Sunday, January 22, 2017

22 January 2017

Luke 5:1-11
3rd Sunday in Epiphany season
22 January 2017

When we left Jesus last week – he was walking away from the crowd in his hometown.  A crowd that, a few minutes earlier, had been hanging on his every word.
The words he had shared with them, as he read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, were these:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Ah, but that favor was to play out differently for the people of Jesus’ hometown, than they had thought.  Instead of acting like the conquering hero, full of swagger and bluster, Jesus simply said, nope.  Nope.  Not here, not today.  You aren’t the poor, the captive, the blind and oppressed to whom God has sent me.
Their reaction was to run Jesus out of town; actually, to try to get rid of him altogether.  But Jesus, calmly, quietly, passed through that crowd, and went on his way.
On his way … to where, this week, we meet him, teaching by the lake of Gennesaret, otherwise known as the Sea of Galilee. 
Once again, Jesus is simply living out, showing us, the world, then and now, what being the Son of God is all about.  In good Family Systems Theory terminology – Jesus is leading by being The Non-Anxious Presence. 
He keeps running into crowds – and that word, “crowd,” it’s the flashing Biblical red light for anxiety.  Jesus is living in a highly anxious time – an oppressive empire, a nation-state being manipulated by others from afar, religious establishment working in lock-step with that oppression – and meanwhile, the people – the people, suffering, under this burden – it’s a perfect storm of anxiety.
No wonder things played out as they did in the text last week.  Anxious times result in anxious people who react.
But Jesus is a different kind of leader.
Note how he begins his encounters with the people.
With observation.
Jesus watches – he observes – and then, calmly, moves forward.
Here, that moving forward has Jesus teaching from a boat, out on the water – the calmly arrived at answer for Jesus – what do I do so that these crowds can hear me?  - is to put on the water, and use the water’s reflective ability to make his voice carry further, so that they could hear him.
And then – he starts to call others to closely, particularly follow him – as the model of that time, a rabbi, a teacher, would gather young men, his students, to him, to learn, to practice, and eventually, to carry out his ministry.
The model Jesus uses – and we’ll see this throughout the Gospel of Luke, as we continue through it together in Sunday worship this spring – the model Jesus uses to teach, and bring along those who would follow him – it goes like this:

I do – you watch
I do – you help
You do – I help
You do – I watch

Again, it’s a non-anxious model especially well suited to raise up leaders in anxious times.
For, of course, what does the world – the world of Jesus’ time, the world of our time – say, about how one should bring followers along?
We don’t have to look very far to see how it works.  We know the routine by heart … how “the game” is played.
If you want a following, if you want to be successful, a leader in your chosen field, what do you need?
          And popularity.

Look successful.  Tell people what they want to hear … about themselves, and about you.
And you’ll have them in the palm of your hand.
It’s so clear, so easy, so straightforward to understand.
And so totally the opposite of the way Jesus does things.
The German teacher, pastor, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote well about Jesus’ way of doing things, in calling people to follow him. 
In these words, from a radio address he gave in 1933, doesn’t it sound like Bonhoeffer is speaking about that incident we just read last week, of Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth?

If the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a mis-leader, then the leader is acting improperly toward the led as well as toward himself. The true leader must always be able to disappoint. This, especially, is part of the leader’s responsibility and objectivity. 

Again, true leadership – leadership as Jesus models it – is non-anxious. Pro-active, not reactive.
And what of following such a One? 
A friend of mine, a pastor in the Twin Cities, told me that she was thinking about this Gospel text for today … and of titling her sermon on this reading, this Sunday, “How Jesus Wrecks Our Lives.”
I’m not sure if she used that title or not, but certainly, it works.
Again, Bonhoeffer, has a word for us, about this “life-wrecking,” too.  From his 1937 work Discipleship, Bonhoeffer writes:

Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death.  Whether we, like the first disciples, must leave house and vocation to follow him, or whether, with Luther, we leave the monastery for a secular vocation, in both cases the same death awaits us, namely, death in Jesus Christ, the death of our old self caused by the call of Jesus.

And now we see Peter.  Peter, there in the boat, simply doing that which he had always done … from this time on, Jesus’ call to him lead him to death.  Death to his old way of life.  No more could he stay a simple fisherman on the lake of Gennesaret.
Jesus’ instructions to him, to “put out into the deep water,” ended that forever. 
It wouldn’t be the huge success in fishing … though that would certainly raise the eyebrows and suspicions of the fish brokers back on shore, the rich and powerful who controlled the fishing trade on water, much like the property owners kept the poor tenant farmers in check on the dry land.
No, when he pulled up those nets full to bursting, Peter knew that Jesus knew him … really knew him, for who he was … and he was afraid.

Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man,

Peter said, on his knees.
Nobody likes being called out for who they really are.  Being shown forth, in the full light and truth of God.
It wrecks your life. 
Wrecks your life built on success as the world sees it.  Drawing followers … and following others … based on wealth, power, prestige, politics … all the worldly markers of success.
For Jesus … catching people, inviting them to abide in him … means something different.  Much different.
And it begins … not in a posture of pride, swagger, domineering … but in a posture of repentance.
Watch out Peter.  Jesus will “wreck your life.”
And he’ll wreck yours and mine, too; thanks be to God.
Many of you know that we’re in the midst of listing some of our property for sale – a decision we are making, for many reasons – to pay off our debt, to help create some financial markers for the future, to be good stewards of the material blessings we’ve been given, here, in Redmond, for mission and ministry.
Some of the talk around this decision has been around mission and vision.  Yes, our congregation does have a mission statement, and a vision statement. 
Do you know them?
Faith’s mission statement:

Faithful people, raising up people of Faith: focused on discipleship, Christ-centered growth, and being a global and neighborhood contributor.

And Faith’s vision statement:

FELC is a caring people, who support one another’s spiritual growth and who reach out to the community with Christ’s love.

Yes, they are about fifteen years old, and it’s time to reassess – to follow Jesus’ care-full model of observation and conversation, of being that non-anxious presence – to determine if those words still describe who we are, here, in this place, and what we believe God is calling us to be about, here and now.  Do we know what those words mean?  Are we able to convey them well, so others can hear and understand them, too? 
When I think about mission and vision, these are some words and phrases that come to mind, for me, that have guided me as a servant-leader of faith communities:

Personal humility and a posture of repentance – God is God, we are not, we start at the foot of the Cross of Christ.
Authenticity – being who we are, and not what others want us to be … individually, and corporately.
Gifts-related ministry – serving out of love, and using the blessings God has given us, which is our strength and foundation.
Speaking the truth in love.
Culturally attentive … watching the signs, the data and the trends, and incorporating change when it is consistent and truthful with who we are … and not making changes when they mean, we’d be trying to be something we are not.

Those have been my guiding visions, as I’ve heard, and read, and received them, through the Scriptures, through worship, through the gathered community of faith. 
I believe those say who we are, as God’s people, and who we are not. 
The church can’t be built on the earthly success model … what’s politically and socially popular, in the cause or style of the moment.  Yes, there are plenty of other churches around who would and will do that … and earthly leaders, and followers, who preach and proclaim and buy into that … but that’s not the faithful model.  That’s not following Jesus, the one who calls us to go and catch people. 
Yes, it’s been shown, that you can catch people by flattery, by telling them what they want to hear … in Bonhoeffer’s words, by becoming the idol the led are looking for… but that’s not the Way of the Cross.
And it’s not Jesus’ place.
No, we are who God has created and called us to be … people of the cross … a people who speak the truth, the truth about ourselves, others, our world, and our God … we speak the truth in love.  We are a people who admit, confess that we are a people in need of repentance … among a neighborhood, a community, a city and state, a nation and world in need of repentance.   The playing field is level … and all of us begin from the same place … on our knees.   
That is what we are, and who we are. 
And admitting it may sound like the least successful and prestigious thing we could possibly do. 
But it is the authentic, humble, faithful thing to do. 
Like Jesus, we start our ministry in our baptisms. Walking wet in God’s promise of forgiveness and life. Gathered together to hear his Word, to feast on his Word, to rejoice together in his Word.  And sent out in service, in that Word, into a needy world, not to judge or condemn, not to proclaim ourselves, but to bring Christ to and for what the world calls “least” … but those whom Jesus especially calls “mine.”
This is the right place to start.
Leaving our boats on the shore … leaving behind all that stuff that proclaims us first, us first … and choosing instead, to proclaim Jesus first, Jesus first … and follow the Lord … to pursue what is truly the best … catching people, in God’s truth and light and love.

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