Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"See All the People: The Pressing Crowd" - Sermon, February 10, 2019

Community UMC, Quincy
“See All the People: The Pressing Crowd”
Rev. Andrew Davis
February 10, 2019
Luke 5: 1-11

         After nearly two weeks on the road, it’s sure nice to be back in this winter wonderland that Quincy is right now and am glad I don’t have to travel too much for awhile, at least until June.  While I missed quite a snow event this last week, the forecast yesterday delivered and it’s looking like there’s more snow in the forecast for the next week.  While on the road these last couple weeks, it is always nice to connect with clergy colleagues by learning, and spending time in fellowship together. 
            This morning, we embark on a new adventure as we talk about seeing all the people in both worship and on Wednesdays in a discussion/faith formation group where we can go a little deeper.  What does it mean to see all the people, especially when we are out and about in the community, and even the people in our church? We’ve talked about this idea before, yet it’s a constant reminder that like Jesus, we need to keep our eyes and ears open to everyone around us, as there are so many opportunities to engage and create new and meaningful relationships.  Now this could sound like one of those sermons that tells us to go out and tell them why they should come to church, or why they need to know Jesus; however, we all know that what might have been effective 20-40 years ago may not necessarily be effective today.  Just imagine putting yourself in the first disciples’ shoes on the shores of Lake Genesaret/Sea of Galilee.  On the other hand, put yourself in Jesus’s shoes as he has all of these crowds following him everywhere he goes.
            In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is traveling around different cities situated around Lake Genersaret/Sea of Galilee, where a lot of his earthly ministry will take place before he heads to Jerusalem.  Last week in the Gospel lesson Jesus returned to Nazareth, his hometown in which he preached a message that initially impressed the people until he began to foreshadow the upside-down kingdom he would bring, so much that the crowd became angry and wanted to throw him off a cliff. Nevertheless, Jesus escapes then goes to Capernum and other towns around Lake Genesaret where he casts out demons, or unclean spirits that possessed people, or healed the sick, which amazed the crowds.  Whenever Jesus did such, the news went viral, as people say today.  
            As word gets out about Jesus and as he travels along the lakeshore, the crowd is now following him and pressing in on him, eager to see what he is teaching from the word of God.  Now being a little bit ahead of his time, Jesus takes a boat and teaches from a boat (I should try this at Lake Almanor or Bucks Lake!!), seeing all the people before he goes and calls his first disciples.  With him gaining a reputation for casting out demons and healing the sick, or bringing good news to the poor, the crowds want to see Jesus and hear Jesus speak before he calls the first disciples.  As Jesus calls his first disciples after guiding them to good water where they catch more fish than their nets and boats can handle, he tells them that they will fish for people, just like the song “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men…” While Jesus began in the synagogue, most of Jesus’s teaching in our Gospel lesson and upcoming gospel lesson from Luke happens outside, not inside the synagogue.  Jesus was able to see the people and reach the people, even though many of them flocked to him because of the news they heard.  Some almost eighteen-hundred years after Jesus, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement would do similar in order to reach and see all the people around him in England.  Last month during the early Methodist history segment of our Methodist 101 class, one of the ways that John Wesley preached was by preaching on top of his father’s grave at Epworth chapel in England after being barred from the pulpit.  John would then go on to preach in the coal mines and fields before thousands of people who were eager and hungry to hear the Word of God like it was at Jesus’s time. 
            As Jesus called his first disciples and had the crowds following him, he still managed to see all the people.  This last week, when I was at my second residents practicing ministry academy in Sutter Creek, our keynote teacher, Rev. Rob Rynders, an ordained deacon in the Desert-Southwest Conference UMC was talking about different ways to reach people and see all the people, which comes at a crucial time in Christianity and even in the UMC.  As Rob explained during the academy, we have three groups of people called traditionalists, explorers, or what’s becoming a large group of the population, ‘nones.’[i]Traditionalists will often seek out a church like ours and tend to be deeply steeped in scripture to name a few traits.  Explorers, on the other hand, are people who are at various places on the journey of faith and like the crowds that gathered to hear Jesus teach at the lakeshore, have a deep yearning to hear the word of God and are learning about the word of God and what it means to be a follower of Jesus along the way. ‘Nones’ have no religious affiliation, although that doesn’t mean that ‘nones’ don’t believe in God or are opposed to hearing the word of God.  
Naturally, when we hear of a large segment of people who walk away from Christianity or religion, some may be quick to sound the alarm and hit the panic button.  Not so fast, though.  It means that we have a vast mission field to engage with when we think about seeing all the people, just as Jesus saw all the people when he walked along the lakeshore, as he moved from the synagogue to the marketplace and seashore.  When Jesus saw all the people, he saw them for who they are, as he didn’t inquire of them whether or not they were worthy to follow him or not, something we need to practice as disciples today.  As Jesus called his first disciples, he called simple, ordinary fisherman.  Take a look at Simon, who would become Peter and the one who Jesus would build his church on; after the miracle of the massive catch of fish, Simon-Peter tells Jesus that he’s a sinner and can’t follow him, yet Jesus still calls him to be a disciple, a follower.  Like Simon Peter, “we experience God’s miracles when we rely on the word of God beyond our prejudice and profession,”[ii]especially as we set our eyes onto the mission field and build meaningful relationships with people and share the good news about Jesus.
As The United Methodist Church’s mission statement in the front of your bulletins says, the mission of the UMC is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World,” even though we may not necessarily see the pressing crowds like Jesus saw in his day.  Despite the fact that all of our churches aren’t bursting at the seams like they used to at one time, I believe there’s still a deep yearning to hear the word of God, which we demonstrate through our actions when we get to know people.  Just like Jesus seeing all the people, we are the hands and feet of Jesus today and it’s up to us to see all the people around us, even if that pressing crowd is only two or three people.  Nevertheless, we can’t stay just in the walls, but instead practice like this catchy Doobie-Brothers song says, ‘takin’ it to the streets…’
It’s beyond time to move from the church to the streets.  While we think about the spiritual gifts we have that we talked about last month, this is where we take our gifts out to the streets and use our gifts, whether it’s with a pressing crowd or just a few people.  Jesus saw everyone he ministered with, everyone he taught, and everyone he healed wherever he went.  Jesus lives inside each of us today, so how are we going to see all the people as we go out and about town or even beyond town?  How are you going to see all the people around you?  
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!!  

[i]Rob Rynders, Presentation 2 (Sutter Creek, CA: 2019)
[ii]Kwangki David Kim

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