18 JANUARY 2015
VERSE FOR THE YEAR + WPCU
Readings: Ephesians 4:1-6; Mark 1:14-20; Drama - One Faith, One Lord
I've found that when used well a verse for the year provides a thread of continuity running through the year as well as a focus for thoughts and prayers for our discipleship individually and as a church. A verse for the year that we return to regularly enables us to grow in particular ways as a church and as individuals as we return to different aspects of it during the year.
There is something else which is given from elsewhere that also provides a thread of continuity but one which might be more difficult to notice for many people. That is the lectionary. When we have a verse for the year like last year's we often have series and themes in different seasons which take us away from the lectionary. But you might have noticed over the years that the lectionary concentrates on one of the first three gospels each year.
In the year from Advent Sunday most of the gospel readings will be from Mark. As it happens - semi deliberately - our verse for 2015 is also from Mark. It is a verse that gets to the heart of our calling as disciples of Jesus and it comes right at the beginning of Mark's account of Jesus' ministry. You may be pleased to hear that it means that in the first part of this year, 'til after Easter, we will be following lectionary series.
Today we have that passage with this year's verse in it:
Jesus said to them, "Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people."
'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will send you out to fish for people.'
Let's try this odd one out round:
The author of this email Saint Peter
The author of the email is the odd one out. They're all into fishing. Captain Birdseye in order to make his fish fingers; Saint Peter was a fisherman; Rob Wootton is the UK Angling Champion 2014 but the author of the email spells fishing with a ph instead of an f and he's phishing for your personal details in order to take your identity and probably money from your RBS account.
When Jesus says he'll send his followers out to fish for people he doesn't mean the kind of fishing that Peter, Captain Birdseye or Rob Wootton do let alone the kind in the email.
I've an idea there may be quite a lot about fishing (with an f) during this year and we'll touch on it very generally in a while.
But let's think first about the first part of the verse.
As always it is good to see this in context.
Mark begins his account by getting straight to the point and making it clear that what he is writing is all about Jesus. The only lead up to Jesus he tells is us what points directly to Jesus' coming. He starts with John the Baptist. Mark makes it clear that John's role is to announce the coming of the anointed one, the messiah, the Christ, the expected one, the one more powerful than him, the one they've all been waiting for.
Crowds came to see the one whose food and clothing and behaviour suggest the Elijah figure that was expected before the Messiah. They came to hear his message but Mark only tells us that John announced that someone else was coming. They also came to change their lives, to be baptised, be totally overwhelmed by a new start leaving behind the lives and attitudes and behaviour that too them away from God. Baptism signified a complete turnaround from taking one direction in life to taking another.
But even then John only told them that this was a symbol, a sign of an intention and the real deal was coming later when instead of the sign of water washing them clean they would have the real thing of the Holy Spirit inhabiting them and turning them from their sin enabling them to live in God's ways.
Mark spends just 8 verses pointing towards Jesus before he arrives and then at his own Baptism he has the affirmation of the descent of the Spirit and the voice from heaven. The reader knows from the start that this is about Jesus and we know who Jesus is. Then Mark gets John out of the way and concentrates on Jesus.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.
And his message was the same as John's:
'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!'
Knowing his identity he proclaims the good news. This is broadcasting - a general message proclaimed to all who would hear it.
The Kingdom of God - the time of God's presence, the time of God's rule, the ways and values and attitudes of God are near because he comes and he personifies all the things of God. The Kingdom of God has come near. Therefore - he might have said - it is time to turn from what takes your lives away from God and come back to him.
But with Jesus it is more than broadcasting. Jesus - described elsewhere as the very Word of God - is personal and comes to bring the personal communication of God.
So with Jesus the call is not just general but personal. Jesus embodies the personal God of the Old Testament who called out to Adam in the garden and visited to Abram at his tent and wrestled with Jacob by the river and spoke with Moses face to face and called in the night to Samuel and gave messages and commissions to prophets and kings for centuries. Jesus brings a personal call:
'Come, follow me,' Jesus said
Come, follow me - this is the way to go, now is the time for life to change - completely.
And as far as Simon and Andrew, James and John were concerned this is about enlarging their vision and seeing their place in God's scheme.
Here's Peter again with one of the fish he would usually be catching. Jesus is saying to him. "Come with me and life will be very different; you'll need to leave behind your security, your job, your livelihood; you won't be catching little fish like that anymore; no more of those little six inch ones we're going after the six footers. I'm going to teach you and send you to fish for people, to find the ways to bring others into this Kingdom that I keep talking about."
At once Simon and Andrew left their nets and followed him and James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
We have the same commission - to come and to go.
To come with Jesus, to follow him, to learn from him, to grow in our appreciation of God, the ways of God and the way that God touches our lives and the lives of those around us.
Come follow me, Jesus said.
But he also said "go". Come and go; come in order to be able to go but always to go - to be sent with the purpose of continuing Jesus' work of bringing people back to God - fishing for people.
That is our calling too - follow him and become those who go and fish for people.
We do that in various ways and I suspect that most of us feel more than a bit anxious or inadequate about the fishing. As I've said there will be more about fishing throughout this year. For now, let's concentrate on the relatively easy part.
We are called to go and sit on a river back with a rod and line and fish for individuals. You understand that's analogy and I'm not literally telling you to go and buy fishing tackle and spend your time sitting on river banks?
Our own personal fishing expeditions are important and we will think about those during this year but today let's concentrate on the fishing we do together as God's people in Liphook who call themselves Methodists.
I am now a Methodist Minister. When I first came here I was an Anglican minister who happened to be working for the Methodist Church. When I went for my selection panel for Anglican ministry one of the selectors gave us a talk. I forget almost all of it but there were two things that have stayed with me for the last 30 years.
One was the things to be asking yourself when someone gives a talk. I've mentioned these at Time to Talk in the past:
What was the best thing he said?
What was the worst thing he said?
What was the best thing he didn't say (or I thought he should have done)?
Think on those before Time to Talk later.
For now the other thing I remember is important. He talked about being an Anglican because "it's as good a boat as any to fish from".
For me that was true for 20 years and then I got out of that boat and joined another, a slightly different boat with slightly different features but still it is as good a boat an any to fish from.
There is any number of boats that you could join to fish from. Simon and Andrew left one and James and John had another that they left with Zebedee.
The fishing that we do together is fishing from a boat that we call church.
I wonder how many churches there are. That's not a helpful question.
How many churches are there in Liphook?
How many churches are there in Haslemere?
How many churches are there in our circuit?
How many churches do you think are represented at a big gathering like Spring Harvest each year?
The answer to all those questions is ONE.
There can only be one church.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
So there can only be one gathering of God's people - it's just that it doesn't look like that. It doesn't look one. But in truth the church is the fleet of boats from which we fish. They all look different, they place their emphasis on different aspects of church, they call the same thing something different, they have different habits and routines in worship and organisation ...
But as the drama so helpfully and powerfully put it:
Christ is the head of our church, the cornerstone of our faith and the rock on which we build
one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all
one body and one Spirit
and because of that we have one hope that in Christ, from whichever boat we fish we follow him in proclaiming the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Today marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A week in which to pray that the unity we know to be what God wants, the unity we know to be the true nature of the church may become more and more the reality and more and more clear to those who observe this fleet of fishing boats from the shore.
During this week there are daily prayers in the different places where Liphook Christians meet to worship - except Trinity Church - Bohunt is being used as a school during the week.
For half an hour each morning at 9am God's come together to read the Bible and to pray together for the church and for one another and the challenges that we have as congregations and as the church in Liphook.
Do come and join in the different days and venues are on the notice sheet and on the PowerPoint.
Gracious God, often your people choose the logic of competition - we see ourselves as churches striving to be first, biggest or best. Allow us to rest at the well; refresh us with the water of unity drawn from our common prayer. We pray in the name of Jesus.