The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
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. (Matthew 4:18-20)
A question for all of us this morning - who do you follow? We hear Jesus say, “follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
Do you hear an implicit “if” in that statement? I hear Jesus walking by the boat or car or house or pew where I sit in and saying, “ Arianne, if you follow me, I will make you fish for people. And I like hearing the “if.” Because it really is an invitation. It is always a choice.
This story is a parallel of the one last week from John’s gospel (Jn 1:35ff). It is the call of the first disciples. Now, one aspect of call for us to explore is, what is my call? What are my gifts, my talents? What is my vocation? What is my purpose in the world? That is one piece of discerning call. And we have many talents and gifts that hopefully, we allow God to put to use for the good throughout our whole lives. So one call for our whole lives wouldn’t suffice. We spend a lifetime answering calls.
However this passage is really about our first and foremost call.
I heard a preacher use this image once: picture yourself, on the other side of this life, standing before God and hearing holiness intone the question, who are you?
My name is Arianne. I didn’t ask your name. I’m a girl. I can see that, and didn’t ask that either.
I’m a New Yorker. Go Yankees/Go Mets – but I didn’t ask where you are from.
I’m a priest (she says hoping to get on the good side). Well, I hope you enjoyed your work, but it makes absolutely no difference to me what you did for a living.
What I asked was, who are YOU? Well, I don’t know God, who am I?
And God replies, you are my child.
First and foremost we are children of God. Now some will disagree, but we believe that each and every person is a child of God whether they want to be or not. God knit us together in our mother’s womb. God counts and numbers every hair on our precious heads. God upholds us on eagle’s wings and beholds us as the apple of God’s eye!
Before we are called into anything else we are created a sacred child in the image of God.
However that does not determine who we follow, because that is our choice. “Follow me,” Jesus invites. For if we do we will be fishers of people.
At one time in my life, when I heard that I thought te message was simple: make more Christians. I heard Jesus saying go convert! Get other people to follow Jesus too. But I have come to think that is too narrow, too limiting to God’s work.
This moment in Jesus’ life happens at the start of his ministry. And, simply put, he is fishing for people. The Holy Spirit has just proclaimed that this is God’s beloved at his baptism. Jesus has just returned from his 40 days in the wilderness and is ready to begin his ministry; perhaps not knowing entirely how it will play out. But I don’t think converting people and growing the church is his agenda. Jesus doesn’t proselytize. Jesus meets people in boats, on the streets in their living rooms exactly where they are and invites them into relationship with him.
Jesus wants us to understand who we are as children of God. That basic awareness that our identity is found in God, is one with God has begun and will be shaped and will end in God. That is the foundation of our life in Christ. Which is why ultimately, it cannot be found in a book or in a building – but in a body. A body of people who through their relationship and words and deeds, live lives that show in whom they are grounded and who it is they follow.
For those disciples and for us, saying yes to following Christ means beginning the first relationship with Jesus! Do they want to learn, eat, teach, pray, hang out with Jesus? If yes, then do they want to be in relationship with each other? Jesus is going to ask this hodge-podge group of fishermen and tax collectors and zealots to hang out together to eat, talk, argue, pray and make decisions together.
And then Jesus is going to invite even more people – healthy people, sick people, homeless people, outcast people, Jewish people, Gentile people, Samaritan people – the list goes on and on because Jesus is fishing for people.
Certainly that is why the Almighty, Invisible, God-only wise determined that for us to understand what God’s promise to us is all about God needed to break into the world as a person to be in relationship with people.
And the way Jesus does relationship, that is what we say we follow.
This is why in our relationship we pray every time we gather to meet or share a meal. This is why the governing body of this church, our vestry, begins every meeting with bible study or sharing a personal, spiritual reflection. This is why we get together in small groups – by 2 or 3 or more – to read scripture, wrestle with our understanding and listen for where God is guiding us.
This is why we confess our sins and acknowledge where we don’t give God our whole heart because sometimes we just can’t. But in this relationship we know God knows and God forgives.
This is why we develop relationships that seek and serve our neighbors. This is why in this relationship we hold out our hands to let a morsel of food nourish us, body and soul.
Because being in relationship with Jesus is different than anything else.
And if we choose to follow Jesus, then together, we practice that relationship. And when ordinary people gather together in his name to practice following Jesus – extraordinary things happen.[i] Some of which become movements or ministries that change the course of history. Some of which never make any headlines but transform the lives of people we will never know, but who God beholds.
And some of which invites God to mold the depths our very own hearts in the lifelong journey of sorrow and joy that all genuine relationships bring.
Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus himself takes up John the Baptist’s rallying cry – he doesn’t change a word of it? Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near! The good news of being in relationship with God does not change.
God’s love and forgiveness are still near. And for us to know it, to experience it, to live it begins with claiming we are children of God who follow Jesus and practice that relationship with God and one another day by day.
How else could we ever have the courage, strength and hope to get out of our proverbial boats, take that first step and answer that call to follow?
- The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks