Toorak Uniting Church

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The Call To Discipleship

Luke 5: 1 – 11
Rev. Robert McUtchen
7 February 2010

It was 1916. Australia was counting the true cost of war and battle. Casualties from the Gallipoli campaign and battles in France had so depleted the Australian army that there was a critical shortage of soldiers. Gilgandra in western NSW was the origin of what became known as the Cooee March – 26 men left Gilgandra, and calling to men they met along the way saw 263 arrive in Sydney. There are many ways of calling people to service.

Jesus calling of the fishermen continues the tradition of God seeking out human kind to share in fulfilling God’s purposes. Whatever you may think of God, or the way God involves himself in our world, God does not always act alone but frequently seeks out humans share the work.

But if God chooses to share with human beings the things he seeks to do in the world, what are the selection criteria?

Applicants first visit the web site to ensure they meet the "selection criteria". Then comes the psychometric test – matching coloured patterns, arithmetic, word associations, memory tests. Over 2000 people applied to be electric train drivers for Connex – psychometric testing reduced that down to about 200. It all makes work for the psychologists! And thats before the interview!

Looking at God’s appointments you’d have to say God works to a different agenda. Isaiah is lacking in several key areas – negative thinker – there is no hope for me; low self image – I am doomed, every word I say is sinful; would you employ someone like that? Yet Isaiah became one of the most significant prophets.

Jesus chose fishermen – a rough, tough breed of rough talking men. They were not well educated – but in their trade were accomplished, having their own boats, nets and employees. Yet for a mission for God – they were about as likely as the blues brothers! But then, God being God, can make his own rules, and choose things others may not discern or want.

Be very clear – the people God calls to share in his mission are sometimes the least likely.

Unlike Marks gospel, from and upon which Luke bases his narrative, the call to the fishermen is more slowly paced. Luke relates Jesus teaching but without detail, then the command to have one more go with the nets, the miraculous catch, and only then the call to Simon alone – who is joined without words by his partners James and John. The miraculous catch is almost certainly a motif for the outcome of the disciples future ministry – yet even here is a glimpse of Jesus authority, and of the kind of response to his call. Anyone who has messed around in boats knows what it is to feel tired, cold and wet. After a night of fruitless net casting, to be told by an onlooker to go one more time, this time on the other side of the boat – who would not refuse? Yet Peter and the men do so without comment.

With catch aboard, and landed, the disciples simply walk away – Luke reveals another dimension to discipleship. Response which ignores human worldly concerns. What of the record catch, what arrangements for the business were made? I wonder if Peter maintained fishing interests when he announces after the crucixion that he is going fishing. But in an age where we are all anxious about our retirement income, super and pension….what does this mean?

What does this narrative inform us about response to the call of God today?

Firstly, repeating the point that God seldom acts alone. So much of what God does relies upon the agency of men and women. I wonder of we should look more critically at the actions of the unexpected person or group, in order to identify the movement of God?

Secondly, the call of God may seem absurd. Jesus told Peter to let down his nets into the deeper water. Does it annoy you when an onlooker tries to tell you your job? But the call of God may appear to us absurd for other reasons – lack of skill for a task, lack of resources, or the sheer impossibility of what you sense God is asking you to undertake. Look critically at any number of the leaders of the church in your own experience – however capable and inspired they may have been, they also had their own foibles, peculiarities and shortcomings – yet through the agency of the spirit, these men and women have lead the church, or ministered in effectively in the most adverse situations. Remember St Pauls words - …by Gods grace I am what I am, and the grace he gave me was not without effect…altho it was not really my own doing, but God’s grace working with me. (1 Cor 15:10 – 11) when God calls us, offers the grace and help of the Holy Spirit.

Thirdly: no one is immune from the call of God. Isaiah was an unlikely candidate. St Paul persecuted Christians before his conversion, yet became the most effective apologist for Jesus – and he had never met him in person so to speak. The story of the church is filled with men (and women) of dubious pasts – John Newton, slaver, Nicky Cruz, New York gangster, and some just plain mediocre – till they acted for Christ. We used to sing the hymn "I sing a song of the saints of God" which spoke of meeting the saints of God in the most mundane of places.

Many believe they are immune because God would never want them, such is their confessed imperfections. I witnessed this the other day when two people chatted about a forthcoming wedding in a church, and one laughed – the roof would fall in if I went! I wonder how widespread among Christians is the belief that they could never be of use to God because of their faults or sins. How seriously do we take the act of general confession each week, and the assurance of forgiveness which follows? Do we underestimate the power of God to cleanse, as was Isaiah, then take and use even such as us? Do we deny the power of his forgiveness, and the power of the spirit to empower and inspire? I wonder how much more each congregation could do for God, including this one, if we took seriously the notion that each of us is useful to God.

The Cooee March began with 26, and ended with 263 who responded to the call. Isaiah was inspired by a dream, the fishermen were challenged by Jesus – God calls us in voices loud and clear, or in the faintest stirring of our hearts, as a breeze stirs leaves on a warm day. God’s call may come to you at the moment you least expect, or as a persistent urging that will not be quieted. God’s call may be absurd – yet 1 Corinthians 1:25 because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men....

TUC, like many congregations, has a list of tasks and the people needed, and usually insufficient people to meet those needs. God calls every person, including those lacking confidence, or too aware of their shortcomings, to serve him through the church. Let the stories you have heard today be encouragement and assurance that God has a need of you, and will by grace empower you to do more than you ever imagined. Ask any church leader – few would confess other than that God has given his grace to help them.

Then be alert and ready to hear the call of God, and ask for the help to answer it. Amen.

© Rev. Robert McUtchen, 2010

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