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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Leaving Our Nets (Luke 5.1-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; February 14, 2016
Text: Luke 5:1-11

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Song of Praise: Jesus, All for Jesus (Robin Mark)
Song of Praise: My Soul Finds Rest (Ps. 62) (Keyes, Townend)
The Word in Music: The Things We Leave Behind (Roley, Card, Medeira)
Offering of Music: Hope of the World (Lloyd Larson)
Our Song of Praise: The Doxology
Hymn of Sending: All the Way My Savior Leads Me (ALL THE WAY)
Postlude: Jesus Shall Reign (Royallen Wiley, organ)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today we are taking a turn as we begin preparing for Easter. Over the next several weeks I want to follow the theme, “The Things We Leave Behind,” and talk about what it means to listen to Jesus, to trust Jesus, to follow Jesus. At our Ash Wednesday service last week we talked about repentance, what it is to turn from one way, one perspective, one direction, and turn around to trust God.

Often more is involved than just changing direction. I am reminded of the man Jesus healed by the Pool of Bethsaida. Jesus changed his life in an instant, but also instructed him to pick up his mat and walk, to leave that place that had been his home and way of life for so long. Even healed, it would have been easy to stick with what he knew and keep coming to the pool to beg. In the same way, trusting Jesus isn’t just a set of beliefs or a ticket to Heaven. It transforms everything. And that’s what I want to look at with you as we approach Easter over the next six weeks.

Today and next week we will begin with the stories of the first followers of Jesus. We will look at how they responded to Jesus and what they left behind. Today, I want to tell you their story, share a modern day story, and then look some at the details behind the dramatic response.

I’d like to begin with Peter and Matthew’s story, told in a song that I heard sung back when I was 22 years old and trying to figure out what to do with my life. I have sung it many times since, most often with the Confirmation students when we go on our weekend retreat. And its title helped inspire this series.

Two Stories: Peter and Matthew (song)

"The Things We Leave Behind”
Roley, Card, Medeira

There sits Simon so foolishly wise; proudly he’s tending his nets
Then Jesus calls and the boats drift away and all that he owns he forgets
But more than the nets he abandoned that day;
He found that his pride was soon drifting away
And it’s hard to imagine the freedom we find from the things we leave behind

Matthew was mindful of taking the tax and pressing the people to pay
But hearing the call he responded in faith and followed the Light and the Way
And leaving the people so puzzled he found
The greed in his heart was no longer around
And it’s hard to imagine the freedom we find from the things we leave behind

Every heart needs to be set free from possessions that hold it so tight
‘Cause freedom’s not found in the things that we own;
It’s the power to do what is right
With Jesus, our only possession, then giving becomes our delight
And we can’t imagine the freedom we find... from the things we leave behind

We show a love for the world in our lives by worshiping goods we possess
When Jesus says, “Lay all your treasures aside and love God above all the rest”
‘Cause when we say no to the things of the world
We open our hearts to the love of the Lord
And it’s hard to imagine the freedom we find from the things we leave behind.

A Modern Follower: Bob

After college I worked for a man named Bob Farnsworth, who had dramatically heard and followed Jesus’ invitation to “come and follow me.”  He, too, had grown up in my home church and participated in youth group, youth choir, and similar experiences, though he was twenty years older than I.  He had gone to college with a strong academic record in English and literature and was a talented musician.  He also came to recognize as a teenager the authority of Jesus Christ in his life and he obeyed God’s call to “follow Jesus.”  He also wrestled with the thought, “Should I go into ministry?”  But Bob realized that God had given him unique skills and experience and he went from college to start a business writing music jingles for radio and television.  Is that a profession in which one can follow Jesus?  It is – Bob demonstrated that to me in the two years I worked for him.  And if you can honor God in the business of advertising and jingle writing, I believe you can honor and follow God no matter what you do – as long as you strive to obey Him and bring credit to His name.

I was Bob’s technical and personal assistant, so I witnessed firsthand how he ran his business.  He ran the company on Christian principles; he opened every employee gathering with prayer; he prayed for and with clients; he witnessed to clients; he refused to do cigarette and liquor jingles and gave thoughtful reasons when approached about doing so.  He prayed with me daily and discipled me in the faith.  In many ways, my time with him was as much preparation for my own ministry as the seminary education which followed my time in Nashville.

Could such a business succeed and be profitable?  I’d give two answers to that.  The first is, it didn’t matter to Bob.  His early years were tough and lean and he continued to honor God all the same.  And by the time I worked for him, his company was very successful, and he continued to honor God all the same. As in all of life, following God is about faithfulness. There may be successes and there may be hardship.  It’s the being faithful that is the challenge, and God’s pleasure the reward.

Key Qualities of Encountering and Following Jesus

Rather than focus on the outcomes of these encounters with Jesus, let me look with you at several key qualities of encountering and following Jesus. I think this is where you may find common ground with the disciples or modern followers of Jesus and discern what being a disciple looks like for your specific context.

Acknowledging and Listening

The song I sang spoke of Peter’s “pride.” In doing so, I think it puts its finger on one important piece of this story. Peter knew fishing; he had been fishing all of his life. And he was done for the day – and it had been a bad one. Despite the frustration of a bad day, he was willing to let Jesus use his boat to teach the crowd. He acknowledged Jesus as a teacher and helped him, even though it was out of his way.

After Jesus taught the crowd – and we might surmise that Peter heard something that he connected with – Jesus told him to fish again. And Jesus told him where and how to do so. It would have been easy to think, “Teaching the crowd is your thing and fishing is mine; mind your own business.” And you can hear the frustration in v. 5, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing….” But he LISTENED, “…but I will do as you say…,” even in the midst of that frustration and knowing how to do the very thing Jesus was asking him to do. The first part of his encounter with Jesus that led to following Jesus was acknowledging Jesus’ authority and listening to him, both his teaching and his specific instruction. It involved an openness and humility. Without those, things would have looked very different.

Before following Jesus, we must give Jesus our attention and listen to what he has to say.

Power and Presence

We read in v. 6 that following Jesus’ instructions resulted in “a great quantity of fish,” so much so that “their nets began to break,” even beginning to sink their boat and that of friends, James and John, he called over to help. It is interesting and instructive to see Peter’s reaction in the next verse. Clearly this catch of fish was beyond ‘good’ or even ‘great’ – it was a little scary… like awe-FULL power of God scary. That’s what I see in v. 8. Without it, we have amazement in v. 9 (which is understandable); but something about it caused Peter to fall to the ground and confess his sinfulness and Jesus to respond, “Do not fear.” This was a miracle: it was clearly beyond earthly explanation. It caused Peter to recognize the POWER and PRESENCE of God with them and led to all four of them (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) leaving everything to follow him in v. 11.

To follow Jesus, we must ask if we are following the one who is God-in-the-flesh and God-among-us or some lesser notion that may be substituting in his place.

Humility, Amazement, and Worship

To go back over that last part one more time, also note the response of Peter TO the power and presence of God. He did fall to the ground in confession of his own sinfulness. He and the others were AMAZED. In so many words, Peter and the others responded to Jesus in WORSHIP, with humility, amazement, yielding of self, and response to serve.

True worship leads to true discipleship. One key question for all of us is, “What is going on when you worship?” That’s why we put so much thought into how we worship. Take time sometime to read through our approach to worship; it’s on the back of every bulletin and informs the order of worship every week. We orient every part of the service around God’s Word, inviting the Holy Spirit to lead us and teach us and bind us as the community of Christ. We believe that true worship leads to true discipleship.

Call and Response

Jesus had their attention. He spoke words of a ‘call’ over them: “From now on you will be catching men.” (v. 10) Despite all that had happened, they still had a choice. They could stay where they were, even having experienced all that, or they could follow Jesus. And we read, “When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” (v. 11)

What Are “Our Nets?”

Here’s where I think we run a great risk of mis-applying this text. Is it saying that to truly follow Jesus that you or I must give up family and profession, drop everything, and run after Jesus? And what would that look like today anyway, since Jesus is not here calling a band of followers to walk around the countryside with him? Let me note some guidelines and boundaries to that question, then I’ll suggest how we might answer it for today.

First, Jesus was looking for some followers to serve in a specific role. He seemed to be looking specifically for twelve, probably to reflect the twelve tribes of Israel. After Judas betrayed him, the remaining eleven cast lots to replace him, choosing from two candidates to bring the number back up to twelve. All that is to say that Jesus didn’t ask every person he met to drop what they were doing and follow him in the exact way that Peter and the other fishermen did.

Second, in the coming weeks we will look at encounters Jesus had with people who did believe and trust him, but who remained “in place” as followers of Jesus. Really, only this week and next deal with the call of two of the disciples; after that we’ll see Jesus interacting with many others. So, without discounting that God might call some of our young people into ministry or missions, my hope is that EACH of you will hear the common themes of listening, encountering, responding, and following in your own situation and circumstance.

And that leads me, finally, to ask: “What represents your nets?”

Think beyond profession to what it is that may represent old patterns and behaviors, things holding you back or holding you down, limitations on listening to God or serving Him in your life. Think for a moment…

And let me throw this twist into the application: What if the nets aren’t the focus, but the catching is? 

Peter was a “catcher” – he was trained to do it with nets. When Jesus met him, those nets were failing him and he wasn’t catching. By yielding his pride and listening to Jesus, those same failing nets were used to bring in the catch of a lifetime. But then, Jesus challenged him by saying, “You will catch even more than this.” I am reminded of the movie that ends with the line, “Roads? Where we’re going we won’t need roads!” It is as if Jesus is saying, “Peter, where we are going – for the catching you will do – you won’t need those nets.”

My point is that we need not fear these texts as if Jesus is going to ask us to give up something near and dear. Following Jesus does involve sacrifice, but it is also a calling to be more fully who God made you to be. If you are good with people, God will use that for His glory. If you are analytical, God will use that for His glory. And it doesn’t have to mean leaving one’s job: consider my friend Bob or the Roman centurion we will look at in a few weeks.

Here’s the question: What does it mean for you to follow Jesus?  

 We’ll keep asking and trying to understand that question in the weeks to come.

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