Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
People who travel to Wittenberg, Germany, the birthplace of the Reformation, often are seen quizzically scratching their heads wondering how Martin Luther managed to nail his 95 theses to the solid-bronze door of the 500 year old Castle Church. It doesn’t take very long for them to discover that the bronze doors are a relatively new addition. The original wooden doors were lost during the great fire that consumed the building in 1760 during the Seven Years War. A hundred years later, the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV had the doors replaced with the present bronze doors upon which are inscribed the words of Luther’s 95 theses. While many Christians are familiar with the history surrounding Luther’s 95 theses, most are unaware of their contents- including a good number of Lutherans. We imagine that the 95 Theses outlined the excesses and wrongs of the church of the Middle Ages, which indeed it does, but as surprising as the bronze doors are to the average tourist, people are equally surprised to discover that the major theme of Luther’s 95 Theses is that of repentance. In fact the first thesis reads; “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Unfortunately, many people today, have no idea what it means to repent. Even theologians debate the real meaning of repentance. Some view repentance negatively, simply as a religious act of penitence and contrition before an angry God of judgment. Others teach that repentance is the confession of sin that prepares the soul to receive God. Interestingly, in the Old Testament we read that even God repents. And others teach that repentance is simply to “turn away from oneself” and to “turn to the lord.” But this morning, I would like to suggest yet another meaning to the word repentance. For I believe that repentance is a positive, joyful act. I believe that to repent is to open yourself to the possibilities and imagination of God, and to repent is to open yourself to the kingdom of God.
One Sunday morning, a little girl returned home from Church with her parents, and she was very disappointed. Staring into her concerned mother’s loving face, she sighed. “Today in Sunday School, we were taught to go forth unto the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations,” she said. “But we just sat.” The poor girl obviously hadn’t learned the religious discipline of sitting- sitting through prayers, sitting through service and sitting through meetings. The little girl was longing for something more. She was longing for God’s imagination and his kingdom of possibilities to fill her life. Perhaps that is what you are longing for as well.
When Jesus first appeared preaching on the Sea of Galilee he invited men and women to turn their minds and passions away from the world, and from themselves, and to use their strength and energy in new ways for the service of God’s kingdom. That word of repentance and new possibilities and adventure captured the imagination of fisherman and farmers alike.
After all, Simon, Andrew, James and John, were simple folk. They had neither scholastic degrees nor university training. They were neither learned nor wealthy. They were mere ordinary fishermen. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus, who once served as the governor of Galilee, recorded that there were hundreds of common fishermen just like them along the Sea of Galilee. Three hundred and thirty fishing boats sailed the waters of the see. But somehow Jesus’ message of repentance, and of new possibilities reached the four fishermen. Jesus preached about the kingdom and the invitation to repent all along the Sea of Galilee, and the word spread from village to village. So when Jesus came to them personally and invited them to get up off their hands and to “Follow me,” the four fishermen were ready.
Now you may be wondering why would Jesus, a carpenter from Nazareth choose a group of fishermen, to be his disciples? It was after all a daunting challenge- changing fisherman into shepherds. That truly does take an imagination. And yet Jesus was prepared to change these ordinary fishermen into fishers of men, and he is prepared my friends to change you as well, but how?
First of all, Jesus invites you to examine your own gifts and skills. It’s not surprising that Jesus would call his first disciples to be fishers of men. Jesus was calling fishermen. He knew the passions of their hearts, and their skills. They knew danger and adventure. His mission was simply to “repent” and to redirect their focus from fish to men. There may not have been many transferable skills, in changing fishermen into shepherds, but Jesus recognized that there were certainly transferable qualities. The fishermen possessed three traits which would serve God’s kingdom well…patience, persistence and preparedness.
Simon, Andrew, James and John were bountiful in patience. It was the mark of a good fishermen. Day after day these men went to the sea. Day after day they launched their boats and cast their nets. And many a day, they returned empty. They knew that schools of fish swam deep in the waters of the Galilee, but they also knew that it was necessary to remain patient. A fisherman cannot track or trail a fish, but he must wait patiently for it to draw near and come to him. The same quality of patience is true for the Christian disciple. You cannot pursue a friend or relative who has not heard the good news. You cannot trail a non-believer until they flee. But you must patiently wait until the sweetness of the gospel has turned them to you. You must wait patiently until they are ready to hear and embrace the word of Christ in you. A Christian disciple like a fisherman must be patient.
Simon, Andrew, James and John were driven with persistence. A fisherman could not rest from his labors. Day after day, he returned to the sea. He marked a new course. He noted the rising of the sun and moon. He studied the movement of the wind and waves. No day, was ever quite the same- for when the hour was near and the fish were swimming, the fisherman needed to be there. The same quality of persistence is true of the Christian disciple. You must always be persistently thinking and dreaming of new ways “to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.” You must be persistently striving to find a new believer, and a way to restore a fallen soul. I once knew an old pastor who said, “My favorite moment of the week is drying the Sunday dishes and putting them back on the shelf.” It didn’t matter that they would be dirtied again the following day. But for one brief moment the persistent pastor’s work was done. A Christian disciple like a fisherman must be persistent.
Third, Simon, Andrew, James and John were always prepared and preparing for the next catch. A fisherman needed to be prepared for the following day. He mended his nets before he set out. He tarred the bottom of the boat before it was launched into the sea. He readied provisions before the day began. The same quality of preparedness is true for the Christian disciple. You cannot meet the aggressors of the Christian faith until you have prepared for the battle yourself. You cannot provide the answers of scriptures, until you have read the words yourself. You cannot speak of the power of prayer, until you have embraced its strength yourself. A shepherd like a fisherman must be prepared.
My friends, what are the gifts and talents that God has given you? What are the qualities that he has empowered you to use here and now? Jesus invited Andrew, Simon, James and John, to a specific task. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” God, you see, doesn’t call us all to be fishers of men, but he does call us all to be faithful disciples in our own vocations and settings. So what is God calling you to do? God calls you to the vocation where you can best use the gifts that he has given. God calls you to be the faithful mothers and fathers to your children. God calls you to fulfill your Christian vocation in the office, in the school and in the workplace. Jesus calls you and me to be his disciples, his fishermen, his teachers, his workers, wherever we may serve him. God will not ask you to do more than you can or are able, but you may be assured that in the process of doing his work, you will be changed.
If repentance and an openness to God’s imagination is the first step of discipleship and the second step is reflecting on your gifts, the third step is the real challenge- getting up off your hands and following him. The famed English professor and writer C. S. Lewis describes the challenge of the third step of discipleship in a unique way. He wrote that it is like an unborn chick inside the egg. The chick is comfortable and unchallenged. The egg contains some nutrients for its sustenance, but they will soon be depleted. The chick must choose – stay in the egg and die or adventure out and live. The shell must be cracked from the inside and in so doing, it enters an entirely new world. This world, though new to the chick, is the world for which it is made. The choice to live or die is up to the chick. To live and follow as a disciple is up to you.
My friends, people often look to Martin Luther’s bronze doors in Wittenberg, without meditating on the true message. “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” If you want to get up from sitting on your hands and experience the joy, adventure and wonder of the Christian faith; then you must repent and allow your vision to filled by God’s imagination; examine your gifts and talents, and then follow Jesus faithfully in the calling he has given you. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.