They were fishermen, not learned scholars

I can smell the salt air, hear the waves crashing upon the shore, and watch the seagulls diving for scraps of clams and fish. I'm a Jersey seashore girl from little up. My Dad, too, lived for the moments he could be by the sea. He was a draftsman for New York Ship in the days surrounding WWII designing hatch covers for aircraft carriers. But his weekends and vacations were meant for fishing.

We lived half a block from the beach during the days when sand dunes with grasses waving in the hot summer breeze bordered the ocean. When the tide was right in the predawn hours, Dad would take his surf casting gear and stand for hours watching for the tug on the line. He and mom would take his boat out onto the bay or ocean for the entire day or night and bring home huge messes of fish to scale and clean and give to the neighbors. There's nothing like eating fish freshly caught that very day. The best thing dad brought home was what he called a weakey - or weak mouthed bass. There's a picture of me standing next to him holding a fish bigger than me.

Dad taught me how to read the tide schedule, watch for the phases of the moon. He took me to the docks as they unloaded the catch in their huge nets. I got to recognize the fishermen and knew the names of their vessels.

At home by the sea - no less than many of the disciples. A place of refuge, a place of hard work, personal value, sustenance. A place to be in awe of God's power and majesty. And a place to meet Jesus face to face.

Jesus, crucified, died and was buried. Yet, this was the third time he appeared to them alive. They were out of hiding. Returned to their trade. The nets they had left a few short years ago now dragging the ocean's currents in hopes of a catch. Jesus comes.

Can you imagine how inadequate they must have felt? How unprepared for the journey that lay ahead of them? These are fishermen, not learned scholars. They knew nothing of government except taxes. What did they have to do with politics and institutional religion unless it entered their world? They knew how to pray and they no doubt knew the Torah and a brief history of their people. Beyond that, what need did they have for philosophy and the arts? Their manner was uncultured. They probably had told off color jokes, sang lusty songs, and wrestled on the beach in the down moments. They worked hard, played hard, and slept with the sound of the waves. Yet, they had followed him, watched him, listened to him. They had been awed by the miracles, and not a little frightened, lost and confused by the events of the last few weeks. It was easier to go back to what was familiar and stable while they tried to make sense of it all. And Jesus came and made himself known in the ordinary everyday moments of their lives.

Have you ever felt inadequate and unsuited to a task before you? When high school yearbooks came out, were you voted most likely to succeed? Or did you feel like the most unlikely person to ever be recognized? How many of you remember what it is like to start a new job? You look at the qualifications listed in the advertisement and think - not me. Then you start a new position…how many weeks and months is it before you feel like you're an old hand and can do the job instinctively? Perhaps you feel as if your past activities or maybe even your current life makes you poorly qualified to fulfill the life Christ asks you to lead.

Well, I'd like to ask you to consider the folks that we read about in the Bible…the ones we hear Jesus calling to be his followers. We've already talked about the hand full of fishermen. Then isn't there a tax collector? A man known for earning his living by charging high interest rates. Someone who is hated by both the government that uses him and the people he gouges. He lives on the fringes of society because of his strong armed way of dealing with things. Few friends no doubt. Then there's a zealot, a rebel who knows his way around all the back alleys of the city. He's got contacts in all walks of life, a fiery personality that probably flared up at any hint of injustice and made conversations more than exciting. We've got a doctor whose knowledge of health practices and healing skills came in handy when Jesus wasn't around. Then throw in a few women almost stoned for adultery and a bunch of poverty stricken, previously physically challenged people. Jesus had called them too.

And then there's Paul, a man highly educated, not only as a Pharisee, but also in Hellenistic philosophy. We hear that he studied at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most famous rabbis in Jewish history. He knew every dot and tittle of the law, Jewish, Greek and Roman, could argue and debate his way out of most any situation. He was an ardent, passionate follower of his faith and one willing to hunt down, persecute and murder those whose belief system threatened everything he had come to know and believe. Can you imagine how frightened the Christians were of him? Could you sit next to a known murderer and not be nervous? Yet, Jesus called him, too.

Now just imagine all these folks sitting together in a room as leaders of this growing band of believers trying to come to some kind of consensus on the direction they should take? Can you imagine the personality conflicts that went on? We know of many of the difficulties they had pulling together. We can read about them in the New Testament. And, yet, Jesus called every one of them to serve him.

Conflicts arise in whatever group we belong to, wherever we are in the world. Whether we are government officials sitting in senate, diplomats serving the World Council of Churches or members of a small congregation nestled at the foot of the Catoctin Mountains.

Yet, we are called through these doors. It's a glorious feeling to know that God knows everything about us and wants us here. It amazes me how God enters our lives at places that seem most ordinary to those around us and yet extraordinary for us. Jesus walked by the seaside and saw his disciples with empty nets - and filled them to overflowing. He touched the hands and faces of people who had not been held for years because of their diseases and infirmities. He walked under a tree and saw a lonely man sitting in the branches and invited himself over for dinner. He knocked Saul off his horse and blinded him just to get his attention. Jesus looked into the eyes of sinners - and loved them.

And, then brought them together to become his body, to be his church. The beautiful thing about Jesus is he calls us into his service because of our strengths not our weaknesses. Jesus does not reject us because of our shortcomings, our personality style, or the way we wear our hair. We can be zealous evangelists or shy quiet bookworms. We can be the rough, clumsy proverbial bull in the china shop, or the detailed, organized perfectionist. We can be day dreamers with creative imaginations, or a practical, cautious accountants. We are all called, needed and wanted - not only in the kingdom to come, but in the body of Christ.

There isn't a single, famous, effective leader in all of history that did not have some flaw. And, it is amazing that no matter how awesome the work accomplished, human tabloids of every generation seek out and reveal that flaw, tearing down the good attempting to destroy the person and their efforts.

And, yet, Christ lift ups, upholds and directs a person's gifts. He sends them where they will be most effective. Who but a zealous man like Paul could have accomplished the witness to the non-Jewish world that he did? Who but Jesus' very own brother could have held together the Christians in Jerusalem during the time of Roman persecution? Who but women who had known love could have inspired young mothers to keep the faith when their babies were starving? Who but a tax collector could have aided Paul with his vast collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Who but those who had been crippled could have been compassionate to the multitude of physically disabled who populated the Middle East?

Who but you can do the things you do as uniquely and effectively as you do? I met a woman on Monday who completely lost her hearing as an adult but you'd never know it. Does she long to hear again? You bet she does. But she didn't allow her weakness to hinder her ability to serve Jesus. Her tenacity helped her develop a non-deaf voice. She learned to read lips extremely well. She came to speak to our conference of pastors to help us understand the needs of the disabled. And she was extremely motivating.

You are the body of Christ. This congregation and every one of its members is loved by God. You are called to help others take their strengths and develop their weaknesses and shortcomings into assets so that we may go forward with the ministry of reconciliation and witness to God's redeeming love.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan