1.26.14 - 2
Epiphany A January 26, 2014
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week we heard the Gospel of John’s account of Jesus inviting Andrew and his brother Simon to come and see who he was.
This year that story goes the next step, as Jesus calls them from their occupations into his service. “Follow me,” he says, “and I will make you fish for people.”
Well let’s back up a wee bit and see how this morning’s passage begins. Matthew, the evangelist, tells us that Jesus’ reaction to John the Baptist’s arrest is to move away from the region of the Jordan River, and to settle in Galilee. Where’s Galilee? It’s that part of Israel well to the north of Jerusalem and to the west of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. Jesus must have gone home to Nazareth and then decided to move from there to Capernaum, which is a small town on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I wonder what his mom thought of that.
I’ve been to Capernaum. It’s a beautifully preserved archaeological site, where you can see remains of the white stone house foundations and remains of some decorative rocks used to finish off the homes of the wealthy. You can also see the walls of the small synagogue that was built after Jesus’ lifetime. All the buildings are tiny, compared to today’s standards. It is lovely in Capernaum, and the Sea of Galilee—when we were there—was placid and inviting. I got to swim in it twice, and that was a real treat. The days were arid and hot, and that lake felt cool and refreshing. And little fish—the descendants of the ones that Andrew and Peter fished for—nibbled at our toes.
Now, Matthew the evangelist makes a big deal about Jesus moving to Galilee, in the area where the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali once settled. This is extremely important as Matthew says that Jesus’ moving into this part of Galilee was the fulfillment of a prophecy of Isaiah. Remember that for Matthew the evangelist it’s urgent that he take every opportunity to show that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah—the fulfillment of prophecy. Matthew, undoubtedly, was writing his account of the Good News to the Jewish Community in Palestine. He felt they needed to have him connect the dots between ancient Old Testament prophecy and this living Messiah Jesus.
What is the prophecy he cites? It is that in the region of Galilee the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. Certainly Jesus was this great light given to the people, who shined a bright beam of God’s lovingkindness over the people. Certainly he was the light shining in the darkness for many of them who had no hope.
And so Matthew tells us that Jesus picks up the mantle of John the Baptist, much as Elisha picked up Elijah’s mantle in the days of the Kings of Israel. Jesus preaches what John preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Repent—be open to a change of heart, a change of mind. Heaven is right here, as close as your own breath.
And then the action changes. Now we focus on Jesus taking a walk by the shore of the lake. He passes the small fishing boats on which Andrew and Simon worked. And remember, he already knew them from the time they followed him to see what he was about. And so he calls to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Now, what happens? IMMEDIATELY they left their fishing nets and followed him.
I wonder if they’d had time to consider their earlier encounter with him and if they saw that he was the real thing. They already knew him and now they responded to his call.
And the same is true for James and John, the sons of the man named Zebedee. Jesus called them to follow and they did so IMMEDIATELY. You wonder what their father thought. I bet he was not a little bit annoyed.
Then we hear that Jesus went through Galilee on a whirlwind tour—traveling, teaching, proclaiming God’s good news, and curing the people of their diseases. I’m glad that the gospels also tell us that he stopped and went off alone for some quiet prayer with his Father. His work was intense.
Does Jesus still call us today to follow him, to turn around from the courses we had been on, to consider other ways to live a good life? You bet he does. And Jesus’ agent in the world now is the Holy Spirit, that third person of the Trinity, who is God’s presence in the world.
I heard this cool call story the other day from a priest who has come to serve in Connecticut after living in Barrow, Alaska for 34 years. Michael told me that his friend Tommy Ognabooguk was a whaling captain in Barrow. He owned his boat and had a good long career of whaling, and made some good money doing it. When Tommy’s crew captured the last whale of his career, he heard the Holy Spirit whispering to him, nudging him, and challenging him to change.
He answered the call of God to pursue theological education and then ordination. At first the higher-ups in the Church in Alaska weren’t that thrilled with this late-comer who was so sure of the will of God. But over time he won them over. Tommy today serves in the village of Shishmarev, Alaska. He went through a total transformation of his life, and that totally transformed the village of Shishmarev as the people flocked to the church to be with one of their own who was now a Christian priest.
Not many of us may be called into ordained ministry. But we are indeed called into lay ministry together, called to follow Jesus and to live the kinds of lives that reflect our faith.
The idea of “call” sounds high and mighty. But everyone experiences it sometimes. To be called by God is to be wooed and won over. It is to change. It is to leave behind what’s old and no longer terribly useful and to embrace something new and urgent.
Take a look at what it must have been like for Andrew and Peter, James and John. First they heard and saw Jesus calling them. Then they dropped their nets. Then they turned and went with him. But how did they go? They went step by step. Do we think they knew what they were doing? I bet they didn’t. Were they anxious sometimes because they couldn’t see where this Jesus-following was going to take them? I BET they were anxious. But they lived the rest of their lives just taking things bit by bit, dropping what was no longer useful and turning toward the promises of Jesus.
That’s how anybody deals with being called out of where we are right now. We turn and we change, bit by bit. We travel one step at a time.
Think of a young couple hearing a call to marry each other. They approach their marriage one step at a time, don’t they—securing the reception hall, making the deposit, calling the church, buying the dress, deciding on a guest list, planning the liturgy, and then coming down the aisle, step by step, one foot after the other. Then their life together—the realest part of the marriage—is also lived step by step.
Think of a person who’s being called to forgive someone that they can’t stand. They may spend years and years denying that they’re hearing any kind of call to forgive. They may spend more years and years justifying their own particular grudge that they’ve grown to love and maybe even to need. But at some time or other they begin to open to the idea that there might be a repair of the rift. There might be a cooling of tempers and maybe even a handshake or a hug one day. This can take a really long time. It might involve a fading of the bad memories. But that’s ok. Sometimes the calls that are the most profound take forever for us to work out.
So spend some time this week thinking about the motions that Andrew and Peter, James and John took as they responded to Jesus’ call upon their lives. Step by step, working through anxiety and joy and challenges.
And think of our own calls. How have you known God’s call before? And how might God be calling now?
How might you follow, and how might you change?