I suppose, before I get to this week’s readings, I need to do a bit of backtracking. One can tell when the previous week’s sermons were full of spiritual wedgies by the sheer volume of people who want to argue. What surprised me most about last week, of course, was the number of those who complained that I did not write it out in last week’s message. Few of us were present because of the ice drizzle, but I guess those few talked a lot because I had people who were not here last Sunday talking about my sermon. One statement found its way into nearly all those conversations. That statement represents an attitude that must needs be addressed before we as a community can move forward. That statement always began with a form of “I can’t” or “I’m not.” I won’t ask for a show of hands, but how many here today argued with me, either aloud or silently, last week that you were not qualified or able to reach into the lives of particular people and share the Gospel of Christ? Have you come so far in your faith journey really to believe that about yourself and your worth before God? I ask that, particularly, in light of last week’s Gospel reading. Last week, we read Mark’s account of Simon and Andrew’s call. It is a well known story. Jesus says to these two brothers, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Ever wonder why He chose fishermen to be Apostles? Ever wonder why He chose regular people, rather than Temple or political elites, to be disciples? Ever wonder why He chose you?
Talk to a serious or professional fisherman, and you will learn lots of worldly wisdom. Fishing involves a continual acquisition of wisdom regarding the activity. I have yet to meet the fisherman who thinks he knows all there is to know about fishing or who is not excited to learn something new. I know we have a lot of “amateur” fisherfolk in our congregation, so let me give us some perspective about Jesus’ selections by asking the question “What is the best bait you have ever used?” Listen to the answers. Does anybody here present think that a lure is the best possible bait? No. And why is that? Everybody who fishes realizes that worms and minnows and bugs, what they call live bait, are effective far more frequently than the artificial lures. I am not the fisherman like my dad, but I have learned over the years that each lure is good in particular situations but, outside that for which it was created, marginal, at best. On clear sunny days, lures with flashing metal often capture the attention of fish. On a rainy day, though, they tend not to work as well. Similarly, those lures which are red like a bleeding or injured food, work well in murky water but not so much in clear water. I can’t go on and on, but I know some of you can. Live bait, though, will work in many different environments. If the fish are biting, they will always hit live bait, no matter the weather and no matter the water.
Obviously, given Jesus selection of Apostles and of some of His later descriptions, evangelism is much like fishing. Some things work, while others fall flat on their face. Programs which purport to have solved all the evangelism issues often fail. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? Evangelism, like fishing, must be aware of the surrounding circumstances. A program which is very effective in NYC might well flop in Davenport because we are very different from NYC. Our concerns, our values, our fears, and our way of life are just different. Similarly, what might work in Davenport might well fail miserably in other places like rural IA or the Deep South. West coast plans probably will not work well Texas. I could go on and on. Programs for evangelism are like lures. They are artificial; they are made for a specific context, they can’t “tempt” everyone equally as well. That’s why He chose Andrew and Peter and you and me.
You and I are, in a real sense, live bait. You and I are called to live our life in the struggles, in the messes. People we encounter, particularly those with whom we live and those with whom we work, get to see us mourning and joyful and hopeful and tired and whatever else we are as we live our lives. Like the bait that struggles and attracts the predators, you and I are called to live obedient, faithful lives in the midst whatever besets us. People see us, hear us, smell us, and even feel us as we struggle. And it is at those times when we see our Lord at work. He uses our weakness to reach into the lives of others. How do we know?
An easy example would be Tony the Truck Driver. Does everybody remember him? Tony’s great sadness was the death of his toddler son. I forget the specific details, but Tony’s son died despite all the prayers of his family and his church. As a tribute to his son’s brave fight, Tony had a memorial painted on the side of his blue cab. As Tony wrestled with God while driving that cab (How could God let my son die? How can such a tragedy ever be redeemed? Why would a good God let evil exist?) he began to notice people broken down along the side of the road. Rather than passing them by, Tony decided that, when God gave him eyes to see the broken down on the highways, he would stop. Keep in mind the pressures involved. As in so many businesses, time is money in the trucking industry. When he is not moving, he is not getting paid. And he decided, he committed to stopping when he saw others in need! As he began this roadside ministry, it amazed him just how many people noticed his cab. At first, Tony thought he was just going to get to tell the story of his son. He hoped the telling would ease the pain. As Tony admitted, he had forgotten God’s promises and grace.
Tony said that as he began to relate the story of his son’s suffering and death, he became aware of the sheer volume of people who had suffered the same loss. You wouldn't think that in this country, would you? Amazingly, Tony would see a car, stop, be asked about the memorial on the cab and hear the reply “That sounds like my story.” Tony said time after time after time mothers and father would share stories of tragic loss. Sometimes it was their own doing through abortions, sometimes it was a random act like car wrecks or even a baby sitter’s murder; worse, sometimes, there was no explanation, like SIDS. Invariably, Tony would find himself consoling others whose pain was his own. During our last conversation, Tony understood that the pain would never go away. But Tony also was thanking God for his small role in salvation history. Tony said it was the most amazing thing to talk about his Father who had given His Son and who knew the exact pain he was suffering. On a couple occasions, Tony had the privilege of harvesting for the kingdom of God along the side of the road. On a few more, he had the privilege of leading a prodigal son or daughter back into our Father’s loving embrace. In all the rest, he has planted seeds. I don’t get to see Tony any more, since Angel Food ceased operations, but during our last conversation, he had spoken into the tragedy of some 29 families along the side the road. How many more have seen his memorial on the highways and byways of this country and begun anew their struggles with God?
How many of us are like Tony? How many of us are normal, working stiffs? How many of us have lived through, survived, or experienced particular tragedy or hardship and then found ourselves in relationship with others experiencing the very same pain? Live bait. He chose you and He chose me as live bait to help grow His kingdom one life, one soul at a time. There are no programs, there are no strategies; there is you and me and other disciples struggling to face life’s hardships and sins and to seek His grace in all those circumstances.
That God uses us as live bait is, perhaps, an interesting notion, but it fails to do Him the honor and glory He deserves. Our lessons this week talk about the lives of the faithful. Part of the difference between lures and live bait is one of knowledge and one of love. Each one of us, no matter our circumstances, who has survived tragedy and sin only to see God’s gracious hand at work in our lives is singularly prepared to love others into the kingdom! We can speak of problems and sins outside our own experience, but how loving are we when we do? Aren’t we, rather, like encyclopedias reciting facts? But in our own experience, in our own joyful thanksgivings, are we not winsome and sincere and joyful in our proclamation of His saving hand? That, brothers and sisters, is why He chose you! That, my fellow pilgrims, is why you are the one He has chosen!
Of course, just when we think His grace is magnificent, there is more. I know Deuteronomy speaks specifically of Jesus. Jesus will certainly be the prophet of whom Deuteronomy 18 speaks. But, in the season of Epiphany, when we pray to God that His light will shine in our hearts and our lives that the darkness in the lives of those around us will be driven away, perhaps we should look at that prophecy a bit differently. In so much as He is in us and we are in Him, you and I become Moses-like to those around us. Does the idea make you squirm a bit? Good, it probably should. But think for a second how Tony appears to those whom he has served. Think for a moment how you appear to those whom you have served and won for His glory. Moses led God’s people through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Moses intercessed on behalf of God’s people. Moses taught God’s people what it meant to live in right relationship with a loving, holy, righteous God. Is that not our job now? Sure, as a people who are being used to proclaim freedom to slaves in our midst, who better to understand the lesson in those terms? Each time we lead someone from the wilderness to His provision, each time we lead someone out of darkness into light, you and I have been raised up in their lives as a prophet like Moses. So, then, why in the world would you ever think you are not capable, not equipped, to do whatever He has placed upon your heart? Quit fighting Him, and go fish!