From now on, you'll be fishing for people
Updated: Feb 6, 2022
I think we take for granted just how different the shape of Jesus' ministry was from our own. He was itinerant, traveling from town to town and charging his apostles to do the same. He taught and preached in both the synagogue, in the public square, in people's homes, from boats wherever there was someone who would listen. He built up a community of leaders, colleagues, apostles, preachers from scratch -- two, then twelve, then seventy-two, and so on.
It's probably telling that my very first reaction is: wow, how vulnerable. How,,, potentially embarrassing! What if nobody wanted to listen? What if nobody was interested in the message? What if, when you asked people to follow you, or become leaders in your movement, they said no? What if people got mad or thought you were weird or decided you were a nuisance or got the wrong idea about you? It feels relatively safe to be within the walls of a place like this -- presumably you all are here because you want to be, or because this place is familiar, or because there is something you know that you can get here. We all more or less know what we're doing here, we more or less know the ropes, surprises would be surprising here. It feels much more exposing to wonder what ministry looks like outside of this sanctuary with people who might be suspicious, or hurting, or who do not already know what we are talking about, or who have never heard of this.
The true thing is that Jesus' ministry was vulnerable. There were people that got mad at him, who thought him a nuisance, who got the wrong idea about him. But how many more were there who heard his message and saw something hopeful in it, who heard his proclamation of good news for the poor, the oppressed, and dropped everything to follow him? How many saw his works of healing and care, and went and told even more about what he was doing? Jesus' itinerant ministry was vulnerable, but also much needed in a hurting and broken world and at the end of the day, it worked, because here we still are 2000-some-odd years later.
This morning, I would like to take as our starting place that we are called to speak to people who are outside our walls, and in the way that Jesus did. To talk to people who are suspicious or hurting or wondering or skeptical or who simply do not know anything about we do -- and to do so in a way that they can hear.
And I think that part of us shaking ourselves out of our own thinking, is to ask some of our most basic questions again, and not take the answers for granted. So here are a few of those questions:
What is the purpose of church?
What is the goal of ministry?
What does it mean to be community?
Who is Christ Lutheran Church?
What have you found meaningful about this place?
How do you see people struggling? How do you see people hurting?
What could be done to support people in their struggle, in their hurt?
How are we called to minister to struggling, hurting people?
I'm sorry for overloading you. It deserves much more than a sermon's worth of thinking and reflecting (if you want those questions later, we can share them) and this is a kind of reflecting that, even as a fully formed new priest, has singed my brows on occasion over the last few months, only because these are the kinds of questions I'm finding I have to be asking in my own ministry with young people. How do you describe to a 15 year old who thinks that Church is boring, that Church has something worthwhile, maybe, while also allowing their feeling to be valid. How do you describe to an agnostic 22-year old what kind of community we are trying to build in our campus ministry without using the words Eucharistic, communion, discipleship, or trinitarian? How do you hold space for a 30-year old who has been hurt by the Church and who is afraid to give another church community a chance?
Same in Jesus' time as in ours, this is a broken and hurting world full of people who are struggling, and we are among them. People are in need of hope, people are in need of community, people are in need of care, and though we are not always perfect at it, Christian communities are where hope and community and care are the main course of what we do. And I just have to wonder,,, who doesn't need that? Who doesn't need a place where they can openly talk about their burnout, their weariness, and know that it won't be made worse there? Who doesn't need a place where they will be known, and seen, and cared for,, not because they're cool, not because they're interesting, but just because that's what we do here? Who doesn't want a place where they can name their anxieties about the future, and imagine together with other people what other kind of world might be possible? Who doesn't want a community where they can just ,,, be?
I'm heartened by the conversations that I've had on campus and I'm heartened by Jesus' ministry. It's less interesting to me in this day and age to resign ourselves to a simple "people just don't want church anymore" or "young people just don't care about religion, anyways" and more interesting, and maybe more faithful to ask: "what do people want? what do they need? and what can church offer them?" And after so much time spent hauling in empty nets in our fishing, I wonder how it might change our perspective about ourselves and our ministry, to know that there is a great haul to be had in our reaching out to people. Amen.