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Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
You may have missed it with the incoming snow reports on Friday, but January 17th, is informally known as Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day. It is the day when many people acknowledge that their New Year’s Resolutions were unreasonable and unrealistic, and so they liberate themselves and ditch their first mistakes of the New Year- their new year’s resolutions. Of course, others never bother to commit themselves to life giving change, whatsoever, “A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.”
Some Christians resolve each New Year to be more like Jesus, though they are not quite sure what that really looks like. After all Jesus tells us to love your enemies, and also to love your neighbors, probably because they are generally the same people. He spent time with tax collectors and sinners, and so we wonder should be “Be like Jesus and Spend enough time with sinners to ruin our reputation with religious people.” We often speak of Jesus’s great wonders, but we question why nobody every talks about Jesus miracle of having 12 close friends in his 30’s. Yes, many people are resolved to be more like Jesus, whatever that means.
There’s a quote that’s often misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi that perhaps sums up the sentiment most eloquently: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” The quote actually comes from a Hindu Indian philosopher called Bara Dada, but nevertheless, the message that is this, as Christians, we often fail to live with the resolve of reflecting Jesus’ light to the world around us.
My friends, if you really want change in your life, and if you are to live a new life, a life filled with God’s goodness, you can be assured that he can be bring about change any time of the year. But I will warn you, it takes work and discipline to experience real change.
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 change, new possibilities and adventure captured the imagination of the fisherman in Capernaum.
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 sea. 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 speaking to fishermen. He knew the passions of their hearts, and their skills. They knew danger and adventure. His mission was simply to “change” 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 fisherman. 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.
We have an advantage over the first disciples. They saw Jesus only as a man. He was a humble teacher, full of kindness and grace. He captivated the crowds with his authoritative teaching and healed the tormented and diseased with a touch of his hand. With his boundless and irresistible love, he drew near those who had been cast outside of society and religion. Yes, that is what they saw. We don’t know if the first disciples thought Jesus’ invitation was for a week or a month. Certainly not for life. . But on that day, the four fishermen were resolved to follow Jesus, to be changed and to become a part of a new community.
My friends, you and I have an advantage over the disciples. We know that Jesus changes everything. Through his life and teaching, we have seen the heart and character of God. Through Jesus death on the cross, we know that our relationship with God is restored and that he is sending us forth into the world to be his light. Through Jesus’ resurrection, we have hope beyond every grave. Through his empowering Spirit, we are invited to participate in his ongoing work of redeeming the world. Jesus invited those first disciples to “follow him” by doing what he did, and loving like he loved. That is what Christians are resolved to do.
If change 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- being resolved, and disciplined to get up on your feet and follow 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.
But what a challenge it will be. Jesus did not begin his ministry stating that all is well and that the journey will be easy. He came announcing that the Kingdom of heaven is near. So repent, turn your lives around. Be changed. Did Jesus spend time with sinners? Yes, he did, and he invited them change. Jesus spent time with sinners in order that he might liberate them. That he might transform them and lead them into a new life. That was the work he was calling his disciples to do. And it is the same task he is inviting you to be a part of today as well
My friends, Jesus is calling you to follow him, and to experience a new life. You do not need to wait for another New Year’s Day. If you really want change in your life, if it is a resolution for a new life, a life filled with God’s goodness, you can be assured that God can and will bring change any time of the year. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.