Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
(Australia Day)

Text: Mark 1:17,18
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. (NIV)

Disciples making a difference

ĎCome follow me,í Jesus said, Ďand I will make you fishers of men.í And at once they left their nets and followed him. Those two sentences are simple, uncomplicated and yet remarkable. So brief and yet so powerful. Mark is so short and to the point. You wonder why such an important event is reported with so little detail. You would think that Mark would give us a bit more information. After all, we are talking about the men who would take the gospel to all parts of the world.

Maybe Mark could have written something like this.
"It was a bright, cloudless day in Galilee. The waves gently lapped along the shore, surging in, drifting out. The midday sun was now arched in the heavens, casting down hot, bright rays upon the beach, warming the backs of the two brown fishermen as they worked, knee deep in the water, toiling over their nets. Suddenly one of them stands upright. He shades his eyes from the sun and looks toward the bank. There, a lone figure is silently watching them. The man on the bank calls out, ĎFollow me.í"

That doesnít sound like Mark at all. He doesnít care less about all these details. He tells how four fishermen drop everything and follow Jesus on the basis of an invitation of less than a dozen words. Mark economises on words and details because he canít wait to start telling us about the events surrounding Jesusí crucifixion.  He deliberately leaves us pondering the question how it is possible that toughened, hard working, macho fishermen can leave everything and follow a simple invitation and promise.

We are complex, educated people who have responsibilities and complications and we find it difficult to understand what is happening here.  We are not able to drop everything and run off after some wandering preacher who calls us to follow him.

We consider all the possible options, do research, clarify and analyse what it is precisely that we are being asked to do. We want to carefully weigh up all the facts and possibilities. We have responsibilities, jobs, family, assets. We have been trained to be rational, balanced, well-adjusted, well-informed people and to make such a radical decision requires a lot of consideration.

We are much more like Jonah. When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, he got on a boat and went in the opposite direction. Why? Because he reasoned that what God was asking him to do was insane. No one in their right mind would go to Nineveh and tell the people there they were sinners and needed to repent. The call of God was impossible, dangerous, and down right stupid. Only half-crazed people go out and risk everything and do something like this.

There was a man, a graduate of one of the worldís best universities. He had a promising future. He could have become quite wealthy and lived a comfortable life. But he went to India and lived among and worked with the poorest of the poor helping especially orphans to be educated, to reach a point where they could take care of themselves and even help others. Why did this man give up so much to do this kind of thing? If you asked him expecting some kind of rational and logical answer you would be disappointed. He would simply say, "I canít really give you a good reason. I just have a feeling this is what God wants me to do." Thatís it?  That's all there is to it?  A feeling, an impulse, a sense that this is what God wanted him to do?

Ask most of those who serve in the church in any capacity, how they came to be doing what they are and you will find their stories so mundane and ordinary. Of course, there will always be that story about blinding light, the voice from above, the bolt from the blue, the visions of Jesus. But from what I have heard, the spectacular call is an exception rather than the normal.

When I was at the end of year 7 in a State School my classmates were stunned when I told them I wanted to become a pastor. "Why?" they asked? At the time I wished I could have told them about some wonderful plan about going to an exciting place like Africa and what an adventure it would be to be a missionary. But all I could say as 13 year old to the question "why" was, "Well, just becauseÖ". Thatís not an answer. I suppose I could have finished the sentence, "Well, just because Ö it was just something I felt wanted to do" but I donít think they would have understood any better. Their only response was the look on their face and a shrug of the shoulders.

I think you get the message. When God calls, people are often left scratching their heads wondering what the logic is behind the task we have been challenged to take up when there are heaps of other people who could do it as well or even better than we can. We donít consider ourselves to be giants in the faith Ė just ordinary people. What is more, I have other plans. I have responsibilities. ĎMe, thatís out of the question!í

When God called a shepherd to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses thought God had it all wrong. Fronting up to a king and demanding him to free his workforce and then leading a cranky mob of people through the wilderness. Thatís just crazy.
A farmer by the name of Gideon was called by God to lead an army and save Israel. A farmer to be a general and defeat a powerful enemy Ė thatís just plain crazy.
Four fishermen were called to leave their nets and follow Jesus. This was radical, risky and illogical and yet we are told that they didnít hesitate and followed Jesus at once.

Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John by the water of Lake Galilee.
We have been called to obedience and faith through the water of baptism.
In our baptism, Jesus has come to us,
he declares that he is our Saviour and Lord and calls us to follow him;
he challenges us to trust his wisdom in calling us to be disciples with a special mission and believing his promises to help us.
He calls us to obedience and to follow him wherever that call might take us.
He calls us to be his love and his presence in other peopleís lives at those times when they need assurance and help the most.
When Jesus claims us as his brother and sisters, he expects us to respond with lives of faith and obedience.

By the burning bush God wasnít giving Moses a choice to volunteer to rescue the Israelites from slavery. God was expecting faith and obedience.
After Jonah was spat up by the fish on to the beach, God didnít let him off the hook. He tried to run away but God's mission was still his mission. God was expecting faith and obedience.
By the waters of Lake Galilee Jesus didnít promise that discipleship would be easy. He didnít invite them to a pleasant stroll along the beach.  In spite of the problems that such a call would bring, Jesus was expecting faith and obedience.

You and I here in this church today are the modern day disciples of Jesus. Just like the Peter, Andrew, James and John, you and I have been called to help Jesus catch people, to throw out wide the net of the gospel and bring people into God's kingdom. There are a whole lot of people out there waiting for us to respond in obedience to Jesusí call and bring them into the God's Kingdom.

Drawing people into the church and the comfort and security that this gives is only part of Jesusí call to his present day disciples. The other part is being a light in the darkest places in our secular society.

And since tomorrow is Australia Day, our text today is a good reminder that we have been called to be Jesusí disciples in our own country Ė to be positive and shining lights in our community. We are called to be disciples in the world, in Australia, and even though not every Australian is by any means a Christian, our call is to let the love of Jesus shine through us into the relationships and the dealings that we have with people on a day to day basis.

There is no such thing a part time discipleship Ė that is, we are happy to be disciples when it is comfortable to be known as a disciple of Jesus but fade into the background when itís hard going. We are called to be disciples also in those more difficult cirsumstances. We are challenged to be a positive influence in the lives of others. As Jesusí disciples we have a responsibility to show love, kindness, understanding and compassion even when it is unpopular to do so. No doubt there will be times when we will feel threatened or embarrassed because we have stood up for what is right and shown love where others have chosen to ridicule.

By and large Australia is a secular society and many are either ignorant or opposed to the values of Christianity. Thatís what makes it so hard some times. We donít like to stand out.
We donít want to rock the boat.
We may even feel that we arenít confident enough in what we believe to be able to make a difference or challenge the wrong thinking and bad morals displayed by others.

Iím not suggesting intolerance and prejudice should be our motivation but rather speaking and doing the truth in love. That can be a hard thing to do and we may get it all wrong, but itís better to have tried than to do nothing at all. Jesusí calls us to be his disciples in the best way we know how and he is aware that we, like his own 12 disciples, will often mess up.

We can so easily be like Jonah. We hear what God has to say to us, and we do the opposite. Jonah was called and he was disobedient. God calls us to be obedient but the sad thing is that we have too often failed to respond to the call of Jesus. Christ died for us. Jesus was obedient to his Father even though the journey led him to the cross. As he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane he too struggled with what God wanted him to do. In the end in faith and obedience he went to the cross, submitting his will to that of his Father so that when we are like Jonah we can be assured of forgiveness. It was because of Jesusí obedience to the will of the Father that we have salvation.

Yes, for all the times we ignore what God commands, for the occasions when we have selective hearing and hear what we only want to hear and so do only what we want to do, for all the times we have let down other people because we have gone our own merry way ignoring God's call - for all these occasions Jesus died to give us forgiveness.

What Australia needs now more than ever are people who have the light of Christ shining within them and are willing to let the love and mercy of God shine through them and influence our country and its people on every level. Every small act of love, no matter how insignificant it might seem to you, makes a difference to someone elseís life.

When God calls us to make a difference in our country our honest response might be,
"I donít think Iím the best person in the world to do what you are calling me to do. Others are better qualified. But at this moment I believe I am the person you are calling to share your love and make a difference."

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th January 2009

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