Drop your nets, says Jesus and do what DOESN’T come naturally: follow me, and be free!
By Pastor Mark Nieting
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It was really neat, having two Christmases this year, and the second being a true “white one!” Fantastic, right? In this chapter of the STORY, Jesus’ ministry begins: first He’s “introduced” by John the Baptist, and then He selects his “ministry team,” the disciples. Each one of them…..and you know their names because we did an entire series of children’s messages on them a few years ago….was called to leave whatever they were doing and to do something different. In fact, I would go so far as to say they were called to do something that was completely RADICAL for their day…..and even for ours. It was all about Jesus teaching His disciples….then and now…. how to FORGIVE!
The Old Testament, which we just finished two weeks ago, doesn’t include a lot of teaching about forgiveness on the part of people. GOD is always the one forgiving. But there’s a lot of “an eye for an eye” behavior and plenty of smiting and wiping people out. But forgiving? Forgiving people, especially people who have really done you wrong; that’s tough to do, isn’t it? It’s not natural. What comes naturally are paybacks and grudges and revenge; you hit me, I’ll get you.. that’s the stuff that comes naturally to us.
Last Sunday we all had the chance to tell the person next to us that they had problems. We did it in jest, of course, and even had a laugh doing it, but were we wrong? No! And this morning, if we really got down to it and did a “pass the microphone,” it wouldn’t take long before we could dig up story after story about people we are…..it would be nice if I could use the past tense…..used to….having trouble forgiving. And that doesn’t even begin touching people who need to forgive US for what we’ve done to them! I’ll say it again: forgiving people who hurt us……it doesn’t come naturally.
But that’s the very thing that Jesus came to teach us.
I finished one of the most wonderful books I’ve read in a long time. It’s called “Mission at Nuremberg.” It’s the story of a pastor in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod who served as an Army chaplain during World War 2. Immediately after the war, Chaplain Henry Gerecke was chosen out of all the protestant chaplains in the army at the time to minister to the 21 top Nazis while they were tried for war crimes after the war. These men: Herman Goering, Hitler’s #2 man, Rudolph Hess, Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Frank, Albert Speer and others, men who, just for starters, were responsible for murdering over six MILLION Jews, simply because they were Jews. Chaplain Gereke’s Call was to lead them back to Jesus, to help them find forgiveness, even while some of them would be executed for their actions. Could you have done that? Perhaps you lost a brother in the war? Could you offer the forgiveness of Jesus to those who made it all happen?
Take a moment and think back to the last time someone hurt you in ANY which way, to the last time you were wronged. What did your human nature want to do to them?
Since it’s Lent, and since we’ve just read chapter 23 about Jesus’ ministry, let’s get HIS perspective on the topic, say from about 10 feet off the ground, nailed to the cross. He looks down over Calvary, Golgotha, if you will, and what does He see? There’s a group of soldiers, still sweating from nailing Him up, fighting over His clothes. There’s the Jewish leaders mocking Him. There’s His mother and a few of her women friends, but His disciples? Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him and ran off. The rest are all in hiding except John. He’s down there with Mary. And there’s a crowd of onlookers yelling, “You said you are the Messiah. If that’s true, come down and show us!”
And He could. That would come naturally, wouldn’t it? Who stays on the cross when He doesn’t HAVE to? But Jesus looks out over the crowd and what does He say to the men who put Him up there? He doesn’t curse at them. He doesn’t spit at them. He doesn’t call down fire and brimstone…..which He could do. Instead, He speaks what we know are some of His “seven last words:” this time, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”
He forgives them, and on top of that, He asks His Father to forgive them! ONLY someone who knows what true freedom is can do that. Could you? Or are you hanging on to some grudges because someone hurt you or someone wronged you or someone “disrespected you” or stole from you and you’re hanging on to what comes naturally so tight you just can’t let go. And if you can’t let it go….if you can’t forgive, you’re not free.
Jesus came to set us free. Jesus came to set YOU free. And what sets us free is exactly what doesn’t come naturally: forgiveness….. get this…forgiveness EVEN if what was done to you WAS wrong!
Jesus was serious about this, some serious that He included it TWICE into “his” prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. Say it with me: forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US. Jesus wants HIS people to be different: not tied up in grudges, revenge and pay-backs, but freeing others and being free ourselves because we are willing to forgive, and be forgiven.
Be honest now (it’s Lent and you’re in church!). Is there a name that when it’s mentioned you just bristle, and you’re ready to go off about them for about 30 minutes because of what they’ve done to you…and how they’ve “done you wrong?” And you get great pleasure in planning just how you’re going to exact your “pound of flesh” with “an eye for an eye,” a “bruise for a bruise,” some “gossip for their gossip?”
Drop your nets, says Jesus and do what DOESN’T come naturally: follow me, and be free! It’s taken us 23 weeks to get this far into the Story, but when we do what Jesus calls us to do and live the way He calls us to live, it’s amazing!
The disciple John….the one who hung in there at the cross….he was the one who really “got it” when it came to love. In his first epistle, John wrote ”God is LOVE” and he goes on and on about love, til it sounds like the old camp song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love!” John goes on to say that if you say you’re a Christian and you don’t have the radical kind of love that enables you to forgive EVEN when it hurts, you’re faking it. You’re going through the motions.
After reading my retirement covenant in our meeting last Sunday, this is what has been going through my mind: what do I want for you….for Hope…after I retire? I’ve already promised to pray for you, every day. I’ve already promised to support Hope in every way I can. But what do I WANT for you? I want you to LOVE. I want you to LOVE each other and to LOVE every single new person who walks in those doors so much so when people here the name of HOPE, they say, “that’s a church who knows how to love!”
St. Paul gets into this in 1 Corinthians 13. He’s discussing church work and church life and he puts it like this: you may have the best musicians of any church in Kempsville; and you may have the best Bible teachers east of Concordia Seminary; and you may have money to burn; and you may have 150 kids back there in the school….but if you don’t have love, you’ve got nothing. Zippo. Nada.
Let’s give an example from page 330 in the story….turn there, please. In the Bible it’s in Mark 2. Jesus is in Capernaum teaching and healing and blessing people and He’s slammed with crowds because friends are bringing friends and such. But there’s one guy who cannot get there by himself; he’s paralyzed. So his four buddies take the corners of his stretcher and carry him to the house where Jesus was….now that’s LOVE in action, right? But it’s so crowded they can’t get NEAR the place. There was NO WAY they could maneuver that stretcher through the mass of people and get anywhere close.
Let me ask: what would have come naturally? Hey man, we tried….but look at the time! I love you….but dude, I’ve got soccer practice!!! Gotta run! That’s what comes naturally. But not these guys. Somehow they get him up on the roof without dropping him and go across to about where they think Jesus is right below them. Then they tear a HOLE in the roof and carefully lower their paralyzed buddy right in front of Jesus! Now that will get your attention, right?
What did Jesus do? (Top of 331) He forgave his sins! That’s a man who’s been set free! But the people get all upset, because only God can forgive sins, so Jesus reminds them He IS God…and that’s exactly why He came! To Forgive Sins! And then, just to show them He could, He tells the man to get up and walk and, of course, he does.
That’s the main story in Mark 2…..but there’s another story running, another part of the lower story that applies to His disciples. Maybe Jesus was thinking of Nathaniel, I don’t know, but He said, “Let GO of your nets. Let GO of what comes natural and follow me and you will be AMAZED at what you see!
That’s the STORY: Jesus came to set us FREE. Free from being imprisoned by grudges, by a desire for revenge, from bitterness and anger, even from hatred. That’s what Jesus wants for us…..not eventually in heaven…..there won’t BE any sin there; that’s what He wants for us now. And He was willing to give up His life so what we can have it. Freedom in HIM, now and forever. That’s what I want for you. He does too.