still saying, “Don’t be afraid! Come, follow me!” It is God’s call, God’s work and God’s miracle. The invitation doesn’t begin or end with us. The One who calls us is the One who knows that he only has imperfect people to call. For our part, we simply have to decide if we are going to follow where God leads. None of us are ever good enough, but God is good enough. And that’s where we must start and finish if we want to cast off limited vision and see what God has in store for us.

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