Friday, 24 January 2014

Jesus calls: Epiphany 3

Readings for this week are:
Isaiah 9:1-4
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

I have always loved this story of Jesus calling the first disciples. Jesus says ‘follow me’ and the fishermen – Simon & Andrew and James & John, leave everything and follow.
I loved singing the song in Sunday school:
When Jesus saw the fishermen 
in boats upon the sea,
he called to them, 'Come, leave your nets
and follow, follow me'.
They followed where he healed the sick
and gave the hungry bread,
and others joined them as they went,
wherever Jesus led.
And now his friends are everywhere;
the circle once so small
 extends around the whole wide world,
for Jesus calls us all.
In this great circle we belong,
wherever we may be,
if we will answer when he calls,
'Come, follow, follow me'.
And I used to wish that I was lucky enough to be like the fishermen and meet Jesus and hear his call. And I used to wish that I was brave enough to be like the fishermen and leave everything to follow Jesus.

But maybe it’s time to leave behind my childish picture that the disciples meet Jesus just this once, like a bolt out of the blue, and are immediately called and immediately follow. Because just last week the lectionary reading offered as a different story of how Andrew and Simon first met Jesus, according to John’s gospel. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, and it was John who said “Look, the lamb of God” – Andrew then follows Jesus and goes & fetches Simon to tell him “we have found the Messiah”.

So where does today’s story fit in with last week’s?

Matthew tells us that this call happened after John the Baptist has been arrested – so had Andrew given up his quest to find someone to follow. Left the Jordan river and returned to lake Galilee and to fishing? Was this the first time Jesus, Simon & Andrew had met – or ,perhaps, they had already spent some time with Jesus in Judea or in Galilee and this was a second, third, fourth, who knows how many times meeting.

It is a slightly less romantic idea, but I think it’s one that feels more true to life. The fishermen know Jesus a little, they’ve heard him preach, they know he is special. But now – on this day, it is time for them to choose – do they want to follow Jesus, begin a whole new life, and be his disciples in this movement to preach and show and live the kingdom of God?
Will they accept Jesus’ challenge – now you are fisher-people, but I will make you people-fishers. Will they follow Jesus and see their lives turned upside down?

Err.. yes. They will.
Perhaps the real question is – will we?
The call of Jesus isn’t a one off, blink and you missed it, never to be repeated call to follow. As we get to know Jesus, as we learn more about who he is and what he does, as we see what he means by God’s kingdom, so the challenge grows – will you be part of all this? Will you follow Jesus ? Will you become a people-fisher – someone who actively seeks others to come and walk with you in following Jesus? Will you join with the company of those who call themselves Christian, and do everything you can to bring the gift of God’s new life to the world around you?

The call comes many times, in many different ways – and just as the call is not a one-off, neither is our decision to follow. If we can say ‘yes’ to following Jesus today, we must also say yes tomorrow, and the day after, and every other day of our lives which follow. Following is a step-by step process – and we have to keep orienting our steps in the direction of Jesus and of God’s kingdom of love, joy, peace and justice.

It’s a long, patient work of obedience. And I wonder whether that is why Jesus called fishermen first.
I was talking to someone who goes fishing last week, and she reminded me that the first thing you need if you’re going fishing is patience. You never know when the bite will come. Another friends commented ‘of course fishing with a net is not much different – I once went fishing on a mackerel boat – and first of all nothing happened – for a long time – and then everything happened all at once’.

Fisherpeople know how to be patient – and people-fishers, following Jesus , have to be patient too. Nothing happens for a long time – and then everything happens all at once. Does that sound a bit like your life of being a follower of Jesus or your life as a church?

Patience, faithfulness, the refusal to give up when nothing seems to be happening – all these gifts make for good followers of Jesus, as we perform the core activity of being people-fishers, gathering people to hear and to live the gospel.

Why fishermen? Well, maybe they would be the ones who would find it easiest to understand that following Jesus wasn’t just a once-in-a lifetime choice like buying a farm, or setting up a business, but was a decision for each new day. They have jobs which are hard and unpredictable – even on the sea of Galilee fierce storms could rage. They had jobs which needed them to go out every day for a fresh catch to make enough to survive.
Going out fishing in their boats was a daily activity involving physical nerve and early mornings.

Jesus begins his ministry with a call to repent. This is not just a one-off decision, but a continuous call to turn in God’s direction – to walk along with Jesus & continue to make the right choices, day by day. Fishermen understand the daily rhythm of choice.

And these are not people of great subtlety. These are not men who fish for leisure, with carefully selected live bait or carefully crafted fly and beautifully flicked and placed line. They have nets, they trawl and drag their catch into the boat.
Maybe Jesus calls fishermen because he’s not looking for subtlety and cleverness. When they are told to become ‘fishers of people’ they won’t get side-tracked into asking what bait they can offer people to entice them to experience God’s love.
Fishermen understand that God’s net of love catches us all whether we want to be caught or not!

Perhaps you’re unconvinced by my suggestions as to why Jesus called these fishermen first: maybe you have your own suggestions, or maybe it’s just that these were the first people to really show an interest in what Jesus had to say.

But surely if we are to follow Jesus we would do well, like the fishermen, to understand the daily decision to walk in the way of Jesus, understand the patience and persistence that it takes, and understand the unstoppability of the gathering of all people into God’s love.
We know that following Jesus is not straight-forward and easy, and we need all the understanding we can muster to help us as we walk in Christ’s way.
So it’s good that we’re not in this alone – but are privileged to be part of a community of Christians, all trying to walk God’s way. It’s good that we’re part of God’s church. We heard today another part of the Letter of Paul to Corinthians. It got off to such a good start last week ‘to God’s church at Corinth, called to be saints’…and now just 10 verses in, Paul gets to the real purpose of writing, not to tell the Corinthians how well they’re doing as followers of Christ, but to tell them off for all the dispute and division between them.

Paul is realistic about how hard it can be to follow Jesus, and he gives us a great message to us, who have just celebrated the week of prayer for Christian Unity:

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”.

We need to share our different understandings of what it means to follow Christ, if we are to grow together in faithfulness and in understanding.
Perhaps another reason for Jesus calling the fishermen is that they understand team work – they know that they need one another.

May we learn, day by day, to follow Jesus more faithfully, in company with those fishermen and in friendship with all who call themselves Christian, to the greater glory of God. 

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