First Lesson: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 62: 5-12
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 14-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
NPR tells the story of a guy named Jason Comely1. Comely recalls one Friday night sitting in his apartment alone. Comely was trying to spend this Friday night distracting from his personal pain. Comely’s wife had left him a number of months earlier. She had found someone taller, richer and seemingly just all around better than Comely believed himself to be. Because of this rejection, Comely went through life, not wanting to interact with anyone. Comely feared interacting with strangers, especially women because he believed that they were going to hurt him just like his wife. This Friday night, Jason Comely just snaps. He breaks down crying, feeling devastated by the weight of the world. Comely though on this evening realized something that would eventually be life-changing.
Many of Jason Comely’s fears were irrational. If all that he had to fear was another person’s rejection, the worst thing that rejection was going to bring was leaving him exactly where he already was.
Jason Comely decides to challenge himself. He was going to get rejected by someone, nearly every day. He began this quest by going to his local grocery store, approaching a complete stranger to ask for a ride across town. The response was a predictable “no”.
Jason kept at it, day after day, looking to make an outrageous request to get turned down. “Barter for a discount before purchase” “Ask a stranger for a breath mint” “Ask an unapproachable girl on a date.” He soon figures that it isn’t a successful day unless someone turns him down. The change in approach changes Jason Comely’s life. He becomes much better at interacting with people because he becomes indifferent to their response.
Jason Comely eventually comes up with an idea to make a deck of cards with different challenges inviting rejection. Slowly, the rejection game becomes a cult phenomenon all over the world. What Jason learned from all this is something about the nature of fear?
We tend to overstate most fears. Think of the city slickers who visit the North Shore, who believe they’re going to get attacked by a bear after spending five minutes in the woods. Think of the media fear-mongering from such low-grade risks as Ebola or Swine-Flu. One of the easy things as human beings is to envision the worst case scenario.
You might think Jason Comely is a nut, you’re probably saying to yourself that you would never act like him. We’ll get back to why his story matters a little bit later this morning.
Today’s Gospel Lesson is a story that we all know2. It’s Jesus calling the first disciples in Simon Peter, his brother Andrew along with their friends James and John.
The thing that you need to know about this story is that Simon, Andrew, James, and John’s lives all revolved around fishing. We all know people like Simon, Andrew, James, and John. They fished all day, and their fathers probably fished all day. They probably envisioned the rest of their life being spent fishing all day.
You should probably know a little bit about where our scene for today takes place the Lake of Galilee. The thing about Galilee where Jesus lives is that looks nothing like Minnesota3. You don’t have a choice of lakes to fish; you are going to fish one lake in the Lake of Galilee. Fishing the Lake of Galilee was these men’s jobs and if they weren’t catching fish, then they were ending up like Jason Comely depressed and dejected on a Friday night.
Jesus notices these men as he is preaching along the lake shore. Jesus sees two boats with these men, washing their nets. Jesus knew their life needed to change. These men knew their life needed to change. So Jesus walks over to these men, steps into Simon Peter’s boat, and asks to be cast out a little way from the shore.
Jesus' request stumped Simon. Simon Peter was a professional Fisherman. Simon Peter had fished this lake his whole life; he knew all the best spots on it, where as Jesus was just some preacher dude.
Simon figured though what do I have to lose. So Simon casts down the net, and so many fish come into it that his net begins to break.
“Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”-Mark 1:17
For once the Disciples saw this miracle of fish there was no turning back. Sure, the Disciples could have come up with all sorts of legitimate reasons, not to act. Perhaps, tomorrow they would make it big like Forrest Gump in the fishing business, or perhaps their kids won’t know what to make of Dad always talking about God. Truth be told like Jason Comely, you can always find an excuse not to act.
For what the Disciples were being asked to do was not going to be easy. There were going to be times that they feared for their lives. Many of Jesus’ earliest followers would even die for their faith. The Disciples encountered all sorts of individuals to say “no” to them. They kept on keeping on.
I want you to picture an individual in your head this morning. I want you to picture the best salesman that you know. The one thing that makes any salesman great is they aren’t distraught by the possibility of hearing the word “no”.
For what prevents us from being great missionaries/evangelists is fear. We fear anger, we fear rejection. We keep this mindset, and things stay exactly the same.
This week, I read an article by writer Rod Dreher reflecting on the state of the church and the culture within America4. Dreher’s fears are that we are a generation or two away from American Christianity looking like European Christianity where few people identify as Christians and even fewer sit in a church on Sunday morning. It’s becoming increasingly uncommon where the children are more religious than the parents. Sychar Lutheran is not a unique church, the only real difference might be the time-frame.
We’ve heard the solutions before to follow the model of another church that is supposedly having success. The problem is marketing a church like any other business, takes away from its unique witness to the world around it.
Dreher’s suggestion is that we not that we need to blend Christianity into culture; we need to go radically against the culture.
Gerhard Forde was one of the most influential voices of American Lutheranism in the second half of the 20th century5. Forde wrote a famous article in 1987 where he stated that the future of American Lutheranism exists in being more radical about what we believe6.
We need to get on the mountain tops and proclaim Christ “dying” and “rising”. We need to say don’t come to this church because we can make your Sunday mornings a little bit better. We instead need to say that the old self and old way of life, the only way of life that you’ve ever known will be put to death. Only to proclaim that you shall rise in Christ as a new creation7. We don’t preach too much forgiveness as Christians; we often fail to preach enough forgiveness as Christians.
For we live in a nation that often gets the Christian religion wrong.
When I was working down in Lamberton, I knew a guy named Stan. Stan was an amateur clown. Stan had a neighbor who wasn’t a church-going man. Stan suggested that he watch our church service on public access, Wednesdays at 4. The man watches the service. During the service, I talk about how I personally don’t drink alcohol not for religious reasons but rather reasons of taste and health. Stan’s neighbor gets mad. I believe this guy liked to have a cocktail. He goes over to Stan to start yelling about his preacher. What he told Stan I said is that “Anybody who drinks is going to Hell”. Stan and this guy then started yelling at each other over the point of my sermon, and he got nowhere closer to any religious truth.
For this Man heard what he wanted to hear. He identified a problem within Christianity.
For Robert Farar Capon says it best “We’ve talked so loudly about should and shouldn’t s that it has eclipsed the forgiveness of sins”8.
I find that much of the opposition to Christianity has its roots in ignorance about Christianity. People often have too narrowing an understanding about Christianity. People like Stan’s neighbor have heard anything but the Gospel and use it to define Christianity.
For there will always be people out there who believe that they know a better way forward. We will not reach every soul, to whom we reach out.
Jesus himself said that there will be times that we just need to shake the dust off our feet and move on9.
“Those who think they are well do not go to a doctor”-Matthew 9:12.
So what can we do here as the people of Sychar Lutheran Church? We must be brutally honest about the world out there.
Too many people have this image of the American dream in their head. Life is supposed to look a certain way with an above-average wife and above-average kids. The thing is the world will break your heart. It might not happen for years, or it might happen way too soon. We must begin to claim this darkness as our own. We are an imperfect church, made for imperfect people.
The thing about rejection is Life will show it to you just like it had Jason Comely. What rejection does is point you to the day that you will hear that “Yes”, and it will sound like nothing that you’ve ever heard before in your life.
The reason that we evangelize is because The Cross is God’s yes, to our no. The Cross is God’s acceptance to our rejection, failure, sin, doubt, and despair. On that day on the Lake of Galilee, nets were breaking. The Disciples could have believed their situation was hopeless, yet it wasn’t. Christ was in their midst. Soon without knowing they would become Fishers of Men. Amen
1 Spiegel, Alix. “By Making A Game Out Of Rejection, A Man Conquers Fear.” NPR: Your Health Blog. 16.Jan.2015. Web. Jan.20.2015. An interview with Comely also took place on the second episode of NPR’s new show Invisiblia
2 This is the Year B text which is Mark 1:14-20. Other versions of this story are Matthew 4:18-22, and Luke 5:1-11.
3 Markquart, Edward. “Fishing for Christ: Gospel Analysis” . Sermons from Seattle. Life of Christ Course. Web. Jan.20.2015
4 Dreher, Rod. “Making Christianity Weird Again”. American Conservative. 18. Jan.2015. Web. Jan.20.2015
5 Further information about Forde can be found at www.crossalone.us
6 Forde’s article published in Lutheran Quarterly is entitled Radical Lutheranism. The point of this article is that we need to distungish Lutheran witness from various other forms of Protestantism. Lutheranism is so much an German/Scandavian ethnic movement, but rather a radical way of understanding the Gospel.
7 1 Corinthians 5:17
8 H.T. to my Facebook Friend and LCMS Pastor from Webster, Minnesota Donovan Riley on this one.
9 Matthew 10:14