Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Joyful Noise: Two Sermons - Part 1

What follows is the text of sermon I delivered at the Twinbrook Baptist Church on May 20, 2012.  Our pastor had left and we were facing a rough period of transition and the congregation was finding it difficult to decide which direction we were going to take.  We are an independent and progressive congregation and while serving on the transition committee, I asked our temporary interim pastor whether I might address the congregation.  She agreed and this is what I had to say:

Gone Fishin'

Luke 5: 1-11

Sally Ann and I have been members of Twinbrook Baptist Church for almost a year now, joining in early June of last year just before we departed for our summer hiatus in Maine.  We can’t tell you how much it has meant to us to be a part of the Twinbrook family and we thank you all for welcoming us among you.  When it was announced that I would be speaking this morning, a number of you came up with words of encouragement, and I was even asked if there might be a little fire and brimstone in my message.  I am afraid that is not my nature and so I can only hope you won’t disappointed in what I have to share with you today.  It was also hinted that I keep it short and sweet; to paint pictures with a few well chosen words.  Some wondered if I could talk for 15-20 minutes.  That has never been a problem; you only have to ask Sally Ann about that. She’ll tell you the truth of the matter.  Brevity has not been one of my better qualities when it comes to speaking.  So I am happy to see everyone here this morning.  I will keep it short and to the point . . . I promise.

Just a week ago I participated in what has become an annual rite of spring.  Gathering with good friends on Tilghman Island, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, we set off before dawn for a day on the Chesapeake Bay in search of trophy rockfish.  It is a time to celebrate friendship and camaraderie on the fantail of a 46-foot fishing boat as we trolled our lines over fishing grounds that have been good to us in years past. We have always caught fish.  Always . . . but not this year.  The season was right, the weather was right, there was plenty of baitfish, but the usual plentiful rockfish were nowhere to be found.  Perhaps early onset of warm weather this spring upset their biorhythms.  Who knows?  But such is the nature of fishing.  Sometimes they are there; other times they are not.

I am reminded of Isaiah 19:5-8.  Israel was confronting an invasion by the Assyrians, and there were proclamations calling for the destruction of Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt.  There was change; the ebb and flow of history.  It is written that the waters from the sea will fail, and the rivers will be fouled, wasted and dried up.  And the fishermen - those who cast hooks and spread nets - will languish and lament.  By the very nature of their work, fishermen have learned to expect disappointment for there is always famine between times of rich harvest.

During his early ministry, which was then centered in and around Capernaum, Jesus was walking one morning along the shores of the Sea of Galilee when he chanced upon two fishermen, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, cleaning and drying their nets after a fruitless night of fishing, busy at their task and unaware of the multitude who had gathered along the shoreline to hear Jesus speak. They were accomplished fishermen and the fact that they had not caught a single fish was not due to their lack of ability or industriousness.  Sometime the fish just aren’t where and when they are suppose to be.  Jesus certainly sensed Simon’s and Andrew’s disappointment and recruited the two men to row him a short distance from shore so that he might better address the crowd who had gathered to hear his message.  After addressing the crowd and while still standing in the boat, Jesus bid Simon Peter to lower his nets into the water, which he did although he had yet to catch a fish. However, when he gathered his nets back into the boat they were filled to capacity causing them to begin breaking under the sheer weight of the catch.  A neighboring fishing boat manned by two brothers, James and John, came to the aid of Simon and Andrew and they also gathered so many fish that both boats began to sink.  The four fishermen are amazed and astonished by the sea’s bounty.  Who was this man who could command fish to appear where there were previously none?  Jesus told them to fear not, for henceforth they would become fishers of men, and the four men left their boats and nets behind and walked in the footsteps of Jesus as his first disciples.

In this manner, Jesus eventually gathered around him twelve faithful disciples, literally “those who learn,”  whom he charged to go forth as apostles, as teachers, and bring God’s word and promise of a new kingdom on earth to all people, to force out evil spirits and to heal the sick.  Jesus also warned his new disciples that their task would not be an easy one for there would be those who would threaten them and attempt to silence them.  Keep the faith, he told them, for God would guide them, give them wisdom, and tell them what to say.

Jesus’ invitation to the disciples was a simple one: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”   Yet, it was an invitation that would alter their lives forever.  Jesus took these simple Galilean fishermen and transformed them into the apostles that would tell the world of the coming of the Kingdom of God. He would teach them that every life matters to God regardless of whether a person is rich or poor, sick or healthy, a believer or a skeptic.  They all matter, and Jesus loved them all and hoped to win them all over to that promise of a better world ahead.   Jesus told his disciples to go into the world, to make certain their nets were tight and firm, and then to cast them wide and deep.  If they did, they would be amazed at the bounty they would gather in.

If you think about it, all of us here at Twinbrook Baptist Church, as we practice our own discipleship as individuals as well as members of this congregation, can take a lesson from Jesus’ message to his earliest disciples, especially during this time of transition when we look at the life of our church and its congregation and wonder what the future holds for us.  We are all fishers of men (and women).  The lives we lead, and our dedication to the future of this church, are our small yet important contributions to spreading the good news.  We, too, are in the business of casting our nets in everything we do and say, and everywhere we go.  Just as Christ and his disciples shared their message everywhere they went, so, too, we go about our daily lives trying to follow His lead.  He used every situation as an opportunity to talk to someone about the promise of a better life to come.  And isn’t that what we are trying to do as members of Twinbrook Baptist Church?

And we are not alone in this effort.  We have each other and we are working hard together to find a future course for our church.  No one person, no small group of people, can alone do the heavy lifting that is required of us as we cast our nets wide and deep.  For there is a rich bounty to be gathered in.  It is no use to believe that one person, or a small group of people, can haul a net full of fish on board.. They are not going to be able to do it any more than Simon Peter and the early disciples were able to land their catch single-handedly. And even when they worked together, there was the threat that their boats might sink from the weight of their catch.

Last weekend, as my friends and I trolled our dozen and a half lines at a variety of depths and back and forth across the fishing grounds of the Chesapeake Bay, we knew that we were covering every conceivable place where the fish might be.  If there were fish down there, we were going to catch them.  Maybe we did not catch them that day, but it was not for a lack of ability or hard work.  There is an inherent truth in what we were doing.  Fishing boats manned by a decent sized crew are always going to catch more than a person fishing off the end of the pier. 

This same truth holds when it comes to the matter of growing our church by living the life God has taught us to lead.  We have to heed the words Jesus spoke to his disciples.  We are going to go where the fish are.  We are going to have to go outside the walls of Twinbrook Baptist Church, we are going to have to go into our community, into our neighborhoods, with our nets mended, strong and ready.  God will guide our steps to those places where the fish are biting!  He will send us to the right places if we will follow Him and fish how and where He tells us to!  There is a possibility He will send us to fish in a place we feel might not be the best place to cast our nets.  But we have to cover every conceivable spot where the fish might be, and there we must cast our nets wide and deep.  At that moment, we face a decision.  Will we follow Jesus and fish where He says, or will we do it our way and come up empty?   There is so much to be learned from the lessons of the past.

Let me repeat something I said earlier.  “By the very nature of their work, fishermen have learned to expect disappointment for there is always famine between time of rich harvest.”   Our Twinbrook family has been dealing with disappointment in our recent history.  Yet amid the disappointment there is always a reason, many reasons, to hope.  There has been a great deal of soul searching going on and a variety of options have been brought to the table and discussed openly and honestly.  But the simple truth of it is - just standing around the tackle shop talking about fish doesn’t put any fish in the boat.  There is that old saying.  It’s time to fish or cut bait.  Friends, it is time to go  fishin’!  Our patience and our determination will eventually overcome any disappointments in the past.  Our nets will soon be full and we will be amazed and give thanks.

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