January 21, 2024, It’s All About Fishing (for People), Epiphany 3

If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

HYMN 367 He Touched Me
Gaither Vocal Band – He Touched Me [Live]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m–ptwd_iI

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − The Centering Prayer: Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help. I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life. Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not. Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature. Work through me to redeem my neighborhood. I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN 420 Breathe on Me, Breath of God
Breathe on me breath of God – Northern Baptist Association
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmkzSjs9eAw&list=RDEMybKCzmDd0sHMKOWa6eeZhQ&start_radio=1

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: It’s All About Fishing (for People)
Text: Mark 1:14-20, 12:28-31, Matthew 4:19, 28:18-20
Series: The True Work Of Christmas for 2024

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.
Wesley Sermon Audio

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SERMON NOTES

Mark 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,
15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” 16 And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zeb’edee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zeb’edee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him.

Matthew 4:19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 28:16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

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HYMN 344 Lord You Have Come To The Lakeshore
Lord, You Have Come (to the Seashore) | Fisher of Men | Sunday 7pm Choir
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGpM9m3hNSo

BENEDICTION The Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

As you know, we’re talking about the true work of Christmas, how God touches and changes the lives of people. And as I’ve been thinking about that, I’ve been reminded of this movie, Alfie. What’s it all about, Alfie? Some of you remember the beautiful song that was written. But the song fits into the very end of the movie where Alfie, who is portrayed as an incredibly selfish, an incredibly immoral, a person incredibly lacking in integrity, who takes advantage and uses one person after another, after another, after another. And particularly moves from one girlfriend to another throughout the whole movie. And see, here’s the thing: He’s miserable.

And at the end of the movie, he’s standing by the Thames River in London, and he’s thinking about everything that’s wrong and how he doesn’t want to live like this anymore. And he looks up to the sky, perhaps at heaven, and he says, “What’s it all about?” Because you see, he doesn’t understand. And you think he’s about to have a breakthrough. He’s about to realize how he needs to live a different life. Then, he sees a girl walking by, and he’s right back into the same behavior as before. He didn’t learn anything from what he suffered.

And I want to suggest the reason why he didn’t learn anything is he was unable to see a pattern. If you do this, then you’re going to suffer. He was disconnected from what was happening in his life, so it would happen again and again and again. And he would never see the connection.

And we have a word for that, actually, a proverb. It’s called not being able to see the forest for the trees. To say you cannot see the forest for the trees means you can’t see the big picture. Why? Because your focus is too much on the details. Or I would honestly say, you can’t see the forest because you’re focused on one tree.

Because here’s the truth. You need the big picture to understand. And that’s true of life, and it is true of our faith, and it is true of our understanding of Jesus. You need to see the big picture. Now, this morning, you could look at your outdoor temperature thermometer. And you would know what the weather was like right here. But it’s the big picture that tells you what’s going to happen with that weather, because the weather that’s off to the west of us is coming this way. Now, if you were looking at the earth in a satellite, you would not see this weather map. You would not see the lines separating the states. You will not see the H, which stands for high pressure. That’s that high-pressure, very clear, very cold air, very sunny days. But you see, when you see the big picture, you can understand what’s happening around you much more clearly than you can simply by looking out the window. The detail of what it is right here doesn’t give you the big picture that helps you to understand.

Now, this is a joke. It says, “This is the big picture that NASA doesn’t want you to see.” Because when you look behind the astronaut there, what you see in the picture is that the earth is flat. That’s not really what you see from outer space; what you see from outer space is that the earth is round. But you see, here’s the reality, if you’re only focused on the detail of one place right here, right where I stand, the world does look flat. But you need to be able to see beyond right here and right now to understand.

So how can we see the big picture? How can we see how everything is connected to everything else? Or to say it a slightly different way, how can we see our world as Jesus sees it?

And what this basically means is this – it’s very, very important. When there’s a problem, it’s important that we not take the problem out of context. Context is the big picture. Not only that, we can’t take a person out of their context. Someone who grew up in California is very different than someone who grew up in Farina, Illinois. Now, that’s not bad; it’s just true. If you want to understand a person, don’t take them out of their context. If they’re a high school student, don’t imagine that they’re in their 40s. Understand people by understanding their context.

One of the reasons there’re so many arguments about politics is people are taking issues out of their context so they can just fight about them. Not only that, but to really understand an idea, you need an example. You need to see ideas and concepts in a context of real life to understand how valid they are.

Now, all of that is true. And consequently, when you look at God and concepts about God and problems about church and difficulties that people who go to church have, you don’t want to take them out of their context if you want to understand. And also, in particular, you don’t want to take a Bible verse out of context because the meaning of what Jesus said in that day, in that time, and in that situation, is related to the context where Jesus said it. We want to look at the Bible in context.

Nonetheless, there is one thing that is true – and it’s what I want to share with you today. There are some Bible verses that provide us with an overview … a context … the big picture. They’re not just about one single place, but they’re about the overview of everything that God is trying to do. And I want to share three of them with you today.

Here’s the first one, Mark chapter 1:14. “Now, after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” In other words, now is the time. God is ready. And Jesus says, because of this, “repent and believe the gospel.” It’s even more clear in Matthew because Matthew adds one little word: From that time, Jesus began to preach. Began. Jesus began to preach, and Jesus never stopped preaching this. This scripture is about an overview. Everything that Jesus said, everything that Jesus did, is connected to this truth. Jesus wants you to repent. Jesus wants you to believe in the gospel because now is the time for that. And this is at the beginning of the gospel. It’s sort of like, “Let me tell you what’s going to happen.” Everything from here on in is about this big picture.

And right after it is another verse that’s a big picture. In fact, I actually call it a bookend. And passing by the Sea of Galilee or along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately, they left their nets and followed him. In Matthew, it’s pretty much the same: And he said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Now, that’s a bookend. That’s at the beginning. This is an introduction. This is the big picture. Everything that Jesus teaches the disciples from here on out connects with how to fish for people. And so when you want to understand all the verses that follow, you can ask yourself, “What does this have to do with repenting? What does this have to do with believing in the gospel?” And also, “What does this have to do with fishing for people?” Because in this verse, Jesus plainly said, “When you follow me, what’s going to be important? I’m going to teach you how to fish for people.”

Now, the other end of the bookend, the very last words in the book of Matthew repeat this same theme. It’s called the Great Commission. Jesus came and said to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Now, four things, I want you to go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And then look at verse 20: Teaching them to observe, to behave, to follow all that I’ve commanded you. Do you see the book ends? I’m going to teach you how to fish for people. Now, everything I told you to do, you go teach everyone else. Everything that Jesus said in the Gospels is connected in some way to us helping people find Jesus Christ a shepherd, Savior, and Lord.

And that is a key way to help us understand any particular verse because each particular verse is a different way to look at that big-picture concept. Fishing for people. Now, it just so happens that, in addition to fishing for people, our Bishop likes to fish for fish. This is Bishop Frank Beard. He grew up in Indiana, and somewhere along the line, he loved to go fishing. And somewhere in January– I have no idea where this picture was taken, but somewhere in January, he went out and caught a 70-pound catfish. It’s hard for me to imagine a fish that big! Bishop Beard is about as tall as I am; he’s not a small man. But there is only one place in the New Testament where it talks about them fishing with a hook – Matthew 17.

So Jesus says, “Follow me. And what I tell you, and you do it, you’re going to become people who can fish for people, and now I want you to tell everybody else what I told you so they can fish for people.” The way they most often fished in the New Testament was with nets. They would take their boat and go in a big circle. And they would draw the net in, and they would catch whatever was inside that circle. And I want to suggest to you, before you go out with some kind of big hook and try to drag somebody to church, nets. Nets are how we want to fish for people!

Which reminds me also of another big, overarching scripture; we talked about this on January 7th. Another big picture is, as Jesus said in Mark 12, the scribe asks the question, “What commandment is the first of all?” and Jesus answered, “The first is ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.'” In some way, everything Jesus says, everything Jesus does, is teaching us how to love God in this way.

And then comes the interesting little phrase right after it, Mark 12:31. “The second is this … Here’s what comes next: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Everything Jesus did, everything Jesus said, is somehow connected with loving God, and not for that love to rest in your heart alone but for it to spread out from you, just like a net, to love your neighbor. You see, the net that is around the fish, it’s made out of love.

And we have a real fancy word for the fish that are inside the net. You know what we call them? Neighbors. In other words, the net of God’s love that you spread to fish for people, you spread it across your neighborhood, and you draw those people in. John Wesley said, “If anybody preaches about anything more than love, he is aside from the mark.” In other words, he’s missed the target because the thing which you need to be is perfected in love and filled with all the fullness of divine love, and of course, that’s first to God and then, as God wishes, outward from us and John Wesley says, “If that is so, that will be fulfilling of all the law of God.”

So you see, we spread a net around the people who are our neighbors. Well, Pastor Dave, who’s my neighbor? What I suggested to you is that you could simply make a list of every person you talk to during the week, and I want to suggest to you, those people are your neighbors. The people who ignore you and don’t talk to you, someone else is going to have to love them. But the people who talk to you … that you see pretty much every week, whether there’s three of them or 30 of them, those people are your neighbors. And God wants you to love them, to spread a net around all those people and bring them in and love them the way God wants them to be loved.

Well, Pastor Dave, how exactly do I do that? You told me not to hook people. I don’t think I’m supposed to lasso people either. Friends, here’s how you spread out that net. The person that you talk to, you simply ask the question, “How are you?”

Now, by the way, have you ever said that the answer, “I’m fine.” This is supposedly the most common lie that anybody ever tells. It’s true. But if you ask somebody once a week, “How are you?” eventually, they’ll feel they know you well enough to tell you the truth. And you know something really strange? Some weeks, they really are fine. Some weeks, things are just great. But if you keep coming up to your neighbor and saying, “How are you?” sooner or later, there’ll be a week where they’ll tell you that it’s been a tough week.

For example, maybe their cat, Blinky, ran away. And they’re just so anxious about how Blinky is doing. And you see, here’s one way to love your neighbor. When your neighbor is having a tough week, love asks the question, “May I pray for you?” If you want to make it a longer question, you say, “I go to a church that prays for big things and little things, including people whose cat ran away. Can I pray for you?” And because caring for neighbors is so rare these days – it didn’t used to be when we grew up – it may shock the person that you actually want to pray for them. But most of the time, they will say, “Yes, please pray for me. Please pray for my cat, for my mom, for my cousin, for my job.” And then, of course, you pray for them.

Now, the next week when you come to talk to them and you ask, “How are you?” And now it’s a very different question — because now, “How are you?” is a question that means, “Did God answer our prayers?” Now you’re having a conversation with someone about whether God answers prayer. Now you’re having a conversation with someone about whether God answered your prayer. Now you’re having a conversation about God’s love.

And of course, you know what we want to hear. “Blinky came home.” But if the cat Blinky hasn’t come home, then you just say, “We’ll keep praying,” because we’re not going to stop praying because love doesn’t stop praying. And so you have this conversation with your neighbor over and over every single week as God answers your prayers, simply by asking the question: “How are you?” That spreads a net of love and concern around people. And eventually, just as we sang, shackled by a heavy burden, Jesus will touch them and set them free because, you see, love notices.

And when love notices, you have the question of whether or not you should ask. I believe that every single one of us has a specialization, a ministry. And one of my ministries is that when I see someone in the grocery store trying to reach the top shelf, I walk up to them and I say, “How can I be helpful? Look at how big and strong I am. Can I help you reach that bottle that’s on the very back of the top shelf?” And they’ll look at me and they’ll go, “Well, yes.” I have just loved my neighbor. And it might be something different from you.

I volunteer at the Kinmundy Public Library on Wednesday afternoons. And there is one woman — I won’t tell you who she is because she does this anonymously. Every single Wednesday, she brings me a paper plate with three cookies on it. And I look forward to it all Wednesday long. She has the spiritual gift of cookies. But there is some way that God made you where you could be helpful. And if you notice your neighbor, all of a sudden, you can step up and do that extremely simple thing of just simply reaching up to a shelf that you can reach and they can’t. It doesn’t have to be something incredibly difficult. Love notices.

And that question, “How can I be helpful,” is so helpful. I was talking on the phone with another pastor on Friday. And when he discovered that I was moving and Kim and I were buying a house, he actually gave me 20 minutes of advice on what we should pay attention to. And I want to tell you, I found it incredibly irritating for two reasons. The first one is I didn’t need any of his advice and I didn’t ask for it.

But the other thing that was incredibly frustrating is I said to myself, “Oh, my God. This is how people feel when I give them advice!” [laughter] So consequently, you can really help yourself do a lot less work if you ask the person, “How can I be helpful?” And let them tell you. It’s a good lesson for me to learn. Pray for me! “How can I be helpful?”

Now, here’s what people are most frightened about regarding what some call witnessing. What if I talk to my neighbor and they have a question about God or the Bible and I don’t know the answer? Won’t I look stupid if I say, “I don’t know …”? And, you see, here’s the best answer for that: “My pastor loves to answer questions at great length, hours and hours and hours. Can he call you on the phone?” Because here’s the point: if you know someone who’s a Bible expert, you don’t have to be the Bible expert. If you know someone who’s an expert in gardening, you don’t have to be an expert gardener. We can use each other’s talents and abilities. “Oh, I know someone who went through that. Oh, she has such a wonderful testimony of how God helped her. Can I introduce her to you?” We can use each other to help God love our neighbors, but it’s still spreading a net that surrounds our neighborhood with love.

Because, friends, here’s the point: I like the image of gardening a little better than the image of fishing, even though Jesus chose fishing, because gardening is something that happens over time. But if you have a garden, you know if you’re going to take care of it, like I’m encouraging you to take care of your neighborhood. You need to go out in the garden every day or almost every day and look and see what’s happening. You need to look at the people who are growing in your garden; maybe there are weeds that need to be pulled. Maybe there are bugs that need to be pulled off the leaves.

Maybe there’s ripe fruit, and it needs to be picked. Have you ever let something sit in the garden too long? It starts to rot, not a good thing. You need to go out among the people in your neighborhood every week and listen to God, and God will tell you how to love those people. Because God is helping the people in your neighborhood every single week. God is helping draw them to Jesus Christ. God is growing new Christians every day all around us. And God has asked us to help in that work of fishing for people, in that work of helping people come to Jesus by loving people as we are guided by God.

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, there are a lot of verses in the Bible that are hard to understand. But sometimes the overview is the key to unlock the meaning.

What does this verse have to say about living a different life, about repenting?
What does this verse have to say about us learning how to draw people toward you?
What does this verse have to say about helping people and loving neighbors?

Because God loves us and puts love in our heart to share with others, Lord, may all the verses where Jesus speaks or gives instructions be opened up to us to understand. And, Lord, may these overview verses help us to see how everything connects together. And we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources

Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )
 

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