Epiphany 3 (A)

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A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer

First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches

Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 23, 2005

Text: Matthew 4:12-23

Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

How do you measure a thing? It’s a question that comes into play every single day of our lives. We’re constantly making decisions about measurements – we count on fair and accurate measurements for everything from business to education.

This morning I tossed a turkey in the crock pot for dinner tonight. I added a few things to the pot to help it cook up just right. For the water and gravy, I used a measuring cup. The salt and pepper were measured in teaspoons, rather than cups. The buttons on the crock pot measured my recipe in both temperature – hi and lo – and time – from four to ten hours. With all the right measurements, I should be eating well by six or so.

In the morning I’ll know what my feast did to my quest to shed a few pounds. As I stand on the scale each morning, it gives me a fair, accurate measurement of my progress – or lack thereof.

Whether I gas up down at Gary’s, look out my window at the thermometer, or just glance down at my watch, I realize I’m almost always measuring something.

So how do you measure a church?

What sort of yardstick do you use for the church? How can you measure the faithfulness of the people who gather together on Sunday morning? How can you make a fair judgment about something that seems so spiritual and otherworldly – an assembly that seems to defy all our usual ways of measuring?

In our gospel today, we find the answer. There are two measurements we need to take to tell the health of the church. They are how earnestly the church follows Jesus, and how energetically the church fishes for people. The greater the amount of energy a church puts into these two activities, the more confident we can be that here you will find people of faith, living out their faith in a way that pleases the Lord.

This morning we read about Andrew and Simon, two brothers who were busily casting their nets out over the Galilean Sea. We also read about James and John, another pair of brothers, who were mending their nets for the day’s haul. These four men weren’t fishing for sport or for leisure; this was their trade. They were in business, and their business was bringing in a catch every day. It’s the skill they had learned to make a living.

That’s why it’s so remarkable when all four of them drop what they’re doing to follow Jesus! Imagine Jesus walking through Valley City at nine in the morning, store clerks and bankers ditching their bosses and hitting the road with him. It’s hardly a responsible thing to do. In fact, it’s pretty near nuts. But to come running when Jesus calls is the most faithful, blessed thing a person can do. Those disciples did not know where Jesus would lead them, or what challenges they would face with him on the road. They didn’t know what their new master would require of them. All they knew was that the uncertainty of following Jesus every minute of every day was somehow far better than the comfortable predictability of life without him.

Jesus calls us still today to take up with him and follow wherever he will lead us. He doesn’t promise us that we will always like the road, or that we’ll even know where we’re headed all of the time. That’s never been part of his promise. What he does offer us is himself – when we’re following him, wherever we find ourselves, the most important thing about that place is that it’s where Jesus is, too. If he stops, so do we. If he sets up shop teaching and ministering, then we pitch tent and follow his lead. When he moves on, we hit the road with him. A life following Jesus isn’t predictable and it isn’t safe, but it’s the best kind of life there is.

The more energy a church puts into following Jesus, into seeking his leadership in all things, the more confidence you can have that here indeed is a faithful church. A dogged determination to follow Jesus wherever he leads is one of the yardsticks of faith.

But Jesus didn’t just ask his new disciples to walk. He gave them a new vocation to replace the one they had left by the seashore. From here on in, Jesus told them, they would be casting their nets for people, hauling them into God’s kingdom like a morning’s catch of fish. It would be hard work. It would require all of their strength and smarts. They would get tired and frustrated when the haul was not so large, and sometimes…sometimes the fish would even get away. But that was not to be their concern – Jesus’ new followers were to cast away, putting all of their skills and talents to use catching people in the sweet nets of God’s love, the love that he was showing them in Jesus Christ.

The times have changed, but Jesus’ call stays the same. Everyone who sets out on the road with him must learn the new trade of fishing for people. Jesus gives us everything we need to get started – from the strong line of God’s promises to the tempting lure of eternal life. Now that we’ve been caught in God’s nets, he sets us loose on the world, catching others in his love and hauling them into the kingdom with the good news that the same Jesus we’re following is the one who loved them enough to die for them. Sharing the gospel is hard, taxing work, but it’s the only work that’s really worth doing at the end of the day.

The more energy a church puts into fishing for people with the good news of Jesus Christ, the more confidence you can have that it is a faithful church. A wholehearted effort to catch people up in God’s kingdom is also one of the yardsticks of faith.

If you want to tell how well a church is doing, don’t bother looking at its worship attendance or membership rolls. Don’t pay any attention to the number of committees or classes or fellowship groups meeting on its campus. Don’t listen for whether it’s “traditional” or “contemporary” music you hear within its halls. None of these things is the mark of the true church.

Instead, ask whether this church is really, truly, passionately following Jesus wherever he may lead. Ask whether this church is, above all other things, investing its time, talents and finances in fishing for people, putting its all into sharing the good news of Jesus with them, so that we might haul them into God’s kingdom with us.

These are the yardsticks Jesus gives us. These are the marks of true faith. These are the measures of a church.

God grant us the faithfulness to measure up to his gracious, exciting calling. Amen.

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