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When God Speaks
January 21, 1996

MATTHEW 4:12-23

Some of you have seen my slides of the holy land. Perhaps you were able to picture the scene described in the Scripture lesson read this morning--the lake called Galilee and the fishing boat which they might have been using. Several years ago, during a severe drought when the lake had receded, two boys discovered a coin. They took it to their father who recognized Caesar's image on the coin. Archaeologists confirmed that it was a coin from the time of Jesus. Digging further, they uncovered a fishing boat from the time of Jesus. Replicas have now been constructed. The fishermen were net throwers, throwing out a large net, pulling it back on board to see what fish they had caught.

Simon, later called Peter, and his brother Andrew had come in to shore when suddenly there was a commotion. "Jesus is coming," they were told. Surely they must have heard about him. Surely his fame must have been spreading, because all Jesus said to them was, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."

Matthew reports, Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Immediately! Didn't they weigh the pros and cons? Didn't they take guidance counseling tests? Didn't they take time to consider the consequences? Didn't they have obligations and responsibilities? Didn't they have families? We know that Simon Peter was married, and we know that his mother-in-law lived with them. What did his wife think? Did Peter even ask her opinion? We know that Peter continued to live in Capernaum (and I included a slide of the ruins of Peter's house), and we know that Jesus made Peter's house his headquarters. James and John also immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. James and John left their father, Zebedee, holding the bag, or holding the net, I should say.

Jesus came by. Jesus picked them out. Jesus spoke to them. They heard God speak. Wouldn't you like to hear God speak? Wouldn't it be something if Jesus walked up to you, caught your attention, looked you in the eye, and said, "Dave, Mary, John, Joan, follow me!" I find it very interesting and perhaps quite significant that the first recruiting by Jesus, the first occasions of Jesus speaking and calling people to follow him, were not to individuals, but to groups. Jesus spoke to Simon and Andrew, and then to James and John. Jesus later spoke to and called individual people, but the first calling was to the four brothers. The Gospel of John tells us they helped each other. Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus, and helped Peter hear and respond to Jesus. God speaks to us corporately. The community of faith-- the church-- is a primary arena where God speaks.

A Sunday School teacher was talking about heaven. She said, "Put up your hand if you want to go to heaven when you die." Everyone but one boy put up their hands. The teacher was shocked. "Don't you want to go to heaven?" she asked. The boy said, "Yes, but not with this bunch." Well, I'm afraid the only bunch we have is the church, imperfect as it is! Frankly, I'm looking forward to going to heaven with you folks. I like it here. We'll have a grand time!

God speaks to groups. God speaks to churches. Within the faith community, we can hear God speak, and we can help each other discern the call of God. We can help each other listen and interpret. A young farm boy was sure he heard God speak and call him into the ministry. The first step in becoming a United Methodist minister is to be interviewed by the Staff-Parish Relations Committee. The committee was quite perplexed as they really had difficulty supporting his call. They asked him, "How did you hear God call you?" He said, "One day I was plowing. I looked up into the sky, and the clouds had formed three letters: GPC. Go Preach Christ. It was clear as could be." One of the elderly farmers on the committee stroked his chin and said, "Son, no doubt you saw GPC in the sky clear as a bell, but are you sure GPC doesn't mean Go Plow Corn?" We need one another to help us understand the call of God when God speaks.

A national executive of one of the large denominations was asked how he decided to become a minister. "I didn't decide," he said. "I was told I should be a minister."

"By God, God told you?" they asked.

"Some of God's people," he replied. "I must have been about nine or ten years old. Some of us kids were standing around in the hallway between Sunday School and the worship service, and some of the elders came by and they got to talking about us, what we would become when we grew up. `Now Sarah,' they said. `Sarah is going to be a teacher. She is good with the books. Jonathan is a carpenter. He can make anything he likes.'"

"What about Ruben?' somebody asked. `Oh, Ruben, he'll be a preacher. He's got the head of a preacher. Look at that head.'"

Ruben said, "They took my head and everybody examined it and said, `You're right. He's going to be a preacher.'"

Ruben said, "I was 24 years-old and a student at Boston University School of Theology before I found out that everyone had not gone to seminary the way I had."

We help each other hear Jesus call. When God speaks, God speaks, of course, to individuals; but God also speaks to people through people, especially through the church. When together we listen to God, we can help each other hear God speak.

Jesus came by. Jesus spoke to the fishermen. They recognized Jesus. They heard Jesus, and immediately, they followed him, and their lives were forever changed. When God speaks, life changes. When God speaks, do you respond immediately? Exciting, but kind of scary to leave your nets. The high point of my vacation was my first experience in a parachute. I went parasailing. Pulled by a boat, I lifted off the beach, floated out over the ocean, and back again. When I told our boys, they responded with disbelief, "You did what!!" I admit it was scary, but an adventure, an adventure in faith, an adventure in throwing caution to the wind.

Some folks don't care for adventure, nor even for change. A woman hung a plaque on her living room wall. It read Prayer Changes Things. When her husband came home, he took down the plaque. "Don't you believe prayer changes things?" she asked. "Yes," he said. "But, I don't like change." Some folks not only don't like change, they don't want to do much either. They like the status quo, or at least are comfortable with the status quo. They don't want to make waves. They don't really want to make their lives count for much. The famous poet, Anonymous, has written:

There are a lot of ones who creep

Into the world to eat and sleep,

And know no reason why they're born

Save only to consume the corn,

Devour the cattle, bread and fish

And leave behind an empty dish.

And if their tombstones, when they die,

Were not to flatter or to lie.

There's nothing better can be said

Than that they've eaten up their bread,

Drunk their drink, and gone to bed.

I've known some churches like that as well. They take rather than give. They consume rather than contribute. But, when God speaks, Jesus calls, "Follow me." Change is in the wind. Be prepared for an adventure where you will find yourself doing what you never believed possible. Simon, Andrew, James and John didn't know what they were letting themselves in for, but they followed Jesus. They found themselves in a world-changing, life-changing ministry.

When God speaks, don't expect something easy. A university student who was having a hard time getting his act together, decided to take his frustrations out on God. He went into the chapel, sat in a pew, looked heavenward and said, "All we have on this earth are problems and a bunch of dummies who will never figure out how to solve them. Even I could make a better world than this one." And somewhere deep inside him the student heard God's answer: "That's what you're supposed to do."

Making a better world is what it's all about. Making a better Merced. Our church now has a Minister of Discipleship, and what a gift we have been given. Jody and Con have arrived, ready to parasail with all of us, ready to soar. We have a Director of Music who already has the music program parasailing. What a Christmas we had with the Sarah Wesley dinner, the children's choirs and Chancel Choir, and the Montague brothers singing O Holy Night! We had a foretaste of heaven. Who can predict the adventures yet to come!

As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers...And he said to them, "Follow me." Immediately, they left their nets, revolutionized their lives, completely changed their focus, their priorities, their commitments. Immediately, spontaneously, throwing caution to the wind, venturing out on faith with no assurance, no promise, no guarantee, warrantee or 30-day approval. Immediately, they left their nets and followed him.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris