180121 Epiphany 3B
Christ Church Cathedral
On this third Sunday after the Epiphany, as we are invited to reflect on those moments, when we catch a glimpse into the deeper meaning of life, the lectionary offers us some fishing tales!
These are not regular fishing stories—and parts of both tales are to be found offstage as it were—but it may be helpful to think of both the reading from Jonah and the reading from Mark’s gospel as being examples of fishing stories.
Jonah, as you may recall, is one heck of a fishing story. We’ll come back to it in a moment as it is basically the prequel for today’s excerpt from the text. It is a story where the fish does the hunting and the human is swallowed by the giant sea monster.
The Gospel of Mark, on the other hand, represents Jesus hanging out amongst the fisherfolk down by the Sea of Galilee.
The north-west corner of the Sea of Galilee has always been the best spot to go fishing. The water is not so deep and is therefore warmer. In addition, there are lots of nutrients washed into the lake as the Jordan River comes down from the mountains in the north and meets the still waters of the lake, losing its velocity and dropping its silt in the process. Fish have always enjoyed the north-west corner of the Sea of Galilee. Fisherfolk are always to be found in that quadrant of the lake.
But this is a bit different because Jesus says he’s going to teach the fisherfolk how to fish, and they won’t be catching fish but people.
A disturbing God
You might already be getting the sense that today’s readings are building on a theme that Camelia started in her sermon last week. At that time, Camelia spoke about the God who calls. She drew our attention to the dynamic in the religious life and especially during Epiphany season, of being people who listen, people who hear, people who are attentive to what the Spirit might be whispering into their soul.
The idea of a God who calls is a key Epiphany theme.
What we often overlook is that this call from God is often is something which upsets and disturbs us.
When God calls it is rarely to make us feel comfortable about life. Rather things get disturbed, whether that be our own lives; our expectations and our arrangements for our future; or our families who may be far from pleased at our response to God’s call on our lives.
This was certainly true of Jesus, as we will see a little bit later in the Gospel of Mark.
His family come down from Nazareth to Capernaum to rescue him because they think he is out of his mind. He needs to come home and have a rest.
Meanwhile back in the village things were not much better. In Mark 6 when Jesus is active in his own village, his townspeople look at him and say, “Who does this fellow think he is?”
This week’s Epiphany moment
The Epiphany moment we are being invited to reflect on this week is the insight that God has work for us to do, and that God will call us to the work that is ours for the doing.
Let that sentence resonate in your mind for a moment.
God has work for us to do, and that God will call us to the work that is ours for the doing.
It is actually quite scary and perhaps exciting at the same time. God has something in mind for us, and God will not be brushed aside.
The most important thing we can do in this Cathedral is to help people discern what God is calling them to do, and then support them as they seek to embrace that call.
They will need our support, as the call be disturbing at many levels.
This was the experience of many prophets and apostles in both the Jewish tradition and the Christian tradition.
We see it most dramatically in the wonderful tale of Jonah the runaway prophet.
He is so disturbed by God’s call on his life that he runs in the opposite direction, catches a boat to the other end of the Mediterranean, and eventually volunteers to be thrown overboard into the ocean.
Of course, he had no idea that—in the story—this is exactly what God wants him to do and God already has a large fish ready to swallow him up. After three days the fish will spit Jonah out on dry land and God will ask Jonah to get on with the job.
While the story is dramatic and vivid, perhaps even exaggerated, in the Jonah tale, we see it also in the ancient traditions about Abraham, about Moses, about Jeremiah, and certainly in the case of the apostle Paul.
Recognising that God may have something in mind that we need to do with our lives, is not necessarily going to make us feel relaxed or at peace. It can indeed be quite disturbing.
The work that God will have in mind for us will be something connected with the coming of God’s kingdom.
This takes us back to the beginning of the gospel reading this morning when Jesus appears on the scene in Galilee announcing that the time is up, the empire of God has drawn near, and it is time for people to turn their own lives upside down and make their response to this new reality. That’s a rough translation!
So what is this kingdom of God thing that was so central to Jesus own sense of his identity and his purpose?
It should be familiar to us. After all, we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom each and every time that we say the Lord’s prayer:
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Of course, that has always sounded like safe religious words that we can rattle off during a service or maybe at some other time when feeling religious, and we don’t really expect it to make much difference.
But in saying that prayer we are signing up to work for the coming of God’s kingdom. We are in a sense making a response to the God who calls, to the God who goes fishing seeking to catch us and draw us into God’s own work.
After all we all want to do the will of God, right?
But do we really?
Certainly, Jonah was not too impressed with the invitation to submit to God’s will.
We can see that those around Jesus, his family and his neighbours, were not at all impressed when this young man from the village decided to go off and do unpredictable and unconventional things, claiming to be working for the kingdom of God. Who does he think he is?
And while Andrew and Peter along with James and John seem to have responded remarkably quickly to Jesus’ call — that they leave their boats and leave their families so that they could come and follow him — we can be reasonably sure that old man Zebedee was not too impressed.
Doing kingdom work can be messy.
It certainly was for Jesus. It certainly was for Jonah. And it certainly was for those fishermen who responded to Jesus’ invitation to come with him and learn how to fish for people. Their lives were never going to be the same again.
Doing kingdom work will require us to put God first.
That’s what causes the trouble.
Other powerful people in the social systems within which we live find that threatening. Not only is the call of God disturbing for us, but the call of God can also be very disruptive for those around us. We no longer march to the same drum as everyone else.
If we were really to listen and take on board the call of God on our lives—the call of the God who goes fishing—then we may find ourselves pushing against the grain of our own culture and our own community.
We may find ourselves speaking truth to power at times when the powerful do not want to hear the truth we have to share.
We might find ourselves acting to protect refugees and provide asylum for those who our government wants to lock up and expel. The officials will not be impressed when we say that we have to do God’s will even if that conflicts with the law of the land.
We may find ourselves called to expose the cynical games played by the powerful as they create distractions in the media and distort the truth so as to protect their own privileges.
Like John the Baptist before him, Jesus of Nazareth spoke truth to power and was prepared to be an outsider even amongst his own people.
So today we are glimpsing an epiphany moment indeed.
God has gone fishing, and she is seeking to catch us.
God is drawing us into the work of the kingdom, into the work of ensuring that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
There is nothing more important than this work, but it is not an invitation to an easy life.
But God is a patient fisher, and she will stay the distance until the divine dream for a world of beauty, and justice and peace is fulfilled.
May we not only have the grace to hear the God who calls, but also the courage to respond to that call and spend our lives in the service of others.