By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 24, 2019
Luke 6:27–38 (ESV)
Love Your Enemies
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
When we approach scripture, it is important to remember that each of us bring something with us. We each have lenses or some sort of perspective that we interpreted life through. Although we attempt to read scripture for what it is, we often find our perspective coming through. There are people that believe that the God of the Old Testament and that of the New are different, this difference is largely perspective, because everything taught in the New Testament is found in the Old. Jesus did not teach anything new, even though he said he is giving his disciples a new commandment near the end of his ministry, that new commandment was not necessarily new, but was new to their thinking.
I will continue to mention we each read our own lives into scripture, because it is true. We cannot help it, because we live and experience life. Each of our life experiences give us a perspective that is different. When I read a passage, different words attract my attention than the words that attract yours. Those words are what I meditate on, those are the ones that water and feed my soul, but for you they might carry no meaning at all. I will give you an example. My son, James and I, are reading doing a reading plan together. We are using the YouVersion Bible App, which is free if you have a smart phone. In this app you can add friends and read together and share your thoughts. A couple of weeks ago as I was reading a verse just seemed to grip my attention and would not let it go. I found the verse funny and challenging, it has caused me to stop and rethink many things. The verse was Matthew 15:16, “’Are you still so dull?’ Jesus asked them.”
I told you that Jesus had a sense of humor. I think Jesus had an amazing grasp of sarcasm. He basically called his disciples stupid and guess what I am one of those disciples. Those words that were written are just as much for me as they were for the disciples that walked with Jesus. But why would he call his disciples dull? Because, they like each of us look at scripture from their perspective and were not willing to accept an alternative interpretation. They thought they were right and everyone else was wrong. And the problem with this way of thinking is we will often miss the point.
Today’s passage is a continuation of the sermon on the plain. Which is very similar to the sermon on the mount which is found in the gospel written by Matthew. Jesus had just come down from the mountains, where he withdrew for a time to pray, and when he neared the shore of the sea, he found a crowd had gathered. This crowd was filled with people Jerusalem and all over Judea, it even had people that had come from the lands north of Israel in Lebanon. They had heard about Jesus, that had witnessed some of his feats and they had hope that maybe he might be able to change their life as well. We are not really told exactly where this plain was located, and I mentioned last week that it was likely the same plain outside of Capernaum where the fishermen would gather together to lay their nets out to dry while they separated their produce and made repairs. It is likely the same area where Andrew, Peter, James and John were working when Jesus told Peter to go back out into the waters to cast the nets one more time. Peter, of course thought this was stupid because he was a master of his trade and Jesus was a carpenter. What did a man that worked with stone and wood know about fish? Peter decided to humor Jesus and he took the boat back out and the catch was so great that it nearly sank his boat and that of his friends.
The people came out there because Jesus had power. He could heal, he could provide for a family’s lifestyle, and he taught things that made them think differently about life. Jesus came down from the mountain and he looked at the crowd, they brought people with illnesses to him and he provided them with relief. There were some that we in the bondage of spirits and they were released. There were Jews and Gentiles, there were people accepted and rejected by society, there were people considered rich and others who were dependent on others for their survival. Basically, the entire spectrum of human experience was represented on that plain, and Jesus lifted his eyes to them.
“Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” he began, “Woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation.” We struggle with these words. We struggle because our perspective, our life experiences may not resemble those of the people who originally heard those words. Yet those words, cause us to think. They cause us to stop for a moment and consider what is going on around us.
I mentioned last week that many have taken those words and have encouraged people to engage in the work of social justice. I think that this is not enough, because when Jesus speaks of these blessings and woes he is speaking of the extremes of society. Everyone on that social continuum has needs and all are needed. And when Jesus pronounced those words, he was encouraging us to consider where we are and who is around us.
Today we meet again on that plain, we continue to hear the teachings of Jesus as he look up to this crowd, and today he says, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Do we hear or were our ears shut off at the mention of social justice?
Jesus’s ministry was not in a vacuum. He was ministering to people that lived in a very real place, a place that had been on the crossroads of empires for its entire history. There were those in that crowd that had the idea that the messiah of God would be a conquering king that would throw the chains of bondage off Israel and drive Rome to the sea. There were those in the crowd that had a completely different view. There might have even been some in the crowd that anticipated not one messiah but three. The ideas in ancient Israel were diverse, and often we neglect to consider that these people of ancient eras had ideas, ideologies, and opinions just like us. Even among Jesus’s disciples there were different opinions. When this diverse group of people heard the words of Jesus that day, they cringed just as much as we do today.
Love your enemies. This one statement turns many away from Christ. It is twisted and turned, it is justified and butchered trying to make it fit nicely into our ideologies, yet it still plagues our thinking. What does love your enemies mean? Does Jesus really mean enemies or does he simply mean people we do not get along with? Is there any way that we can get out of this and still be considered a follower of Christ?
We love and hate this passage. We love it because it sounds like a utopia, we hate it because we understand that life is filled with pain and struggle. We know that if we were to live this out, we would get hurt in some way. Why would Jesus say such a thing? We need to begin with love.
Most of us know that in the Greek language, the language that the gospels were originally written in, there are several words that we translate as love. Each of those words represent a different type of love. One is philia, or friendship, which is where the name of the city Philadelphia comes from. Another is eros, which is usually used for intimate love. Then there is empathy and tenderness like we have for children or kittens. And pragma which is the love that endures in relationships when eros has lost the fire. There is also philautia, the love of one’s self. Several words that were used to speak of vastly different forms of love, but each we translate simply as love. This is why we struggle with this verse. But none of those words for love are the type of love that is used here, agape.
Agape is the word that is used when the ancients referred to mercy, charity, the love of God to man and of man to for the good of God. We often refer to this type of love as unconditional love, or as one scholar explained it, “to will the good of another.” This is the word that is used in this verse. I want us to consider that meaning as we consider the verse. “But I say to you who hear, will the good of your enemies, do good to those who hate you…”
To love an enemy is to hope for mutual good. The past few weeks I have been reading and listening to a book series that speaks about the history of the establishment of England. It takes place in ancient times when there were wars between the Danes and the Saxons, and Alfred is the last of the Saxon kings, yet he has a vision of a united kingdom of England. Prior to this the lands of Briton were divided into several small areas, some of the areas were predominately influenced by the Danes and other Norse groups, others were settled by Saxons, and then there were the Britons and Scotland. There was peace between some and war between others. Alfred was a Christian, and the Danes were pagan. The pagan religion of the Norsemen honored the warrior, and to get the greatest blessing in the after life they needed to die with a sword in their hand. Alfred and the Christians had a different view, they wanted peace. Yes, they participated in great battles, but Alfred often offered them mercy, an alternative way to exit the battle without a fight. In the stories I have been reading this irritated the Danes because it completely opposed everything about their world view. It did not make worldly sense yet as the Danes plundered the churches and monasteries some wondered why people would live such a life. They would continue to plunder and wonder. They would listen to the priests and some converted.
I do not mention this because I think we should glorify the life of the Saxon King Alfred, but I mention it because he according to the story, tried to live a devout life of faith. He willed the good of another, he offered a different option even for his enemies. And at times it cost him a great deal, it nearly cost the kingdom.
When Jesus says love your enemies, he is encouraging us to find other ways to change the direction of life. He is encouraging us to stop looking at those around us as enemies but to look at them as human beings loved by God.
I remember when I was preparing to go to Ukraine, my grandpa told me that he would pray for me. He was going to pray because I was going to go to the land of the enemy. I love my grandpa. I have learned a great deal from him and he one of the people who has encouraged my faith the most. Yet I remember him saying that. I remember even thinking that myself. When I began to talk to the students in Ukraine, I found out something different. The stories they were told of us were very similar to the stories we were told of them. They feared the nuclear winter brought on by America just as we feared the nuclear holocaust perpetrated by the Soviets. They wanted their children to go to school and to get a good job, just like we want ours to do the same. They wanted the same things, they just had a different idea as to how those things would happen. Once I heard about the life of those students, I realized that we really were not enemies, we were just people. People with hopes and dreams. People that wanted a better life for ourselves and our children.
Love your enemies, Jesus says, will their good, “and as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Jesus did not really teach anything new. Everything that he taught was grounded in the teachings of the law. It was required in Torah to treat even the aliens that lived in their land as they would treat their fellow Israelites. The Golden rule was taught by all the great rabbis, because to treat others as you would like to be treated is nearly a universal law. The idea behind all of this is, if you do not start peace who will? If you do not start living your life willing the good of anther who will? If every moment of our lives is dedicated to only getting the best only for yourself, where does that leave the rest of the world?
The blessings and the woes, and the loving your enemy go hand in hand. They speak of the same things. We need and we are needed. Each of us are important not only to God but to each other. When we begin to think that we are more important than another, we begin to participate in that continuous cycle that leads to death and destruction. Yes, some have different abilities, and yes some have different gifts, but we all need and are needed. We are commanded to will the good to them, to live our lives in such a manner that all around us are better off because we are here. If you own a business you direct that business in such a way that it benefits all involved: the customer, labor, and management. If one aspect suffers the entire relationship suffers. And when the relationship suffers eventually it will fail. This applies in every relationship. To encourage our children, we do not simply give them gifts, but we train them and teach them so that they will know how to survive. When they turn from the ways of God, do we stop? No, we continue to encourage, and will the good, but we may have to adjust how we do it. Marriages also must be lived in such a way that we will the good to the other. We do everything for our mutual benefit, not just self. This is what agape is all about. To love other, to love our enemies is doing all we can to find an alternative direction where we can walk together.
How do we do this? How can we love when they continue to do the very things that infuriate us? How can we encourage when we have tried everything we can possibly think of? This is why the lifestyle Jesus taught is so important. We need and are needed. We do not have everything we need in ourselves, we need others to help us get to the places we need to go. This is why Jesus made it his custom to go to worship with the community, why he withdrew often to pray, and then engaged in ministry. We need others to encourage and to listen to us as we gather to worship, we need time in prayer where we can release our frustrations and petition God for direction, so that we can enter our relationships again. We need and are needed. We are poor and we are rich. We are the friend and the enemy, but what will we do? Will we hope and strive for the good or sit back and complain? Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those that curse you, pray for those who abuse you. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
Luke 6:17–26 (ESV)
Jesus Ministers to a Great Multitude
17 And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.
20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
Jesus Pronounces Woes
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
There is something about the lifestyle of Jesus that always seems to surprise me. When we consider his life, we often think that his audience was always Jewish. This is common since he did speak in the lands of Israel. But in this passage, we get a glimpse into something more. People from all over Judea and Jerusalem and the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon came to listen to him. This struck me this week as I was contemplating this passage, so I got out a map. The lands of Tyre and Sidon are north west of Israel. Tyre was an ancient Phoenician city which is now located in Lebanon. Sidon is further north along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, also in Lebanon. These cities currently are currently the third and fourth largest cities in Lebanon. Israel has a long history with the area of Lebanon. At times they were allies and at other times enemies. And between these two cities was Zarephath the city Elijah went during the great famine and was fed by the widow. These were not Jewish people they were of Phoenician ancestry, they were Gentiles, but they were Gentiles whose history had witnessed the power of the God of Israel. Jesus is attracting a following of people that stretches throughout Israel and out into neighboring provinces. Which should remind us that the gospel is not confined to nations of men, that God’s grace and love is for all people.
I wonder if it surprised the people of the first century to find such a diverse gathering listening to Jesus. In places like Jerusalem it was more likely because Jerusalem was a religious magnet. People would travel to Jerusalem just to see the magnificent temple built to the God of the Hebrews. It was a city filled with wealth. The wealth and beauty of this temple eventually filled the rulers of Rome with envy. And when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, the wealth of the temple was used to build many of the iconic structures throughout the city of Rome that still attract tourist today. But this is not that city, this is the Judean countryside. Although people loved Jerusalem, the rest of Israel was not as attractive. Sure, it had some vineyards and olive groves that could turn a nice profit, but it was not a center of culture. It had a few cities that made life bearable for the Gentiles, but to be stationed in Judea was to be forgotten. Jerusalem was this jewel in the wilderness. Yet a teacher from rural parts of Palestine was drawing people to the wilderness.
I think it is important to acknowledge this before we dive into the verses that follow. This crowd was filled with Jews and Gentiles. All were coming to listen to the teachings of Jesus. All were coming to have an opportunity merely touch Jesus to have their illnesses healed. Those that were struggling with unclean spirits were coming to be released from that bondage and Jesus did not make any distinction as to who they were. In other passages people from these northern regions were mentioned and, in those passages, we hear Jesus making seemingly rude comments like calling a Syrophoenician woman a dog, that woman was from this same area. Why was Jesus rude to her when he openly welcomed this crowd? The answer lies with the context, when that woman came to Jesus there was greater tension among the Jewish people that he was speaking to the Gentiles, and she was experiencing the discrimination of the crowd because of their nationalistic fervor surrounding Jesus and the Messiah. Jesus, if you did not know was a man that was filled with a sense of humor, and the exchange with her was poking fun at those that misunderstood his calling. Basically, Jesus is telling us all that to exclude people from the kingdom because of heritage, nationality, race, or any other characteristic that is out of the control of an individual has no place in the church. Jesus taught them all, and Jesus healed them all.
But what did he teach? The crowd was gathered there in the wilderness. Jesus was just prior to this up in the mountains praying, and he came down from that mountain to a level area. We are not told exactly where this area is, but it is likely the same plain where the fishermen dry their nets after their time at sea. Outside but near the city of Capernaum. Jesus comes down from the mountain and there is a crowd gathered, he turns around and he sees them all around up along the hillsides and on the plain. He greets them and he lifts his eyes. They had crowded around for the healing and now as they are astonished, and he basically has their attention secured he speaks what scholars call the Sermon on the plain.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” The first thing that we should recognized in this exchange is that there is a comparison. The blessed and those who receiving the woe are the opposite ends of a continuum. But what does it mean to be poor? I have struggled with these blessing and woes, because for most of my life I realized that I was not rich nor poor, I had been solidly in the middle somewhere. Meaning I never went hungry, but I also did not get what I wanted all the time. With this knowledge where do I fit? I would not be blessed nor would I be in the woe category. We struggle with really understanding these passages largely because we live in a culture where we have freedom. We live in a place where we have opportunities to make a living to some degree and if we need something, we can usually obtain it if we are willing to work for it. We live in a culture where there is a continuum of wealth. This was not always the case in ancient cultures. There were those that were dependent on others for their lives and those who had means. This is what poor and rich mean, dependent on others for your sustenance or having the resources available to you to survive on your own.
Where do you fall on this continuum? We can really look at it in various ways. Jesus is looking out at the crowd gathered along this plain and he can see all types of people. There are pharisees, fishermen, fellow carpenters, people from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, there are tax collectors, and maybe even a few soldiers sent to see why such a large crowd has gathered out in this rural part of the province. Jesus looks at them and he begins with blessed are the poor, the dependent and often exploited for theirs is the kingdom. In one-word Jesus has caused everyone to tense. In two paragraphs Jesus has challenged the entire worldview of the systems of mankind.
It is easy for us to look at these verses and say that Jesus is commanding us to become activists for social justice, but I think that is missing the point. When Jesus says these words, he is telling us that there are those that live dependent on the graces of others and there are those who have the means to provide. What he is wanting us to recognize is where we are. The poor are blessed because they are aware that they have needs, and the rich have pity because they are unaware. Does this mean that Jesus hates the rich? No, it means that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom because it is difficult for them to see that they are not self-sufficient.
When we are poor, when we are dependent on others for our welfare, we recognize that everything we have could be lost. If we were to lose our job how long would it take for us to lose the house, we are living in? If we are disabled what would happen if the generosity of our society were to evaporate? If we are retired how comfortable would we be without social security? If we work for others or receive our sustenance from some other entity other than ourselves, we are poor. Our livelihood depends on the means of others. The less income we have the more we recognize.
But what is often overlooked in this relationship is that there are people in the world who could probably survive for quite some time if they lost a job or retired from their labors. Many would say that those individuals would be rich. Those with means often forget something very important, they too are dependent. How did Bill Gates accumulate his wealth? How do the corporate executives acquire their salaries? How do those small business owners survive? Each of these in most cultures including our own would be seen as rich by many. They are rich because they seemingly do not depend on others. But if Microsoft did not sell a product to customers would we speak about Bill Gates? Bill Gates is dependent on his customers for his lifestyle. Just as every business owner is. Jesus says woe to the rich because often the rich do not recognize that they are just as dependent on others as the poor.
Blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, blessed are those that weep, blessed are those who are reviled. Woe to the rich, woe to the full, woe to those that laugh, and woe to those who are spoken well of. What is Jesus telling us? We need each other. Those that weep need others to mourn with them, to walk with them through the shadows. Those that laugh need others to help them realize that life is not always easy. Those that are hungry need others to share a meal with them and those that are full need other to share with, so they are aware that life is not always easy. Those that are reviled need others to encourage them, and those that are spoken well of need others to show them that life is not always easy. Those that are poor need others to help them provide for their families, and those that are rich need others to show them that life is not always easy. Jesus is telling us that we need each other.
The only way we can see the kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven is if we open our eyes and see those around us. The only way we can see the kingdom of God is if we are willing to look at the world around us from the perspective of someone else. The only time we can see the kingdom is if we take the time to see that of God in everyone and live the love that God has for them with them.
Jesus looked up at that crowd gathered on the plain and he saw just what we see today. He saw tax collectors taking more than required. He saw people engaged in business exploiting others. He saw people that lived off the generosity of others because of a disability. He saw fathers and mothers with hollow eyes because all they had went to feed their children. He saw Jews and Gentiles. He saw the accepted and the oppressed. He saw suffering and he saw plenty. He saw everyone on that hillside totally unaware of their true value, and everyone gathered on that hill was unable to see their true need, community.
Everyone has value because everyone is loved by God. God so loved the world that he sent his only son not to condemn the world but to save it. God loved each person to such a degree that he does not wish that anyone should perish but that all would have life everlasting with him. We have value. We have such value to God that Jesus chose to leave heaven to live among people like us, to teach us the ways of God, to show us how to participate in life with God, and he provided the means to that life through his death and resurrection. We all have value, yet we are all dependent.
Scripture tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We look at sin and we consider it to be a transgression of the law. But in reality, it is not recognizing the value we and others have to God. We all sin because we believe that we are more important than another. We all sin because we disregard our value to God. We all sin because we do not acknowledge our dependence on God and others. Every law in scripture revolves around the core principle that God loves us and we should love him and those that he loves. Every law, all ten or 613 however you look at it deal with how we love God, or how we regard ourselves of others. And Jesus says that all sin is forgiven, except one. That one sin that is not forgiven is the grieving of the holy spirit. What is that grief but rejecting to see that God loves all and we all are loved.
Jesus lifted his eyes to the crowd pronouncing his blessings and woes not because either end of the spectrum has more value than another. He pronounced those blessings and woes to open our eyes so we would be able to see that we need each other, and we need God to help us see the value of those around us. Do we see our value to God? Do those of us who weep at night because our lives seem so hard realize just how much God loves us and wants us to share our story to others so they can weep with us as well. Not for pity but for the simple fact that we need to realize that life is hard. Do those of us that cannot see how we will survive another month living in our current financial situation realize that God loves us and wants us to share our story, not for pity of others but so others can recognize that there is a need and we should all help each other. Do we realize that those that are spoke against and those that are speaking against them are equally valued by God and therefore welcome in any place that claims to honor him? Blessed are you and woe to you. And as we enter this time of open worship and communion as Friends, let us pray that as we lift our eyes today and throughout this next week that we will be able to see through the lifted eyes of Jesus. Our ever-present teacher and guide, the one who brings God to humankind and lifts humankind up to God through his life, death and resurrection. And let us turn to him and begin to walk again following his life and lifestyle of loving God, embracing the holy spirit and living his love with others.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 10, 2019
Luke 5:1–11 (ESV)
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
5 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
The season of revelation for me is one of the greatest to speak of. The passages we read revolve around the discovery of the nature of Christ by those around him, and the responses to the discovery various people make. Often it reminds me of what God used to convince me. I have shared the story of my journey many times, I share it not because I think my journey of faith is better than anyone else’s, but because it is my journey. I cannot speak for anyone else. I can only share what has been revealed to me. I might be able to share the story of someone else, but only if they reveal that story to me. My journey I know, I am aware of it because I was there. It is my experiences, my emotions, and my observations. You may or may not agree with the conclusions that I have make or the reasoning that I use to determine my decisions, but it is my story. And there are not very many stories that have more power in the lives of other than your personal story, the narrative of your journey.
This is because God uses the stories, he uses the testimonies of his disciple to show the world of the continuous power available to those that trust him and entrust their loves to him. What guided your life, what encouraged you to walk the pathways of faith instead of traversing the ways of the world? Our responses will all be similar, yet each unique but for most it is a story of return a testimony where we were once wondering lost in some chaotic wilderness and we found a path that caused everything in our lives to change.
I grew up in a small rural community. I was surrounded by people of faith and prayer. When your entire lifestyle depends on nature providing just enough water, just enough light and heat, just enough anything to sustain life faith is important. The things I witnessed and heard may not have convinced others, but it convinced me to consider trusting Christ.
Car accidents that should have killed me, farm equipment accidents that I should not have survived yet walked away without a scratch or even a bruise, countless charging enraged animals who did not care if I was standing in front of them that somehow jump at just the right time. One could say they were all coincidence, nature, or even good engineering. But all I know is I am alive and there are several moments that the probably was not in my favor.
Through every farm accident, every icy slide where I went just perfectly through two trees instead of into them, everything that occurred in my life it was not until I experienced the love and joy of being a father that I began to understand. It took a child to convince me, to fully reveal to me that God created us for his pleasure and because he loves us. It took a child to show me that my life was for the same.
What did it take for God to grab ahold of your life? What caused you to turn from your life before and pursue faith, what causes you to remain?
We call this season epiphany, or revelation but it could also be called the season of testimony because it is the season of what God did among the disciples that brought them to the point where they would turn from the lives they knew to a life and lifestyle where directed and dedicated to Christ.
We meet Jesus along the shores of the sea, Luke calls it a lake, but it is just one of the names for the sea of Galilee. Those who make a living on the produce of the sea are there washing their nets after a day’s work. Crowds are coming to the clearing which is believed to be a plain just south of Capernaum. Because of the crowd and the terrain, it is difficult for Jesus to teach the people, so he goes out on a boat to get some distances for his voice to travel.
What I find interesting about this story is that Jesus is only teaching, they do not make any mention of any healings he is only teaching. We do not know what exactly he had spoken about that day. He might have had many wonderful stories to tell amazing words of encouragement, but we are not told what those words were.
I find that to be very interesting. In most instances where Jesus is found teaching a crowd was are given so e indication as to what he said. This time we do not know. Maybe it is because of who is out there on the plain. We are told that at least some fishermen are there cleaning their nets. This probably is not a gathering of the local scholars. It is likely a clearing where there is plenty of space for the common fishermen to spread out their tools of trade and relax after the long hours of labor before the move into the second part of their daily labor of selling their daily catch. They are out on this plain separating the fish into quality grades, they are eating lunch and what they need to do to store their nets and prepare for their next day. I imagine the thick heavy air. It is hot and humid. A strong smell of fish is permeating the air, mixed with the sweat of those that labor in the Sun. Men are cursing and singing common working songs, stories are being exchanged and since they were fishing, we can be sure that lies are being told. It is the joining of the working class.
You can imagine the scene. It is the break room that many of us have spent time. It is the water cooler at the office, the cafeteria, and for the farmer the local co-op where they speak about the commodity prices while sharing a doughnut and coffee.
This is a scene that could be seen every day, from the first day of the week to the sixth. It is Jesus living and interacting with them life in their daily life. We are not told why Jesus was there, maybe someone asked him to help on a boat, maybe Jesus was walking by and notice that one of the sailors was injured and decided to lend a hand with the nets, maybe he came down with Simon’s wife to bring them their lunch.
Jesus is out there with the common working man. As they finish their tasks more and more men gather and press in on Jesus to the point that he gets into a boat so they all can hear. His friend Simon is not in a particularly good mood, he had been out all day and the only thing to show for it is the muck of the sea. Jesus is speaking about life with God and the kingdom and everything and as far as Simon is concerned Jesus is a good guy, but he just does not understand reality. Jesus lives in this idealistic world, but you live in a world where you worked all day mad at the end of it you still don’t know what you will eat because your nets were empty. Then Jesus tells Simon to go out deeper and put out the nets. Here in a crowd of fishermen Jesus says let’s go fishing.
I am not a fisherman, but I know enough to know that they go out early in the day catch the fish bring them in and then sell the fish. At this part of the day it is not usually profitable to go out because the sun would drive the fish deep. Simon and the others know their trade and here a carpenter is telling them how to do their job.
Some laugh. Some scoff. Some wonder what is going on. They are ok with his ideas. They like what he has to say but can they entrust their livelihood to it? Simon says ok for you I will do this. It is like a husband telling his wife that just this once I will try it your way. They go out to the deep. They drop the nets and they are surprised.
What does it take to cause someone to turn? For me it was a child, a child that carried the genes of my family, but that child was just one of a long line of reasons. For a man named Simon it was something else entirely.
Simon was a man who made his living on the sea. He knew the sea like a farmer knows the land that bears his grain. The farmer knows where the soul is deep and where the rocks are near the surface. He knows when and how much fertilizer he can add. The farmer knows when to plant and when to wait. A man of the sea knows where and when to cast their nets. They know the courses the fish move and which side of the boat they need to cast from to capture the greatest amount. It takes a man of the sea to know these things. And Simon knew that Jesus was not a man of the sea. I am certain that everyone on that coastal plain gad known that Jesus was not an expert of the sea. It was probably a running joke during the session of teaching. He probably wanted each man there to know just how poorly he knew their trade. But when he spoke of the kingdom and entrusting their very livelihood to the teaching, he was presenting them they like all of us would have scoffed. How could he really know?
I have watched people from the city come to make it on a farm. I had watched as they try to do things and fail, only to build a house and rent out their land to those that understood the ways of the land. It takes a master of a trade to profit. It takes years of work and study under a master to gain the knowledge and the skills to survive in any trade. You do not become a profitable plumber by watching YouTube, you simply delay the expenses for a time.
Jesus looked at Simon and he told him to cast the nets. Simon looked at Jesus, knowing that if he were to cast the nets his life would change. He would either become the laughing stock of the fishmongers or he would see God provide. Simon hesitates for a moment. For a moment you can almost sense the neurons in his brain firing across the synapses. He says, “Master, we have toiled all night and have caught nothing!” The translators put in the sentence an exclamation point here. They want us to know that Simon is in a state of inner turmoil. He is struggling. What will it take to cause you to turn?
Simon is standing there on his boat. The entire crew is looking at him, and every one of his colleagues are standing on the shore. Jesus has just taught them something about the kingdom because that’s what Jesus does, and he turns to Simon and says, cast the nets. He is literally asking Simon to let go of everything he has ever known. He is asking him to forget everything he has ever learned his entire adult life. To release from his mind every concept he had perfected over the past twenty or so years. And to trust him. Simon knows the sea, he knows how the fish swim, he knows when they come to the shallows to eat and when they hide in the depths. He knows when they can cast nets and when they should just go home. He knows that it is time to go home, and he also knows that he had just spent an afternoon cleaning the nets and this guy standing in his boat wants him to unpack all the gear and make a fool of him.
But Simon also knows that there is something tugging at his heart. He knows deep in his belly that there is more to life. He knows that deep within his soul this man is causing a stir that both frightens and excites him. This man has caused his mind to wander again, he has caused his heart to race, and he has again begun to dream of something more. Could there be something more to life than he has experienced?
“Master, we have worked all night and have caught nothing!” Simon says, “But at your word I will let down the nets.” Imagine the fear and the excitement that might be going through Simons mind. Imagine the laughter that the people on the shore might be sharing, the jeers they might be hearing from the crowds. What is Simon muttering under his breath?
A few years ago, a movie came out called, “Faith like Potatoes” This movie is about a man who moves his family from Zambia to South Africa because of political unrest and he builds a farm. They struggle trying to make a living in the harsh environment. But while he struggles he begins to attend a local church and as he attends his faith grows. He was once consumed by his hardships, his fear and angers to the point of destruction but slowly he releases that and steps out in faith. The area is experiencing an unprecedented drought the experts are all telling him to plant safe crops but this man in front of thousands of people, fellow farmers like him, said he would plant potatoes and trust that God would provide. A huge risk, people laughed, and his wife was pretty upset as well. He risked everything for what?
Simon was like this guy in Africa. Their hearts were stirred, and they were called to risk it all in front of their peers. The man in the movie (Which is said to be based on a true story) plants the potatoes into the dry, dusty dirt, and Simon lets down his net. I ask again what will it take for you to turn?
All our knowledge, every ounce of our worldly wisdom might be screaming at us to stop what we are doing, yet we walk. I myself am not naturally inclined to speak. I would prefer to sit at home in silence reading or watching a movie. My idea of a perfect day would include finding a good walking stick and taking a hike with Kristy and my two sons. My wisdom tells me to run away from this place and take a hike yet here I am talking in front of people every week. What will it take to make you turn?
Simon let down his nets, even though every fiber in his being was telling him that this was the worst decision of his life, his heart was telling him do it. He was struggling with himself, yet his heart was telling him to listen to the teacher, let out the nets and trust. He threw the net, he might have even had tears in his eyes because he had toiled all night and had nothing. He had struggled in life and nothing seemed to work. Simon might have even been like some of us, wondering where the money would come from to buy enough food for their family. We know he had a family and his mother-in-law was under his care as well, and he had just spent the night working and had nothing to show. Yet this teach said go out and drop the nets again. The teacher said believe.
He let down the net and began to pull it in. The others on the shore looked at him and laughed, but then they saw something. The boat dipped under the weight and Simon’s arms were straining. He gestured quickly and some of his friends jumped in their boat to come to help. They carefully brought up the net, they filled not one but two boats to the point they were beginning to sink.
He let out his nets, and the man in the movie I mentioned planted potatoes, both stories end the same and God provided more than they could dream. And both men fell to their knees before Jesus. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Simon cries out. I am guessing that what they had just seen was something unseen before. They possibly just received a full year’s salary in one afternoon. It might have even provided enough for the entire community to live comfortably for a while. Jesus looks at Simon who is on his knees before him and he says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
What will it take for you to turn? What will it take for you to trust? What is holding you back from living the life you can sense God is calling you to? That day Simon left his boat and followed Jesus. That day I held my son for the first time, I began a journey that changed everything in my life. What is God calling you to trust him in? And what keeps you coming to his feet?
We each have a story. Every one of us has a powerful story of how God took us from where we once where and brought us here. Maybe we have shared that story and maybe we haven’t, but I tell you those stories are the single most powerful tool that we have available to us. When we tell others that story, the story of when we told Jesus that we would do that one thing at his word and trust that he would see us through. Have we forgotten our story? Have we allowed the world to distract us from what God has called us to? Simon let down his net and it changed his world forever, yet even he got distracted for a time, and went back to the boat. Even Simon, the disciple we know as Peter, the rock and voice of the disciples struggled with his faith, yet he was reminded just as we are. What will it take to make you repent and turn back to the faith? What will cause you to let it all down and trust?
As we enter this time of holy expectancy let us think of those things. Let us remember our story, that journey through life that has brought us to this place here today. And let us consider if the God that brought us through all of that can take us one more step.