Summary: A message addressing the reality of time catching up to our rural church. This is an initial call to embrace a paradigm shift within church and society. In order to speak to a new generation, we have to be willing to find new methods of communication.

Matthew 4:12-23

Paonia United Methodist Church

January 23, 2005

“When the going gets tough, the tough go fishing”

Can you remember back to when I gave you a message that

Began with the words… Life is complicated?

Well, this morning starts off with a similar statement.

Life is rough.

It is.

The harsh realities of our world are all around us every day.

People we love struggle with their health.

People we love die.

Killer tidal waves, planes flying into buildings,

All kinds of stuff we would just as

Soon not deal with or ignore.

But, ignoring problems seldom make them go away.

Instead, they fester and get worse.

If you do not deal with that ticking sound under the hood of your car,

Or the squealing sound with your brakes when it first begins…

That $100 problem turns into a $500 problem in no time.

It works the same way with our bodies.

That blood pressure problem that can be dealt with diet and exercise

Turns into strokes and heart attacks if not dealt with.

Like I said…

Life is rough.

You either deal with it,

Or it will most certainly deal with you.

Okay, we have heard about bodies, cars, and people,

But what about when the going gets tough and we are talking about the church?

What do we do when we look around and we are seeing the signs?

The engine is starting to tick and the brakes are beginning to squeal.

Do we deal with it or ignore it and hope it goes away?

Well, thankfully we are not left to sit and ponder this one.

We have not been abandoned to figure out our future and how to get there.

We have been given examples in our Bible that show us

How we are to respond.

Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali– to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the way to the sea, along the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles–the people living in darkness

have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.”[a]

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

The Calling of the First Disciples

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

This is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What happens when the going gets rough?

When the going gets tough, the tough goes fishing!

Now, you might this that this sounds flip…

I assure you it is not.

There is a principle here that we need to get this morning.

Did you catch that first verse?

Listen to it again.

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.

Wait a second!

Isn’t this the same guy that we have heard about for the last two months?

Didn’t we hear all about John during Advent and again for the

last two weeks?

Aren’t we talking about this guy again today?

Help me with my math here,

But I think we have heard about John for about 5 of the last 8 weeks.

Jesus called him the greatest prophet of all time.

John showed up to both baptize the messiah, as well as lead

Peter, the founder of Christianity to know him.

That makes him a pretty big player in God’s big plan, doesn’t it?

So, don’t you find it odd that that is all we have here this morning?

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.


I gave you a sermon a few weeks back on John beginning to have doubts this

Was in fact the messiah.

This is just more of the reason why.

When the going got tough, the tough went fishing.

So, what was going on here?

Where did Jesus go?

Why did he leave?

Well, I believe that something big had happened here.

There was a change, an alteration, a dramatic paradigm shift by God.

Something greater was going on then just the interaction between

Jesus and John.

I believe that there was a shift between God and mankind.

Jesus returning to Galilee rather than going to see John was

Just a glimpse of this new shift.

What new shift?

Did this just happen here this morning? How did I miss it?

Well, you didn’t. I think it actually happened last week at Jesus’ baptism.

Remember, his baptism was his coronation.

God had come to earth through Jesus Christ,

And, at his baptism, he picked up his ministry

And authority and then it began.

John was the last of the Old Testament type prophets.

Their role was to announce the coming of the messiah.

The messiah was now here.

Their job was done.

Now, this may sound callous, after all, John was a friend and he was in jail.

But, the reality is that short of direct divine interaction of God on high,

There was not much to be done.

Jesus instead spent his limited time working on the new task at hand.

At least that is what Scripture gives up to work with.

So, again what about this shift I was talking about?

What is a paradigm shift?

In our case it is a dramatic change in operation and understanding.

Now, I want you to hear this part, because this is not just theory here…

this is vital to the story we are hearing this morning

As well as for our lives together as a church.

After a paradigm shift, that which worked yesterday may not work today.

Things have changed and they have changed dramatically.

For example, think of the world Sept 10, 2001 and then Sept 11th.

A complete shift had happened in our world and we will never

Be the same place again.

Our safe world in the land of the free and the home of the brave

disappeared that morning.

Our world changed that day.

Paradigm shift.

Well, the world changed the day that Jesus was baptized.

God was now in active ministry to his world.

He had taken it upon himself to reconcile the world by new means.

It was a new world and a new culture.

Now listen to this…

Even God adapted to current events in order to be relevant to the society

He was working with.

But God is unchanging! Some might exclaim.

Yes, that’s true…

But his methods have changed.

We have seen this in the Garden of Eden,

The Flood, Moses and the promised land,

Jesus Christ and the cross…

All of which were radical shifts.

Jesus was a radical shift. That allowed him to speak to the culture.

That is why Jesus was powerful and the power elite were not.

A paradigm shift had occurred, and the church had not kept up with it.

Jesus did.

And the people followed in droves.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees did not.

And they are no longer with us.

Keep that in mind the next time to hear these infamous words…

The death knell of any church or institution is

“Well, we have never done that before.”

Jesus did the things that were never done before.

The Pharisees would not.

Rather than God, they had principals.

Hard rules…

Hard tradition…


And their principles kept them out of touch with both the society

and the paradigm

It was operating within.

Well, we all know what ends up happening.

The same thing when anyone challenges a long standing system.

There is conflict.

John’s death only preceeds Jesus death by a few years.

It gets him killed.

But I want you to notice two things here.

Number one, Jesus did the opposite of the popular wisdom.

Now this is applicable to your life, so please hear this.

When people feel threatened by a new context or paradigm shift,

Instead of trying something new, the temptation is to continue to do what you

were doing before, but only harder.

Did you catch that? I will say it again.

Instead of trying something new, the temptation is to continue to do what you

were doing before, but only harder.

This is the definition of insanity.

It is the same insanity that led the religious leaders

To kill their messiah.

It is the same insanity that keeps churches stuck for decades at a time.

Jesus thought outside the box.

He did not continue to follow past wisdom,

Instead, he decided to do something new.

This is the second thing I wanted you to notice.

The fruits of his ministry has lasted over 2000 years.


After all, the message is essentially the same.

Christianity has continues because it has adapted its METHODS,

Not the message, in order to reach society.

When the going got tough,

And his friend was about to be put to death,

Jesus did not fall apart.

Instead, he went fishing for followers in new waters.

He operated with new methods in the new context of his time.

A relationship with God was no longer to be confined to the Levites,

The line of Jewish holy people who held the monopoly on their religion.

Instead, Christianity would be a religion of prostitutes and tax collectors.

It would be the religion of farmers and scholars alike.

It was an open invitation to anyone willing to accept it.

Folks, this was a huge shift.

Even the advent of Methodism was a huge paradigm shift in itself.

John Wesley managed to move people’s Christianity out of just their heads,

and into their hearts.

This was a enormous shift in Christianity for its time.

Now, I don’t know about you,

but change is not something most of us really like all that much…

Particularly as we start to get a little older.

I am finding that happening with myself as well.

I like constancy.

But we need to grasp something here… Christianity has continued to evolve within the

context of the societies it speaks to in order to remain in active ministry.

Even the Catholic Church had to give up mass in Latin.

Talk about painful! But it had to be done.

As the shifts of the culture continue to change,

Our call, our existence, our very purpose for being does not.

People of God, we are called to fish.

And we are called to fish boldly in new waters

And in new ways as the context of our

society changes.

If we do not remain relevant,

We die and our mission and our purpose for being fails.

It is not enough to do what we did yesterday.

Time will inevitably catch us.

What does this mean to us?

Well, several things…

And, I have to tell you, I am still working on a lot of this myself.

God is moving in my life right now in a way that

I have not experienced since I signed up for four years

Of spiritual abuse through our beloved seminaries.

I am not just finding fulfillment in my calling to ministry,

But instead, joy and real excitement like I have not felt in a while.

And it has a lot to do with what I am talking to you about this morning.

God is moving.

Do I know completely where I am going with this and have all my thoughts together?


But I do know that God is up to something right now,

And is very much invested in the future of this congregation

And is about to do something great here.

What’s that going to look like?

I don’t know.

What I can tell you is that we as a congregation are being called

To embrace a new paradigm.

And that paradigm shift begins with stepping out of the survival mentality that

We are now in.

I don’t want to survive…

I want to grow!

I want to see lives changed, families healed,

People finding meaning and purpose for tomorrow.

I want that kind of paradigm!

One of the promises I made to you as a church was that for 2005

I would actively commit myself to studying, reading, and praying for

Active church growth.

I am doing that.

Let me share with you just a bit of what I have

learned so far.

Right now, we are what one author refers to as a family reunion church.

That is why we are as warm as we are.

We function as a family…

And, to be completely honest, we do it better than any

Other church I have been in.

The warmness of this church is not forced…

It is genuine.

People really do love one another and take care of each other here.

Mary and I experienced this when her father died.

The love here is very real.

After church today, we will all gather into our fellowship hall to

Have a meal together.

This is what families do.

Every Sunday is a reunion in which the family gets together and worships.

Most churches in the US under 200 people exist in these kinds of churches.

You will be loved and nurtured here.

You will be taken care of here.

So, what’s the problem?

Well you might be surprised by my answer.

I don’t believe the problem is the church!

The problem, is that society has shifted.

Our basic structure, the family, is in terrible shape.

One result of that is that people no longer go to church because

“That’s how they were raised”.

Instead, families are more distant from one another.

I believe that is a major part of the shift we are dealing with.

Most mainline churches have not kept up with the shift.

Furthermore, the culture in and of itself has moved largely to an electronic age.

And, being in a family reunion setting, unless you have grown up with it,

Seems largely irrelevant and out of touch.

My guess is that most people here grew up in a church.

Just curious, how many of you went to church as a child?

That’s why this church is comfortable to you.

But to those who did not have parents that took care of their spiritual needs,

This same comfortable and loving place you and I experience

can seem irrelevant and out of touch.

Why, because the family is increasingly irrelevant

and out of touch.

And time is catching up with us.

So, what are we supposed to do?

Well, you probably have already guessed where I am going with this.

When the going gets tough, the tough go fishing.

We are called as Christians to fish new waters.

Please do not misunderstand me.

This is not about numbers, this is about purpose.

The numbers are not the problem,

The numbers are a symptom.

So, let me ask you a few questions…

Who are we?

What is our purpose?

Why are we here?

These are big questions with long answers…

Far bigger than I am going to keep you here for today…

But you can reread our vision statement again from the Call to

Worship and get a pretty good idea.

Still, these questions need to be asked and asked again.

I think we are going to be doing a lot of that in our coming

Purpose Driven Life series that is coming up.

I don’t think this is just going to be a Bible Study,

But a think tank for our future.

I hope that those who are interested in shaping the future of this

Congregation will attend.

This is a good place to start the conversation of paradigm shift.

What is our mission?

What are we willing to do to fulfill it?

What are we not willing to do?

Some churches make the fatal mistake of trying to dumb its

Message down to make it comfortable to everyone.

I believe that this is a terrible mistake.

When you believe in everything, you believe in nothing.

I am not proposing this to you at all.

I am not suggesting that you are going to come

To church next Sunday and not recognize it.

I am proposing that we find a way to interact

Within our community that the unchurched can find us relevant

In order to fulfil the Great Commision.

What does that look like?...

I don’t know.

That is our journey together. That’s why its called faith.

I just know that its time we start actively engaging

these questions.

What does fishing in our community look like to us?

What sacred cows stand between us and our mission?

As Mark Twain once noted…

Sacred cows make the best hamburger!

I don’t know about you, but I am hungry.

What I can tell you is that Jesus is calling us to fish new waters.

He is calling us out of the comfort of our well known paradigm

To engage in our community and invite in a new generation of seekers.

What a wonderful time and opportunity to be a part of this church!