This is a sermon I preached, so if you prefer to listen here you go.
There’s a question that I guarantee all of us have asked at one point or another. It’s a question that either elicits great excitement or tremendous pain. It’s a question that philosophers and theologians have been asking for all of time. What is the meaning of life? What is the point of all of this?
I often hear it put: What is the purpose of my life?
We want to know. We want to know what we’re made for. What we’re destined for. And so often it is career oriented, especially if you aren’t feeling fulfilled or satisfied in the work you from 8-5, you’re really searching for what that thing could be. That one thing. Your one purpose.
When the pilgrims set out for America almost 400 years ago, they were hoping to discover a new world. With new possibilities. With a better way of life. A way of life that would allow them to live the way they wanted to with out the fear of angry kings.
In the 19th century the dream was manifest destiny. Our ancestors believed it was our destiny to expand the US from sea to sea. That it was justified and inevitable.
As Americans we’ve continued generation after generation in our hope that we will be able to pass on a better life to our children. We want them achieve more, have more, be more prosperous. It is a dream of upward mobility. The possibility of climbing up.
And in many ways, our happiness, our purpose, has felt rooted in our ability to do so.
But what happens when you actually get to that place?
Are billionaires ever satisfied with the amount money that they have?
Does a car collector ever have enough cars?
Is a drummer ever happy with the drums he has? I’m looking at you Jeff!
There’s always this aching. This feeling, like there has to be more to all of this. A purpose that has escaped us.
Last week I talked about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, about how Satan tempted Jesus with Safety, Popularity and Power. Those are the three things that we’re always after. Humans are wired with the inclination for self preservation. We want to protect and take care of ourselves first and foremost. We want to ensure our safety, popularity and positions of power.
But, these things never really satisfy us. If we ever have any of the three what we want most is more. Safety, popularity, and power never bring meaning to our lives. We know this, and yet, we’re endlessly searching for purpose, for meaning, for something else, even when we don’t quite know what that something else is or entails.
Let’s look at Luke 5:1-11
Jesus heads over to the Lake of Gennesaret. There were crowds of people gathering around him and listening to speak the word of God. Last week we heard his inaugural address, where he outlined the purpose of his mission. And right away, what we see this week, is that he doesn’t intend to carry out this mission alone. He could have. But instead, what we will see, is that he gathers a group of people to work with.
He saw two boats at the water’s edge. The boats were left by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. They had been out fishing all night and had caught nothing. This is their job. This is what they do. This is how they make money and feed their families. They fish. And they had spent the whole night out and caught nothing.
Jesus hopped on to one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and he asked him to push it out a little ways. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he was done speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon explained that they had been out all night and caught nothing.
But they listened, and when they tried again, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. Their partners in the other boats had to come and help them, they filled both boats so full that they were sinking.
Now, I want to break from the story for just a minute to talk about the crowd out at the shore.
The people in the crowd had heard about the things Jesus had done, and they were intrigued. They were curious enough about Jesus, that they wanted to see what he was doing and listen to what he had to say. They had gathered around him at the lake to see what he was up to.
There are many opportunities that we have to be supporters in our lives.
We support our favorite teams. In our house that means the Seahawks and the Mariners, and believe it or not, finally, the Huskers. Jeff says going to a game will do that to you.
We support our favorite causes. In our house that means Covenant Kids Congo. A few years ago, we hosted a Covenant Kids Congo Sunday where we learned about the Covenant’s partnership with World Vision to care for children in the Congo. Through a sponsorship, the communities that children live in are transformed. The communities are empowered through education, tools and medical care. They are taught skills and trades in order to enhance their own economies.
But we are only supporters of this cause. We send $40 a month. And someone else is on the ground, helping to develop the community. We send $40 a month and someone else is providing medical care. We send $40 a month and someone else is teaching classes. We support the work in the Congo, but here’s the thing, we don’t drop everything in our life to go to the Congo and do the work ourselves.
Because of this, we are not a follower of Covenant Kids Congo, we are supporters.
In the same way, the crowds that surround most of Jesus’ ministry are supporters. They’re intrigued, maybe even invested a little, but the minute Jesus is in trouble, they’re right there mocking him and cheering for his execution. They’re supportive so long as they agree. So long as he’s saying things they like and favor what they already believe. They’re there to be entertained or even to try to exercise control. After all, when we give our money or our time to something, there are usually strings attached. We have expectations about how things should go. We want to have control or sway in what’s happening. Once we realize we don’t, or that things are going in a way we disagree with or are uncomfortable with, we pull our allegiance.
The crowds could come when it was convenient, when Jesus was telling them something they wanted to hear. But as soon as Jesus wants to tell them the truth or to do something difficult, they’re on the other side of the fence. Or as we saw last week, push him off a cliff.
To be a supporter, in the most positive way, is to cheer someone on, or help someone get where they’re going.
Now, let’s look at the rest of the text.
Simon and Jesus go out to catch fish, and there are so many fish that their nets begin to break. There are so many fish that they have to call out another boat. There are so many fish that their boats begin to sink. Simon got what he wanted. He was a fisherman, he needed fish in order to survive. And yet, Jesus gave him an abundance of fish and it was too much. It was ruining his nets and his boats. He fell to his knees and told Jesus to go away. He declared that he was sinful, and that he wanted Jesus to go. It was too much. He got what he wanted, what he thought he needed, and he couldn’t handle it. It hurt. It was more than he could deal with.
And that’s when Jesus helps Simon to realize that what he had been doing all along wasn’t the point. It wasn’t what would bring meaning to his life. Having more fish, wasn’t the point. Being a better, more successful fisherman wouldn’t cut it.
In fact, once he received what was probably the best catch of his life, Jesus said it was time to leave it all behind. Sure, he is capable of giving us exactly what we want, but it usually isn’t what we need.
Then, Jesus speaks one of the most cliche things we ever hear him say, he tells Simon he’s going to be a fisher of people.
They took the boats to the shore, and Simon left everything and followed him.
He left everything.
And followed Jesus.
To be a follower is more than helping someone get where they’re going. To be a follower means you go with them. You go where that person or cause is going. Following is more sacred than supporting.
And sometimes we mix up the two. We end up following things we should be supporting and we end up supporting things we should be following.
To follow requires a lot more than writing a check, or attending a rally or a service. To follow will cost you something entirely different.
We all live influenced by the American Dream. We are taught to pursue it, but once we do, are we ever satisfied? When we achieve the dream, are we any more content with where we are who we’ve become? It isn’t that the dream is bad necessarily, but the dream won’t ever satisfy us. We will never achieve enough. There will always be a better house. A newer car. A more trendy pair of shoes.
When the dream isn’t enough, we learn to reach again for safety, popularity and power. We reach for the next rung up on the ladder, that doesn’t seem to have an end. We try to climb higher and higher like its own remanufactured tower of babel.
While the American Dream reaches up, Jesus’ mission is one that reaches for the people at the bottom. The mission of Jesus, which we heard outlined last week is for the poor, the blind, the prisoner and the oppressed. All of the people who are stuck at the bottom. To be a follower is to climb down, looking for these people, and meet their needs.
To follow Jesus is countercultural, and often counterintuitive. To follow Jesus means we let go of security and popularity and power in order that we can begin the work of making the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It means making a world where the widow isn’t lonely. The orphan is cared for and the foreigner is treated like a friend.
I have two options for you today. But first a question.
Are you satisfied with the life you’re living? Are you living a meaningful life?
Now for our two options.
- The first is to be like crowd. You can be a supporter of Jesus. You can give money and show up from time to time to offer your support. You can wear the shirt, the bumper sticker, and put a sign in your yard. And be committed so long as it feels comfortable.
- The second is to be like the disciples. Like Simon. You can be a follower of Jesus. Following is much harder because it costs something more than writing a check, wearing a shirt, or flashing a bumper sticker. This is the cost I was talking about before. The difficult one to stomach. Following costs us the right to believe we are calling our own shots. Because Following means we aren’t the ones at the head of the path. It means you have to change our hearts and minds about the things that matter most. It means that you will walk paved roads and rocky paths and that no matter which one you are on you aren’t the one calling all the shots. The mission of Jesus becomes the mission of you. To follow Jesus means to take his inaugural address to heart and then take his message to the world. It means that you yourself will do something for the hungry, for the lonely, for the blind, for the defenseless, for prisoner, and for the oppressed.
Think about the relationships in your life, the things you’re committed to, your allegiances, your causes, your hobbies, your passions. The things in your life that require you to have a supporter or follower relationship. We can support lots of things, lots of very positive things, but in the end, we can only follow one thing. But we need to be sure not to confuse the two.
We all like the convenience of being a supporter. And it’s not bad to be a supporter of something you’re passionate about, but in the end, there will come a fork in the road and you have to decide what your’e going to follow. As long as we follow ourselves and are solely concerned with our own lives, we can only hope to be a supporter of Jesus, because we can’t follow ourselves and follow Jesus. There will come a point that the two paths diverge and we can only take one.
Our world gives us a message that is opposite of the gospel. The gospel teaches us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. What will you do with that?
The crowds were stingy with their loyalty. To be a disciple required devotion, and more energy and more sacrifice. Supporters walk away when they realize they don’t get to be on the top. They walk away with nothing learned because they didn’t get what they wanted out of it. They’re unaffected by Jesus’ life. They let the hungry go hungry. They leave the prisoners in chains and the blind without sight and the widow alone. They fail to make that jump from supporter to follower.
Making the turn from supporter to follower is incredibly difficult because it may require that we leave the boats full of fish behind. For Simon, It meant to leaving the business and his family on the beach. What is it that you would have to walk away from to truly follow, not just support Jesus? It’s also difficult for us because to follow is to cling tightly to hope when so much of what we hear about is fear and despair. Following Jesus means that our purpose in a hurting and broken world is to be people who provide comfort and prove restoration. It’s to understand our faith and its fruits in a more meaningful way. It’s to know, I mean know Jesus, the way that the disciples knew Jesus. To know what Jesus taught and stood for and lived for and died for, in the way that only a follower can know. A follower will follow Jesus to the bottom, to last place, to execution and death, and wait outside the tomb for resurrection.