Monday, January 24, 2011

Dropping our nets or the thing we have to do before we can really follow Jesus.

Below is the message I shared yesterday at Good Shepherd.  The text for the message is Matthew 4:12-23.  I hope you find in it a word from our God.  

Many of you were here last week when we talked about Evangelism or sharing the Good News of Christ in your life with others. 
One of the ways we talked about Evangelism was that is was inviting others on the journey of following Christ with you.
As I was thinking about that, and looking at the passage from Matthew for this week, it occurred to me that maybe we had skipped a step. 
In order to invite someone to join you on the adventure of following Jesus through this life, you have to be following Jesus yourself first.
Following Jesus is something we talk about a lot.  It is a phrase that comes from, at least in part Jesus’ invitation from Matthew that we read just a few minutes ago. 
The phrase itself is often used as a replacement for or synonym for accepting or believing in Jesus.  I know that I do that sometimes.  But it isn’t really accurate.
Believing in or accepting Jesus – asking God into your heart and your life is, obviously, a critical thing for us to do. 
Following is something more than just that choice or decision, though.  It implies action, movement and a continued effort to reproduce the will and actions of Jesus
So the ‘first step’ in a life of following Jesus is certainly the choice or decision to believe in God and ask God into your heart and life.  There is another step that Jesus indicates before we can truly begin to follow him.
It is right there in the Scripture: After Jesus’ invitation to Simon Peter & Andrew to ‘Come and follow me’ with the promise that they would be made fishers of men or people.  The brothers, the Scripture tells us, ‘at once left their nets and followed him.’ 
Don’t mistake the beginning of that sentence for a non-essential narrative.  Because I believe it is critical to understanding what it really means to follow Jesus and how we can begin to do that more fully in our lives. 
Those nets were more than just the means to an end for Peter and Andrew and the other fisherman, they were representative of Who they were.  They were Fisherman – in fact we still know them that way, which goes to show how wrapped up in their identity those nets were.  So dropping – immediately no less – those nets was no small thing. 
It was and is a physical symbol of what has to take place in our hearts, minds and lives when we make the decision to follow Jesus. 
Before we can begin on the journey of Following Jesus and accepting the new thing God wants to do in and through us., w must set down and let go of whatever it is that we allow or that we look to define who we are.  
I don’t know if you have seen or heard about it, but there has been a lot of talk in the news and just all around this past week about horoscopes and a possible ‘extra’ sign that is changing what some people’s signs are. 
I have never paid any attention to horoscopes, don’t understand them and couldn’t even tell you my sign so I certainly am not the one to give the details of what is going on, all I know is, as I said it has something to do with a ‘new’ or ‘extra’ sign.   
And maybe because of my lack of connection to the zodiac and horoscopes I was really surprised by the amount of attention this got and even more surprised by the angst that some people showed over a potential ‘new sign’. 
I saw status updates in all caps screaming about how there was ‘no way I am a Virgo! This girl is a Sagittarius all the way’.  I heard interviews with people who were clearly, visibly shaken at the thought of being a different or new sign.  And many more like that with similar themes. 
So clearly for some people ‘their’ sign is very important to them.  It was apparent that it does more than give hint to when they were born, but – at least in their eyes – it gives insight to personality traits, likes and dislikes, and is in fact an important part of who they are. 
While I still don’t get horoscopes and as a Christian think they are suspect at best, when you just think about the connection some people have to their sign and the meaning that is gleaned from their sign and their horoscope, then it is pretty easy to see why the news of signs changing would be so disturbing and upsetting.
For Some people their ‘sign’ is an important symbol or marker of who and what they are.  For Simon Peter and Andrew their nets were those symbols.  Directly connected to who they were, what they did and what was important to them. 
The call of Jesus to follow him comes with a caveat:  Drop Your Nets and follow me.  To really be able to focus on and follow Jesus the fisherman disciples had to leave their nets (the very symbol of their old life) behind. 
They had to leave who they were behind so that they could embrace who God was calling them to be, what God was calling them to do. 
Whatever it is that symbolizes who you were before you invited Jesus into your life – fishing nets for Simon Peter, Andrew and some of the other disciples; the money that came with being a tax collector for Matthew; your Zodiac sign. 
Whatever it is, in order to really begin to follow Jesus you have to make the choice to drop or let go it. 
God is doing a new thing in and through you and as long as you are holding on to what used to represent or define you, then you aren’t really letting God in.  If we don’t begin by dropping whatever defines us and picking up the mantle of Jesus Christ then we can’t really, truly follow Jesus.  As long as we are holding onto our nets – whatever that looks like in our lives – then we haven’t created enough space in our hearts, minds and lives to allow the Holy Spirit of God to work in us and through us. 
If we are still holding on to our nets – it will be that, not the Holy Spirit, that guides us on the journey of our lives and it is only with the leading power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to follow God. 
Of course, it is a difficult thing to ‘drop your net’.  The thing or things that define who we are do so for a reason. 
For the Peter and Andrew their nets represented what they did and who they were.  They also represented what they were best at and, probably the only thing they had ever really done or known.  Simon Peter and Andrew were fishermen, their nets represented the work they did. 
So they were not so different from many of us then.  Often times the thing that defines us most clearly is the work we do: We are nurses or teachers, leaders in business or in research. 
Just like fishing, there is nothing wrong with these things – Jesus didn’t tell Simon Peter and Andrew to drop their nets because there was something inherently wrong with fishing. 
Rather they had to drop their nets to allow God to transform every part of their lives so that they might be able to truly and fully follow Jesus. 
Jesus asks – in fact demands to be first in our lives.  And to really and truly follow him means to be defined by and primarily identified with him first. 
This is why Mother Teresa warned not to mistake your work for your vocation.  Saying that we all share in the same vocation – the love of Jesus. 
In all of this, though it is critical to understand that God created us as who we are for a reason.  We are good at math – or not.  Interested in history – or not.  Talented artists, good negotiators, gracious caretakers – or not, because of the unique way that God made each of us. 
And we are made how we are made for a reason and a purpose. 
This is why Jesus told those fishermen 2000 years ago that they would be made fishers of people. 
God has given each of us the unique capacity for something  - and for most of you many things. 
But we can’t – if we are to be followers of Jesus – be defined by what we do, what we like or even our personality traits. 
And we aren’t all to become ‘fishers of people’ either.  We are in the sense that we are all to share God’s love and invite others into relationship with Jesus.
But God did not intend for each of us to be fishermen and God did not create us all with those gifts. 
Instead God gave us each a unique combination of skill, interest, aptitude and location all for a specific purpose. 
When we drop our nets – or our signs, or our uniforms, or our work, whatever it is, and take up the mantle of Jesus Christ seeking to define our lives with God’s love for us and for the world.  An amazing thing happens.
God takes what we love, what we have been gifted for and our particular situation and uses all of that to make us fishers, or teachers or students, or nurses or whatever of people. 
When we drop who we were to fully embrace who God created us to be and who God calls us to be, we truly begin following Jesus Christ and the way we live our lives invites others to join us on the adventure that is the life of faith, following Jesus Christ.
So let us drop our nets and follow him.

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