A Mission Shared
Isaiah 9:1-14 Matthew 4:12-23
We’ve talked before about what it is like to live with a 2-year-old. Can you remember? Two-year-olds are famous for having learned how to say “NO!”—it’s an important step in their early development (even if it IS frustrating to their family). Another thing kids often learn to say, around the age of 2, is “I DO IT!” You’re trying to help them put on a coat or color a page or select a toy, and they assert their newfound independence and confidence by politely telling you that they are capable of performing this task—saying, “I DO IT!” Okay.
Of course, we understand that part of the process of becoming a complete, well-rounded human being is to learn to do things for ourselves:
- Take responsibility
- Learn initiative
- Follow through
- Speak up for yourself
But there’s another part of the process: learning to ask for help, and being willing to accept help from others.
Further, there’s the aspect of partnering with other people, helping them to accomplish their goals, engaging in their lives in an appropriate fashion (not barging in and taking over!) You see, God has designed us to be independent in some things and INTER-dependent in many others. This is God’s design for our well-lived lives!
Both of today’s Scripture readings pivot on one aspect of our growth as human beings and as believers—that of being called into a partnership in God’s mission. Friends, God has big plans and objectives, and God chooses to allow us to be part of a partnership in God’s work! When you read the Bible, you see that “partnering with God” is a strong theme that runs through the Scriptures—and I want to look at some of those partnerships as we explore what it means for each of us to share in God’s mission. Let’s take a look.
Called to Partnership
The Prophet, Isaiah, had a vision of seeing the Lord in the temple. He agonized that he was “a man of unclean lips,” and he saw a seraph take a live coal and touch his lips saying, “Your guilt is taken away.” Then he heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” and Isaiah’s response was “Here am I. Send me!” And God DID send him.
Then there was Samuel. As a youngster, I was enthralled by the story of the calling of Samuel. He was a young boy, serving in the temple at Shiloh—and he heard the Lord calling his name in the middle of the night. He thought it was just old Eli, the Priest. But after the third time of going to Eli, asking what he wanted, Eli finally understood that it was the Lord who was calling Samuel. He advised him, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’.” Samuel did this, and the Lord gave him an earful, and thus began a long partnership with God!
One of the things the Scriptures tell us about God is that, even though God is all-powerful and can do anything God likes without help from any living creature, God prefers to work with us to accomplish God’s purposes! It’s just part of God’s generous nature, this desire to let us in on the fun and the joy of being a part of God’s work!
Follow Me, and I Will Make You Fish for People
In the Gospel reading today, we heard how Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, saw Simon (later to be known as Peter) and his brother, Andrew, casting a net into the sea. Jesus called out to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” They dropped their nets and followed him. Two other brothers, James and John, were in the boat with their dad, mending their nets. Jesus called them, and they left the boat and their dad and followed him. This seems fairly incredulous! These guys are minding their own business (literally), and Jesus calls out to them and they drop everything and become his Disciples! This kind of thing just doesn’t happen. I grew up thinking that I must not be much of a Christian, because I probably wouldn’t respond to such a radical call “out of the blue”! And THAT is why I am so grateful for the other Gospel writers. One writer gives us details that we don’t get from the others. When we look at the Gospel of John, we see that 1. Andrew was a follower of John the Baptizer; 2. John urged him to talk with Jesus; 3. He had a conversation with Jesus; 4. He had gone to his brother, Simon, saying, “We have found the Messiah!”; and 5. He had taken his brother to introduce him to Jesus; then 6. Simon and Jesus had a conversation that indicated some future relationship!
So, the call of Jesus to those fishermen didn’t come in a vacuum, “out of the blue.” It came in the context of a relationship. They already had a relationship, and it would be easy to imagine that Simon, Andrew, James, and John had been eagerly anticipating the moment when Jesus would give them the signal that he was ready for them. That moment came after Jesus’ own baptism, after his time of temptation in the wilderness, when John the Baptizer was arrested and imprisoned by Herod. (And we all know the gruesome ending of that chapter in the history of our faith!)
Jesus began his public ministry with the calling of the disciples to be his partners in a great campaign, a huge mission to fulfill God’s purpose. And I proclaim to you today that Christ continues to call partners. Christ is calling you and is calling me. The problem is that there are some barriers to that partnership. Do I believe that God wants to partner with me to do God’s will? YES! But there are days when I don’t ACT like I believe it. Those are the days when I am more like a two-year-old, saying “I DO IT!” I forget to partner with God, and I charge ahead under my own steam doing what I think ought to be done. I DO IT! And then, of course, there are days when I just have my own agenda to pursue, and I am deaf to God’s invitation to be a partner in God’s work. “God, you can do that without me.” Another barrier is my imperfect perception of my gifts and abilities. I stand with Moses, protesting that my speaking is not eloquent enough—please, send someone else. I relate to Jeremiah who said, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak: I am only a child.” And I join with Ananias who, when told to go lay hands on Saul and pray for him, thought it was necessary to inform God about what kind of dangerous man Saul was!
So many barriers for God to overcome, just getting us to let God share God’s wonderful work!
I try to fill my mind with a visual image—an image of God using me (an imperfect tool) to do God’s perfect work. I imagine myself as a scalpel in the hands of a gifted surgeon—a scalpel that is not too sharp on my own, but one that is being sharpened for the healing surgery about to take place. In the hands of a master, an imperfect instrument can still do miraculous things!
I love that old poem by Myra Brooks Welch called, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.” It goes like this:
It was battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it hardly worth his while, to waste his time on the old violin, but he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bid, good people,” he cried, “Who’ll start the bidding for me? One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two? Two dollars, who’ll make it three? Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,” but NO!
From the room far back a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow. Then wiping the dust from the old violin and tightening up the strings, He played a melody, pure and sweet, as sweet as the angel sings.
“One thousand, one thousand, do I hear two? Two thousand, who’ll make it three? Three thousand once, three thousand twice, going and gone!” said he.
The audience cheered, but some of them cried, “We just don’t understand. What changed it’s worth?” Swift came the reply, “the Touch of the Master’s Hand.”
And many a man with soul out of tune, all battered and scarred by sin, is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd, much like that old violin.
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine, a game and he travels on. He is going once, he is going twice, he is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd can never quite understand The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought by the Touch of the Master’s Hand.
(You may find it interesting to know that the young woman who wrote this poem was so crippled with arthritis that she was confined to a wheelchair. She composed her poems on a typewriter, grasping an inverted pencil in both hands in order to press the keys. Despite her pain, her “disability,” God used her in a mighty way to be a blessing to generations of people!)
Are you ready to partner with God?!