Posted on Wed, Jan 26, 2011
Rev. Jim's Sermon for January 23, 2011
Good News of the Kin-dom
Rev. Jim Merritt
January 23, 2011
I’m thankful this week for the work of my good friend Dylan Breuer, which can be found on her website at www.sarahlaughed.net. Dylan is an Episcopalian Biblical scholar whose insights are often meaningful to me.
I like to read bumper stickers, t-shirts and other items with fun phrases on them. As a matter of fact, sometimes I think I come close to getting in trouble with people when I’m caught staring at their chests trying to read what their t-shirts say. One of the most common ones I have seen begins with the phrase, “I’d rather be…” “I’d rather be golfing,” “I’d rather be knitting,” “I’d rather be sailing,” You have seen these. And many times they read, “I’d rather be fishing.” Finally, many of us, if not all of us have seen signs on businesses and homes that simply say, “Gone fishing.” We know that doesn’t always mean that the person who hung the sign is out on the lake or the river with a fishing pole in hand, and that it can often mean something more like “On vacation,” or “on retreat.” It signals a time of doing nothing or vacation time.
So when we come across language of fishing in the New Testament, we're often tempted to do something that I think we often do without thinking with imagery of shepherds and sheep -- we imagine a kind of idealized, peaceful, pastoral version of these activities. And then we're puzzled and disappointed when our walk with God fails to match up to the peace and serenity of these scenes we've imagined.
Fishing wasn't an escape from work for Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. It was work. Fishing was a major industry in the Galilee, and fisher people like these two pairs of brothers in today’s gospel were small players in the story. Fisher people who didn't own their own boats had to rent them. Even those who did own their own boats had to pay what felt like an endless series of taxes and fees to obtain fishing rights and work their trade. In the end, their catch -- if they were lucky enough to have one -- went more to make the richest in their society -- folks like Herod Antipas -- even richer than it did to benefit those whose backbreaking labor got the fish out of the sea and into the processing plants and markets. Fisher people, even those who owned their own boats, weren't even their own bosses; they were cogs in a machine that was both impersonal and dehumanizing.
Maybe that is why Peter and his cohort were so willing to leave their nets when Jesus called. Jesus said that if they followed him, they'd still be fisher people and being a fisher person is no day at the beach. A fisher person’s life is full of uncertainty and extremely hard work. And let’s be clear, Jesus isn't promising them a life of ease. But Jesus' call could have offered two parts that might have immediate appeal, even if the work was just as hard as their former jobs.
First, a new boss - not at all the same as the old boss. Jesus is in charge of this new enterprise. Perhaps right from the start, the fisher people to whom Jesus called could tell that Jesus was not going to use his power and his followers' labor simply for his own benefit. Maybe they thought that whoever Jesus was, he couldn't possibly be as bad as the toll collectors to whom they previously answered. Little did they know at that point that Jesus would be calling tax collectors too, but they were right about what kind of boss Jesus would be - the kind who uses power to empower others, rather than to increase his own honor, status, and wealth. They're not just going to work FOR Jesus; they're going to work WITH Jesus. So their new gig brings them into close relationship with Jesus.
Second, there's something about becoming "fishers of people" that sounds a lot less dehumanizing than descriptions of the ancient fishing trade. Becoming a "fisher for people" brings these Galilean fisher people not only into relationship with Jesus, but into a whole new network of relationships with others. Their relationship with Herod Antipas and the powers of this world, with the hated tax collectors, with their neighbors, with their families, with Gentiles and Pharisees, with anyone who heard Jesus' call and, responded to it. These people became their sisters and their brothers, and none of them would ever be the same again.
One thing is clear. Nothing very exciting happened to the disciples while they were in their boats. Jesus called them out of the boat. Jesus beckoned them to step out of their boats. He called them to walk on water. He showed them the great thing he could do as the Son of God and he told them “you will do even greater things than these.”
I’m wondering today how many of us are being called to get out of our boats? Some of us have been riding around or walking around doing the same old things that bore us to death and bring us no Joy for way too long. Maybe Jesus is calling us to get out of the boat. Some of can’t remember the last time we experienced real joy in our lives. Perhaps Jesus is calling us to walk on water. Some of us have been so self focused or inward focused that we’ve forgotten all about what it means to build the Kin-dom of God. My sisters and brothers, God is calling all of us to get out of our boats this morning. God is calling us to build the kin-dom of God right here and right now. God is calling us to move forward in the name of Jesus, to find even better ways to share the good news of God’s inclusive love with our community and with our world. God is calling us to show compassion for all of human kind. God is calling us to love on each other and share one another’s burdens and to celebrate each other’s joys. That’s what it means to live in community. That’s what it means to be fishers of people. That’s what it means to build the Kin-dom of God. Are you ready for the good news of the Kin-dom of God this morning? Here it is. When we develop faith even the size of a mustard seed, we will have the courage, like these disciples we’ve heard about this morning, to get out of our boats, to walk on water with our eyes focused every step of the way on Jesus. In that say we will experience firsthand the good news of the Kin-dom of God. We will know the joy of making a difference in the lives of others. We will know the Joy of intimate relationship with the God who made us and called us by name and lives within our hearts. This is the good news of the Kin-dom for all of us this morning.
So what about you? Fannie Crosby, one of the greatest hymn writers of all time wrote these lyrics in 1883. I think they speak the word that God has for us this morning.
“Jesus is tenderly calling you home
Calling today, calling today,
why from the sunshine of love will you roam,
farther and farther away?
Jesus is calling the weary to rest,
calling today, calling today,
Bring Him your burden and you shall be blest;
He will not turn you away.
Jesus is waiting, O come to Him now,
Waiting today, waiting today,
Come with your sins, at His feet lowly bow;
Come, and no longer delay.
Jesus is pleading, O list to His voice,
Hear Him today, hear Him today,
they who believe on His Name shall rejoice;
quickly arise and away.
Calling today, calling today,
Jesus is calling, is tenderly calling today.
The wonderful author Lisa Nichols writes in The Secret,
“Every single thing you’ve been through, every single moment that you’ve come through, were to all prepare you for this moment right now. Imagine what you can do from this day forward with what you know how much more do you get to be? How many people more people do you get to bless, simply by your existence? No one else can dance your dance, no one else can sing you song, and no one else can write your story. Who you are, what you do, begins right now!”
My prayer for all of is this morning is that we would be Kin-dom builders, fishers of people who get out of our boats with Jesus. God bless you today. AMEN.
Gospel Reading Matthew 4: 12—23
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.