Get off the boat

First United Methodist Church Shelbyville
Galilean Service
Sept. 16, 2012 – Barton Springs Recreation Area, Normandy Reservoir

Matthew 4:18-22 (CEB)

18As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. 19“Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 20Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 21Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and 22immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

In Jesus’ day, your life was defined, in large part, by where you lived and what you did for a living. Today, you read these statistics about how the average person changes jobs five times of the course of their life, and many of us have lived in more than one place in our lives. But back then, if you were born into a family of fishermen on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, there was a good chance that you were going to live your entire life as a fisherman on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. And you probably thought that was a good thing, a sign of security and stability.

And yet, Peter and Andrew and James and John dropped their nets. They left behind their life of relative stability and security to folllow someone who had no money, no home, no earthly resources. They left their income, their families, their homes.

That sounds like an amazing thing – something sort of unreal, like a parable or a work of fiction. It sounds like something we can safely ignore: “That’s what Peter and John did. It doesn’t really have anything to do with me. It’s just a story.”

But the truth of the matter is, God is calling on us to drop our nets. God calls on us to let go of everything we hold dear. God calls us to be like Abraham in that terrible moment when he was holding the knife over his son Isaac. Abraham was ready to give up the most precious gift God had ever given him, because Abraham was obedient to God’s command.

Just for the record, I don’t believe God is calling those of us gathered here on the banks of Normandy Reservoir to sacrifice any of our family members on the altar. It’s possible that he’s calling someone here, maybe more than one, to make some sort of dramatic life change, but just for the sake of discussion let’s assume he’s not. What does it mean for us, the people at the picnic shelter eating hamburgers, to live in complete and faithful obedience to God?

It’s only human to want security. It’s hard-wired into us. We want to know what’s coming down the road, and feel like we have some measure of control over it.

Well, God offers us security – but not the kind we think we want. God offers us ultimate security, security of destination, but only if we let go of ourselves and allow him to shape every aspect of our lives. What we lose, in the process, is the security of knowing for sure what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the next day. What we lose is the feeling of being in control.

Imagine that there’s a boat, right here on the shore, and imagine getting into it and pushing out onto the lake. Being out on the water involves losing some measure of control. When I’m standing here on the shore, I can stand in one place, I can step to the left, I can run forward, I can back up.

But on the water, anything I do to move the boat is going to be a lot less exact – and even more so if the water is rough or if there’s a strong current.

Peter and Andrew and James and John had spent a lifetime on the water, but even they could be afraid of it if there was a storm.

In literal terms, Jesus asked the fishermen to come ashore and follow him down the road on solid ground. But in a figurative sense, he was asking them to push out onto the water, to allow themselves to be carried along on God’s current, to give up their control and their sense of security.

Jesus calls us to do the same thing. Jesus calls us, in our minds and in our hearts, to be so completely in love with God that we would be willing to give everything up in an instant if it were truly God’s command. Jesus calls us to put our relationship with God ahead of every other concern, to allow it to transform every aspect of our lives – the way we work, the way we play, the way we interact with our families.

Jesus may not be calling us to quit our jobs the way the fishermen did – but it may be even more radical to suggest that Jesus wants us to do our jobs, whatever they happen to be, in a way that glorifies God. Jesus may not be calling us to leave our friends and families – but God wants to radically transform every relationship we have, and rebuild it from the bottom up.

Some of you who follow me on Facebook know that I just got through with a really great biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There was a point in time when Bonhoeffer, who had been critical of the Nazi regime and the institutionalized German church that was under the Nazis’ control, was sent to a teaching position at a seminary in New York. His friends and family members had pulled all sorts of strings and made all sorts of special arrangements to get him there, to put him out of harm’s way as war approached.

But no sooner had Bonhoeffer arrived in America than he felt God calling him to return to Germany. He astonished everyone by turning around, after only a few weeks, and returning to Germany, where he eventually died in prison for his part in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.

Bonhoeffer sacrificed security for obedience. That’s what the fishermen were doing that day on the shores of the sea of Galilee. That’s what God asks each of us to do, each morning.

Many years ago, there was a well-known bumper sticker that read, “God is my Co-Pilot.” Someone came along a few years later with a response: “If God is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats.” Too many of us want God as a co-pilot, a cheerleader, a safety net. We don’t want to follow God; we want God to follow us. But that’s not how it works.

The Rev. Jim Hughes, a pastor here in the conference, led a singles retreat that I attended about 1990, 1991 or so, and he had a message, the theme of which was that God wants us to travel light.

When Jesus sent out the disciples to preach, he told them not to pack very much, and to rely on the hospitality of the people to whom they were preaching. He told them to travel light. We need to look at the things that are weighing us down, the things that might prevent us from dropping everything and following Jesus. And whatever those things are, we need to get rid of them. We need to let go of them the way that Peter, Andrew, James and John dropped their nets.

Perhaps God is calling you to serve in some fresh new way. Or perhaps God calls on you to take a look at where you already are in a fresh new way. But in any case, God is asking you to give up your control, your security.

Can you trust God enough to be free? Can you hear God well enough to answer his call? Can you give up everything that you think is important in return for the one thing that truly is?