January 22, 2017, I Will Make You… – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000005
“ Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” – This is one of the most popular Sunday school lesson passages. We learned as children that “fishers of men” means missionaries. We were urged to consider missions as the highest of Christian callings, and urged to be missionaries in our small ways as well. Generally as adults we end up satisfying the “fishers of men” calling by writing checks to the real “fishers of men” out there. Missions are of great importance, but there is so much more to be learned from this passage.
Instead of seeing this as some kind of standard by which all Christians have to be measured, we need to see this first as a call to specific and unique individuals. Jesus came to the fishing village of Capernaum, and he approached these brothers, Simon and Andrew, whose whole lives, and the lives of their fathers and grandfathers, time out of mind, had been all about fish and nets and boats and fish. They were fishermen, so when Jesus called them to be his disciples he called them as fishermen. “I will make you fishers of men,” he told them. And no one could have imagined what that meant, until three years later, when Peter stood up in the middle of a crowd in Jerusalem and began to preach, and thousands of people came to be baptized. Thousands.
Paul, on the other hand, who is one of the giants of the New Testament, certainly no slacker by any measure, specifically wrote that he was not called to baptize new Christians. Cheryl read to us today, “Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” You could hardly find a man more different from Peter than Saul of Tarsus, the man we call St. Paul. He didn’t grow up in a fishing village, he grew up as a hyper-educated Jew and a Roman citizen to boot. He was so passionate about upholding the teachings of Scripture that when God caught up with him he was going from village to village throwing Christians in prison. He stood by and nodded his approval when Stephen was put to death for preaching the gospel..
Jesus met Paul along the road one day, but instead of calling him to be a “fisher of men” he struck him blind and took him off by himself for fourteen years to be trained in the seminary of the Holy Spirit. To Paul, Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you a theologian of the Cross.” It was through Paul, in his letters to the churches in Rome and Galatia and Ephesus and Philippi, and to his own disciples Timothy and Titus, that we are able to hear the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not in words of eloquence and rhetoric like the Greek philosophers or the Jewish rabbis, but the word of Life itself, bearing the power of the cross of Jesus Christ, many of them written from a dark prison cell. That was exactly and perfectly what Paul was born to do, though he would never have imagined it when he was a young man all pumped up with the certainty of his self-righteousness and zeal – as we do when we are young. But at the end of his life, he testified to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” In God’s good hands, he had become what he was created to be.
If you remember the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus, he was nothing more then a nasty little miser when he came face to face with Jesus. Jesus didn’t call him to be a “fisher of men” either – he invited himself to dinner, actually. But we see what became of Zacchaes after he met Jesus. Instead of a man in love with his money, he became a man who used his money to show the love of God to the poor, a man of wealth in the kingdom of God. “Look!” he said to Jesus with great delight, “I’ll give half of all my wealth to the poor. And all the people I have cheated, well, I’ll pay them back four times over!” To Zacchaeus, Jesus might have said, “Follow me, and you will be a blessing to the poor.” It was perfect. But who would have guessed?
And then there was Mary of Nazareth, who didn’t really expect anything out of life beyond making a home for her husband, and bearing his children. As far as we know, she had no special training, no gifts or abilities other than the gift of being a woman – and a very young one at that. But God’s word to Mary was the most amazing of all. She who expected to devote her life to her children, simply because of her sex, became the One to bring God Himself into the world as her own Child. It was perfect.
Those are dramatic examples from the Bible, but every person who has ever lived is unique. People like to say that no two snowflakes are alike, but it is true of everything God ever created, and absolutely true of his human children. Each of us is imprinted with the image of our creator in our inmost being, and it works itself out in the world in all different ways, as he calls us to be ourselves in ways we would never have expected.
Like a simple fisherman called to preach the gospel to thousands of people.
Like a self-satisfied scholar writing words that reveal the mystery of God’s grace from his prison cell
Like a greedy little man joyfully sharing his wealth with the poor.
Like a peasant girl giving birth in a stable to the Son of God.
Remember from Carroll’s sermon a few weeks ago, that God is not an engineer; he’s an artist. It’s God’s M.O. – his modus operandi, the way he works – not to crank out perfect cookie-cutter Christians who walk and talk and pray and serve the same, but to call forth in each person the unique expression of his image that was formed in them from the beginning.
So, in a church full of people there might be someone who has a real knack for sales. Someone else is the person you go to if you need something fixed, and this other person is a natural problem solver. There’s always someone who is the first to step in and lend a hand when they are needed, and somebody who can create beautiful things out of cloth or paint or with musical instruments or with words. If we’re lucky, there’s someone whose delight it is to feed people. And there’s somebody who always seems able to create order out of chaos, and yet another person who has a heart for making use of things everyone else thinks are useless. There are people who are very good at making things grow. And there are men and women who might never have had children of their own who have a gift for being fathers and mothers to those who need them. There might even be fishermen. But there’s no imagining what can happen when Jesus puts all those gifts to use for the Kingdom. “Follow me,” says Jesus, “and I’ll show you how I can use your gifts in my kingdom – in ways that will knock your socks off.”
No one is useless in the Kingdom of God. No one is a “factory second” as they say. No one is replaceable. We are all unique and all uniquely needed for the life of the Kingdom, which is the life of the Church. And that is what gives the church the potential for being such a rich incarnation of the love of God.
“Follow me,” Jesus calls us, “and I will make you what you were created to be.”