Do you know what many claim to be the second largest national holiday after the celebration of Independence Day on July 4th is? You would think – or perhaps even hope – that it would be Thanksgiving, right? Well, you might be right, but most people now believe that the second most popular American holiday is Super Bowl Sunday. Now you can take issue with that, I’m not going to argue the point.
However, some of you die-hard football fans may “remember the 1989 MVP of Super Bowl 23 – Jerry Rice. There is an interesting story about him. He was the longtime star for the San Francisco 49ers, considered one of the greatest receivers in the history of football. He played for the 49ers for 15 years, from 1985 to 2000. He is a famous athlete and you would think he came from some legendary college team but he didn't. He played for Mississippi Valley State University, in Itta Bena, Mississippi, a virtual unknown.
“He was once asked, ‘Why did you attend a small, obscure university like Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Mississippi?’ Rice responded, ‘Out of all the big-time schools (such as UCLA) to recruit me, MVSU was the only school to come to my house and give me a personal visit.’
“The big-time schools recruited through cards, letters, and advertisements, but only one came to meet him and showed Rice personal attention. It makes a difference in this world to meet people eye to eye and invite them to be a part.”
May I suggest to you that’s exactly what’s happening in our Gospel reading today? Jesus is calling men and women to come and follow him. And in today’s reading we learn that he is recruiting fishermen to be his disciples. I have read – I don’t know how many times – that these were plain, ordinary fishermen. Plain and ordinary. Sometimes I think those words are a bit overused, but I’ve also got to say that I think those are still good words to use to describe these first disciples of Jesus. In other words – these are just hard working, regular folks. And the point here that I want to make is that they are no different really from you and me.
So here’s Jesus. Walking down the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He sees Simon – whom Jesus would later rename Peter – and his brother Andrew casting it says, casting a fishing net into the sea. This is how they made their living. Jesus approaches them and says to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And what do they do? They drop their nets and start walking with him down the beach.
Just a short ways down the shore, they run into James and John, their father Zebedee, as well as some hired hands. And Jesus says to James and John, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And they left their nets and their father –walked away from the family business – and along with Simon and Andrew – they also followed Jesus.
Now, I am about to tell you more than I probably know. There is no evidence for what I am about to say, but I want to suggest that this is probably not the first encounter Jesus has with these four fishermen. The Scriptures don’t always tell us the whole story behind every episode we read about. But it does not make sense to me to consider that this is the first encounter Jesus has with these four men. Think about it. If someone just walked up to you and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” would you follow that person? Probably not. In fact, you might even think he was a little bit loony.
I want to believe that Simon, Andrew, James and John have most likely been among those who have been listening to – and maybe even spending time with Jesus one on one, or eating a meal together. Playing cards, I don’t know.
The thing that I want to suggest – and it is only a suggestion – but I would like to suggest that practically speaking – this is not the first encounter that Jesus has with these men. I mean, if that were me, I would like some time to think it about it. Or talk it over with someone. That’s how most of us make our decisions right? We think it over. We talk it over with a trusted friend or loved one.
So I don’t know if that’s the case here. But in any event – here’s the first thing I want you to see. No matter what might have preceded this walk down the beach – these men are ready. They are ready to leave behind their ordinary, work-a-day lives, and begin what will truly become an adventure – as they drop everything to come and follow Jesus. I’m also convinced that they have no idea what they’re getting into. But somehow they have determined for themselves that this is the right thing to do. So that’s the first thing I want you to see. That they were ready, and they knew that this was the right thing to do.
The second thing I want you to see is the approach that Jesus uses. It is up close and personal. A one on one invitation. Now that’s not to say that churches shouldn’t advertise. We have a website – as almost all churches do nowadays – to let people know where we are – who we are – and what we have to offer. We send cards and letters to our guests to thank them for worshipping with us. But cards and letters and websites can do only so much. Advertising can be expensive, and I’m not sure just how effective it is.
But the up close stuff – the personal stuff – the warm smile – the handshake – the personal touch. Will you agree with me that that is what makes a difference? Now, I just want to remind you that that’s your job. If you agree with me that the up close and personal contact makes a difference – then it is your job to be that person with the smile – with the handshake – when you see someone here that you’ve never seen before. Okay? Just reminding you.
Remember last week? I shared with you that sometimes, all it takes is to start a conversation. And I shared with you some stories from my own life where I was a part of conversations with complete strangers. Again, I don’t know if those conversations had any impact on the people I had those conversation with, but they had an impact on me. When it comes to sharing our faith, sometimes all we need to do is just start a conversation, because you never know what the results of that conversation might become.
It’s obvious to me that when Jesus calls these four fishermen to come and follow him – and because this episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples was important enough for it to be written down – that it has been written down for our benefit. We need to see in this that we are called to come and follow Jesus. By hearing this story – we should also be hearing that we are called to be disciples of Jesus.
Now the benefits of being a disciple are out of this world, right? You know that, right? The benefits of following Jesus include eternal life with God forever. This is a gift – given to us as a gift of God’s grace – in other words God’s undeserved love and favor. And because of that grace – received by faith – we have the forgiveness of our sins. And forgiveness is ours, all because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those are the benefits of being disciples of Jesus Christ. And that includes being part of a loving, supportive and affirming congregation of other believers. And that is what this church is. That is what all of you are.
But – the call to come and follow is not just about these benefits that I just mentioned – these promises of God. But it is our job – I like the word calling – it is our calling to reach others for the sake of Jesus Christ. The word the church uses to describe this work is “Evangelism.” And as your pastor – it is my great desire to see to it that everything that we do here has an evangelistic purpose. Starting with worship, and everything else – Sunday School – youth ministries – Bible studies – fellowship groups – caring ministry teams – everything we do is designed to build up the body of Christ – in other words, to build up those who are already disciples in this place – and as an evangelistic outreach to those who are curious and searching – anyone who needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.
And I believe it all starts when we are up close and personal with the good news of Jesus Christ. And like Jesus, it starts with a personal touch. We need to meet people where they are. We need to learn to speak their language. Sometimes churchy language can be confusing and a real turn off. And I know, we use churchy language. Words like grace – God’s undeserved love and favor. Words like Kyrie, and liturgy, and benediction, salvation and atonement – justification and sanctification. These are all good words, but how many of us really know what they mean? Sometimes our use of these words gets in the way of the message.
But we need to meet people where they are, and to learn to speak a language that they understand. For instance, I don’t know where I first heard this. It may have been in a marketing class when I was in grad school at Clarkson University. But many years ago, Chevrolet had a car they called the Nova. Remember the Nova? It was a successful selling car here in the United States, so GM decided to market the Nova to other countries. Now, in Latin American countries, the Nova was a flop. It didn’t sell. And that’s when the marketers at GM learned that in Spanish, the word Nova means, “No go.” The Chevy No Go.
If we are to be disciples who are fishers of people, we need to learn the art of just starting a conversation. Of being up close and personal. And speaking a language that folks will understand when we are sharing our faith. And that means taking an interest in them – understanding their jobs – their families – their hobbies – their sports interests – whatever it is. Being up close and personal means that first we listen to where they’re at – and then loving – not arguing – but loving them into the Kingdom.
Now, it isn’t necessary that you drop your nets to share your faith with others. In my case – I stopped being a computer programmer in order to enter the ordained ministry. But it isn’t necessary for you to change your career to follow Jesus. Then again, it might be – but you’re going to find that you can minister to and reach out to others right where you are.
Let me close with these words by a woman named Linda A. Jacobus, who asks, “What are some of the tips we need to remember as we fish for people?”
1. Go where the fish are. Be with people on their own turf.
2. Be real, be vulnerable, and be honest. [Don’t say things about Christianity or your faith that aren’t true. Be real, be vulnerable, be honest.]
3. Be creative. We don’t have to do things the same old way.
4. Be spiritual, but not "churchy". [I think we all have an image of just what she means about not being churchy, am I right? SO don’t be churchy.]
5. Be patient [Sometimes it may take a long time, years or even decades, but be patient with that person you want to share the Good News with.]
6. Be ready for surprises!
7. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. [I know we’re Lutherans – and we don’t like to talk about our faith – but we CAN learn to step out of our comfort zones – and share our faith with others.]
8. Be on the lookout for where God is at work. [In other words, look for opportunities. Wait for those moments when the Holy Spirit has prepared that other person’s heart and mind to listen to what it is that you want to share with them.]
9. Be praying. [This is probably the most important step. Pray. And don’t stop praying for the people you are sharing the Good News with.]
It’s all about being up close and personal. Like Jesus, it starts with a personal touch. We need to meet people where they are. We need to learn to speak their language. And if not us, who? If not now, when?