The Invitation – Sermon for Sunday, January 22, 2017


 

 Does anyone RSVP anymore? At the beginning of a wedding rehearsal, I asked the bride how many people were going to attend the reception dinner. And she said that she wasn’t sure because not many people had sent back their RSVP even though she knew that many of the non-responders would probably attend anyway.

Since she was frustrated at the lack of response, I asked her, “What if you don’t have enough places for them at the dinner?” And sounding even more annoyed, she said, “Well, they’ll be in for a big surprise won’t they, because they sure won’t be eating here.”

I was reading where it’s not uncommon for over 20% of the people to NOT RSVP one way or another. I became curious as to why this is, so I sent out a mailing asking people this question, but not enough people responded to my survey.

All kidding aside, it is interesting to me that there are that many people who don’t respond one way or another. I wonder if it’s something to do with our human nature where we want to wait until the very last minute before making a commitment, but eventually the RSVP gets lost, thrown away, or we forget about it altogether.

This is why you got to like Jesus’ approach in calling those first fishermen to follow him. Instead of bothering with invitations, he went by the seashore, found some people who were trying to make a living, and he invited them to follow him.

But why were these fishermen so willing to drop their nets to follow Jesus? It wasn’t like Jesus was offering them a new job with better pay. What led them to make such a life changing decision right there on the spot?

I have a friend who says that the church is guilty of being too afraid to invite people into a deeper relationship with God. He says that we assume that people will say no when in reality, many people are longing to become part of something bigger than themselves.

Maybe this is why those fishermen were so willing to drop everything and follow Jesus. They were ready for something new and different even though they didn’t exactly know what to expect.

We don’t know how much these fishermen knew about Jesus prior this meeting by the seashore. Matthew doesn’t offer any details. He does however tell us just before this story that Jesus had already started to announce that the Kingdom of Heaven was coming near.

Perhaps they had heard rumors of this wandering Jewish teacher who was announcing this intriguing message of good news. Maybe this was why they were so willing to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him. We don’t know. All we know was that they did. They accepted the invitation to follow Jesus.

Of course, not everybody just drops what they are doing to follow Jesus. Many of us fit into that late responding category and when Jesus invites us to follow him, we take our time before finally saying, “Yes, I’ll follow you, Jesus.”

I’m the type of person who likes to look at all the options before making any big decision. Don’t rush into anything because you might regret it, is the thinking, here. And so, we put off making a decision about something until we’ve gathered all the facts and then we finally decide.

God has wired us differently. That is true. Leadership experts say that people can be divided into five groupings based on how early or on how late we tend to jump on board in making a commitment to a new opportunity.

They say that only 2.5% of us are innovators where we come up with the new idea or concept that can lead us into a better future. Just 2.5% of us.

13.5% of us are in the category called, Early Adopters. Anyone in this category can sense a good thing when they see it right away and they jump on board early. No waiting around for them. It’s not that they are impulsive. Once they hear the information about the new opportunity and it makes sense, there’s no need to wait. They want to get going.

Then there are the middle categories which make up most of us. These middle categories represent 68% of those of us who are in either the early majority category or the late majority category.

If we’re in one of these two categories, we need more time, some more than others, until we warm up to a new idea. Quite often, we don’t jump on board until we see other people who we respect jump on board, and then we do as well.

And the last category represents 16% of us and these are the people who don’t jump on board until way down the line. The name given to this category is the name, “Laggards.”

Back in the early 90s, I remember a friend of mine telling me about a pastor he knew who was now using a pager so that people could reach him when he was out of the office. This was before cell phones were popular.

Here’s what I said to my friend who told me this. “Who feels that they are that important that they would need a pager?”  I actually said that.

And today, if I leave home and forget my cell phone, I panic because people won’t be able to reach me. This is why our scripture reading this morning has always mystified me. It’s hard for me to believe that these common fishermen just laid down their nets and started following Jesus.

Are we ready to lay down our nets when Jesus calls us to follow him?

CS Lewis who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia has an interesting story about how he finally accepted the invitation and became a follower of Jesus. A professor of medieval literature at Oxford University, Lewis was an atheist.

His mother had died of cancer when he was only nine, shattering his trust in God’s goodness. By the age of fourteen, he had rejected faith in any kind of God, and his horrific experience during World War I in which he was wounded only confirmed these convictions. Even though Lewis eventually began to reconsider his faith, he still wasn’t ready to become a Christian.

On a fall evening in 1931, Lewis had dinner with J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the “Lord of the Rings” triology. They walked through the college’s park, talking until the early hours of the morning.

The conversation turned to mythology. Lewis felt that myths, despite their imaginative appeal were in the end, merely lies. Tolkien proposed instead that the beauty of Christianity is that it is a myth that happens to be true.

The universal hunger planted in human beings by God, evidenced by all the world’s mythologies was made manifest in time and space. In Jesus Christ, God really did walk this earth, die, and rise again.

A few days after that late night walk, Lewis, still pondering the conversation, got in the sidecar of a motorcycle for a trip to the zoo. Lewis later wrote, “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo, I did.”

Even though it took C.S. Lewis a long time before responding to the invitation, when he did, he jumped in with both feet. So maybe, the important thing isn’t in how long it takes us to say yes to Jesus, but when we do, let’s be ready to drop our nets and follow him.

 

A pastor I know tells the story of a time a few years ago when he had the privilege of baptizing a ninety-nine year old man during worship one Sunday morning. This man had attended church occasionally throughout his life and finally decided to get baptized. He was finally ready to drop his net and follow Jesus.

It was a very moving service as the people of this congregation watched this elderly man step toward the baptism font to be baptized. He responded to the baptism questions, each time, speaking in a shaky and soft voice with the words, “I will.”

The pastor then baptized him in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And then the congregation said a prayer of blessing over him.

Following the worship service, a church member came up to the pastor and said, “Uh, he was kind of cutting it close, don’t ya think?”

Maybe he did cut it close, but the important thing was that he said yes to Jesus.

In our United Methodist theology, we believe that in any given moment, Jesus is inviting every single one of us to follow him. God’s grace is being extended to us no matter who we are or how old we might be.

We call this “prevenient grace,” the grace of God that goes ahead of us to prepare us to say yes to Christ. God’s grace stirs within us and is always encouraging us to drop our nets and follow him. Even when we’re not aware of this grace that is at work in our lives, it is still reaching out to us and beckoning us into a closer relationship with Christ.

I can’t remember how old I was at the time, maybe around ten or eleven, I invited all of my friends to come to a birthday party at my house. The only problem was, I didn’t tell my parents about the party. I was throwing a birthday party in my honor.

When my friends started coming to the door of my house, my mother finally figured out what was going on. She had to go out and buy a large cake, party favors and enough food for about a dozen of my friends who came to our house that day.

On the day before my birthday and without telling my parents, I had handed out birthday invitations to all of my friends. And many of them came. For many years now, I have been known in my family as the one who threw a birthday party for himself.

When Jesus saw those fishermen along the Sea of Galilee, he extended an invitation to each of them to come to a Kingdom of heaven party. And Matthew tells us that they dropped their nets and followed him.

I like to think that every time we gather for worship, it’s an invitation for each of us to attend God’s party. It’s a party where all are invited. Nobody is left out.

Are you ready to follow Jesus?

I want to invite us in these next few moments to take a look at the invitation that you will find in your bulletin this morning.  You’ll find it at the bottom of that middle page at the end of the order of worship.

And no, it’s not an invitation to come to my birthday party. It’s an invitation to a different party. It’s an invitation to a kingdom of God party. It’s an invitation to follow Jesus.

You can see where you can sign your name to attend the party. By signing it, it’s your way of saying, “Yes, Jesus. I want to follow you.” Take this home with you and let it be a reminder of the invitation Jesus extends to you today.

 

Jesus says to each one of us, “Drop your nets and follow me.” Will you come to the party?

Scroll to the bottom of this page for small group questions.