The sermon for week June 02, 2013
CallSeminary professor Fred Craddock tells the story of “Crazy Jack.” He writes,
“I had a seminary student some years ago whose name was Jack. Everyone called him ‘Crazy Jack.’ I didn’t start it but it was just natural to call him that. He wore torn blue jeans with a red bandana tied around his knee.
I asked him once, ‘Jack, what’s with the bandana?’
He said, ‘Yeah, man.’
It was customary for students to preach a senior sermon at a chapel service. When Crazy Jack became a senior, he was asked to preach. He read from Matthew 16: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’
He then preached. ‘I think some of you met my brother when he visited me here. If you think I’m crazy, you should meet my brother. He came into town once on a freight train from Elgin, Illinois. He loves hopping freight trains; he loves trains. He can tell you when the trains were started, how wide the gauge, how long the tracks, and what kind of fuel they use. He can tell you all about the development of the train, the building of the transcontinental railroad and the driving of the last spike. He can tell you how the growth of the train was the growth of the country and how much it made for millions and millions of people. And how many millions of passengers rode the trains. The train was “it.” My brother loves to tell the wonderful story of trains. But he turns sad because trains are kind of out of favor now: weeds growing up in the tracks, tracks rusting, few passengers, seldom a freight train. He was almost in tears when he hopped a train and left town. He just has this thing about trains.
Now me, I have this thing about the church.’
And Crazy Jack sat down. The audience was shocked, they didn’t get it. Faculty members just shook their heads as they left the chapel. But what Crazy Jack told about the story of the train from its beginning, to its grandeur and great success, and then decline--he expected the audience to take the word ‘church’ and put it in the place of ‘train.’”
I love that story. I am crazy about the church. I just love it. It makes me so sad when the stats come out and we’re in decline. It pains me when Sam talks about how the Ohio UCC Conference is a shell of its former self. How our association needs some restructuring. How the mainline in general has been in a decline since the 1970s and not a whole lot of people seem to know about our brand of Christianity. But I have hope. I have hope that this can be reversed, and I see it in today’s lesson.
The lesson is simple: get out and call on people.
And I love the gospel story we read today. It’s the calling of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew as well as James and John. Simon Peter upon whom the church was going to be built is out casting a net into the Sea of Galilee. It is an intriguing story of Jesus calling his disciples. Here’s a complete stranger walking by the lake, and he says, “Follow me, and you’ll fish for people instead of being fishermen.” All it takes from Jesus is one clever pun and the disciples leave everything they know and follow him. I mean, even I have some reservations when Kate just says, “Follow me, we’re going to dinner.” We’re going to dinner? What’s for dinner? Who else will be there? Are we eating at home, Fricker's, or Charlie's Pizza?
I mean this is Kate we’re talking about! I’ve known her since I was 17, and I hesitate. What’s up with these brothers that they would just up and go?
Jesus’ first disciples are fishermen from Capernaum, a settlement that stretched along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Archeologists have uncovered groups of small houses clustered around courtyards with adjoining houses that may have been occupied by related families. So when Jesus calls these brothers James and John, Peter and Andrew they aren’t just dropping an occupation, but family obligations. The disciples are prosperous enough to own houses and employ hired hands to assist in the fishing enterprise. (Perkins 539). Such a break from their jobs is extraordinary! These disciples were not young idealists but established members of local society. Peter’s home becomes a headquarters for Jesus and his followers. Peter also had his wife, mother-in-law and maybe children.
Simon Peter is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. He’s a smart enough guy, a regular dude with a job just trying to make his way in life. Then Jesus comes along and there’s something about him that makes Simon Peter drop everything and follow him. In doing so, Simon Peter gets a lot of things wrong. He’s too reserved and then too enthusiastic about things. He really has no middle ground this Simon Peter. Jesus gives him the nickname in Matt 16, Crazy Jack’s text; Peter which means “rock.” It either refers to Simon as a solid guy or a blockhead. Maybe it’s both.
I love the journey of Simon Peter because he shows us both the joy and cost of discipleship. There is a joy to discipleship yet there is a great cost. The cost is that this path, this following Jesus stuff isn’t just for one hour on Sunday; it’s a whole family affair. It goes with you to your place of work; it may even cause you to leave your job. It breaks into your routine, it raises your consciousness, and it calls you out of whatever binds you.
When the Hebrew Scriptures reference hooks and nets, they are usually a negative symbol. Hooks and nets ensnare and trap people. God is often depicted as trapping those in need of judgment with a snare or hook or net. Yet the author of Mark reverses this symbol and shows that those who are “caught by Jesus” become part of his mission of healing, preaching, and exorcism. Those who are caught in this new fishing expedition are actually saved, not destroyed. We could use more of that!
I have often shared how I was “caught by Jesus” through the witness of the United Church of Christ. Kate and I joined the UCC in 2004. We had just moved to the Washington D.C. area. Kate was looking for a way to learn about the community we had just moved to and for a way to serve its needs. We tried the old fashioned way, just visiting church after church trying to find what we were looking for. Now, we didn’t really know what we were looking for, we couldn’t articulate it at the time, but we’d know it when we saw it.
And church after church, we didn’t see it. Like Bono we kept singing, “We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.”
God sure did a number on us to get us into our local UCC. And then, much to both of our surprise, God called me into ministry. So we packed up and headed to Lancaster, PA for three years. Then after those three years, God did another calling.
I remember the day I saw your listing on the UCC website and submitted my profile. I had a class where we had to talk about how we were planning our lives after graduation. I said, “Yeah, I just applied to this church just outside of Toledo, Ohio.”
One of my classmates gave me a funny look.
“It’s like to the northwest of Toledo, right on the Michigan border,” I said.
My classmate let out a huff.
“It’s the only place looking for an associate. The senior there, he’s been there like 25 years or something and is like the fourth pastor or so they’ve ever had.”
“Oh please,” my classmate said. “C’mon! You’re talking about Sylvania UCC!”
“Yeah! That’s it!” I replied. “Do you know it?”
“Know it?! That’s my home church! That’s where I grew up! My dad was the pastor there before the current one!” My classmate was Elizabeth Nocheck. Known to you as Libby Souers, daughter of San Souers who was the senior minister here from 1973 to 1986.
I often feel like Simon Peter. I’m called by God, but man, do I get this thing wrong sometimes. I’m doing my best to follow, but I don’t always like it. Like Peter, I dropped my job, messed with my family’s life and moved them all around, and I find myself just like Crazy Jack. I’m crazy about the church. Only now, unlike when Kate and I were first looking for a church, I can put words to what I love about Sylvania and the UCC.
We are a place that states “All are welcome! Everybody is God’s somebody!” We say that science and religion benefit by being in conversation together. We know that the Bible is full of glorious and wonderful myths which weren’t meant to be taken literally. And myth isn’t a pejorative term! It’s a term of highest meaning. Myth is the most powerful thing out there, it gets at the truth behind the truth. We practice what we preach and work toward justice. And best of all, YOU! You people! You are the church, not this building, and don’t get me wrong the building is great, but you’re the real draw!
I want to go out to Kroger, to the pool, to the shores of Lake Erie and say, “Hey! Follow me! Come to my church, you’re gonna love it here!” I’m crazy about the church and the witness of this denomination.
A few of you have asked since Sam has come some form of this question “Well, how much longer are we going to have you?” I love being your associate. What God had to do to get me here, God will have to really double the effort to get me to leave. But one day, we may leave. But not until a few things are done. First is that we get the family ministry really humming on all levels. And second is a simple numerical stat. If we’re at 425 now, in my ideal world, I want to be around 850 when I go. 850.
How does that sound? What questions come up for you? What are your joys or concerns with this arbitrary number I just threw out there?
When I say this, the reaction I get is… interesting. A pained look crosses the face of those who hear it. Then a worried look as they ask something like, “Well, what will happen to us when they get here?” I’ve been thinking about this, and I wonder why we fear growing. What net is holding us back? What hook has been set in us that prevents us from fishing for people?
I assume the same thing will happen to us that happened to the disciples. We’ll grow, we’ll learn, we’ll love people. We’ll see Christ in them and in ourselves. We’ll be reminded that we’re all children of God and all part of that mystical Trinity.
When I got here, I heard about these Pilgrim people. 60 some people joining a church on a Sunday, that’s pretty incredible. Now I can’t tell who’s from Pilgrim and who isn’t. Even when people self-identify, I usually forget. I mean, how much has the life of this congregation been enhanced by them joining? Can you imagine life without them? How about our new members’ class from this past Christmas? Are you afraid of the Bennetts or Helberts? Can you imagine life without the Witters or the Durands and their adorable babies? How about Betty? She’s another one from Swan Creek! We could use more swans around here.
We are called to be fishers of people. We have so many gifts, and we’re gifted when people join us. Churches like ours are in decline and I have many hypotheses as to the reason why, but I think the main one is IT IS SO HARD TO FIND US! SPEAK UP! FISH FOR PEOPLE! CALL AT THEM WHEN THEY’RE MENDING THEIR NETS! They might not follow right away, but soon you won’t be able to imagine life without them. As I can’t imagine life without you all.
I would rather be too enthusiastic about things than too reserved! I want everyone to see how we witness to Jesus Christ! Because, well, I have this thing about the church. Amen.
Craddock, Fred. Craddock on the Craft of Preaching.
Perkins, Pheme. The Gospel of Mark, introduction, commentary, and reflections. New Interpreter’s Bible, volume VIII. Abington Press, Nashville, TN;1995.