Saturday, January 21, 2012
Congregations have spent many many years trying to be places of welcome for the right reasons and for the wrong reasons. Places of welcome. Working over and against the ideas of being a “B&B” church – backs and butts – all too often what visitors might see when they enter a congregation’s place of worship. – the regular attender’s backs and butts, the members, all knowing each other and paying attention to each other and ignoring the stranger in their midst. Over the years I have shared many stories with you of welcome or a lack of welcome on the part of different congregations because this was and continues to be crucial. If congregations are places where the Kingdom of God is especially present for people – then they absolutely must embody the Spirit of welcome of Jesus – because people can read – and in the Bible the Jesus that people meet is a Jesus who welcomes all to the table. Saints and sinners, rich and poor, people of good moral character and people of questionable reputations. Being a welcoming church is absolutely crucial because not only can people read but they visit congregations with their eyes wide open and their ears wide open and they know when people are being genuinely welcoming or just faking it or even not faking it and just plain inhospitable. Visitors know radical welcome and hospitality when they experience it (and when they do not).
Jesus welcomes all – you with me so far? Do you believe in your hearts that that is true? Jesus who ate with Pharisees and outcasts, healed the powerful and the poor, who invited a tax collector and in today’s gospel, fishermen, to be a part of his ministering community. Jesus welcomed all. Praised Jews and Samaritans who most Jews wouldn’t even speak with – praised them both. Jesus welcomed all.
But the problem is that many congregations never get beyond the struggle of welcome and radical hospitality. As important as it is to be a welcoming church that practices radical hospitality, there is more. More beyond the threshold of the front doors. More beyond the coffee hour and the doughnuts and the yogurt and blueberry parfaits.
Jesus puts it simply in our gospel for today: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
They do not sit around the shore of the Sea of Galilee and make a cozy campfire and wait for people to show up and pat one another on the backs and say “See how welcoming we are!” What they do is to go and follow Jesus.
OK, they were not a church. They did not have a building. They never had to replace an air conditioner or a roof or make sure the proper paperwork was filed with the IRS or wonder if peope will find the new wine an acceptable compromise. But as much as people like to weigh in on this whole religion versus Jesus debate – people saying I hate religion, but I love Jesus, stuff like that; what religion does and also the faith communities that religion helps to shape and form through the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit, is to disciple people. You can’t disciple yourself. And God calls us into community to provide others to walk with us in our discipleship. Jesus disciples the disciples and then they, in turn discipled others who disciple others and so on and so on, until folks like you and me are getting discipled. Most congregations tussle and struggle over being a place of welcome and practicing radical hospitality and they never find the time or energy or nerve to wrestle with the primary verb of the Great Commission: GO!
Now, back in the day and in some congregations that day is still going on, a very long day indeed, there were these Evangelism Committees, who do good work on behalf of the entire congregation, a couple of people getting the privilege and joy of this work. But, then no one else has to think about it, right? Well, hey there is this committee that does all of that inviting, exercising this foundational aspect of discipleship on behalf of everyone else. But you just can’t sub-contract parts of your discipleship out to some committee, especially the parts that you might not like or that make you uncomfortable.
In the gospel today these fishermen are not born knowing how to be disciples. Jesus shows them. Teaches them. Holds them accountable.
When these fishermen think that children should be not seen and not heard and start pulling them away from Jesus, Jesus teaches them that the kingdom of God belongs to people just like those children.
When the disciples are arguing over who is the greatest disciple, Jesus teaches them that the first must be last and servant of all.
When the fishermen are all impressed with the rich sums of money that people are putting into the temple treasury, he points out that the poor widow who had only a few coins is the one that they ought to pay attention to because she gave our of her poverty all that she had.
Jesus disciples these fishermen and they, in turn, disciple others.
And then here we are as a congregation working to be a better discipling community, one where disciples are equipped and set loose to disciple others.
God wants to build up God’s Kingdom; for God’s promise of salvation to be heard and experienced in every place, by everyone. And God accomplishes God’s purposes, true? So if that what God is about – people coming into a saving relationship with God through the hearing of the Good News and the work of the Holy Spirit – then God is going to accomplish God’s purposes. So the question for us really is – do we want to be a part of God’s work or not?
Having a mission doesn’t automatically make people disciples, but disciples will always be about Jesus' mission. Jesus bid those fishermen to leave their nets and come and follow him so that they could fish for people. They were invited to participate in the mission of Jesus. It wasn’t their mission – it was Jesus’ mission. And it still is. And the invitation is now in our hands. Written out with our names, so that there is no mistake. “Follow me,” Jesus says, “And I will make you fish for people.”