Just ‘Ship It’

by susan on January 20, 2014

Throughout January, we have been imagining what a rhythm of vision, formation and engagement will look like at The Well.  Here is the message shared during yesterday’s worship gathering focused on engagement.

Just ‘Ship It’
Matthew 4:12-23

We began by viewing this video clip together: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obdd31Q9PqA

My husband will be the first to tell you that while I believe running is very important to my mental and physical health, many mornings, he has had to endure my similar checklist of excuses. The crazy thing is, I love the results of running and have never regretted a run. It’s just hard to get out the door sometimes.

What keeps you from getting out the door or moving forward in a direction you believe is best?

Marketing and entrepreneurial guru Seth Godin believes that what we have is a “shipping” problem. We already have what we need to get moving, yet we stall when it comes time for the most important part – the shipping of our idea or plan.

We are either too afraid, too indecisive, or never really did the preparation needed to get things off the ground. While he mainly talks about our reluctance to “ship” or launch a professional work, the same idea holds true for anything. There comes a point, when we have to let go of what’s holding us back, lose sight of the shoreline and risk something to go somewhere.

When we come to the 4th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, it is that time for Jesus. It’s go time.

So far, Jesus has been baptized, he has endured the wilderness temptations and is prepared for the obstacles he will continue to encounter. He knows scripture, he has encountered his forerunner who is now imprisoned and he has had a very personal encounter with God confirming his identity.

He has a lot that has prepared him for the start of his ministry, but there are some things he does NOT have. Listen to the beginning of our scripture reading.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’
17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (NRSV translation)

When we hear this account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we are reminded that he did not have a steady and secure home. He was born in Bethlehem, journeyed to Egypt, then settled in Nazareth. Now, he is moving to Capernaum.

Matthew also feels the need to tell us that the place where he is settling is the land of Zebulun and Naphtali – you remember them, right? No, probably not. They were 2 of the lesser known 12 tribes of Israel. They were sons number 2 and 6 of Jacob. They do not have prominent roles in scripture, and yet Matthew wants us to know that Jesus begins his ministry here, not in Jerusalem. In all four gospels Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, but only in Matthew is the geographical location identified as the land of Zebulun (Hebrew “dwelling”) and Naphtali (Hebrew “my struggle”).

So, we see that Jesus does not have a stable dwelling place nor does he have a very good platform (poor marketing skills Seth Godin might say). There is also no evidence that Jesus had a master plan of how he will sustain, grow or move his ministry. Yet, he is clearly on the move.

Listen as we continue reading in v. 18.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.   (NRSV translation)

Jesus may not have had a master plan, but he must have been skilled in the art of persuasion. Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were not just hanging out by the coastline, hoping the fish might be biting. They were working their trade.

Fishing was a major industry in Galilee, and fisherman like these were very small cogs in a very large wheel. Those who didn’t own their own boats had to rent them. Those who did own their own boats had to pay a seemingly endless series of taxes and fees to gain fishing rights and work their trade. In the end, their catch – if they were lucky enough to have one – went more to make the richest in their society – people like Herod – even richer than it did to benefit those whose backbreaking labor got the fish out of the sea and into the markets.

While their jobs were not a piece of cake, I imagine it still took some convincing for Peter and his co-workers to just leave their livelihood and follow Jesus.

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

He begins by telling them that they will still be fishing. Their lives would still be full of uncertainty and extremely hard work; but, here’s the thing:
They would have a different boss — not at all the same as the old boss. Jesus is lord of this new enterprise. Maybe even then, these fisherman could tell that Jesus was not going to use his power and his followers’ labor simply for his own success. They’re not just going to work; they’re going to work with Jesus.
That’s not all, though. They would be a part of a new community. Becoming a “fisher for people” is going to bring these Galilean fisherman not only into relationship with Jesus, but into transformed relationships with others. Their relationship with Herod and the powers of this world, their relationships with their neighbors, with their families, with Gentiles and Pharisees, with anyone who hears Jesus’ call, responds to it and becomes a sister or brother. I doubt any of these men, nor their relationships will ever be the same.
If having a new boss and a new community were not enough, certainly they would be convinced when Jesus told them what they would be doing. They would be a central part of his healing work. People’s lives were at stake in their following him.
No pressure there.
Was it an offer they could not refuse? I doubt it. There were many questions Jesus could not answer, many things he could not promise them, but something made them abandon their nets and join in his mission.
Following Jesus begins with seeing him, and being shaped by him, but it is incomplete if we never join in what he is doing.

We can talk about Jesus (and we should), we can know the ins and outs of scripture (and that is a good thing), but we if we never “ship it”, if we only stand at the shore paralyzed with excuses, we will only be admirers, not followers of Jesus.

Following Jesus took these men from town to town, encountering needs and new opportunities for service. They failed, they grew, and they argued along the way.
That is engagement.
That is being followers of Jesus together.
That is our calling as a community and as a church.

Unfortunately, many of us were taught how to be a good church member before we ever learned about being a follower of Jesus. So, when we hear words like “engagement”, we immediately think that we are being asked to serve the church.

When we talk about engagement here at The Well, we are not talking about serving the church.
We are talking about joining the mission of Jesus. The church is our means, not the end.

If what we are doing together is not continuing Jesus’ mission of creating a community of love and healing, then we are off course.
If what we are doing together is not continuing Jesus’ mission to oppose systems and structures that block love and healing, then we are off course.
And, if what we are doing together is not connecting us with others who are also following the way of Jesus so that we can walk this road together, than we have gotten of course.

This weekend, we celebrate another community that was on the move. Civil rights activists under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were everyday people like you and me who caught a vision of what the world should and could be and they knew it would not happen without their willingness to go.

Can you imagine the list of excuses you would have in why NOT to get involved in this work?
My feet are tired.
My job won’t give me time off.
I might get threatened, beaten or jailed.
Together, through heartache, defeat and victory, they went.
You could say they did “ship it”.
And, they did make a difference. Their journey from place to place, their hard work and perseverance remind us of the kind of beloved community that followers of Jesus knew well.

The kingdom of God was not just some distant dream. It was a present reality that moved them places.

You and I have plenty of excuses not to ship it, but to stay safely on the shoreline, but what might happen if we do go?
What will happen if we do give our lives to following wherever it is that Jesus leads us, our families and our church?
What long awaited healing will happen?
What injustices will be reversed and what beloved community will we experience as we journey together?

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