Sermon text 2-5-23

2601 54th Avenue South  St. Petersburg, FL  33712
On land originally inhabited by the Tocabaga

Date:  Feb. 5, 2023
Scripture Lessons: Matthew 4:17-23, Matthew 5:13-16, and 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Sermon: Fishing, Part 3
Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

If we had gone to hear a presentation from a religious teacher in Jesus’ day, the set up would have been quite different than what we associate with such events today.  No lectern.  No pulpit.  No raised dais.  The teacher would have been sitting down, maybe even on the ground.  And those who had come to listen would be seated nearby.  The teacher or scholar taught and those who were interested came by and listened.  That is what people would have expected from a rabbi, from a teacher, from Jesus.  Sit down and talk and see who comes.

But as we know from the story we heard this morning, Jesus doesn’t do what was expected.  He doesn’t just sit down and wait for people to come to him.  He takes his message to the people.  He is so filled with the compassionate love of God he cannot passively wait for people to come to him.  He must bring the gospel to the people.  He has a message of such good news for ALL people that he simply can’t contain it.  He goes out and shares this message, especially with those who need it most.  He searches them out.  So we have the story of Jesus walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  And he doesn’t just sit down and teach and see who comes, if anyone.  He goes around and recruits people.  He invites them.  He seeks them out.

And what does he offer?  The kin-dom of God.  A group reality.  He offers them community.  A community of unconditional, eternal, universal love.  A community in which to be made whole.  A community in which to experience love and create justice.  A community that is open and welcoming to all.  Jesus calls the fishers to a community where they can experience, explore, and embody a different kind of life.  The reality of God.  Jesus uses a new method to introduce a new message.  

As a community they will live and learn and serve together.  Affirming the child-of-Godness of each and every person and honoring the sacredness of life and creation.  This is not a quick fix – 5 steps to a new you.  This is encountering and creating a new reality in community with others because no one can live on their own, isolated.  We are interdependent.  We need each other and must live together.  Jesus calls his followers to work together to create beloved community.  

Jesus is so filled with hope and promise fueled by Divine Love that he can’t keep this to himself and simply wait and see who may be interested.  He goes out and recruits people to be part of the community.  He invites them.

Now, I can tell you that most days, some time during the day, I encounter something that leads me to think, “That person needs the church.”  In my mind that means a community of support, of alternative values to the society around us.  A community that values people over profit.  That encourages self-giving and sacrifice.  A community that promotes forgiveness not vengeance or retribution.  A community that sustains hope.  A community of unconditional acceptance and love.  

You see someone doing something you know is misguided.  You feel the pain of someone who is clearly being left out.  You see people who are struggling – with finances, relationships, the violence in our society.  You meet someone who is clearly embittered, jaded, hostile.  We see these people every day.  And we read about them.  And we know, if we think about it, that they might not be suffering so much if they were part of a church, a faith community, where they were loved and where they were cared about and encouraged to be their best selves. 

NOW, how are those people going to find the church?  How are they going to experience the unconditional love of God?  We know what is here at church.  We know what difference it makes in our lives.  People need to hear about the good news from, well, us.  

Now, I know the problems with inviting someone to church.  Especially a stranger.  They could very likely think you were a person that is anti gay, anti abortion, and believes the world was created in 7 24-hour days.  I get it.  

So listen to what I am going to tell you.  If you encounter someone who is really angry or having a bad time, it probably won’t help to interject, “Maybe you should try church.”  That might not be the best plan. 

Instead, think about making a personal statement about what church means to you.  Say something like, When I am really upset, I find that going to church helps me get things in perspective.   Or, When I am struggling and not seeing any hope, I find my spirits lifted at church.  Or, When I feel adrift, I reach out to someone from my church and I find that helps.  Or, When I have had hard times in my life, it’s my church family that has helped me to get through.  Or, When I feel beaten down, I find my church community helps me to get up again.  

So, don’t tell someone to try going to church.  Just tell them what the church means to you.  How being part of the church helps you.  Why church is important to you.  What you find at church.  This way you are sharing where they may find help and then leaving it up to them.  Jesus invited the fishers to follow, he did not force them, threaten them, or pressure them in any way.  

You would tell people about a great doctor.  Or a favorite restaurant.  Or where you go for a wonderful massage.  You would tell someone about a movie that you liked.  Or a beach you love.  Or a bookstore your frequent.  

So, it’s like that.  Just mention church.  And how it is important to you.  How it keeps you going and gives you hope.  

Where to do this?  Well, Jesus approaches the people he is passing as he walks along the lakeshore.  So, what about someone in a grocery line who has started talking to you.  Or someone in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.  Or someone at the gym.  Or the barber or hair salon.  Or a neighbor, friend, family member, colleague, or coworker.  When someone is expressing concerns, is upset, is discouraged, just offer a comment about how your church helps you through.  

It’s like that salt Jesus talks about.  It makes a difference.  Maybe a comment about your church experience gets someone going back to their church, or temple, or mosque.  Maybe your comment plants a seed.  And months or even years later, the person makes their way to a faith community.  Maybe the person asks you about your church and then you do invite the person, because they have inquired.  

It’s like that light that Jesus talks about in the sermon on the mount.  It is not hid under a bushel but put on a stand to help more people see.  We are to carry the light of the good news of Divine Love out into the world.  We are to help to shine the light of love, justice, and compassion.  In today’s world, that light is needed more than ever.  Some people, many people, simply have never seen it, sad as that is.  

We are so blessed to be part of this community of compassion and care that feeds our souls and lifts our spirits by encouraging us to love ourselves, each other, our enemies, and the Earth.  Here our wounded souls are tended and strengthened.  There are so many people who need that today.  And we can shine a light, we can be salt, we can make a difference.  

Just tell someone about what you have found at your church.  

I saw an article recently about crazy things people have found at thrift stores.  I have been a thrift store regular ever since I embraced the voluntary simplicity movement in the 90’s and have become more committed as a conservationist – reduce, recycle, reuse.  For me, thrift stores fit into that.  

So here are some of the crazy finds.  One person found a paperback copy of The Shining, signed by Stephen King for $1.99.  

Someone bought a $1200 La Pavone Europiccola expresso maker for, gulp, $6.50.

One person went to Goodwill and saw a painting that looked just like one their grandmother would have painted.  Turns out, the painting was done by the grandmother.  They thought all of her paintings had been sold off 25 years before and were lost forever.  Now, they found one. In a thrift store.  

Someone bought a  locked safe for $15 that was full of money, gold, and silver.  

And then there was the pair of pants with $2,000 in the pocket.  


So, you never know what you are going to find at a thrift store.  What treasures will appear.

Coming to church is kind of like that.  We come here, seeking something.  Maybe we don’t even know what.  And we find supportive compassionate community, a vision of how the world is intended to be, the reality of God, the power of love instead of violence, and money.  And our lives are changed for the better.  

There are so many people in this world who are hurting, struggling, trying to hang on.  We see them every day.  Let them know about church.  What it means to you.  You don’t know what you are going to find at church.  It may be a surprise.  But it will certainly be a treasure.  

The poem, Like on that last ditty, by the writer, Hafiz, ends with the line: 

“Something of great worth in my pocket wants to be in yours.”  

That is the gospel.  That is what we have found here at church. And there are people who need what is in our pocket.  Amen. 

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Author: Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

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