Sermon for Sunday, January 26, 2020 || Epiphany 3A || Matthew 4:12-23
This past summer, I stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The pebbled beach crunched beneath my feet. The windswept waves gurgled in and out. The fresh air filled my lungs just like it did for those first disciples of Jesus, who knelt on the same shore two thousand years ago repairing their fishing nets. The sea felt holy, filled with the memory of fishing boats plying the waves, delivering Jesus the Christ to various destinations on the coast; filled too with the energy of those ancient calls, brought to the present to strengthen and renew my own call to follow Jesus.
Imagine yourselves on that shore. The Sea of Galilee, really a large lake, stretches out before you, its dark blue waters lightening with the dawn under a clear sky, where the last of the brightest stars is disappearing. The Golan Heights and other points of elevation rise on the far side of the sea, gold and green and hazy in the distance. The sun is just rising over the hills across the water, and you’re squatting on the ground with threads of twine between your fingers. You need to repair the net soon so you can get in the water during the best fishing. Simon and Andrew already pushed off and they’re…
Wait. You look around. You were sure the two brothers were already out fishing. But now you see them back on the shore talking to…to someone. You’ve known Simon and Andrew a long time and you’ve never seen them this animated, this full of life, as they talk with the stranger. But is he a stranger? You swear you know him. You swear you’ve met him before. He’s so familiar, so vibrant, so approachable.
The stranger is so approachable that you find yourselves approaching him before you make the conscious decision to do so. He looks your way as you walk up the beach, and he waves you over. No, you’ve never met this person before. You don’t know him, but there’s something about his easy manner that tells you he knows you. “Follow me,” he says. It’s not a command, but an invitation, an invitation not just to a new life but to a new way of living. “Follow me,” he says, “And I will make you fish for people.”
Immediately, you leave your boat and your nets and you follow him. You leave your routine, your habits, your schedule, ready to embrace something new. You leave your old life behind because Jesus has called you to a new life and a new way of living. And yet, this new life is not cut from whole cloth. This new life does not exist in a state of tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which the old has been totally erased. Jesus has no desire to reset you to the factory default.
Hear again the words Jesus said when he called the first disciples. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Notice that Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John still have their old job. They are still fishermen. Jesus calls them to take the gifts and skills they have been working on for their whole lifetimes and use them in new ways for the building up of the kingdom of God. You will still be a fisher, says Jesus. I’m just refocusing you onto a new kind of catch.
I wonder what Jesus says to you when he calls you to follow him. I wonder what gifts God has been nurturing in you that are ready to be used for the building up of the kingdom of God.
Perhaps you’ve been working as a server at a restaurant for several years now. You’re naturally outgoing, so you don’t mind walking up to tables of strangers and asking what they’d like to eat. You try to remember the laughter and the camaraderie and the succulent sounds of appreciation, especially when you get a table of curmudgeons who send everything back and want to speak to the manager right away. Yes, you’re on your feet all shift running back and forth from the line, but you really enjoy serving food. Jesus comes to you and says, “Follow me, and I will help you welcome everyone to the table.”
Perhaps you and your spouse made the decision that you would stay at home with the kids while he or she works outside the home. The years go by and you become a master organizer, a source of patience and creativity, a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. You love hard, even when loving is hard. Jesus comes to you and says, “Follow me, and I will expand your heart to love even more people so they become the best versions of themselves.”
Perhaps you’re still in high school and you have no idea what you want to do with the rest of your life. (That’s good; you don’t need to have everything figured out yet…or ever.) You like school okay, but what really gets your heart going is playing basketball, lacrosse, and soccer. Three sports in three different seasons! You must really love the game. And you do. You love challenging yourself to train hard and play your best. And you especially love playing with your teammates. There’s nothing better than that crisp and accurate pass that enables your friend to score. Jesus comes to you and says, “Follow me, and I will make you part of a team of encouragers.”
Perhaps you’re a writer and Jesus says to you, “Follow me, and I will make your words sing with my invitations.” Or you’re a public figure and Jesus says to you, “Follow me, and I will help you make just decisions for the good of all.” Or you’re a teacher and Jesus says to you, “Follow me, and keep on teaching.”
What does Jesus say to you when he calls? What new life could be born out of the preparation of your old life? What new ways of living does Jesus invite us all to embrace? Jesus’ way is the Way of Love, the way of justice and mercy and peace. No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, no matter what we have chosen to do with our lives, God has been cultivating our calls from the moment of our birth. Each of us has a unique constellation of gifts and talents and wounds and glories that God uses as the ingredients of our calls to partner with God in God’s mission.
So imagine yourself kneeling by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Imagine yourself at the restaurant or in the minivan or on the soccer field. Imagine yourself as the person God has created you to be, the person God yearns for you to embrace and to shine forth the the building up of the kingdom of God. And then listen for the voice of Jesus the Christ calling you and saying, “Follow me.”
Art: Detail from a painting by my former parishioner Ann Musto, which she gave me when the twins were born. It hangs in our living room, an amazing piece of art that I am humbled to own.