The Main thing
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"The Main Thing"
(Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20)
Lugging along a huge black bass, one fisherman met another fisherman whose stringer consisted of twelve small fish.
The first man said, "Howdy," laid down his fish and waited for a comment.
The other fisherman stared for a few moments and then calmly responded, "Just caught the one, huh?" (1)
I like fish stories and I like to fish. There's nothing quite like the feel of a big old black bass on the end of your line. There's nothing like making that perfect cast and seeing the water explode as the lure hits the water and a bass grabs it. Watching that thing dance across the water is one of those simple joyous pleasures of life.
This morning we've got a couple of fish stories. First we've got the story of Jonah, the biggest fish story in the Bible. And then we've got the story of how some of the biggest fishermen in the Bible became followers and disciples of Christ. Most fish stories are just that, fish STORIES. The difference between the fish stories of the Bible is that they are more about fishing than about fish.
I. THE INVITATION:
A. In this case, each of our characters was invited by God to become more than just fisherman, they were invited to become fishers of people. Jonah was invited to become one of the first Traveling Evangelists. God called him one day and said, "Jonah, boy, have I got a deal for you. I want you to pack up enough stuff for a little trip I've got planned. I want you to get your Bible and your Hymnal and I want you to head on out to Sin City. I want you go up to Nineveh and to preach. I want you to tell the folks there that if they don't clean up their act, that God is going to get really ticked and their gonna be nothing but toast."
Well, old Jonah hears God's invitation, gives his R.S.V.P. and, if you remember the story, he promptly heads out in the other direction. He reminds me of an old Peanuts comic strip where Charlie Brown says, "There's no problem so big that I can't run away from it." (2)
Jonah runs and that's when God creates his own fish story. Jonah gets himself swallowed by the biggest fish in the Bible. But Jonah is so disagreeable that after three days the fish spits him out. And that's where we pick up the story. God calls Jonah a second time. This time, smelling like fish guts, Jonah sets off and carries out God's command. Nineveh is a city so big it takes three days to walk from one side to the other. Jonah walks about a third of the way in, stops and cries out to the crowd, "In forty days, Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (Jonah 3:4) That's sort of a disappointing sermon. No introduction, no humor, just the bottom line given in a shotgun blast style.
But someone was listening. Enough someones that before Jonah could get out of town, the whole city was in the midst of a revival. Jonah didn't give an altar call but they came anyway. It was the greatest revival ever, preached by the most reluctant preacher ever.
B. Contrast that to Peter, James, John and Andrew. They had heard Jesus preach. Jesus had been in the synagogue there in their home town of Capernaum. It was right up the street from Peter's house. Jesus taught and preached and these four fisherman had been intrigued by his message. They had probably even discussed it among themselves trying to figure out just who this guy was. They might have been discussing it the day our passage took place.Æ
Notice the contrast between Jonah and these four other fisherman. Jonah was a reluctant prophet and took off in the opposite direction. Here were Peter and Andrew, honest hard working men. Pillars of the community. Partners in a thriving fishing enterprise. Peter and Andrew weren't the poor, dumb fisherman we generally think they were. They were the upper middle class. Not wealthy, not well to do, but they had plenty. People worked for them. They were hard working and well respected. Jesus came walking along, invited them like God invited Jonah and they dropped everything and followed.
Jesus preached a one sentence sermon and altar call and the disciples followed IMMEDIATELY. They didn't stutter and stammer. They didn't make excuses. They didn't head out in the opposite direction. They didn't finish pulling in their nets. They didn't finish the job or the day's work. They didn't make arrangements for others to take over. They didn't even call home and tell their wives they wouldn't be home for dinner. They immediately dropped everything and followed. They let go of the nets and walked off. That's pretty strange behavior for such upstanding citizens.
When was the last time you just dropped everything? When was the last time you did something IMMEDIATELY?
It wasn't any different with James and John, Peter and Andrew's partners in the fishing business. Jesus came up to them and said the same thing, "Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people." (Mark 1:17). Without so much as a "by your leave" or and "Excuse me." James and John did the very same thing. They didn't ask their father's permission. They dropped their nets and walked out on the family business to follow this itinerant preacher. The point is, that Jesus was so compelling, so inviting, that these men were drawn to him like the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, like bees to honey. They dropped everything to follow him.
That same invitation is made to each of us today and every day. We're called and invited to become "fishers of people." That's the Church's first and foremost calling. We're invited to bring other people into this adventure of faith which we are a part of. That is our commission. It's our purpose for being. It's the main thing we do.
II. THE COMMISSION:
A. When Jesus said, "Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people," he was establishing the purpose of the Church. Like Jonah and the disciples, we are invited to be a part of the ministry, we're invited and commissioned to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to a hurting and lonely world; a world lost in sin. That is our number one purpose. It is the main thing which we are called to do.
A couple of years ago, on the opening night of Annual Conference, at First United Methodist Church in Ft. Worth, we sang that glorious hymn of praise by Joacim Neander, "Praise To The Lord, The Almighty." Into the midst of this beautiful and uplifting hymn, there came a stark reminder of why we were there, why the Church exists and why we preach. In the background, just outside the Church, there were sirens going off. Not just one or two, but at least five or six. I couldn't tell whether it was a fire, an accident, a bust or what. But it reminded me deeply of the message the Church proclaims. At the foundation of all our gatherings and assemblies lies our purpose and commission. We bear a message of hope to a frightened and lonely world. We bear a message of comfort to those who mourn and those who struggle for everyday life. We bear a message of transformation for those who are downtrodden or who have hit the bottom; for those who are on top and for everyone somewhere in between. We proclaim Christ, the risen Son of God, who died that our sins might be forgiven, and was raised from the dead so that we might have new life.
In the midst of our hymn of praise with a siren descant playing discordantly in the background, I was reminded that a very large part of our praise is simply bearing the message of hope and salvation through Christ to a hurting world. With that realization, I prayed that in the midst of our celebration, worship and the business of Annual Conference, we wouldn't forget our first calling, to proclaim Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And we didn't. We were challenged over and over to be true to our first call and our commission.
B. We are challenged with that same commission. The importance of our commission was reinforced on Laity Sunday when Rob Stenger was preaching. Not only his sermon but as I sat there listening I noticed a couple of things. You can look out the windows here. That's no true in a lot of other churches. In those churches you're insulated from the world. Here, worship takes place in the midst of the world. Any time during the service you can look out and see the rest of the world in action. You can tell if the Presbyterian preacher got wound up or not. You can count the cars that go by. Some of the families in those cars are coming and going from Church. But many of them don't have a Church home. They don't have the faith support or the spiritual support that you and I have or are seeking to have.
The other thing I noticed, is that as you look out the window and up the hill, across the road there's a big white sign which says: "NO DUMPING." You may not be able to dump you garbage and refuse over there, but you CAN do it here. Jesus invites us to bring all of our troubles, all of our worries, anxieties, cares and fears to Him. He invites us to come to the foot of the cross and dump all the garbage of life, all the smelly old stuff that is eating away at our soul and polluting our spirits and leave it there to be replaced with the Grace and Forgiveness and Peace of God and to walk away whole with the assurance that we ARE forgiven and that we are HIS. Our commission is to share this Good News with everyone around us, with the whole world, if we can.
III. THE MESSAGE:
A. WORD Now I know what your thinking. You're sitting there thinking, "I just barely believe this stuff myself and you want me to share it with others? I'm not about to open MY mouth." Am I right? But you want to know something? There are two parts to our commission. We are called to proclaim Christ but not all of that is done with our mouth. We are also called to live Christ. In Colossians 3:17 Paul says: "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
I'll be real honest, the easy part of carrying out our commission is the telling. It's the most frightening part of our commission. But it's the easiest part. And the truth is that most people not only are willing to hear our message they want and need the Good News in their life.
There is a scene in WINNIE THE POOH that goes something like this. Pooh sees Eeyore in the river and asks: "Did you fall into the river, Eeyore?"
Eeyore says: "Silly of me, wasn't it?"
Pooh then asks: "Is the river uncomfortable this morning?" And Eeyore replies: "Well, yes, the dampness you know." Then Pooh says: "You really ought to be more careful!" Eeyore says: "Thanks for the advice."
Then Pooh notices something else: "I think you're sinking." And Eeyore replies: "Pooh, if it's not too much trouble, would you mind rescuing me?"
According to studies and polls I've read, a lot of those folks who don't belong to a Church are just like Eeyore. They are waiting for someone to throw them a line and rescue them. They are waiting for someone to invite them to belong. And when people want to hear what we have to say, it's not hard to share the faith. When people want to belong, it's easy to invite them.
B. DEED Sharing the faith, witnessing for Christ might be frightening but the hardest part of the commission is living out our faith. It's easier to stand up and preach what we should be doing than it is to actually live what we proclaim. It's easier to preach than it is to practice what we preach. We've seen that in the fall of some of the biggest pulpiteers. We're called not only to preach but to practice what we preach.
We proclaim the Good News of Christ through DEED whenever we act out the love of God in our daily lives, whenever we put our faith in action. People see how much we love God when they see us act out our faith. Every time we do something in God's name, every meal we serve at the Night Shelter, every meeting we attend where people see what we stand for, every kind deed, every kind word, every helping hand we lend is proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world in need of that Good News. But we have to be careful, we have to make sure our words and deeds match. We have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
Years ago a boy had a crush on a certain girl, Laura Mae, in his high school freshman class. It was a farming community and everyone planted gardens. They also protected them with scarecrows. Each family tried to make its scarecrow the most lifelike and original.
Riding home on the school bus one afternoon, they rounded the curve near Laura Mae's house and her parent's garden came into view. There in the middle of the rows, was a figure dressed in an old straw hat, ragged overalls, and a faded checked shirt. A hoe was stuck under his right arm, adding authenticity.
In an effort to gain favor with the girl he loved, this boy said, "Laura Mae, your Daddy never has to worry about crows in his garden; anything that ugly will keep everything away." And right at that moment, the 'scarecrow' began hoeing.
Laura Mae is married now, ... but not to that boy. (3)
The point is that we are called to proclaim Christ with both our words and our deeds and the two have to be synonymous. We can't say one thing and do another.
There is a legend which tells how Jesus returned to heaven after His time on earth. In heaven Jesus still bore the marks of the cross and his shameful death. The angel Gabriel approached Him and said, "Master, you must have suffered terribly for the people down there." Jesus replied that he did.
Gabriel continued: "And, do they know and appreciate all about how you
loved them and what you did for them?"
Jesus replied, "Oh, no! Not yet. Right now only a handful of people in Palestine know."
Gabriel was bumfuzzled and asked, "Well, what have you done to let everyone know about your love for them?"
Jesus said, "I've asked Peter, James, John, and a few more friends to tell others about me. Those who are told will tell others, in turn, about me. And my story will be spread to the farthest reaches of the world. Ultimately, the whole world will have heard about my life and what I have done for them."
Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical. He knew what poor stuff humans were made of. He said, "But what if Peter and James and John grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget? What if way down in the twentieth century people just don't tell others about you? Have you made any other plans?"
And Jesus answered, "No! There aren't any other plans. I'm counting on them."
Twenty centuries later there still isn't any other plan. Jesus is still counting on you and me. High on God's "To Do" list is the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world. And if we can't get out into the whole world, we're called to share with our neighbors. Christ counted on the early disciples. And Christ is counting on us. As the old hymn says, "We've a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right, a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light... We've a message to give to the nations, that the Lord who reigneth above hath sent us his Son to save us, and show us that God is love." (4)
Fish stories are wonderful but this is more than just a fish story. Jesus invites us just like he did Peter, Andrew, James and John. He says to each of us: "Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people." That 's the main thing. What will your answer be? That of Jonah? Or that of Peter, Andrew, James and John? Just remember, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, Jesus has no other plan but us. LET'S GO FISHING!
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. InfoSearch Jokes Database
2. Peanuts by Charles Schultz
3. *PROGRESSIVE FARMER Jan 1991 (Birmingham, AL)
4. "We've A Story To Tell To The Nations" Hymn #451 (C) 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House; harm. (C) 1964 Abingdon Press. Words... Ancient Irish; trans. By Mary E. Byrne, 1905; versed by Eleanor H. Hull, 1912, alt.