Congratulations, you and I are now officially into the Christmas buying season. This means that every possible retail organization on the planet is blitzing us with their best sales pitch for the latest and greatest products that can make you and the ones you love more happy, stylish, successful, efficient, and popular. You can get:
warm jammies for your sweetie.
great gadgets for your techy co-worker.
advanced workout wear for your stud athlete siblings
A Obsidian Black Lexus RX with a big red bow for that special man in your life.
Or for your completely out of touch with society Dad, how about a nice fanny pack or a pair of Velcro fastened walking shoes.
While all these items might indeed bring joy and happiness to those special people in your life, this morning I’d like us to consider the gift we can give others that will bring them joy for a lifetime, and, believe it or not, it will bring you joy, satisfaction, and meaning to your life as well.
Sound too good to be true? Let’s at least explore this idea and see where it takes us.
Today’s our sales pitch comes from the man we focus on as we enter the Christmas season. And what I love about Jesus is not just his words, which are truly mesmerizing, its his actions that speak just as loudly as his words. Thus, today we’re going to take a look at his first actions and see what we can learn from his for investing our time, energy, and life in what might truly bring us and others amazing and overwhelming joy, meaning, and satisfaction.
For the next moments, we’ll enter the hometown area of Jesus in and around the Sea of Galilee to watch what he does and see what we can learn from him.
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
This is so simple. Yet, so amazingly brilliant.
Pause for a moment here. It’s from these very simple beginnings that Jesus is going to absolutely change the world. Human history will never be the same. Due to Jesus’ simple efforts that begin right here with the five of them, there will be a wave of grace, acceptance, faith, healing, power, personal and communal salvation that will radiate forward from what Jesus gets started right here while his feet get wet on the shores of Lake Galilee.
It would be easy to skip by all this—thinking that all the important action is still yet ahead. Yet without these first simple steps, none of that would be possible. None of this (around the room) would be possible.
Let’s allow ourselves to be surprised by what we find here.
Jesus is walking . . .
I think we would expect Jesus to head straight to Jerusalem—right into the heart of the movers and shakers of his day. Jerusalem was where the religious, political and military leaders were all hanging out. Instead of he stays in his hometown area with it backwoods ways and confusion, conflicted environment.
Or Jesus could have taken an excursion by ship to Rome. Rome was and will most likely always be considered the most impressive and important capital city in the history of the Western World.
Yet . . .
Nope, we find Jesus, squishing his feet into the sand walking on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus went right into the middle of his own hometown. He entered the world of these four fishermen, who unknown to them, were within a few years about to start a movement that would completely change the world forever.
It’s a gritty place where the future of humanity isn’t expected to be transformed.
It’s easy to think that to really change the world we have to get to a place of high levels of achievement or status or influence. Or maybe not. Maybe we just have to start walking around right in our own neighborhood, community, school, or workplace.
What was Jesus doing he was walking?
Jesus is watching . . .
We notice that in both cases, with Peter and Andrew, and James and John, our author Mark takes notice that Jesus was watching them . . .
. . . he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a new into the lake.
. . . he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing nets.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ life is one of the shortest and most direct of our four-fold account of Jesus life found in the Bible. Why would Mark choose to include that “he saw”, twice?
I think we would expect to find a epic historical religious icon of faith (which Jesus most certainly is) hanging out in a synagogue, wearing the garments of a high ranking instructor from a prestigious academic institution, engaging in deep theological debates with the country’s greatest religious thinkers.
Yet, that’s not where Jesus heads or who gets his attention.
What did Jesus notice in these working-class dudes?
Hard-working: Making a living in the fishing industry is very hard work. Getting up before dawn, working in the heat of the day, in the coldest time in the morning, year round is all part of the gig.
Results oriented: not into “fishing” they were into “catching”
Determination: Jesus sees in Peter and Andrew their hard work, casting huge, heavy nets out into the sea.
Preparation: Jesus sees in James and John the tenacity and patience to carefully repair, mend, and clean their nets.
The combination is quite compelling: toughness, tenacity, hard work, patience and preparation.
As we walk around, we certainly aren’t necessarily looking for highly “religious types”. We’re simply looking for people with commendable qualities we notice. A person might have . . . great joy . . . great determination . . . amazing organizational abilities.
Who is in your life who has truly commendable qualities?
Jesus is walking . . . watching . . . what will Jesus do with those he is watching?
Jesus is welcoming . . .
With the very simple words “Follow me” Jesus invites these guys right into the middle of his life.
Doesn’t invite them to the synagogue. Doesn’t invite them to a theological debate or a prayer gathering. Doesn’t invite them to a mega conference.
We know from the previous verses that this isn’t the first time he’s hung out by the Sea of Galilee. He’s going to be doing all sorts of things in the upcoming couple of years from long, boring walks, and simple meals . . . to grand miracles and great acts of deep compassion. They are going to do it all together.
St. Paul: As I’m working to build Young Life in St. Paul, I’ve recognized that there’s been no lack of slick suburbanites who have shown up there with the next great “answer” or program to help reach the kids of the city. The best way for me to gain credibility with adults in the community is simply to keep showing up to the places and gatherings they believe are important.
No matter their background, their understanding, their level of faith or lack of it, Jesus welcomes these guys into his life forever. They are now his best friends in the world.
Jesus is walking . . . watching . . . welcoming . . . and
Jesus is Wondering . . .
He begins to help them wonder how their future might be different than the present.
“Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fish for people.”
What a perfect way to invite guys who fish for a living into a whole new calling on their life. Jesus takes what they are already really good at, and invites them to use their same skills to help him transform the future of all humanity.
What I find a bit fascinating here is that this is the last time Jesus (or anyone in the New Testament, for that matter) uses the analogy of fishing to talk about God’s unique calling on their life.
Yes, there are some among us for who fishing is a really big deal. Thus, this analogy really works for the Cabella-type’s that get roused by yanking unsuspecting small-brained vertebrates with no arms or legs through the water by their lips, go for it.
But some of you don’t like fishing, I’ll assume. So Jesus invites you using words that resonate with you:
Administrator: Follow me, I’ll help you manage my work in the world.
Teacher: Follow me, we can instruct others to follow God.
Stay at home parent: Follow me, we’ll create a family that will last forever.
Engineer: Follow me, together we can design new solutions to our world’s problems.
Electrician: Hey we can spark something powerful!
Linebacker: We can tackle our community’s worst opponents.
I know, I know. These are REALLY cheesy.
The point: Jesus knows how to speak the language of common everyday people. To a fisherman, he talks like a guy who’s big on fishing. To a politician, he talks like he’s the king. To a person who’s suffering, he talks like a medical care provider. To the lonely, he talks like a friend. Jesus is amazing at adapting his message of life-changing grace, love, truth, goodness, peace, and strength right into the context of the person or group with whom he is interacting.
Jesus is walking . . . watching . . . welcoming . . . wondering . . .
Jesus is walking some more . . .
Notice the ending of his invitations to Peter and Andrew and James and John:
“ . . . they left their nets and followed him.”
“ . . . they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired me and followed him.”
This is the great pattern of changing the world—people following Jesus through life with each other. As Jesus builds his team of twelve, these friends would do life together for the next three years. They would have some good times and some laughter too. They would have some bad times, scary times, and a brutal betrayal of them all. Yet Jesus never gave up on them, just kept including them in pretty much everything he was up to all the time.
My calling is to work with Young Life—it’s a team of 5,000 staff members and 76,000 volunteers who build relationships with all kinds of kids all around the world in order to introduce them to Jesus and help them grow in their faith. Young Life is now in over 100 countries around the world, with the fastest growing ministry in Africa. What has allowed Young Life to grow from a single outreach effort in Gainesville Texas in 1941 to become a global ministry?
It’s pretty simple: Young Life practices one method over and over and over again: Expressed as:
Invite kids to personally respond to the Good News
and walk in friendship with them regardless of their response.
That’s huge for all of us.
The great mystery of living out God’s calling is simply inviting people into your life and doing our dardest to learn how to follow Jesus together. We won’t do it right. It’s quite possible, like the disciples, we won’t even do it well. But we keep doing it. over and over and over. Walking with Jesus together.
A quick review: So how do we change the world?
We walk . . . all around. We slow down long enough to notice who Jesus has placed around us in our life.
Image: Bill Milliken
There’s guy I met a few months back who truly intrigues me. His name is Bill Milliken. Here’s a picture of him hanging out with our 39th President Jimmy Carter and Roslyn and a few others who look good in suits.
Yet, Milliken’s life didn’t begin by hanging out with important people in and around the White House. He was a teenager in Suburban Pittsburg, whose learning disabilities and chaotic home life left him angry and embittered. An adult in his community snookered him into going to a Young Life camp in Colorado, where his live was transformed by the love of Jesus and others adults.
In the early 1960’s Milliken moved with a buddy to the worst part of Harlem New York where he began spending time every day getting to know the kids in the area. By the 70’s he began to create street academies for these forgotten kids, which would eventually lead to the start of “Communities in Schools”—a nationwide organization that invests in kids who are likely to drop out of school.
What led Milliken on the journey from an angry teenager to becoming a national advocate and advisor for public education for kids that are often forgotten or left behind? Here’s his words:
“People asked me, ‘What education did you come to the streets with?’ Milliken said. “I’d answer, ‘I knew how to hang out.’ I still can’t find a university that’ll give a degree in it (!), but it’s one of the greatest skills you can have. I knew how to hang out at the country club and I knew how to hang out on the streets. But that was exactly what was missing in the lives of those young people,” he explained. “Nobody was out on the streets with them, walking with them, talking with them … being there was what it was all about.”
Milliken’s approach seems remarkably similar to the approach of the man who transformed his life. Yes, Jesus did great miracles, spoke mesmerizing messages, and challenged the status quo of the world in which he lived. Yet where did it all start?
Jesus stepped into the world of Peter, Andrew, James and John. That’s all he needed to work with. He walked through life with them. And didn’t give up on them, no matter what.
Each person we meet has some unique spark of God’s image in them: Joy. Determination. Diligence. Tenacity. Compassionate. Humor. Everyone we meet has some spark of God’s grace and goodness in them. We simply notice it and call it out, encourage it forward and outward.
Welcoming them, as best as possible, into our lives. No one is changed from a distance. I know there’s lots of people who can give lots of great sermons, presentations, worship experiences. These are good. Yet they are simply motivators to do the real work of ministry: hanging out with each other. Enjoying each other. Learning to learn from each other. Challenging each other. Helping and supporting each other.
Thus my question for you: Whom are you investing in? Who has God put in your life that needs your love, attention, devotion, and awareness? Who is the person you refuse to give up on, no matter what?
Jesus started in such a small way, and it changed the world. We can start it such a small way, and it can change the world, too.
Sure warm jammies are really nice. A trendy gadget can make some people happy. The gift of a Lexus is not likely to soon be forgotten. And your out of touch Dad might proudly wear his fanny pack everywhere.
Yet what is truly most meaningful, most effective, most dramatically unforgettable? When you devote your time, prayer, attention, dedication to a few who walk together with and towards Jesus.
Jesus you have walked, watched, welcomed, wondered and walked continually with each of us.
May you give us the strength and wisdom to do this with others.
Copyright: Kevin Thomas
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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