First Congregational Church
January 21, 2017
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I think one of the great things about this particular church family is the number of readers among us. Some like biographies, some like non-fiction, and some of us like fiction - even historic fiction. There are, however, a few books that will not ever be found, such as “Saltwater Fishing,” by Barry Cuda. Or “How to Fish,” by Willy Ketchum.
While I was looking up other “fishing books never written,” I stumbled across an article from the Smithsonian magazine that talks about a book called “The Compleat Angler.” The interesting thing about that book is that it was written in the 1600s, and is one of the most reprinted books in the English language. It’s supposedly a Walden-like meditation on nature and friendship. And some of you might have thought you wouldn’t be learning anything new today!
For those of you here last week, I don’t know why the lectionary committee chose the early passage from John and then an early passage from Mark for today. But there we are. Last week it was the calling of Nathaniel and Philip, this week it’s Simon, Andrew, James and John. Last week, the environmental background was a fig tree, this week it’s the Sea of Galilee. In both passages, Jesus is building his band of brothers.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus Calls His First Disciples
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Thank you, Liz. For the academic portion of today, I’ve included a graph in the bulletin insert. Sometimes I think things can make more sense if you can compare and contrast them. The chart came, in part, from a Wikpedia article on the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is housed in Dublin, Ireland, and is a beautifully illustrated version of the four Gospels, written around 800 AD, with intricate and extravagant artwork, considered Ireland’s finest national treasure.
Whoever did them, there are pictures of the Gospels using winged images. In Matthew it’s a winged man or angel, in Mark it’s a winged lion, Luke is a winged ox and John is a winged eagle. (It’s interesting that the creators didn’t choose a winged fish - relating this to our scripture passage, but anyway.) While you can read more about the distinctions of the Gospels after this incredibly stunning sermon, it would be interesting to find out if the Book of Kells had any part in C.S. Lewis’ created The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
From Lewis’ book, “when the children first hear about the lion, named Aslan, one of the characters, Susan, asks, “Is he — quite safe?” Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
One might expect a king or queen to do a little razzle-dazzle in the beginning of his or her reign. Jesus, however, begins by gathering a circle of people to accompany him, because community matters. In our modern world, phones and technology are important to the living of our lives, and we may even excuse ourselves to take a call in another room, but we have to be careful not to let excuses - of any reasoning - get in the way of being in community. If anything has been reinforced for me this week, it’s just how important it is to invest in our communities - family or no. And I’m not talking just about Frankfort, Beulah or Benzonia, but of this church family, your neighborhood family or those people around you, whom you consider family.
Jesus calls us into communities of relationships. Most of the time, I don’t know that we have thunder and lightening and rumblings that precede the creation of our callings. But we still get callings from God to do God’s work, regardless of what we can or can’t actually do.
Maybe it’s the idea to call someone, not just to check on them, but reconnect with them, no matter how long it’s been since we last spoke with them. Maybe it’s the inclination to visit someone in a nursing home or care facility, because you know, in paying it forward, there will perhaps come a time when any one of us might really appreciate someone giving us a visit.
Or maybe it’s the reminder in the bulletin that there’s free coffee at Petals and Perks again this Tuesday, and what better way to reconnect with the community - catching up on what’s happening or sharing relevant information? Maybe it’s a calling to encourage someone you don’t know well, or a compliment for a stranger.
God’s callings are interesting, because they aren’t always about doing something, but sometimes it’s about how we might feel. Just this week I had someone in the office who spoke about the feeling that came over them - God calling - in that it’s okay to let a loved one “go.” It could be God calling you to make an appointment with a doctor or your car mechanic or any number of things that seem innocuous enough, but in hindsight we clearly see God “calling” us to do something that wasn’t necessarily in the “normal” column.
As Scott Hoezee said, “It is at once striking and quite probably revealing that Mark’s version of the gospel story gets off to such a humble, modest start. Matthew has his mysterious star in the east and the Magi who follow it. Luke gives us layer upon layer of drama surrounding the birth and later appearance of Jesus. John brings us to the rim of the galaxies and the beginning of all things with that all-creating Word of God who was with God in the beginning.
But not Mark. Mark allows Jesus merely to appear from out of nowhere, emerging humbly from the heat vapors emanating from the desert floor to be baptized by John. And then at the very moment when we do expect the curtain to rise on the drama to come, we end up in Galilee even as Jesus starts to cobble together a set of followers that can be described only (and perhaps at best) as rag-tag.
It would be fascinating to hear other stories of “callings.” There’s the calling I had to go into ministry, which started as a feeling to go back to school. There are “callings” to stop drinking or to change the way we respond to those who annoy us and callings to fish on the right side of the sand bar verses the left side of the sand bar. (Just checking….)
Our passage points out that there are “leavings” that happen with callings, too. For James and John, it was leaving their father and the certainty of a job they had known their whole life. St. Francis was sued and then spat upon by his father for abandoning the family business and embarrassing him by living as a pauper. Martin Luther disappointed his father who demanded he go into law. For me, it was leaving the safety of a teaching job to go to school with only the meager funds from my teacher retirement. When we stop one thing to do another, we leave the security in which we felt safe and secure. And yet, when we follow God’s callings, our lives will be changed in ways that might not have otherwise ever have happened.
Fisherman Andrew ended up in western Greece, Spain and Scotland. John ended up living to a ripe old age on the Greek island of Patmos. Philip was a missionary to Asia and traveled to Egypt. Bartholomew even ended up traveling to India.
It can be, at times, difficult to differentiate between God’s calling and the calling of our favorite chair or couch. But when we, like the disciples, leave our comfort zones, we can find ourselves in some really amazing places - literally and figuratively.
Preaching professor, Tom Long, believes we find Jesus in Galilee, when he utters his very first words in Mark, because these are the humble beginnings that match the gospel ministry Jesus is launching. “Galilee” is the place where most of us live. Most of us live - not in the citadels of power or in the glare of the bright lights of history. We, tend to live in the Galilees of the world, on the margins, in those places where the powers-that-be do not visit and that they more often than not - do not know much about.
Knowing what we know about Jesus, it would make all the sense in the world, that if one of the disciples had been a construction worker, Jesus would have invited that person to become a builder of human hearts. Or if he - or she - had been in another part of the world - had been a real estate agent, Jesus would probably have invited him or her to become a seller of kingdom turf.
It’s not always so plain to see that God uses our passions and talents to bring other fisherfolk into the kingdom, or to help disciple people as we travel our own paths. And yet, we can see it so often if we think about it. People with skills and numbers sometimes become volunteers at a local charity to help other folks with taxes or budgeting. The get-well cards and sympathy and birthday cards that some folks are so good at sending out reel in those that aren’t feeling so perfectly on their game and those who are celebrating another trip around the sun.
Near the beginning of today’s passage, Jesus says, “The time has come.” I can’t help but think that it is a way of God saying to each one of us, “the time has come” to do something or say something or pray something - to not only help another person in this band of followers, but even our own selves.
Philosopher and spiritual formation guy, Dallas Willard, tells the story of when he was a boy and rural electrification was just happening and power lines were being strung throughout the countryside. He said, “But suppose even after the lines were up and running, you ran across a house where the weary family still used only candles and kerosene lanterns for light, used scrub boards, ice chests, and rug beaters. A better life was waiting for them right outside their door if only they would let themselves be hooked into the power lines. “My friends,” you could proclaim, “electricity is at hand!” But suppose they just didn’t trust it, thought it was too much of a hassle, and anyway didn’t believe the promises that things might be easier with this newfangled juice running into their house. “If it’s all the same to you, we’ll stick with the old ways.”
Whether we’re thinking about the week ahead or even of the coming seasons, God is calling us to be a part of the kingdom that is at hand. With such an important call, we best start by prayin’!
Holy and Constant God, we thank you for the continual call you have for us and on us - that we are never left without a task to do. Help us, when the days are dreary and dark, to help someone else’s day to be a little lighter. Encourage us when you need us to step into a ministry that’s a little different, that we can do so not fearfully, but with the security that we do it with you. Remind us to pray for those who seem least worthy of our prayers, because sometimes our own voices of pain or inconsideration or self-righteousness can drown out their humanity cries. Forgive us when we deliberately turn away from your calling, and help us to move beyond the regret of missed opportunities. And for those times when we’ve heeded your calling, and you’ve used our passions and talents for the beauty of your kingdom, we are most certainly grateful. For these and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.