Compassion (Mark 6:30-34,53-56)

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I wonder how Jesus was feeling at the start of this story.

Jesus had been experiencing some of the joys and struggles of ministry. He had seen people’s lives changed as they encountered God’s goodness through his teaching, miracles and healings. He had also been rejected by the people of his own village (6:1-6), and when John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and partner in ministry, had been arrested and murdered by King Herod (6:14-29). This happened just after Jesus had sent his disciples out in pairs on their first missionary journey (6:7-13), giving them authority to cast out evil spirits.

Now, at the start of v30, Mark tells us that Jesus’ disciples had returned to him and they were about to tell Jesus all about what had happened. However, there were so many people coming and going that they couldn’t even find time to eat, let alone debrief about the events of their missionary tour. So they headed off in a boat to try to find some time alone together. People worked out what was going on and they arrived at their destination ahead of Jesus and his disciples. When they got there, the place was already full of people waiting for Jesus.

If that was you, what would you have done? Would you turn the boat around and look for another quiet place to be alone with your friends? Would you tell the crowds to go away and give you some time for yourself? Or would you lie down in the boat, pull a tarpaulin up over your head and hide until everyone went away?

I am constantly in awe of what Jesus did next. He didn’t run away to find some precious ‘me’ time. He didn’t get angry at the crowds, or hide and hope they would go away. Mark tells us that when Jesus saw the huge crowd, ‘he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’ Then he started teaching them (v34 NLT).

The English word ‘compassion’ doesn’t really do justice to Jesus’ reaction when he saw the crowds on the shore. The Greek word splagchnizomai describes something moving in the inner organs of Jesus’ body. A more modern English equivalent could be that Jesus’ ‘stomach turned’ at the scene in front of him, or it was a ‘gut-wrenching’ experience for him, or possibly even that Jesus’ heart broke (The Message) for the people he saw. However we might try to describe it, when Jesus saw the crowd of people, something moved deep inside him that made him want to help them.

A lot has changed in the world in two thousand years, but the human condition is still pretty much the same. Most people are searching for something in our lives. We have problems or challenges that can make each day difficult. We might be experiencing physical or mental illnesses, relationship breakdowns, or financial difficulties. We might be struggling with questions about who we are, where we belong in the world, or what our purpose in life might be. Most of us have something we’re struggling with in life, and we tend to tell ourselves that we’ll be fine if we just try a bit harder, do a bit more, or work a bit smarter. The great myths of our post-modern culture is that if we could just find our way through the mess, or if we could just be mindful of where we are, then we’ll be OK.

That sounds a lot like sheep without a shepherd to me. We are all doing our own thing, going our own ways, looking for greener grass to somehow make life better, more complete, more peaceful, or more of something than it is right now.

I wonder if Jesus still looks at us, sees us in our existential wandering like sheep without a shepherd, and if his stomach still turns with compassion for us.

What surprises me about this story is what Jesus did to help the people he saw. When people are moved with compassion, we might expect them to make a financial donation to a worthy charity, cook someone a meal, or do something else just as practical. Jesus didn’t do any of these. Instead, moved with compassion towards this crowd of people, he began to teach them.

I would love to know exactly what Jesus said to the crowd that day. All we can really do is guess, based on what Jesus had already been teaching in Mark’s gospel. Maybe he taught them about the Kingdom of God which comes to us in the most unexpected of ways, making the first last and the last first. Maybe Jesus taught about the presence of God, not with the rich or the powerful or the beautiful, but with the humble, the poor, the impoverished and the needy. Maybe he taught them to find grace and peace and rest in his presence with them, instead of the constant pursuit of doing more, doing better, or doing anything. Maybe he taught them that heaven isn’t just a nice place we go when we die, but it is the reality we live in now through faith in a truly present and perfectly loving God. Maybe Jesus taught them that the Kingdom of God isn’t ‘out there’ somewhere, but it’s here, made real in all the flaws and imperfections and struggles and shortcomings of a community of believers who are gathered by the Holy Spirit as the living, breathing body of the living Christ in the world. And maybe he taught them to turn away from trying to work things out for ourselves, and to turn to him, to trust in him, as the One who has everything we need for life in this world and the next…

What if Jesus wants to teach us this new way of life, the way that he taught that crowd all those years ago? Because listening to the teachings of Jesus, and trusting them to the point where we live like they’re true, can really make a difference to our lives.

At the end of a long day or a busy week, it’s easy to see people who want more from us as a nuisance or a bother. Our natural reaction can be to tell people to leave us alone, to look for some ‘me’ time, or to want to hide until it all goes away. What if we were able to see each other as Jesus sees us, as sheep without a shepherd, as people who have good intentions but really no clear idea of where we’re going or what we’re doing, and to find compassion for each other?

Whatever is happening in our lives, this story tells me that Jesus looks at each of us with gut-wrenching compassion, and he teaches us a better way of life. Maybe we need to stop for a bit, recognize that for our best of efforts, we’re all a little lost, and listen with fresh ears to the teachings of Jesus.

Sleeping Jesus (Mark 4:35-41)

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Storms can be scary.

I’m not just talking about the time I was riding my motorbike through the Sunshine Coast hinterland and I had to get home through pouring rain, thunder, lightning and poor visibility. Or the time I was driving our family to Brisbane from the Gold Coast, trying to negotiate through the one-way streets of an unfamiliar city in the dark while a storm raged around us.

I’m talking more about the storms that hit our lives from out of nowhere and we have no idea how we are going to get through them.

These storms are the things that happen which are out of our control and seem too big for us to cope with. They are the dark times of our lives when we feel like everything is pushing against us and it’s hard work just to get through the day. The storms we face can take many forms. They might be short-lived or last for a long time. They might be severe or constant. We might be able to see our way through them or they might seem to have no end. In one way or another, at some time or another, we all go through storms in our lives. And they can be scary.

When the storms hit, we can be a lot like Jesus’ disciples in the story from Mark 4:35-41. It is a natural human reaction to look for God in the storms, but not see him. Like Jesus, God can seem to be sleeping through our storms because if God really was all-powerful and all-loving, wouldn’t he do something about stopping the storms? As far as we can see, it can seem like God doesn’t care about us when he is silent in the middle of our difficulties and suffering. Doesn’t God care, even if we are drowning in the storms that surround us?

Jesus’ reaction to his disciples when he wakes up challenges me. He asks them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v40 NLT) Of course they were afraid – they thought they were going to die! What were they supposed to do? And if they had the kind of faith or the amount of faith Jesus expected, then what should they have done different?

The best I can come up with at this stage is that the faith Jesus was looking for was the assurance that everything was going to be alright because Jesus was with them. After all, here we have the Son of the almighty God in the same boat with them, right in the middle of the storm. But he isn’t afraid. Instead, he’s sleeping. He could be grabbing some shut-eye because he’s exhausted from telling parables all day, but maybe he’s sleeping because he’s at peace. Maybe Jesus’ faith in his heavenly Father is so strong that, in the middle of the worst of storms, he trusts his Father enough to sleep like a baby in the peace that comes with believing that everything’s going to be OK.

Imagine having this kind of faith. What would it be like to trust Jesus so much that in the storms of life we could still find the peace to know that everything’s going to be alright?

This Jesus, whom the wind and the waves obey, is in the boat with us through all the storms of life. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus experienced the storms of human existence and came through them. I’m not just talking about the storm on the boat that night. I mean the storms of rejection, loneliness, physical pain, emotional suffering, even the experience of being abandoned by God. Jesus weathered the storms of shame, suffering and death. But just as he commanded the wind and the waves on that lake and they obeyed him, so he commands even death itself to let us go, and death can only obey him. The One who has total authority over the elemental forces of the universe is in the boat with us. While it might seem like he’s sleeping, the fact is that he’s there and he will bring us through the storms.

That means that we can find peace in the storms of our life. Trusting that Jesus is with us and he has authority over our storms means that we can live each and every day in the assurance that the wind and waves will not overwhelm us. The storms will not end our lives because the One who is in the boat with us is bigger and stronger than the storms.
With Jesus, everything’s going to be OK.

It felt a bit simplistic saying that to the people of our congregation on Sunday because I know that some of them are going through some very serious storms right now. But that’s really what it comes down to –Jesus is in the boat with us, and his resurrection says to us that he is stronger than all the storms, so we’re going to be OK when we stick with him.

When the storm hit, instead of freaking out and accusing Jesus of not caring about what was happening to them, maybe what the disciples could have done was grab some pillows of their own, lie down with Jesus, and get some rest. Maybe that’s what Jesus wants from us as well. Instead of trying to struggle on our own or try harder to battle through the storms, maybe Jesus just wants us to get close to him, trust him like he trusted his heavenly Father, so we can find peace and rest in the middle of our storms.

It might sound simple, but I know it’s often not that easy to do. That’s why we need to recognize that we’re all in the same boat together. We all have storms in our lives. Jesus is with us all in the middle of it. The more we are able to find peace and rest by trusting that Jesus will bring us through the storms to a better day, the more we will be able to be the presence of the sleeping Jesus to each other, so we can all find the rest and peace of a sleeping Jesus.

Law Breakers (Mark 2:23-3:6)

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When we hear the story of Jesus’ disciples eating grain they had picked on the Sabbath day of rest in Mark 2:23-28, we might wonder what the Pharisees were so upset about. The disciples weren’t hurting anybody and I’m sure that the people who owned the field wouldn’t have missed a few stalks. So what’s the problem?

When God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses in Exodus 20, God said explicitly that his people were not to do any work on the seventh day of the week (vv8-11). What was called the Sabbath was meant to be a day of rest. In order to define what was ‘work’ so the Jewish people could keep this commandment, a complicated set of rules developed which defined what a person was and was not allowed to do. From this perspective, picking grain from a paddock was considered ‘work’ and so the disciples were breaking God’s command.

The Pharisees’ reactions might appear to be a bit extreme, but do we sometimes react in a similar way? Most Christians have our own ideas about how we should observe our own day of rest. We might not have them written down, but most people I’ve known in the church have their own set of rules about what and how we should do what we do. I’m meaning things like what songs or hymns we should or shouldn’t sing, what liturgies we should or shouldn’t use, when we should sit and when we should stand, how people should dress, how children should behave, and the list could go on. It might be uncomfortable to admit, but most of us have a set of rules that we think people should follow in the church. Then, if people don’t do what we think they should, we can start to be critical of them, kind of like the Pharisees were of Jesus’ disciples.

What is ironic is that Christians are breaking the Sabbath law just by worshiping on Sunday. Biblically, the Sabbath day of rest is Saturday – just ask someone from the Jewish community or a member of a Seventh Day Adventist church. There are two main reasons I’m aware of why Christian changed it to Sunday. The first is that the early followers of Jesus met together on the first day of the week to remember and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The second reason was because they wanted to send a clear message that we are no longer under the law but under grace. As people whose relationship with God and eternal futures are not based on whether or not we keep the law, we are free to meet together and worship whenever is good for the community of faith.

That is why Jesus replies to the Pharisees’ criticism by saying that ‘the Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath’ (v27 NLT). Jesus teaches us that people were not created to be slaves of the law along with its rules and expectations. Instead, God gave us the law to serve us. Rules are meant to be a blessing, not a burden, especially in Christian community. If our rules are no longer serving God’s people, or if they are becoming a burden to God’s people, then we need to ask whether they are fulfilling God’s purpose. If that is the case, then maybe it is time to set those rules aside in the freedom the gospel gives us.

What seems to matter most to Jesus, not just in this story but all the way through the gospels, is people. If the rules get in the way of people finding grace or healing, love or forgiveness, then Jesus breaks the rules to give them what they need. This is what made the Pharisees so angry with Jesus, and even here, at the start of the second chapter of Mark’s gospel, the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ time are already starting to wonder how to get rid of him. They begin planning to kill him because Jesus prioritizes people over their rules. For Jesus, people are much more important that religious rules and laws.

What would our communities of faith be like if we took the same approach? I understand that we all have our preferences about when and how we worship, the style of music and liturgy (or lack of it), how people should dress and behave when they come to church. But how might our churches be different if we were willing to put our preferences and expectations aside and made people our priority?

In our congregation we have two worship services each Sunday: an earlier service with a more formal liturgy and hymns played on an organ, and a later service with less structured liturgy and a band playing more modern songs. I put the challenge out on Sunday for people to think about what things might be like if we prioritized the people of the other service – the young, the elderly, and everyone in between – over and above our own set of rules about what worship should or shouldn’t be. If we took Jesus’ words seriously about God giving us a Sabbath day of rest for our good with people being what matters most, how could we show others how important they are to Jesus by prioritizing them?

We need to remember that Jesus prioritizes each and every one of us by giving his life for us. We extend and communicate grace and love to each other when we prioritize each other and are willing to make others in our community of faith more important to us than our rules, laws and expectations. When we understand that Jesus prioritized people over rules, no matter what their age, background or gender might be, then we begin to embrace them in God’s grace and love as we follow him and do the same.

I have been serving this congregation now for almost three years. There are people in our church who think I am changing too many things too fast. There are others who think I’m not changing things quickly enough. This is the life of a pastor – it is impossible to keep everyone happy. However, the change I’m really working towards and hope to see is not about service times or styles of music or liturgy. The change I hope for is in our hearts. I would like us to recognize that rules were made for people, not people for rules, and that Jesus prioritized people over rules.

As followers of Jesus, then, I hope that we will make people our number one priority, even if it means breaking some rules to do it.

Losing it All (Mark 8:31-38)

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For the last couple of years our congregation has been talking about simplifying our busyness and activity around a clear discipling focus, and being more effective in our ministry to our young people. Pretty early in these discussions, some people began to realise that if we are going simplify what we do and how we do it, and if we are going to prioritize ministry to young people, then there will be things in our congregation that will change. And that has made some people uncomfortable.

I came across an idea a few years ago that what worries people most about change isn’t the change itself, but what they could lose through the change. This idea makes sense to me because, in a congregational context, we connect with a particular church because we like what that church has to offer – its style of worship, its programs, or the way it does things. To think about changing any of that can be unsettling because why would we want to change something when it’s what we like? It makes sense that our natural reaction will be to resist any changes which could result in losing what we like or what we value, what matters or what’s important to us.

But then we come to Jesus’ teaching about following him in Mark 8:31-38. As we have discussed discipleship in our congregation over the last couple of years, I’ve been side-stepping the words of Jesus in verse 35 because they are extremely confronting and challenging. However, maybe it’s time that we listen to what Jesus has to say to us here. If we are serious about living as Jesus’ disciples and making disciples of others, and if we want to take Jesus’ message seriously (Growing Young, pp126-162) then we need to hear what Jesus is teaching us in these words.

I really struggled with these words all last week. I understand how they applied to early Christians who risked being killed for following Jesus, or how they apply to our sisters and brothers around the world today who face serious persecution for their faith. However, in our affluent, consumer culture, what does it mean for us to lose our lives for Jesus and for the gospel? Does it mean we need to join a monastery or convent to spend all day, every day in prayer and meditation? Or do we need to give everything up to become pastors in the church?

Our problem is that we tend to look for life in places that don’t actually give us what we need. We look for our sense of identity, belonging and purpose in things that don’t last or aren’t reliable, such as possessions, relationships, social media or experiences. Even in congregations, we can try to find our identity by belonging to a church organization, our belonging by having a pigeonhole in the church foyer or a shared family connection, and our purpose by being on a committee or a roster. If we try to find our lives in what we do for the church, then we will resist change if it looks like we will lose what’s important to us.

However, if we are willing to lose what we value, or what’s important to us, or what matters to us, if we are willing to lose where we try to find our identity, belonging or purpose, then Jesus promises that we will find something much better. In our children’s talk on Sunday, one young girl told me how she lost her Elsa and Anna dolls (the two main characters from Disney’s movie Frozen), but then she was given all of the Disney princess dolls in their place. That’s kind of what Jesus is saying to us – when we lose what’s important to us, what matters to us, or what we value, or when we lose wherever we are trying to find our identity, value or purpose, then we find something much better in him.

To ‘save’ our lives isn’t just about going to heaven when we die. Jesus promises us a ‘rich and satisfying life’ (John 10:10 NLT) in this world as well. When we are willing to lose what’s important to us, we can find a new and better life in relationship with him because Jesus has already lost everything for us.

I wonder what it would have been like to have been one of Jesus’ disciples, to see the things they saw, to witness the miracles Jesus performed and hear his teaching on the Kingdom of God. Then, for Jesus to look at them and tell them that he needed to go to Jerusalem where he would suffer, be rejected, crucified and die, and be raised to new life on the third day (v31). I can understand Peter’s reaction in verse 32 because it’s our natural tendency to want to hang on to life, not lose it.

However, it is through losing his life that Jesus gives us life. He was willing to sacrifice everything for us because what matters most to Jesus, what he values most and what is most important to him, is us. Even when we are so reluctant to lose what matters to us, Jesus lost everything by giving his life for us on the cross because he would rather die than see us lost in a world that promises us life in so many shallow and superficial ways, but ultimately can’t deliver. Each and every one of us is so important to Jesus, so valuable and so precious to him that he preferred to lose his life so that we can find life in him.

Faith in this good news changes our whole lives. We can find our identity in Jesus as he embraces us in a new relationship with God as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. We can find a place to belong as members of the body of Christ, and sisters and brothers in the community of believers. We can find purpose for our lives as God calls us to participate with him in his work of redeeming, restoring and renewing all of creation. When we are willing to lose everything that matters to us in the faith that Jesus lost his life for us on the cross and in order to embrace others with the good news of God’s grace and love for us in Jesus, then we find a life that is full of God’s goodness, which is even stronger than death.

Jesus lost everything for us on the cross to bring us into a new life as God’s family and members of his body. We can find who we are, where we belong and what we’re here for in him because of what he lost for us. Then Jesus calls us to follow him along the same path, so others can find a new life in him as well.

What are we willing to lose for Jesus and for the good news?

More to think about:

  • Generally speaking, do you tend to embrace or resist change? Can you give an example of a time when you have done that? What were your reasons for either embracing or resisting that change?
  • What do you think of the idea that people don’t fear change as much as what they might lose through the change? Would you agree or disagree with that? Can you explain why?
  • What do you think Jesus meant when he said that whoever loses their life for him and for the gospel will save it (v35)? What might it look like for you to lose your life for Jesus and for the gospel?
  • Where do you look for your identity, belonging and purpose? If it’s not in Jesus, how might finding your sense of who you are, where you fit and what you’re here for be different if you looked for them in your relationship with Jesus?
  • What would you find easy to lose in your experience of church? What would you find difficult to lose? How might losing them help someone else experience grace?

Growing in Prayer (Mark 1:29-39)

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It had been a very busy day for Jesus. It began simply enough as Jesus went to the local synagogue to teach. While he was there, Jesus drove out an unclean spirit from one of the locals. Then he went to the home of Simon and Andrew where he healed Simon’s mother-in-law from a serious fever. Word about Jesus must have spread through the village, because as soon as the Sabbath restrictions ended at sunset, people brought their sick and demon-possessed to Jesus. What had started as a quiet Sabbath day of rest for Jesus ended up with an overwhelming flood of people looking to Jesus to help them.

What strikes me about this story is that, after a frantic day of teaching and healing, Jesus didn’t try to sleep in the next morning, or head to the local coffee shop to read the paper or check his social media. Jesus didn’t go fishing, or for a ride on his bike, or any of the things we might like to do after a busy day. Instead, Mark tells us that ‘before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray’ (v35 NLT).

There might be a number of reasons why Jesus wanted some time by himself. I’m thinking at this stage that maybe Jesus knew that he couldn’t handle the pressures and demands he was facing by himself, and he needed his Father if he was going to get through what was coming. By going out to pray, Jesus was trusting that his Father had everything he needed to do what he was called to do, and that his Father would provide him with what he needed. Jesus’ early morning prayer was an act of faith.

What do we do when life seems too hard, or there’s too much to do, or the pressures and expectations of the people around us are overwhelming us? Do we just try to keep our heads down and push through on our own? Or do we look for a break, to escape from the chaos even for just a few minutes, by going out for a coffee, checking our social media, staying in bed, or watching TV? When it feels like life is overwhelming us, do we tend to work harder or run away?

Jesus did neither of these things. Instead, Jesus’ response was to get out of bed earlier than normal, go to a quiet place, and pray.

What if we did the same? What if, instead of working harder or trying to escape from the realities of life, we took everything that’s going on in our lives to our loving heavenly Father in prayer as our first priority?

There is a crazy promise from God in Romans 8:32 where Paul writes,

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (NIV)

The promise in this text is that God has everything we need for life in this world and the next, and for the sake of Jesus we will give us everything we need! When you think about what’s going on in your life at the moment, especially if there are things that are looking to be too hard, too much or too overwhelming, what difference could it make if we trusted that God will give us everything we need? God has brought us into a new relationship with himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and wants to provide for us like loving parents provide for their children. Jesus knew that and so took what was going on in his life to his heavenly Father in prayer. As his followers, that’s what he’s teaching us to do as well – to trust God with what’s going on in our lives by bringing it to him in prayer.

Learning how to pray will need to be a key aspect of our congregation’s Discipling Plan. God is connecting with us by the power of his Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus. As we are growing in that connection, we will also be growing in our willingness and ability to trust God with what’s going on in our lives. We will also need to be equipping each other by learning how to pray, just as Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1). After giving this message on Sunday, a woman in our congregation told me that she had never learned how to pray other than the set prayers she recites every morning and at night. Formal prayers have their place – I use them regularly – however we also need to be able to talk with our heavenly Dad like we talk with our best friend or someone close to us. Good communication is a sign of a healthy relationship, both with people and with God.

This year for Lent we’re coming together with other Lutheran churches in our part of the city to offer workshops on different topics to help grow and equip God’s people. When I was asked to lead a workshop, it seemed to me that spending four weeks focusing on listening to God’s word in the Bible and talking with him in prayer might be a good idea. We need to be learning how to exercise these spiritual disciplines and make them part of our daily rhythm so our faith can remain strong. Like Jesus in this story from Mark 1:29-39, we need to be praying as our first priority, not as a last resort, because God has everything we need and will give it to us because of the new relationship we have with him through Jesus.

Jesus believed that his Father had everything he needed in the pressures and demands of life in this world. This trust led him to look to his Father for what he needed in prayer. If your prayer-life is struggling, maybe Lent is a good time to commit to finding time each day to talk with God about what’s going on in your life. When we do it and how we do it aren’t as important as that we do it. If you want some help, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Almighty God has everything we need to do what he calls us to do. Jesus believed that and took what was going on in his life to his Father in prayer. When we follow Jesus and trust God enough to take what’s going on in our lives to him, he promises that he will always give you what you need.

More to think about:

  • When life gets difficult or overwhelming what do you tend to do more: try harder to get through, or escape from the pressures or demands? Why do you think you tend to do that?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to pray? Do you have a set time or place to pray each day? Or is it a discipline you find hard to maintain?
  • Why do you think Jesus got up early, went to an isolated place and prayed? Do you find it strange that he would do that? Or do Jesus’ actions make sense to you? Can you explain why?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to believe God’s promise in Romans 8:32? Why do you think that is? How might your life be different if you were able to trust that God has and will give you ‘all things’ (NIV) for Jesus’ sake?
  • What’s going on in your life right now that is difficult, demanding or overwhelming? Have you taken it to God in prayer? If you find praying difficult to do, how can we, or another sister or brother in Christ, help you do that?

Learning to Fish for People (Mark 1:14-20)

Vacations

I never learned how to fish.

Some might by surprised or horrified by my confession because often people think that fishing is an essential pastime for a pastor. I have some friends who love fishing and constantly tell me how much they enjoy fishing and all the fish they catch. So when – or if – the time comes when I want to learn how to fish, what will be the best way?

I could buy a book & read all about it, or watch YouTube clips, or maybe even try to work it out on my own. When I put this question to my congregation on Sunday, just about everyone agreed that the best way to learn how to fish is to go fishing with someone who knows what they’re going.

Generally speaking, that’s how we learn: by watching others and following their example.

When Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him as his disciples, he called them to learn from him a new way of living in the reality of God’s coming Kingdom (v15). Jesus taught that God’s Kingdom wasn’t a long way off, either in distance or in time. Instead, Jesus said that it is near. This Kingdom is God’s power, breaking through into our world by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, righting the wrongs of a fallen creation and restoring things to the way God intended from the beginning. Because God does all this in the person of Jesus, God’s Kingdom is wherever Jesus is, as he restores, redeems and renews all things by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The disciples who followed Jesus learned what living in God’s Kingdom is like. They learned it by being with Jesus, hearing his parables, seeing his miracles and witnessing his disputes with the religious leaders of his time. Most of all, though, they learned about the Kingdom of God in their own relationship with Jesus. Jesus’ followers encountered the reality of God’s coming Kingdom through the perfect and infinite love and grace Jesus displayed through his death on the cross. They also encountered the power of God’s coming Kingdom in Jesus’ resurrection. That’s where they saw that God’s love for us in Jesus is stronger than anything we encounter in this world, even death.

We can understand discipleship, then, as Jesus calling us to learn to live in the reality of God’s coming Kingdom of grace and love everyday of our lives. In all the situations we face in life, both good and bad, when Jesus call us to follow him, he wants us to learn from him how the grace and love he extends to us through his death and resurrection can shape us, our relationships with each other, and our community of faith. Learning to live in the reality of God’s coming Kingdom means encountering Jesus’ perfect and infinite love for us each and every day of our lives, and learning the difference it makes. We don’t learn this from a book or YouTube clip. We learn about the transforming power of God’s coming Kingdom by walking side by side with Christian sisters and brothers around us, just like Peter, Andrew, James, John and the other disciples learned it by walking with Jesus to the cross and empty grave.

This is largely what our congregation’s Discipling Plan is about. Last year, as we were discussing our plan for the future of our church, we spent a lot of time learning about discipleship by reading the gospels to see how Jesus discipled others. In the same way that Jesus connected with these four fishermen on the banks of Sea of Galilee, we hope that people will connect with Jesus and with each other as we learn together what it means to live in the reality of God’s coming Kingdom.

It is significant to see that when Jesus called these disciples, he already had their destination in mind. Jesus wanted them to learn about the reality of God’s coming Kingdom so they could then teach others. That’s why Jesus said that he was going to show them ‘how to fish for people’ (v17 NLT). In the same way, our Discipling Plan begins with our destination in mind as we aim to send people out to ‘fish for people’ in our lives, too. To achieve this, we are planning to grow in our faith, just as Peter and the other disciples learned to trust Jesus, and to be equipped for the work Jesus is calling us to do, just like someone who goes fishing needs the right equipment. We find everything we need to fulfil Jesus’ calling when we follow him and learn from him to live in the day-to-day reality of God’s coming Kingdom.

This becomes especially important when we are talking about our ministry to young people in our congregation. Whether we like it or not, our children, grandchildren and others who are new to the Christian faith are learning from us – our words, our actions and our relationships – what the Kingdom of God is like. We need to be asking ourselves what they are learning from us? Are our young people learning that the Kingdom of God is about turning up to church? Or are they learning that God’s Kingdom is about going on a roster or a committee? Worshipping together and being organized are important elements of Christian community, but they aren’t the main thing in God’s coming Kingdom. What we learn from Jesus as we follow him to the cross and empty grave is that his grace and love for us is better and stronger than anything else in this world. My hope and prayer for our young people is that they will learn from us that living in the reality of God’s coming Kingdom each and every day brings hope and joy and peace, and that they will also learn for themselves how to fish for others.

The best way to learn to fish is to find someone who knows how to fish, and then go fishing with them. Are we willing to learn a new way of living in the reality of God’s coming Kingdom of grace and love from Jesus? As we learn from him, then others – and our young people especially – will learn about living in God’s coming Kingdom from us, as Jesus teaches us to fish for people together.