Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
12:00pm Fellowship
Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
315-265-7474

The Difference

January 22, 2012:

Gone Fishing
Massena Grace and First (Pulpit Exchange)
Call:           Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Text:           Mark 1: 14-20
Read:   Psalm 62        (787)

                                Gone Fishing

I may have - as I suggested earlier - the poorest singing voice in the UNY annual conference.

I may have - as the elementary chorus director stated several years ago when rejecting my participation in that body -
        Only one note - a low G - in my entire singing voice
[and here I need to observe
that every time I think I get a note right during worship,
I check the hymnal and discover that it was indeed a low G.]

I could even be the most musically challenged person to stand behind the pulpit in the history of Methodism.

But I am a Methodist.           I am a lifelong Methodist

And it is virtually impossible for anyone - regardless of talent - to have spent as many years in Methodist churches as I have
        Without acquiring an appreciation
                For congregational hymns and their importance to worship
        And without developing an ability
                To recognize hymns that help bring the scriptures to life.
In fact, I would venture to suggest that
        My VMD  (vocal music disability)
        May well have made me more conscious of the words in hymns
                Than many more musically gifted pastors.

In fact in the five years I was serving Grace,
Ellen, on several occasions, had to remind her skeptical singers
        "Jim chooses hymns on the words more than on the music."

And while I don't mean to imply that I don't pay attention to the music,
        I do focus on the words.

In some services,       I have even concluded
that one of our hymns was a better sermon
than the one I was about to preach.

[Of course, I preached those sermons anyway - thus giving the congregation a chance to reach the same conclusion.]

It is that focus on the words that led me to
        the third verse
        of our opening hymn
"Lord, You Have Come To The Lakeshore."

This verse struck me and spoke to me
        Even though I couldn't make it rhyme
                And I like my hymns to rhyme.
        Even though I had to add a few words
                To meaningfully read the verse aloud
                        For when I read aloud I like it to be meaningful
That third verse,    located on the second page    and outside the staff
        Is, along with the hymn's three other verses,
A verse in which we - as we sing it - are speaking to Christ.

        "You need my hands
You need them to be full of caring
So that through my labors others may receive rest
And so too, they may receive your constant love,
a love that keeps on loving.

In other words,
when we sing that verse We are acknowledging
                That Christ, who came to the Lakeshore
                Needs us to be his hands and to do his work.
        When we sing that verse We are recognizing
                That we must be full of caring
and that we must be full of his constant love
        And that if we are              Others will be at peace

Thus Jesus calls us
        Over the tumult of our life's wild restless sea
This is a constant call; this is a persistent call, for
        Day by day his sweet voice soundeth
        "Christian,     follow me."

That constant and persistent call is what today's scriptures are all about.

That is why God called Jonah
        A second time,
even though Jonah had dramatically said "No!" the first time
                [saying "No" by chartering a boat to flee from God
                A plan that was thwarted by a great storm and a big fish]
                [Jonah 3: 1-3a]

And that too,   is why Christ began his ministry
        By calling disciples
        So that they could be trained
                To call more followers
after his death, resurrection, and ascension.
Mark tells us that story.       Mark 1: 14-20

Christ called Peter and Andrew
        They didn't flee like Jonah
        They put a "Gone Fishing" sign on their boat
                And they went to fish with and for the one who called them.

Christ called James and John
        They didn't flee like Jonah either
        They left their father, explaining that they too, were going fishing
                And they went to fish with and for the one who called them.

Christ calls each of us         to be witnesses and to make disciples

Do we, despite the fact that the approach didn't work particularly well for Jonah,
try to charter a boat and flee from the call?
[That boat may well be named the ""I'm too busy to help you God"]

Or      Do we drop our nets, put a "Gone Fishing" sign on our boats,
                And go fish     with and for him?
These are valid questions.
These are questions we do have to ask ourselves.
These are questions that we do have to answer for ourselves.

But even if we or others elect the Jonah boat chartering approach
        We - and they - must
                Recognize that our God is caring and loving
        We - and they - must
Remember that our God is a God of Second Chances
                        And of third, fourth, and fifth chances as well.

Jonah may have tried to flee
        But eventually, "after some further persuasion,"
                He went and he delivered the message to those in Nineveh
                        And although Jonah was not happy about it
                        His answering the call - reluctant and forced as it was -
                        Saved God's gentile children in that city

I believe that God's delight that Jonah finally went
        Far exceeded God's anger at Jonah's initial refusal to go.

Why do I think that?
Because I have read Christ's parables

I have read the one about the two brothers
                One of whom said he would do what he was told to do
                        But didn't
                The other brother said he wouldn't do what he was told to do
                        But then he actually did it - and received praise for it
                        God gave him a second chance
I have read about the shepherd going after a solitary lamb
and     about the prodigal son who returned home to his father's joy
                even though he had wasted his inheritance

The lamb which had wandered away got a second chance
The son who had both wandered and wasted got one too

How can we read any of these
or the story of the call to Saul on the Road to Damascus
 without seeing, without learning, without understanding
that God not only gives, but loves to give,    second chances.
        Even to those who - like Jonah - resist or reject the initial call

And as we ask and answer the questions we also have to recognize that
        None of us, no matter how quickly we responded,
                Is ever a perfect servant.

Think of Peter denying knowing Christ?
Think of James and John arguing about who was the greatest
        These guys were great servants of Christ
        But they were not perfect servants

But the scriptures are not the only place for us to look
        For examples of reluctant, protesting responses to God's call
Or      For examples of imperfect servants

I suggest that we look in the pews
I suggest that we look behind the pulpits
I suggest       that we look in the mirror.

Why are we so afraid to answer the call to serve?

It's not that we don't know it is God calling us

Jonah knew it was God telling him to go to Nineveh
        But he fled anyway
Peter knew that the man arrested in the garden was the Christ
        But he denied knowing him anyway

Now, if I were to tell you to go to Nineveh
        You'd have every right - maybe even responsibility -
        To question the wisdom and fairness of the instruction
                But it was God - not Jim Barnes - who told Jonah
                And because he knew the mission was dangerous
                        He fled anyway

If I were the one arrested
        You'd have every right - almost certainly the responsibility -
        To weigh the risk of admitting that you knew me
                But it was Jesus - not Jim Barnes - who was arrested
                And Peter who in this morning's scripture had immediately dropped his nets when Jesus called him
                        Was afraid
                        And denied him anyway.

The truth is that we are afraid
Because Christian discipleship always has a cost.

For Jonah it was physical danger and the risk of humiliation
        He decided the cost was too much - until persuaded
For the foursome who dropped their nets in our scripture, it was
        Leaving their livelihood        And leaving their families
                They agreed to pay it at the time of they were called
                But later their response was not always consistent

For most of us the cost is usually
        An expenditure of time, energy, and money
                A lesser cost than in this morning's scriptures,
but a cost nonetheless.

However, the cost of not accepting the call to serve is much greater
        For in taking that approach
                We deprive Christ of our hands and of our labors
                And we deprive others of the love and peace
They would have had - if we had answered the call.

With these scriptures in our minds, the question you and I need to ask ourselves, this week and in the weeks ahead is:
        "When we look back on our lives
                Will we see a "Gone Fishing" sign
        Or will we simply see a crazy quilt
                Of indulgent and nonsacrificial behavior
        And a life of a person          Who was unwilling to pay the cost.

I'm hoping for a "gone fishing" sign
        But my hope is based not on my gifts or actions
(I have proved over and over again that I am not a perfect servant.)
        But rather, my hope is based on the fact that
our God is a God of love and of second chances.