Posted by: dacalu | 23 January 2012

Fishing for People

This morning I had the privilege of worshiping with Grace St. Paul’s in Tucson.  Here’s the sermon I gave.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 (The Ninevites repent)

Psalm 62:6-14 (“For God alone my soul in silence waits”)

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (“the present form of the world is passing away”)

Mark 1:14-20 (“I will make you fish for people”)

 

Sermon

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Today’s readings are all about calling and being called,

speaking and being heard,

proclaiming good news and changing the world.

 

Let us start with Jonah.

Here was a man, who was serious about evangelism,

so serious in fact, that he worried about being too effective.

He didn’t really want God to forgive the Ninevites.

Ninevah was the capital of Assyria,

which had conquered Samaria.

So when God called him to change their hearts,

he refused.

Jonah turned around and fled, going in the exact opposite direction.

God brought him back to Nineveh to preach in the streets

and, when the people repented,

as they do in today’s lesson,

he sulked.

“I don’t really want them to be saved.”  Humph.

“I’d rather be dead.”

And yet God speaks back to Jonah,

saying that he loves the people of Nineveh,

created and cared for them,

and used Jonah to redeem them.

 

Similarly, last week, we heard about Samuel,

the young prophet,

whom God called to speak out against his master Eli.

Samuel didn’t even know what was going on,

and Eli had to convince him to be honest about his prophecy.

 

This business of calling and being called—

of speaking up when the Lord asks—

this is a tricky and dangerous business,

not for the faint of heart.

There is a word of truth that goes forth from heaven,

a word that genuinely changes those of us who hear it.

If you aren’t a little concerned about where that might lead,

perhaps you haven’t been paying attention.

God is calling us to change,

to step away from the easy, social, and biological way of the world,

into a new and different way of life.

It means not only change to ourselves, but changing others.

 

How do you feel about that responsibility?

About the ability to make people repent, change, turn?

The ability to make of them, and out of them, new people?

I have to say it frightens me a bit.

Sometimes it scares me that God might work this through me,

as though I were a puppet or tool…

On the other hand, I could be responsible for the change, myself.

In that case, what if I do it wrong?  Or not at all?

Neither option makes me comfortable.

 

Both, curiously, have made me more humble

and more compassionate.

I care for others and for myself

because I know we are becoming something other than we were,

something better and more real.

That God is acting in us.

And, as frightening as that might be,

it is also exhilarating and joyful.

To grow is to be alive,

and to be alive is to grow.

So I delight in that strange force of life that calls out to me

and calls out through me, to the world.

 

 

The psalmist praises this God,

this strange, magnificent force,

more powerful than money or fate,

stronger than nature or culture,

overcoming fear and intellect,

and in the end, even overcoming death.

“For God alone my soul in silence waits; …

God alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.”

This supreme power of the universe calls out to us.

 

The reading from Corinthians is, perhaps,

a bit harder to understand.

It comes at the end of a long passage on marriage and celibacy,

on what it means to be in the world and of the world,

and how our relationships with out families

affect our relationship with God.

Paul wraps that discussion up with this line:

“For the present form of this world is passing away.”

The speaking of God’s words into the world has changed it,

is changing it,

will change it.

 

The wonderful thing about Anglicans

is that we appreciate God’s presence in all things.

We value the world as it was created.

We know it was created good.

And yet this also, is our challenge,

because, knowing the world is good,

we can be hard pressed to see how our doing anything,

particularly our speaking the good news,

can make a positive change in the world.

We don’t feel the need to convert anyone,

to “save” anyone in the evangelical sense.

So the Anglican concept of evangelism can be a bit anemic.

It needn’t be.

 

This word spoken in the world

is in us.

The world is good,

not in spite of us (as some reform Christians would have it),

nor independent of us (as some of us are tempted to think),

but through us.

The world is good through us.

You are part of creation – the noun –

but you are also part of creation – the verb.

Your life, your actions, your words;

all of these can be God breaking into the world,

reaching out to the poor and the suffering,

making justice,

building the kingdom.

Scary, isn’t it.

It is empowering to know we make this difference in the world,

and terrifying to be caught up in this wave of power,

sweeping over creation.

 

Which brings us to the Gospel.

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

As usual, a slightly ambivalent metaphor.

Do you really want to hook people and sweep them into the boat?

Do you really want to yank them from the familiar?

Isn’t there death involved in there somewhere?

Just so.

But, after all, sheep and shepherds isn’t all that great an image either.

Or Kings and subjects.  Or masters and slaves.

 

Sometimes I think God makes the metaphors tough,

to keep us honest about how we interpret them.

The word of God is meant to shake us up a bit,

to think of things in a new and deeper way.

So let us unpack the fishing metaphor.

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

When I hear this, I think of the deeps

I go to when I am afraid, or angry, or tired.

I retreat into myself.

The truest, fullest part of me

hides under the water,

hides in the safety

of habit

and politeness and correctness and niceness

and expectation.

Others hide in self-interest, or consistency, or dogma, or wealth.

We have thousands of excuses to pack away our inmost self,

where it will never see the light of day.

We all have closets and walls and defense mechanisms,

do we not?

And these things we pull over the tops of ourselves,

can grow deeper and deeper

until the light of the sun seems miles away.

Fishing for people means drawing them out of the depths.

It usually takes something bright and shiny,

something that doesn’t seem threatening at all,

but also a bit of a hook.

It takes a connection to the surface,

a discomfort.

And at some point you have to believe

that the fish is better off in the boat.

(Every metaphor breaks down somewhere.)

 

I really think we are better off in relationship with one another.

I think we are better off with honesty, compassion, and dignity.

I think we are better off together,

with one another and with God,

than we are alone.

And let me be clear,

the boat is not Christianity, as wonderful as that is.

The boat is love –

a decidedly uncomfortable, immensely joyful state of being.

 

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

I have been caught on God’s line,

and judge that one connection

to be more valuable than any other.

I have been drawn out of myself, into community,

and, as uncomfortable as that can be on occasion,

it is infinitely better than being alone.

And so I reach out,

so that the spark that enlivens me, may enliven you.

I reach out,

to find that that piece of God working in me

works in you as well.

The image and likeness of God,

covered by all the vanities of life;

that’s what I’m fishing for.

 

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Let me be as concrete as I can.

Each and every person you meet

has within them, a spark of Divinity,

a piece of God, acting in the world.

I beg you to pay attention for that spark.

Listen carefully, sometimes it shows up

in the most surprising of places.

The enemy.  The beggar.  The foreigner.

Listen to everyone you meet.

You cannot love those you do not know,

and you can never know those you have not heard.

 

When you see it, catch a hold.

Meet every kindness with kindness.

And meet every insult with kindness,

because only in this way can we draw out

those who hide in the deeps.

Love whenever possible.

We must be the connection for those who cannot feel the pull of God.

Take every opportunity to reach out to people.

We can be the lure, and the hook, and the line that draws people in.

Don’t forget that it is often the bright spark in your heart,

your truth, your joy, your compassion

that attracts the spark within others.

Don’t forget that it is your commitment

to love, to community,

to understanding God, and faith, and religion

that shows people how to live with God.

Don’t forget that it is your unmistakable presence, your genuine love,

through which God calls all people into the Kingdom.

 

And, of course, the most wonderful thing is that the line works both ways.

Whatever may happen,

never forget that the same love

that binds people to God through you

binds you to God through them.

Never forget that God is fishing for you as well.

And every loving soul is a fisher.

It is by fishing for people that we find ourselves caught up in the Kingdom.

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