The audio of the sermon I preached on January 23, 2011:
The text of the sermon I preached on January 23, 2011:
For $35,000, you can buy a lot of things, including a Gothic-style church.
It’s hard to believe, but you can now buy yourself a full loaded, ready-to-set-up 47 ft. high place of worship—for about the same price as a luxury car. It has arches, an organ, a pulpit, an altar, pews and even a form of stained glass. For 35g, that’s quite a deal, really.
A problem for some of us: This building is basically a balloon. An inflatable, like a jump house you might order for a child’s birthday party. It’s like a cross between a Monastery and a Moon Bounce, which has to be pretty surreal. It comes in on the back of a pick-up truck—that’s how small it starts out—and is hauled to city parks, open fields, big back yards. It will go anywhere you need a church to quickly appear.
When you walk through this church, you see brown plastic pews, an inflatable organ, a pulpit and an altar both filled with air. Once you let your mind adjust to the space, you might find it cozy or comfortable—and surely the pews are a little softer than some of the pews I’ve worshipped from (not our pews, obviously—the pews here are like the most comfortable pews ever. Especially the ones up front because they don’t get used as often and they’re a little bit fresher). Speaking of the pews—it might be best if all worshippers leave sharp objects at home when they visit the inflatable church.
About this inflatable church, the creator Mike Gill says, “There was a time when churches were the center of community life, but sadly that’s not the case anymore. The only way to reverse this trend is to put church back where it belongs.
Mike Gill was thinking like Jesus. In our Luke passage, he is standing next to the lake of Gennesaret, poised to launch his ministry. He wasn’t looking for masons to build a brick cathedral or carpenters to construct a wooden chapel. He was looking for ways to reach the people who needed him and he was willing to do that from whichever pulpit presented itself.
As it happened, the pulpit that appeared was a fishing boat owned by Simon. At youth group a couple of weeks ago, we studied this passage and we decided that either Jesus was just completely compelling first thing in the morning or Simon and Jesus must have known each other before this moment—maybe Jesus had been in town for awhile and their paths had crossed. Fact is, Simon must have been exhausted from a night of fishing and grouchy from a night of fish-less fishing. To be willing to take a stranger out in your fishing boat after all that and after you’ve already cleaned your nets seems like a lot to ask of a guy.
Jesus hops in Simon’s boat and asks Simon to put out a little bit from shore. He preaches from the boat—brilliant both because it means he gets a little bit of physical space from the crowd that’s “pressing in” and because sound travels excellently over water. In doing so, Jesus creates a sanctuary on and by the sea.
Jesus teaches and then engages Simon, whom we can assume is simply sitting and listening to Jesus. “Put your nets down, “Jesus suggests. I wonder how well Jesus and Simon knew each other. Did Simon roll his eyes? Scoff out loud? Sigh loudly? Press his lips together and bite his tongue? Were words exchanged that Luke does not record? One, it’s too late in the day by now for fishing. Two, he had been fishing all night and NOTHING.
Ultimately, though, Simon is obedient. “Okay, Jesus. We’ve been fishing all night, but if you want me to, I’ll order the nets down.”
I’ve been on a fishing boat in the Galilean Sea before. It’s been awhile, but one thing I remember about it is that the boat was much bigger than I imagine when I read the stories. In my mind, I tend to see Jesus sitting in a vessel a little bigger than a row boat—just seems more quaint that way, I guess. But in fact, the boat would have been big enough to merit a crew to operate it and fish from it. They are fishing with nets, so that probably tells us something about the size of the boat!
The catch is so big that one boat’s crew can’t handle it and all the nets are breaking. The other boat pulls up to help. We don’t know what the fishermen said as they were hauling in the fish, but I bet it was animated and colorful. We do know what Simon said:
“When Simon saw all of this, he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” This miracle on the sea provoked Simon to worship Jesus—the guy who had commandeered his boat just a while ago.
Like the church I mentioned a moment ago, Jesus’ ministry was inflatable. He took his words, his work, his heart and he went to the people who needed him. He took church with him wherever he went.
It was probably one of the reasons his critics were skeptical. Why didn’t he minister at the temple? Why didn’t he teach his students in a more stable location? Jesus was mobile–“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head,” Jesus’ words are recorded in Matthew 8:20. Jesus taught his followers to be mobile.
At the end of our passage, Jesus calls these fishermen to follow him. “Don’t be afraid,” he says. “From now on, you’ll catch people!” And these fishermen left everything behind to follow him.
Family, friends, career, any luxuries they may have had at this point—following Jesus meant life just became a lot less stable, predictable and settled. Following Jesus meant going where the people were and rolling with the punches as they came along. That would have required a lot of flexibility and a lot of leaving behind. It would have required courage and faith and selflessness.
We sit here about 2000 years later in a building made of brick, stone, wood, tile and drywall. As a church, we are stationed here at the corner of Washington and Main. We have a phone number in the phone book and our address has been the same for years. We’re not alone. Last time I counted, there were about 70 churches in Henderson County—most of them have buildings.
As much as I love our church building, I can’t help but wonder if we took a wrong turn somewhere through the centuries. The Israelite people worshipped in a tent—God was on the move and they were following. Jesus and his disciples traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho to Caesarea Philippi, meeting with people wherever they were. The early church worshipped in each other’s homes and underground—moving in order to keep from being caught practicing something that would land them in jail or worse. Somewhere, sometime we started building cathedrals and chapels and churches. In doing so, we became less inflatable.
To be inflatable is to be incarnational. The church is the living, breathing, walking, serving, body of Christ in flesh in the world today. As Christians, it is our calling. To be inflatable is to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, the Greek for “breath” and the Greek for “spirit” is the same—pneuma. It is breath that fills us and makes us ready to minister and share God’s gifts with the world.
We come here to this building because after a week away from this space, we need to be together. We are a family and we need the community that we find here. We need to seek God together. As we worship and pray and spend time together, we are re-inflated. This happens not just for our own selves—so that we can feel better about ourselves, our lives, our weeks—we are reinflated so that we can MOVE. This building is a blessing, but we if we think that ministry is only to happen in this building, we have it wrong. This building is a place to meet and plan and dream and prepare together, but we’re not supposed to stay here and center ministry here. We are to take God’s spirit and transport it OUT THERE.
We might be like the first disciples. We may spend all night working and catch nothing on our own, but Jesus calls us to a more full life. When we say yes to Jesus’ call, we become pilgrims, travelling a road to our eternal destination. We aren’t called to be rooted and wait around. We’re called to follow. Follow implies that we’re going somewhere. When you play “follow the leader” as a child, there’s movement. When you follow someone to a destination, there’s movement. When you follow Jesus, there’s movement.
I like the idea of an inflatable church. Sure, it’s not exactly what I would have wanted on my wedding day or for another special service…but I like the idea of church appearing where it’s needed. I like the idea of church going to places where there is not already a church and serving a purpose.
My hope for us is that we become an inflatable church. Not our building, but our congregation—the people who are the church here at Washington and Main. What does that look like? Well, the possibilities are great when we move out of this building. Maybe we hand water out at a Help Henderson Event at the park. Maybe we serve at any number of service organizations here in town that need help. Maybe we simply meet with people where they are and share the stories we learn when we’re here—stories about a loving, grace-giving God who calls each of us to an amazing journey. It can happen in your neighborhood—even in your house. It can happen at work. It can happen at the park, on the corners, in the restaurants and even in the bars. God’s spirit longs to be anywhere there are people created by God in God’s image.
It’s not easy. This place, with our cushioned pews and strong walls is comfortable and safe. The earliest disciples knew fishing boats and seawater—that was a comfortable arena for them. Yet when Jesus called them, they each left the comfort behind and followed. Jesus faithfully led them, shared ministry with them, taught them. It will be the same with us. Leaving isn’t going to be easy, but we follow a faithful savior who doesn’t call us without a plan and a path.
This morning, as we hopefully feel God’s pneuma reinflate our lungs, let us dream together. Let’s dream of ways to do ministry that have nothing to do with this building. Let’s dream of ways to serve and follow that are mobile and moving. Most of all, may Jesus find us willing to leave comfort, goods and selves behind as we commit to follow and explore in his footsteps. May we be inflatable disciples and may we discover joy in inflatable ministry. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told the fishermen. “From now on, you’ll be catching people.”