Sunday, January 14, 2024 – Epiphany 2

Category: Weekly Sermons

Jonah 3:1-5,10; Psalm 62:6-14; I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

The Rev. Candice B. Frazer

Years ago, Steve took up cast net fishing.  He would practice for hours, dropping the net on the pier and pulling the net up to a point at the center.  He would then pick up one edge of the circular rim of weights, take a couple of steps and with a mighty heave, throw the net out over the water where it would then sink quickly to the bottom.  At the height of the throw, the net would blossom out like a flower into a perfect circle in the air, all the little weights sewn around it breaking the surface of the water as one and trapping fish and seaweed and an occasional shell in its wide swath. 

One end of the net’s rope would be looped over his wrist.  So, after the net had sunk to the bottom, Steve would start pulling it in.  He could usually tell if he had caught anything by the feel of the rope as it resisted and even tugged in his hand.  As the net was drawn closer to the pier and broke the surface of the water, you could often see the treasures of pinfish and the occasional mullet.  Steve would carefully disentangle the fish—tossing some back and keeping others either as bait fish for rod and reel or, if big enough, fried mullet for breakfast.

As much as Steve loved to fish with the cast net, two of our dogs loved it even more.  Jezebel, one of our basset hounds who died several years ago, would hang out on the pier with Steve whenever he was fishing.  She would keep her distance during the set-up and throw, but once the net was in the air, she raced to the side of the pier and leaned over as far as she could without falling over the edge, staring down in the water in excited anticipation of any fish that might be caught.  Steve would shake out the pin fish on the pier and Jezebel would paw and snuffle them as they bounced around, following them until they maneuvered off the side of the pier and back in the water.  Her disappointment at the loss of her new playmates was always pitiful but her hope was eternal.  As soon as she realized Steve was readying for another throw, she was back in the game, eagerly anticipating what he might catch next.

Banshee, who most of you know as Church Dog, also loved to go with Steve to the pier to cast net fish.  Unlike Jezebel whose enthusiasm was kept in check, Banshee bounded all around the pier barking her head off and nipping at Steve whenever he made a throw.  She was obnoxious and annoying and a hazard to herself and others.  Upon the occasion that a fish was caught, she would have nothing at all to do with it.  Her sole joy was simply in the fishing.  Once, our brother-in-law went down to the pier to fish with the cast net.  He had been duly warned about Banshee’s overly exuberant behavior and took his chances anyway.  At some point Banshee’s excitement was so uncontainable that she bit Brent on the rear, tearing a hole in his new swimsuit.  Banshee can be, quite literally, a pain in the derriere. 

Simon and Peter are casting their nets.  James and John are mending theirs.  All four are fishermen.  They would have known a life of hard work and an honest day’s labor.  They lived by the strength of their arms and the sweat of their brows.  They knew that the best times of day to fish were in the morning or early evening or when it was overcast outside so that the fish wouldn’t see you coming.  They knew the best spots to throw too—the ones that were a little darker and deeper where the bigger fish would lie hidden in shadow.  They would have known what was good for eating and what was good for bait, what to keep and what to throw back.  They would have known an unsuccessful day of work would lead to a hungry night and that whatever they caught they would have to sell or clean.  It wasn’t sport, it was the difference between going hungry or being fed, living or dying.  They fished in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.  They fished when it rained and when the sun beat down upon them.  They talked and they laughed.  They told whopper fishing tales and didn’t let facts get in the way of a good story.  And they waded out into the water or sat in the boats quiet and pensive, wondering about the world and trying not to let their fears distract them from their hopes.

These are the men that Jesus would call.  Men who were good at the work that they did.  Men with families—fathers and mothers, wives and children.  There was nothing really unusual about these men other than the fact that they were so willing to drop everything, leave their livelihoods, their families and follow a stranger.  They had no promises, no assurances or guarantees.  They didn’t ask what the pension plan looked like or how much they would be earning.  They didn’t even get a very good job description, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”   Jesus didn’t seem to have a strategy all worked out or SMART goals established.  But he did have a vision.  He knew the kingdom of God was near and he sought out those who were willing to discover that as well.

What he didn’t tell Simon or Andrew or James and John was just how hard this work would be.  He didn’t tell them about all the people who wouldn’t believe, who would openly resist Jesus and his disciples, about all the doubt and danger they would face.  He didn’t tell them how this whole thing would seemingly end. He didn’t tell them about a cross or an upper room where everything would seem to be lost.  He didn’t even give them a heads up about an empty tomb much less the wonders and miracles that they would witness.  He simply said, “Follow me…”

We hear the stories of those same disciples as they witness the events of Jesus’ life—the questioning and doubts, hidden fears and concerns, the celebrations and rejoicing.  It is challenging work, this fishing for people.  They are not perfect, but they don’t give up.  They seem to trust in something more than their own experiences.  They seem to trust that the kingdom of God has indeed come near, that the kingdom is Jesus.  He is the net that they will cast even after his resurrection and ascension.  And they will wait in eager anticipation at the edge of the dock to see what they have caught and at other times, there will be barking and it will be obnoxious and may even nip you in the rump because the work of fishing for people, discipleship, is worth it even when it causes a little pain along the way.

Jesus has begun his ministry and there are those he immediately calls and who immediately leave everything and follow him—without question, without design, without complaint or grievance or even expectation.  They follow because they believe that something better is possible; that something better already exists. 

The kingdom of God has come near.  It came near so many years ago on the Sea of Galilee.  It comes near in the daily visitation of Jesus in our hearts.  It is not some future realm that requires the gate of death and resurrection into the eternal life; it is here, now.  It is the way we can choose to live our life immediately.  Jesus didn’t tell the four fishermen to stop being fishermen.  He invited them to fish for something different—to fish for people, to grow in relationship.  Jesus continues to invite us to come and follow him even today.  He doesn’t tell us we have to be something different, only that we reconsider and reorient our purposes so that they align with his—that they focus on relationships; our partnering with God and one another.  If the kingdom of God has drawn near, then the building up of the kingdom is the building up of its people.