March 12, 2017
Watch a video of this sermon here.
If you’re a guest today, you have come into a church that is on an exciting adventure with God! We’re spending the 6 weeks of Lent together inviting God to change us in any way that God wants to. The Spirit of God is moving in our church. Some of you have told me stories of the Spirit working as you talk about what’s happening with your small groups, your prayer exercises, and reading the book Unbinding Your Heart.
Would you like to join us? There’s still time to join a small group this week. In fact, one group meets right after coffee time in the pastor’s study today. There’s one early on Tuesday morning, and a couple of groups meet on Wednesday night as part of Family Night. Thursday options include an afternoon study and an evening group. Whichever group you join, we’ll bring you up to speed!
Here’s what we know so far: mainline Christian churches are rapidly declining in membership and influence in our country. We’ve grown reluctant to bring new people into Christian faith, and that reluctance prevents us from sharing our faith with others.
Last week, we explored why it makes a difference in our lives that we are Christians. We considered what our motivations might be for sharing the Christian faith with people who don’t have a faith. We considered that some of us don’t have a dramatic faith story to share, like Paul on the road to Damascus. Some of us are more like Ananias. Our personal stories might not be very dramatic, but God can use us as the domino that tips someone else into following Jesus.
In fact, there’s someone here today who has had just that kind of experience. I’d like to invite her to come share her story with you. Kris?
[Kris described how, a few years ago, her grandchildren were playing with her nativity set while she named each of the characters in the scene. One of her four-year-old twin granddaughters asked, “What is the baby’s name?” as she picked up the manger. Kris decided it was time to start taking her grandchildren to church. Now, the children have started bringing their parents to church with them, and all three generations are deeply involved in the life of the congregation.]
You know, church people work hard. If you’ve been around churches for a while, you know what goes into putting on a Fall Bazaar or a monthly Community Breakfast. You know what it takes to prepare for an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Packing Party or a Trunk-or-Treat. You know how much effort goes into organizing, setting up, staffing, and tearing down a Diaper Depot and Feeding Station at the county fair every summer.
And those are just the projects we do as this church. Our members also work at the Food Pantry, or help with NUMAS Haus – important cooperative ministries in our community. Church people are determined, committed, hard workers. Churches sure aren’t shrinking because we’re lazy! If anything, we ought to be exhausted!
I wonder if that overworked exhaustion is what Simon Peter and the other disciples felt after a night of fruitless fishing.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” – Luke 5:1-10
When Jesus says, “Put out into the deep water and let out your nets (again!)” I can just hear Simon groaning, “Jesus, with all due respect, we are the pros here. We know what we’re doing. We’ve already been fishing. We didn’t catch anything!” I imagine there is a moment when Jesus just looks at Simon, and Simon knows there is no use arguing. “OK, if you say so . . .” So they head back out to the deep water. But this time, Jesus is their fishing partner.
Deep water can be pretty scary, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Anyone ever learn how to scuba dive? It can be pretty scary at first. You fall backwards off the boat into really deep water. You can waste a lot of energy as you learn, tensing every muscle, being so worried that you will run out of air that you actually over-breathe and use up your tank sooner than you should. Realizing that you are at the mercy of your equipment can be terrifying.
But then there comes a point when the switch flips! You discover that all you have to do is relax, breathe normally, and trust the water to hold you up. All the frantic kicking and thrashing around, all the trying so hard, all the conscientious striving doesn’t get us as far as simply relaxing. As trusting.
Jesus would soon invite his followers to become “fishers of people.” But before he can sign them up for employment with God, he wants to be sure they “get” something. He wants them to know that if they’re going to be effective in this new work, they will have to trust him. Jesus will have to be in the boat with them. They will need to take direction from him.
Hard work alone doesn’t cut it. Only going to the deep waters with Jesus will be effective. Only trusting Christ’s guidance will produce real results for the Kingdom of God. Prayer is one way to go into the deep waters with Jesus. Prayer is the most effective means I know to hear and obey Christ’s direction.
Sure, we pray as a church. But I suspect we work a lot more than we pray. We pray before our church meetings. But how many times do we meet just to pray? How often has the Leadership Board spent all of its meeting time praying? The Lord’s Laborers? The Circles? What could God do through us if we spent even half of our meetings in prayer?
I get nervous just saying those words out loud. There’s so much to do, and so little available time. How would we get anything accomplished if we spent half of that already limited time praying?
But think about this: What would not get done if we prayed more?
What could God get done through us if we prayed more?
In the book we’re reading together, Martha Grace Reese tells about a church that replaced working meetings with meetings dedicated to prayer. The evangelism committee of Benton Street Church was fired up to do great things for God. They brought in Martha Grace as a consultant to help them get started. What should they do first? A calling campaign? A bring-a-friend Sunday? Maybe direct mail marketing? No, Martha Grace said. Not that. Not yet. She told them to pray for three months before they did a thing. She sent them into the deep water with Jesus.
The evangelism committee at Benton Street was looking for activity, for hard work, for something to do! But instead, Reese told them to be still and pray. Be still for three months!!!
Prayer is a different kind of hard work, of course. Many of us don’t know how to do it, at least not for very long. But this evangelism committee learned. They prayed together for one hour every week. At the church board meeting, when it was their turn to report, they would say, “We’re still praying. She’s making us do it. We’re just praying.”
At first, people giggled. Then board members started giving them prayer requests. After three months of “doing nothing but praying,” interest in evangelism had skyrocketed. By the end of the year, 65 people were helping with evangelism. New visitors came in droves. Twice as many babies and adults were baptized into the church as the year before.
It sounds a little like fishing with Jesus in the boat. In verse 6, Luke writes, “When they had done what Jesus commanded, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break!”
Heading into the deep waters with Jesus makes a difference. Prayer expresses our willingness to do what Jesus wants us to do. Prayer prepares us to be effective in whatever work we do for Jesus. Prayer makes room for the Holy Spirit’s power – not our flailing and kicking – to bear us up.
Some of you already have prayer as a part of your daily life. Many of us do not. But we can all grow in prayer. And so can our church. For the next month, let’s pray as a church like we’ve never prayed before.
You are already using the “40 Days of Prayer” guide if you are in one of our small groups. If not, join one! You can get your copy of Unbinding Your Heart, which includes the prayer journal, right outside the sanctuary.
We’re also going to pray right now, as a congregation. Yes, right here in the middle of a sermon. First, find the ribbon that was tucked into your bulletin. Got it? I want you to hold it while you pray. I’m going to explain this first, then we’ll all pray together.
Hold your ribbon. Sit comfortably and breathe slowly. First, ask God whom to pray for. This is important because many of us have our own agendas when we pray. This time, ask God for whom you should pray. As soon as God gives you a person or a situation, imagine them shrunk down so they’ll fit into your hands, right in the middle of your ribbon. Hold whomever God puts into your hands and pray for them. I’ll say Amen at the end. Got it?
Okay, gently breathe and let’s start. [Pause for two minutes.] Amen.
Thank you for your willingness to try something out of the ordinary like that! Now, the ushers have some permanent markers and some fabric pens. As they pass these out to you, you can write the initials of the person you were led to pray for on your ribbon. Just use initials, or maybe a first name, to keep things confidential.
You may have been wondering what this fencing is doing here this morning. We are going to use it as the framework for a prayer wall that we will continue to build throughout these weeks of Lent. During the offering time today, I invite you to bring your ribbon to the front and weave it into the prayer wall. I’ll give you more information about that in a moment.
I encourage you to keep praying for the person whose initials you wrote on your ribbon. Pray for that person every day. God has laid that person on your heart, and only you can pray the prayers God wants to hear.
Maybe you are worried that you won’t be able to follow through with this every day. Maybe you think you don’t have the time. There are other important things that must be done. You want to be responsible and get the “to do” list done before enjoying the luxury of time spent in prayer. Today, I’m giving you permission to let some things go.
Let’s be less responsible to the world and more responsive to God. It’s okay if All the Stuff doesn’t get done this month. Things can slide a little, as long as you spend time praying instead. You heard me. The detailed tasks, the organizational meetings, the hard work can wait.
As long as you’re praying instead, for one month, that is okay by me! Let’s agree among ourselves. We are going to make prayer our priority for four more weeks. Then we’ll see what God has done with us . . . and through us.
I believe God will start doing some amazing things during this time.
I don’t know what it will be . . .
Maybe new visitors . . . maybe a new unity . . . maybe old wounds healed. Most likely it will be something we never imagined. I believe making room for prayer always brings new blessing.
Of course, if we’re anything like those disciples in Simon’s boat, we may not be ready for big blessings! Simon told Jesus, “Go away, Lord! I don’t deserve this!” We may have the same reaction. We might feel ourselves resisting the blessings God wants to bring us. We might want to bury our heads and ask God to go away.
Maybe we’re not sure God should do something in our lives. We don’t feel worthy for God to use us. Maybe we’re afraid of the change we would experience if God climbed into our boat and sent us out into deep water. Maybe some of us don’t really believe God can do anything new. Let’s face it. Staying on the familiar treadmill is a lot less scary than going deep with Jesus.
But Jesus says to Simon, “Stop being afraid. From now on, we’ll be catching people for God.” Then these hard working fishermen parked their boats and their fish and their nets right there on the shore. They left their work and followed him.
In this next month, let’s leave our work and pray like we’ve never prayed before. Let’s head into the deep waters with Jesus.
* This sermon is adapted from a sermon by Rev. Dawn Darwin Weaks, as provided through the gracenet.info website. These sermons are licensed for use, in whole or in part, by purchasers of Unbinding Your Church.