Fishing for people, mining for the souls of people

Epiphany 3 – 2017

Matthew 4:12-25

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who meets us where we are, not where God would wish us to be. Amen.

Anglicans are notoriously shy when it comes to mission. Most of us are very happy for people to know that we attend church, pray, do voluntary work for the Anglican Church and so on, but when it comes to sharing the gospel suddenly our faith is a very private matter. We don’t want to intrude or to impose on others. We respect their right to make up their own minds and above all we are conditioned by the mantra that in polite society we don’t talk about politics or religion. This attitude stems in part from the religious wars of our church’s home. Consciously or otherwise our collective memory tells us how divisive religion can and has been. Some of us are old enough to remember the suspicion with which Protestants and Catholics viewed each other and know that friendships can be ruined if old wounds are opened up.

On top of all that we have to add that until at least the 1950’s it could be assumed that the majority of people professed some faith. A vast proportion of the population were attached to a church community whether they worshiped regularly or simply sent their children to Sunday School. In a Christian nation we could assume that the community knew the basics of the Christian faith. Magazines printed recipes for Shrove Tuesday and Lent, everything closed between Maundy Thursday and the Tuesday after Easter, carols in the park told the story of the Incarnation. Sharing our faith was in many ways redundant. Even those who didn’t go to church knew the stories – that the birth of Jesus was celebrated at Christmas and his death and resurrection at Easter. Most people knew some of the parables and that Jesus was a preacher and a healer. Until the end of the twentieth century we could be confident that school children had been exposed to the Christian faith through religious education.

Ever since Constantine made Christianity the faith of the Roman Empire there has been little to no need to spread the faith amongst our own. As a result, those of us in traditional churches have become complacent and out of practice. We have had so little cause to share our faith that we do not have the language for mission, let alone the experience at sharing the good news.

In recent decades as our churches have emptied and our Sunday Schools fallen silent, we have begun to think of mission as a way to rejuvenate our churches and to fill our pews. We have experimented with a variety of solutions, but our lack of success is evidenced by our failure to halt the decline.

Today’s gospel focuses on the beginning Jesus’ mission and Jesus’ call to the disciples to fish for people. As twenty-first century disciples, we can interrogate the texts to see what it can teach us.

As I see it, the gospel consists of four parts – 1. a reminder that for many the world is a place of darkness and death, 2. Jesus’ call to repentance, 3. Jesus’ calling of the first disciples and 4. Jesus’ preaching of the good news and his offering of hope and healing to the world. The gospel begins by reminding us of God’s promise to bring light to a world filled with darkness and the claim that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. Then Jesus begins his ministry by calling people to turn to acknowledge through repentance the part they play in preventing the world from more truly reflecting the kingdom of God. Having established who is he and why he is here, Jesus calls some people to follow him – to join with him in his mission to inaugurate the kingdom. He calls fishermen to fish for people, but he might just as well have asked miners to mine for people or seamstresses and tailors to sew lives together, or miners to mine the depths of human suffering. Finally Jesus demonstrates what the kingdom might look like by bringing healing and wholeness to a suffering world.

It is important to notice what Jesus does not do – he does not send people to swell the numbers at the local synagogues. He does not preach the gospel as if it is some sort of moral imperative – “if you are not good you won’t go to heaven”. He doesn’t demand that those whom he calls should be anything other than they are. He doesn’t ask fishermen to teach or teachers to fish. He meets people where they are, acknowledges and affirms what they can do rather than ask them to do something for which they are not suited. He uses the disciples’ gifts and abilities to help him to bring restoration and wholeness to the world.

If we are to learn something from Jesus’ mission it might be this. God has promised to bring light to a world that is filled with the darkness of hardship, sorrow, pain and injustice. God’s desire is that we should catch God’s vision for humanity that the world should be a reflection of the kingdom of heaven and repent our part in the world’s indifference, cruelty and greed and that we should strive with all our being to ensure that our present reality more closely represents the reality that is the kingdom of heaven. We are to recognize and value the gifts and the potential of those around us (valuing them for who they are, not for whom we would want them to be) and through our encouragement and affirmation enable others to share their gifts with the world. And we are encouraged to shower such love and compassion on the world that the recipients of that love cannot help but be changed, renewed and restored and in their turn demonstrate such love compassion to others that the whole world will be healed and transformed and God’s kingdom will be known on earth as it is in heaven.

As we leave behind the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany, and enter into the penitential season of Lent, we as church and as individuals have the opportunity repent the part we play in a world that is far from perfect and to consider more deeply what it is that we can to bring about healing and peace and thus ensure that God’s kingdom will come and God’s will will be done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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