Mark 1:29-39; I Corinthians 9:16-23
Two weeks ago in the Gospel reading we heard Jesus invite four men to come and follow him. These four men, Peter, Andrew, James and John, were fishermen. Jesus comes to them where they are, and finds them at their work on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and calls to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” You remember that, right?
And furthermore, what we talked about two weeks ago was this. If you want to catch fish, you need to go to where the fish are. You don’t wait for the fish to come to you. You’ve got to go to where the fish are. And what we learn from that is this. We modern day disciples – followers of Jesus Christ – we too are fishers of people. In other words – if you want to tell someone about Jesus Christ – if you want to share the Good News of Jesus Christ – or if you simply want to invite them to come to church with you – you can’t wait for people to come to you. Now, granted, sometimes you’re going to find that that is going to happen. Sometimes people are going to come to you. But for the most part – if you want to fish for people – you’ve got to go to where the people are.
Today, I want to add a little twist to what it means to go fishing for people. You’re going to find this added twist in our second reading today from I Corinthians. The writer of this letter is a man by the name of Paul – quite possibly the most influential Christian who ever lived. Many of the letters he wrote in the early years of the church have been saved. And these letters were regarded to be important enough to have made their way into our Bible in what we call the New Testament. So listen to this twist that Paul adds.
“Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel! (in other words the Good News. That’s what the word Gospel means) …I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”
I have become all things to all people. So Paul lets us know that not only does he go fishing where the fish are – but when he is among them he does everything he can – whatever it takes – to relate to people in a language – in a way – in a style of communicating that they will understand. He becomes all things to all people. He does whatever it takes.
Now I’ll say more about that might mean for us in a few minutes. But first let’s tie our reading from Mark’s Gospel into this. Jesus has had a busy day healing lots and lots of people, starting with Peter’s mother-in-law who had been sick with a fever.
If you remember from last week, Jesus had healed a man possessed by an unclean spirit. As a result, word of what he did spread like wild fire, so that by the time evening rolled around there were people – the reading says, “the whole city was gathered around the door.” So, quite a crowd. Lots of people.
The following morning he gets up early to get away by himself to pray. And when the disciples go looking for him, and they find him alone at prayer, they say, “Hey, there you are. Everyone’s looking for you!”
And Jesus says, “Yeah, I know. I just needed a little time first to be alone in prayer with the Father. So let’s get going. We’ve got other towns and other villages to get to so that I can tell them the Good News message of the Father’s love for them too. After all, that’s what I came to do.”
I think that is so neat, that Peter and the others go looking for Jesus in order to tell him, “Hey man! Everyone’s looking for you.”
I would like to suggest that everyone is looking for something. Everyone is looking for something – something to satisfy their life. They’re looking for meaning and purpose. What I would tell anybody in this room today who is search for that thing that brings you meaning and purpose – that thing that is missing that brings you satisfaction – I want to suggest today that perhaps what you are looking for – whether you know it or not – what you are looking for can be found in Jesus Christ.
And that’s what we’re all about here at Zion Lutheran Church. We’re here to proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ – to make disciples of Jesus Christ – and to teach people how to fish –the way Jesus talks about fishing.
There is a whole world of people in our own neighborhoods who would fit into a category that we in the church call the unchurched. These are folks who perhaps have never been to church – or have been to church for weddings and funerals only – or who were once part of a church and want nothing more to do with church. These are those that I told you a few weeks ago who can be called the “Nones” – those who put down “none” when asked their church affiliation – or the “Dones” – those who have tried church but are now done with church.
Well, there is in my collection of books this book written by a man named George Hunter. The name of the book is Church for the Unchurched. It’s kind of old already; written in 1996. But in it he tells about a young man in his late twenties named Bill who experienced a deeper gift of faith and began serving as a counselor in the youth ministry of his church. He also launched efforts to revitalize the Men’s Fellowship of the church by reaching out to young men in the community. But listen to what he ran into.
Bill discovered that a lot of young men in his community like to gather in the fall to watch Monday Night Football on television, but the only places providing that setting were bars. Bill wondered if the Men’s Group could bring a large screen television into the church’s fellowship hall on Monday nights and host unchurched men. He asked an acquaintance with long hair, a left earring, and a motorcycle if guys would be interested in watching Monday night football at their church. The fellow replied, “I would like to, and I could bring other guys.” When Bill proposed this Monday night agenda to the Men’s Group president, he heard the reply: “Sure, we could meet on Monday nights, but we like dominos more than football; invite them to come and play our game.”
Can you imagine? Well, even with that, Bill’s friend with the long hair and the earring in his ear – visited the Men’s Fellowship. He liked the men – most of whom were older – and was attracted by what he understood of Christianity’s message. But he felt uncomfortable, and said to Bill, “Look, with my long hair and earring, I’m out of place here. Christianity is not for people like me. After tonight, I’m out of here.”
Bill found himself saying, “If I get my ear pierced, will you come back?” His friend was moved, and said, “If you care enough about me to do that, sure, I will come back, and I will bring my friends.”
When I read that the first time, I couldn’t help thinking, how much like Paul Bill was to his friend. “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” As I say, the book is 19 years old, and who knows how old that story is. Today we probably wouldn’t look twice at a man with long hair or an earring. But I remember 18, 19 years ago when I first read the book I was so impressed by that story, I remember saying to my beloved wife Nancy, “Hey Nance! What would you think if I got my ear pierced?” And I got one of those looks. You know what kind I mean? And she asked, “Are you serious?” And I said, “Well, yeah. I think so. Sort of.” And she said, “You’re weird.”
Today I see a lot of young folks – and okay – some of you not so young folks wearing tats. By the way just so ALL of you know what I’m talking about, tat is short for tattoo. Body art. SO recalling my conversation with my beloved wife Nancy of nearly 20 years ago, I asked her this week, “Hey Nance. What would you think if I got a tat?” And she said, “Why? Are you serious? Are you going through a mid-life crisis? A late mid-life crisis?”
Okay, so maybe I’m not so serious about a tat – at least not yet anyway. And I am not going through a mid-life crisis. But if piercing my ear or getting a tat would make somebody else feel welcome here – you know – why not?
Listen! A motivational speaker once said there are two kinds of people in this world: those who say “whatever” and those who say, “whatever it takes.” “Whatever” has a kind of a “who cares?” attitude about it. Really kind of a lousy attitude if you ask me.
“Whatever it takes” on the other hand, is the response of those who are committed to something. Whatever it takes says, “Let’s get this done.”
So think about those two responses when it comes to the Church’s mission. And I would like to go on record to say that we, as the church have a job to do, and that that job can be boiled down to doing two things. Number one – evangelism; in other words fishing for people. And number two, making disciples. That’s why everything that we do here at Zion has – or at least it ought to have – one or both of those two guiding principles behind it.
So when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor.” Whatever! Or whatever it takes?
When Jesus says “Go and make disciples of all people.” Whatever! Or whatever it takes?
When Jesus says, “There is more rejoicing over one sinner who is found than 99 who need no repentance.” Whatever! Or whatever it takes?
Now, let me be clear, when I was talking about earrings, long hair, and tattoos, I wasn’t suggesting that I or any of you men or any of you women start getting tats. Well, unless you want to. And although Nancy has other thoughts about it for me, I want you to know men – if you want to get a tat or wear an earring – ladies if you want to get a tat – AND men or women you’re over 18 – don’t want to get into trouble with any of you parents here – but if that’s what you want to do – I’m way cool with that. And who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll surprise Nancy. I’ll surprise you! I’d surprise me! You never know.
But you do know by now what I’m really saying. I am asking whether you and I are willing to do whatever it takes – whatever it takes to win people to Jesus Christ and his Church. People are looking for purpose and meaning in their lives. We have the Good News of Jesus Christ to give them. Therefore, whether they know it or not – I think what people are looking for can be found in Jesus Christ.
So – will people see Jesus in you? In me? Paul says, “I became all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” Paul understood that in order to minister to people in Christ’s name, we must meet them where they are, not where we are.
So let me ask you one more time. Whatever? Or whatever it takes? Amen