Sermon for January 25, 2015

Sermon for Third Sunday after the Epiphany

January 25, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Mark 1:14-20

Sermon Theme:  “What’s the Best Way to Fish?”

(Sources:  Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle B: original ideas; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Wikipedia Online.)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

There’s a Peanuts comic strip in which Linus is listening carefully as his sister, Lucy, boasts about her religious faith and her potential as an evangelist.  She says to Linus, “I could be a terrific evangelist.  Do you know that kid who sits behind me in school?  I convinced him that my faith is better than his faith.”

Linus asks, “How did you do that?”

Lucy replies, “I hit him with my lunch box.”

Not exactly what Jesus means by “fishing for men” in today’s sermon text.

In Jewish culture, whenever students attached themselves to a particular rabbi, that is, teacher, they would study the Law of God.  Now Jesus, the rabbi in our text, is a different sort of rabbi, in that He is the fulfillment of the Law, and, having been sent by the Father for a purpose, He needed to proclaim far and wide, that fulfillment.  Thus He actively went out seeking and choosing the men who would help Him in this task.

Jesus proclaims in the text, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  The Greek language has two concepts of “time”:  one is “chronos,” that is, time as duration; and the other is “kairos”

, time pregnant with meaning, that is time filled with meaning, purpose and opportunity.  The time Jesus is speaking of implies both concepts.

A survey was taken of Americans over 90 years of age.  They were asked, “If you had your life to live over again, what would you do differently?”  Their answers were, “I would reflect more, I would risk more, and I would invest in more things that would outlive me.”  Peter, Andrew, James, and John all invested in a cause that would outlive them on this earth, and found it was eternally worth it.

Jesus is specifically calling Peter, Andrew, James and John to evangelism, first for them to repent and believe, and second, for them to proclaim repentance and faith to others.  The men are all fishermen, so He says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  The text says they left their nets immediately and followed Him.

By the way, this was not irresponsible, as each family had a fleet of boats and hired hands to help, so the family business continued to operate after they left.

Norman Maclean, a Presbyterian pastor, wrote a best-selling book, entitled A River Runs Through It.  The book began with Norman, an avid, devoted fisherman, saying, “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”  When his son Paul hooked and caught the biggest fish they had ever seen, Rev. Maclean complimented his son.

His son replied, “I’m pretty good with a rod, but I need three more years before I can think like a fish.”

How do you effectively fish for fish?  You must be able to think like a fish!

How do you effectively fish for people?  You must be able to think like sinful people.  That shouldn’t be too hard for any of us, should it?

Evangelism is not a popular subject.  It frightens the bait bucket out of most people’s hands.  It conjures up all kinds of visions of on-the-fringe religious fanatics knocking on your door and trying to brow beat you into believing their beliefs are right and yours wrong.  They don’t literally hit you with their lunch box as Lucy did, but psychologically they do.

I really like what Rev. Dr. Robert Munger said about evangelism.  He said, “It is more effective to spend time talking to Christ about a person than talking to a person about Christ, because if you are talking to Christ about a person seriously, earnestly, trustingly, in the course of time you cannot help talking to the person effectively about Christ.”

The missing element in most Christian workers’ evangelism efforts is prayer, just as it was a missing element in everything the Israelites did during the time of the prophet/priest Samuel.  For years, the people of Israel neglected the Word of God and shunned prayer.  Samuel told them that doing anything without consulting God would result in failure.  Again and again, the Prophet was proved right.

There are certainly wrong ways to do evangelism.  But is there a right way?  To me, the most effective way is what I call “The Lutheran Way.”  It is an opposite way from the methods of those door-knocking fringe groups.  What I consider the “Lutheran Way” is the method of Jesus.  Our way to evangelize is dignified, gentle, and effective.  It’s similar to the Alpha Course imported from England, whereby you meet with people informally, whether in the Glory Bean Coffee Shop or with your neighbor in your breakfast room, with hot chocolate, making them feel at home and only gradually moving to simple theological questions like, “Who is Jesus?  Why did He die?  How can I be sure? Why read the Bible?”  You gradually move on to more difficult questions, like, “Who is the Holy Spirit?  What does He do?”

Such a method is nonthreatening.  It is gentle.  It is tasteful.  It’s doing relationships between people which lead people into a deeper relationship with the Lord.  It’s a sound way to fish for people.

One pastor recently was engaging in evangelism by teaching a Bible class at a local nursing home.  He said that they would sing hymns, pray and study the Bible.  Some weeks the room was crowded; other weeks only a very small handful would attend; some weeks one of the regulars would pass away.  Many fell asleep on the pastor despite his best efforts to be lively and interesting.  Some didn’t seem to grasp what he was saying.

Even though he frequently wondered why he was there, he kept going back.  And back, believing that God had called him for a purpose.

You know, that really sounds like evangelism I have done with young and alert people.  In fact, it sounds like some of my past Confirmation classes, or Bible classes.  Such responses can be really discouraging in our evangelism.  But never despair, God ultimately is always in charge, and the seeds you plant today may remain dormant for years and years before they grow and bloom.

And, yes, evangelism must be done in the church as well as outside the church.

Jesus makes a very important point about evangelism in the text, when He goes into Galilee and commands, “Repent and believe in the gospel.”  Now we’re not Jesus, so we can’t command, but we can share what Jesus expects of us.  Just because our evangelism method is dignified, gentle, caring, and uplifting, it is not “soft” on sin.

Jim Wallis, in his book, Agenda for Biblical People, says, “The great tragedy of modern evangelism is in calling many to belief (that is, to faith) but few to obedience,” which begins with repentance.  Jesus never called anyone to a doctrine, rather, to a duty.  Not to a belief but to a behavior.  The Holy Spirit brings faith into a person’s heart so that he can obey.

No matter which style of evangelism you use, ultimately the unbeliever, the unchurched who may or may not believe, must hear Jesus’ message in the text:  “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Lack of repentance is a roadblock to faith.  Turning from sin because we hate the consequences of sin does not produce the same results as does turning from sin because we love the Lord and hate sin for His sake.  Martin Luther referred to “fear of the consequences of sin” as “gallows’ repentance.”

There are three ways of thinking about repentance:  one, faith comes first, then repentance; two, repentance comes first, then faith; and three, repentance and faith occur simultaneously.  When Jesus says, “Repent and believe,” I think He means simultaneously.  If you have to repent in order to have faith, then salvation is not by grace through faith alone, is it?

Why do people fish for fish?  Well, the Disciples fished to make a living.  Some people fish only for food for themselves.  Some, like the Presbyterian preacher and his sons, fished because they greatly loved the sport.  Some, like my youngest daughter, do not like fishing because of their perceived cruelty of pulling fish from a beautiful life in the water to death and destruction.

But fishing for people rather than fishing for fish is a wonderful, uplifting thing!  It is actually very different from fishing for fish in that you are bringing people from darkness into light, from ugliness into the beauty of God’s Kingdom, from the despair of death and destruction, to the joy of everlasting life!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.