Third Weekend After Epiphany (A/RCL)
Matthew 4:12-23, Isaiah 9:1-4
January 21-22, 2017
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Here’s a question for the fishermen – and the fisherwomen -- in the congregation: what are the qualities of a good fisherman? Not the one who settles for telling fish tales (“The one that got away was THIS big!!”) but the one who can show photos or fish as proof.
· Patience/perseverance (this includes making sure you have timeto be patient – I don’t think many people say, “I have 15 minutes to spare. Let’s go catch something.”)
· Smarts: sense of timing, knowledge of what bait, what lure, what hook, what line or pole to use for which fish
· Cleverness/slyness -- ability to stay out of sight – remain as invisible as possible (because fish aren’t dumb!)
· Courage – perhaps – depending on where and when you are fishing.
Some sport fishermen are among the people who tend to disappear from worship over the summer – or any time the fish are running. Yet -- today’s Gospel reminds us that fishermen were the first people Jesus called to follow Him. Simon (Peter) & Andrew, James & John, were 2 sets of brothers engaged in the family business when Jesus strolled along and shockingly invited them to leave their boats, leave their nets, leave their families, and follow Him. Even more shocking is the fact that they did, then and there.
It only makes sense that either the fishermen had previously met the Lord or that they had at least heard about Him. But still – they left everything they knew and followed Him. St. Luke tells the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, so we know that at least one of them even had a wife he left behind. Jesus caught the imaginations and captured the hearts of those fishermen.
We can’t know why He chose them. They weren’t versed in the Law like the scribes, they didn’t have spheres of influence, they didn’t have worldly wealth to bankroll Jesus’ ministry. When Jason Reed preached here in December he said that some Scripture scholars think these fishermen were young – like 15 or 16 years old! What could they possibly have to offer an itinerant preacher like Jesus? God only knows. But that’s the point: God did know.
There’s a story from ancient Greece about Socrates being approached by a would-be follower. (Philosophers, like rabbis, had disciples, too. Disciple simply means follower.) The man’s name was Aeschines. He humbly, apologetically presented himself and said to Socrates, “I have nothing else, but I give you myself.” Wise Socrates answered, “Do you not see that you are giving me the most precious thing of all?”1
In St. John’s Gospel, the night before our Lord Jesus dies He says to His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last….” (John 15:16) God only knows why God has chosen us, but God has chosen us. Especially on this weekend when we gather for our annual meeting, it is good to remember that we are called to be here for those who aren’t here yet. Like the people of Israel, “it is too small a thing” that we should be called only for our personal salvation. God has a bigger purpose: we are called to be “a light to the nations.”
In the Gospel St. Matthew echoes the magnificent first lesson from Isaiah when he says that Jesus’ return to Galilee and the beginning of His ministry there fulfilled a prophecy:
“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.” (Matthew 4:15-16; see Isaiah 9:1-2)
The word translated Gentiles shows up at the end of Matthew’s Gospel in the Great Commission. There it is translated nations:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Today’s Gospel about Jesus choosing fishermen as His first disciples isn’t so much about “election,” whom God chooses, as it is about evangelism, God calling each of us to go and catch people’s imaginations, capture their hearts for the sake of Christ.
I don’t think God is tracking the number of confirmed members we record in our parochial report to the larger church, or the balance in Holy Trinity’s checking or saving accounts. Membership is only spiritually relevant as far as it reflects discipleship. How closely are we following our Lord? Last week I asked why Jesus is called the Lamb of God and one of our confirmands guessed it’s because Jesus pretty much follows God around like a little lamb (or a puppy). What a wonderful image. So -- are we following Jesus so closely that if He stopped suddenly we’d bump into Him?? Or, to go back to fishing: is our faith engaging enough that it’s apt to “catch” others? (Since it’s the flu season, maybe we can even ask: is our faith “contagious,” “infectious”??)
Let’s remember that fishermen don’t expect the fish to come to them. Fishermen go to the water, one way or another. They don waders or they get into a boat. To state the obvious: if we’re serious about being here for those who aren’t here yet – we’ll have to go to them. What are your Spirit-ed ideas for how we do that? Beyond articles and advertising in the paper, besides for providing furniture and kitchen stuff and hosting temporarily homeless families? How do we get in close enough proximity to others that our personal faith and our faith family’s faith can be contagious? Someone has said we’re all “caught” by something in this life. Depending on who or what captures us, we’re bound or liberated. How can we help the Holy Spirit ensure that it’s God’s love and mercy in Christ that “catches” people’s imaginations and “captures” their hearts? Do we have the needed qualities of good “fishers”? Patience, perseverance, cleverness, smarts, courage, joy?
The German mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart was a favorite of Martin Luther’s, maybe because, like Luther, he aggravated the powers-that-be in Rome and fell under their censure. He wrote:
God lies in wait for us with nothing so much as love. Now love is like a fishhook. A fisher cannot catch a fish unless the fish first picks up the hook. If the fish swallows the hook, no matter how it may squirm and turn, the fisher is certain of the fish. Love is the same way. Whoever is captured by love takes up this hook in such a fashion that foot and hand, mouth and eyes, heart and all that is in that person must always belong to God. Therefore, look only for this fishhook, and you will be happily caught. The more you are caught, the more you will be liberated.2
1William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1 (rev. edition, The Daily Study Bible Series, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), p. 78.
2Paul Ofstedal, ed., Daily Readings from Spiritual Classics (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1990), p. 62.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham