August 4, 2019

“Follow and Fish”
Luke 5:1-11, 27-28
A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi
August 4, 2019 (Pentecost +8) 

Last year at this time we were in the midst of interviewing as many people in our church as were willing for our Appreciative Inquiry Process.  The Leadership Team wanted to know whether we were doing and being all that God had called us to do and be as a church.  So we undertook the AI process to find out and help us discern God’s next steps for our church. 

We took the information gathered from all the interviews, and looked for common themes, strengths and hopes for our church.  From that information we came up with three Future Directions Statements which were presented last fall and affirmed by the Leadership Team.  Then we invited people to think of experiments, ideas to pursue that would help move us toward our Future Directions.  

This month we will be revisiting the Future Directions Statements.  In doing so, I hope we can inspire conversations, ideas and/or events that will help us move toward becoming the church that the Future Direction Statements describe.  As we reflect on these ideas, I hope it will spark some discussion about what we do and who we are as a church.  I’ve titled this sermon series, “Moving Toward the Future” and I hope that we all will do just that. 

In our interviews, people were asked to share about how they came to Hawaii Kai UCC.  There were a few who came in response to some advertising the church purchased back in the early days.  But the vast majority of people came because they were invited by someone.  You came because you knew someone in this church who invited you to camp or a picnic or to worship.  And that led to attending other events and building relationships with other people.  In the process, you got to know Jesus or you met him for the first time.  You may have been baptized or become a member because you heard Jesus’ call to grow in your relationship with him.  And then you may have invited someone else to come to camp or a church activity, with the idea that they too would come to know and love Jesus.  You followed Jesus, then fished. 

All three Future Directions Statements mention relationship with Jesus or God.  They all speak of inviting others into that relationship or for us to grow in it.  In our DNA, our core identity as a church, is the idea that we exist to be in relationship with Jesus—to follow Jesus—and to fish, to invite others to come and join us on this journey of faith.  At our core, we are followers of Jesus Christ.  All our activities are geared toward growing deeper in our relationships with Jesus and inviting others to do the same.  

That’s what distinguishes us from other groups.  Our focus, our aim is really to raise up followers of Jesus.  Along the way, we do service projects like the Lions Club does.  We visit people at the Hawaii Kai Retirement Community or Hale Malamalama like the scouts may do.  We help the PTSA here at Hahaione School, like the parents of students here do.  We do these things not because we’re nice people (we are), but because we love Jesus, who loves all people and calls us to serve our neighbors.  We do these things because we want people to experience the love of Christ, which we have experienced as we follow Jesus.  Everything we do is a result of following Jesus and then fishing on his behalf, inviting others to follow him too. 

I don’t know about you, but when I think about fulfilling Jesus’ call to share the gospel with others, I can easily feel intimidated and inadequate.  Our Scripture reading is an encouragement to all who feel overwhelmed by Jesus’ call, because his first disciples were not the most likely students to follow a rabbi.  They were the world’s least likely to succeed at starting a worldwide movement. 

If you were to start a worldwide movement, where would you set up your headquarters?  Where would you test your ideas?  Not in Capernaum.  Not near the Lake of Gennesaret (another name for the Sea of Galilee).  Jesus’ family was from Nazareth, a small town in an insignificant area of Israel, far away from the power center in Jerusalem.  The Temple was there, the seat of government was there.  But Jesus began his ministry in the “sticks” of Galilee. 

Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen.  According to today’s reading, they weren’t even highly successful fishermen.  They’d been out on the water all night and caught nothing!  It might have been just an off night for them.  But catching nothing is pretty bad, isn’t it?  Especially if your family depends on you to feed them and to bring in an income for other necessities.  

Simon, also known as Peter, whose boat Jesus had borrowed so that he could speak to crowds who were gathered on the shore, was willing to do what this carpenter-turned-rabbi said.  You can hear his skepticism in his voice when he said, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (v. 5).  Because you say so.  Maybe Simon thought he had nothing to lose in trying again. 

Sometimes following Jesus looks foolish and goes against what the experts recommend.  Wake up on Sunday morning, your only day to sleep in, and go to worship.  Spend time with the poor and outcast, not the rich and famous.  Give ten percent of your money to God.  Forgive, don’t seek revenge.  Let down your nets in the daytime, when the fish are not active.  

But following Jesus leads to results that we often don’t expect.  We find life:  freedom from worry about material security.  Joyful relationships with other people.  We are loved and encouraged as we love and encourage.  Our nets are so full of fish, we need help with the catch.  Following Jesus teaches us to trust him, not our expertise, not our own skills, but him.  We learn to trust him and do what he says.  We learn to trust our human wisdom less and him more.  I imagine that after seeing the huge catch of fish, Simon was willing to do anything Jesus asked him to do.  

Initially, Simon felt unworthy and humbled by Jesus.  He didn’t want to have anything to do with him.  He felt unworthy.  He was scared of the power that this man had.  But Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (v. 10).  Don’t be afraid of the awesome divine power that was at work.  That power is love that will enable you to fish for others for the sake of the kingdom of God. 

Not too much later, Jesus called Levi, a tax collector to follow him.  He responded in the same way that Simon and his partners James and John did to Jesus’ invitation to follow.  They all “left everything and followed him” (vv. 11 and 28).  The fishermen left their boat and nets.  The tax collector left his booth.  They had to leave their lives, their usual routines, their jobs in order to follow Jesus.  Maybe that’s the scariest part of the story for us.  Could we, like Simon Peter, James, John and Levi leave everything and follow Jesus?  While God doesn’t necessarily ask us to quit our jobs to follow Jesus, it’s wise to take note of the things that may hold us back from following him.  It is a commitment to follow Jesus.  

Who are we, that Jesus would call us to follow him?  We are nobody, just like the first disciples.  They were mediocre fishermen and a despised tax collector from an insignificant region of Israel.  It wasn’t supposed to work.  It defied all expectations of starting a movement that would bring huge changes to the world. 

That’s the way God works.  God uses the least likely people with no power or influence.  Jesus calls people with no expertise in evangelism or theology.  It shows that God is at work.  The Apostle Paul later wrote this about Jesus’ followers:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).  Jesus wants and calls people who are willing to take a chance and do what he says to show the world that God is present an at work among us.  Jesus wants his followers to learn to trust him.  It takes humility to follow Jesus.  “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful person!”  I can’t stand in Jesus’ presence because I’m too sinful, powerless. 

But Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.  Follow me.  Trust me, and I will let you be part of my mission to redeem the world.”  Jesus doesn’t call us to be part of his mission because we are skilled or talented or he knows we can do it.  He calls us precisely because we can’t.  He calls us because he knows he will spread the gospel through us. 

Scott Hoezee explained it this way:  “If you’re going to save the world, you’ve got to start somewhere.  And if in the end you’re going to save the world through humility, gentleness, compassion, and sacrifice, it makes sense to begin with a bunch of fellows who couldn’t get much more humble if they tried!”  Scott Hoezee, Sermon Starter for Epiphany 5C, Center for Excellence in Preaching, https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-5c-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel 

I’m going to let you in on a secret.  I figure it’s about time you knew what I’ve been up to all these years as your pastor.  Over the almost 23 years I’ve been with you, I didn’t really know what I was doing.  I still don’t.  But I have trusted that God knew what we were supposed to be and do as a church.  So I tried my best to help us all listen for the Holy Spirit to lead us.  I tried to follow Jesus, and to help you all to follow him too. 

When we went through a discernment process in 2013 and asked God whether we would be a church without a facility, I didn’t really know where we would end up.  I had my preference, but we all agreed to let go of any preconceived ideas of what we thought we needed as a church.  I wanted us to once and for all close the door on buying land and building a facility.  As we spent time in prayer and worship and discussion, it became clear that God was in control, and that we just needed to listen and follow.  We heard God telling us that building a facility wasn’t our concern and that God would provide one in God’s own time.  Our focus, our concern was to build the body of Christ.  

It wasn’t the answer I wanted, but God spoke and we listened.  As a result, our focus was sharper as we built the body of Christ.  We don’t have the burden of maintaining buildings.  We can concentrate our time and resources on building relationships with God and with our neighbors.  Our nets are full of people who are growing closer to Jesus, who are experiencing the life that God created us to live. 

This journey of faith that we’re on is exciting because we aren’t in control and we don’t always know where the road that God has put us on will take us.  Jesus has simply called us to trust and follow him.  “Don’t be afraid,” he says to us.  “From now on, you will fish for people.  Follow me.” 

I’m sure that Simon Peter, James, John, Levi and all the disciples were glad and grateful that they had been called by Jesus to follow him.  They were able to watch him heal people, love those who were outcast, teach profound lessons on the love of God.  They were able to take part in Jesus’ miracles, feeding masses and healing the sick.  And while they also suffered greatly in watching Jesus arrested, put on trial, and crucified, they also were witnesses to his resurrection.  They saw and did all of this with Jesus because they followed him and they became fishers of people. 

As we follow Jesus, our fears diminish as we trust him more and more.  We watch him and learn how he lives.  And we do what he does—we proclaim the presence of the kingdom of God.  We minister to the people around us. We love Jesus and we love our neighbors.  We bring healing to the hurting and comfort to those in mourning.  And we fish—we invite others to come along on this exciting journey with us. 

As we move together toward the future that God has for us, we will follow Jesus and fish for people.  Thanks be to God for inviting us to take part in this exciting, life-giving journey of faith.