First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana


Committed, Luke 5:1-11
First United Methodist Church, September 16, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer

Doesn't every fisherman have some kind of a story, about the one that got away?  Or, I 'caught one "this big."'  Well, today's scripture is a pretty good fishing story.   It's about some ordinary, everyday guys who catch more fish than they would ever have imagined, and then make the decision to give up this life they know to follow a Galilean carpenter (who happens to have some pretty good advice when it comes to fishing).

The story starts out on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (the Lake of Gennesaret and the Sea of Galilee are the same body of water).  Jesus has just begun his travels as an itinerant preacher.  He has been baptized by John, he has been tempted in the wilderness by the devil, and he has been rejected in the synagogue at Nazareth—the place where he'd been brought up—because he preached with unexpected confidence and authority.  From there he healed a number of people, including Simon Peter's mother-in-law.  News travels fast, even by word of mouth, when people who have been known to be sick or disabled are suddenly made well.  People are hearing about Jesus, they're wondering about him, they're curious to see and hear him. Crowds gather around him: people are curious, intrigued, they come even if they aren't in special need and hoping to be healed.

On this particular day, Jesus has been teaching on the shore, but the crowd has grown to the point that it is hard for people to hear, and I would think it would be hard for Jesus to speak with everyone pressing in on him, so he climbs into one of the boats that has been pulled up onto the shore.

The men who own the boats are there; they had been out during the night and early morning, but it hasn't been a day for telling great fish stories. Men who put food on the table as a result of their fishing expeditions can't have very many fish-less nights, but it happens sometimes, and so they're cleaning their nets, half-way listening to Jesus, and probably thinking about how nice a shower and comfortable bed will feel before going out on the lake and giving it another try later in the day.

Jesus pauses, and glancing toward the fishermen, walks toward their boats. Simon can see where Jesus is headed, maybe has an idea of what Jesus is planning to do, and so he leaves his companions, James and John, to finish up with the nets.  Maybe he can help.

Peter is indebted to Jesus, really. He and his wife had feared that perhaps her mother wouldn't survive her recent illness—she was so sick. But ever since Jesus had come to their house that day and healed her, she was fine; filled with energy.  She worked with her daughter around the house, played with the grandchildren and did the household shopping just as she always had. It was good to see her healthy again.

So Simon Peter approached Jesus, grateful for what he had done, curious about what he is intending to do, and ready to help. Jesus climbs into the boat and Peter pushes it out and then jumps in, too, maneuvering it out into the water just a ways.  He holds the boat steady as Jesus begins to preach again.

Simon Peter sits in the boat and listens.

His companions finish with the nets, remaining on the shore, and they're listening, too.  They're curious, waiting for Peter to come back.

Jesus finishes teaching, turns to Peter and tells him to take the boat out into the deeper waters. Tells him to throw his nets out again.

Peter is intrigued by Jesus, impressed with him in a whole lot of ways. But HE is the fisherman.  And yet there's something curious about this man…  "Okay, you know we didn't catch a thing last night…but let's go.  I'll do as you say."

Peter throws out his nets and it's like they're fish-magnets!  He begins pulling them in and sees that's not going to work, so he waves at James and John on the shoreline, "come on, bring the boat, the nets!  You're not going to believe this!  These nets can't handle all these fish!"

And so they come with their nets and now we have 2 boats, loaded down with fish.  The fishermen are laughing, enjoying the craziness of it all, doing their best to pull it all in.  Their boats are loaded down, sitting low, so low they can't help but wonder if they're going to sink! Peter looks at Jesus and he knows this is a miracle.  It's something beyond the experience and expectations of skilled fishermen.  This is of God.

He falls on his knees before Jesus—"Master, leave, I'm a sinner and I can't handle this holiness. Leave me to myself!"  Jesus responds, telling Peter not to fear.  "From now on, you'll be fishing for men and women."

Now comes the second thing that's amazing about this story: when they all get back to shore, these fishermen—who have just witnessed and participated in perhaps the biggest fishing story ever told, walk away from their catch.  They walk away from their boats. They walk away from their nets.  The leave it all behind to follow Jesus; to fish for people.

The commitment these ordinary men make to follow Jesus always amazes me.  How could they do that?  Would I have been able to leave it all behind to follow him?  What does he expect of us?  What are we willing to do, to follow him?       

We've just begun the adventure of reading and talking about Shaped by God's Heart: the Passion and Practices of Missional Churches by Milfred Minatrea.  We were introduced to what it means to be a missional church last week, which is a "reproducing community of authentic disciples, being equipped as missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim His Kingdom in the in their world." Our understanding of that definition will grow each week as we look at the practices of missional churches.  The "happy" thing for us to remember as we talk about these practices each week, is that there is no perfectly missional congregation that we can look to and say, "they've got it, let's try to be like them."  Every church has its own personality, its own gifts and graces, its own particular community inside the church and outside its doors, that contribute to who we are, what we do well, and what we might do better.  It doesn't matter whether we're large or small (or somewhere in between, which we are), it doesn't matter if we do contemporary or traditional worship (so relax, I'm not going to push you to move into a different style of worship than what you feel called to do), it doesn't matter whether we're United Methodist or non-denominational, or anything else.  What matters is that we're looking beyond our own survival, and that we are inviting others to join alongside us in our faith journeys as we together seeking the heart of God for our own lives and for this place.  And so, each week we'll consider who we are and how we might be better.

Today we'll talk about the first essential missional practice out of 9 (detailed in chapter 3).  It is: Have a High Threshold for Membership.

When the disciples were invited to follow Jesus, they didn't know the full meaning of what they were doing.  Walking away with him that day, they couldn't have fully understood the cost of following him at that point.  But they listened and learned along the way, and they saw others turn sadly away…who weren't prepared for the responsibility/the cost.  They heard Jesus as he spoke to the man who wanted to bury his father first.  Jesus said no, let the dead bury the dead.  [The commentary in my Bible suggests that the man's father perhaps hasn't even died yet, it could be years.] (Luke 9:59-60).  They must have been there when another person said they wanted to go home and say goodbye to family first, but Jesus said no (Luke 9:57-62).  He spoke to the crowds, listing out the cost of discipleship, saying, anyone who comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life—that person can't be my disciple.  (I have to come first, Jesus is saying.  I have to be the first priority in your life.) (Luke 14:25f).  The rich young ruler asks about inheriting eternal life.  Jesus tells him to give it all away and then follow him, but he can't do it (Luke 18:18f). 

Jesus wants his disciples to know that following him has a cost.  It involves responsibility on our part.  It's not sitting back and suddenly finding ourselves blessed with great health, wealth and healed relationships and then waiting for the rewards of the kingdom.  But it's being engaged in the hard work of kingdom building, with Jesus, with one another, empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It's turning outward, it's seeing others, it's reaching out…

Discipleship isn't easy.  It accepts responsibility.  

When we join into the membership of the United Methodist Church, we're asked these  questions: "Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?"  To which we each answer, I will.  And yet, how seriously do we take this commitment?  Do we keep these promises in mind, and do we continue to keep them as time rolls on?

Some churches will offer a written covenant of membership to people as they join into the church.  I worked on one of those a few years ago, spelling out what each of those promises might mean.  The criteria for membership included an opportunity to sign your name—to make it official.  Maybe as "official" as the service organizations in our community might require.  

Sometimes, it helps to have things spelled out for us.

Here is what the covenant said:  I, (name), understand that the Church is called by God to help equip and grow me as a disciple of Jesus Christ through regular experiences of prayer, worship, Bible study, small group ministries, service, and the giving life. Based upon that understanding, I, with the help of God, now enter into a covenant relationship with God and the church to:
To uphold my church in prayer, I will commit myself to daily prayer.
In regards to presence: I will attend worship services at least 30 weeks of each year with the exception of absences due to military service, college enrollment or apprenticeship programs outside the area, illness, or temporary location to a winter home in another state.  (That's a little more than half the Sundays of the year…I still remember having no choice but to work every other Sunday when I was a nurse.  I know there are other jobs that have those same requirements.)
In regards to service, It's outlined it this way:  I will live the life of a Christian servant by participating in the service ministries available through the church at least 40 weeks of each year by volunteering a minimum of one hour per week for Christian service, except in times of military service, college enrollment or apprenticeship programs outside the area, illness, or temporary location to a winter home in another state.
In regards to growth—which isn't a promise we make, but hopefully a consequence of our participation in the life of the church…it read: I will grow through regular participation (at least 12 times/year or more) in a Bible Study group, prayer group, Sunday School Class, or other small disciples ship group, except in those particular times outlined in the other pledges.  The 12 times were intended to encourage real involvement in some kind of a group, not to just check off the requirements of a list.  The hope was by the time a person actually attended something 12 times, they would see how good it was and would be happy to be involved even more.
And finally, in regards to supporting the church with our finances, the commitment written down was to give financially to the work of God and the ministries of the church each year, except in those times listed in the other areas.  That part probably went soft, since the Bible indicates a tithe, or 10% of what we receive being an appropriate financial commitment to the ministries of the church.  It would be appropriate for us to commit to working toward a tithe if we're not already giving that amount.

Perhaps having things spelled out makes it easier for us.  And maybe it doesn't.  We're a pretty independent people and we like to pick and choose what we do.  I had little boxes on the side of the various covenant statements that were just supposed to be bullet points.  I remember someone once going through and checking off a few of them, and leaving others as they were.  At least they were being honest about what they intended to do, and not do.  

Having a high threshold for membership in the church communicates the significance we place on the mission of the church, of what it means to be a part of the community/a part of the Body of Christ.  It's more than resting easy because there's a church and a pastor that will take care of us when we die.  Membership means something.  It should make us different.  It should support our growth.   It should challenge us in areas of service that we might be too shy or uncertain to step into on our own.  It should challenge us to give to make a difference beyond ourselves.

Jesus called those ordinary, everyday fisherman to follow him, to fish for people, and he had high expectations that they could learn and do what he called them to do.  He has those same expectations of us.  May we accept the responsibility that he calls us to, and may we be accountable to Christ and to one another.  Amen.