Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 24, 2021
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
Such a wonderful story, we hear it every year, you can picture it, almost smell it – the boats by the lakeside, the sun beating down on the sweaty fishermen, casting the nets out day after weary day, mending the nets again and again. In the midst of that constant, repetitive toil, Jesus’ clear voice rings out – Follow me! Leave your nets! Just walk away from all that work, from everything that keeps you enmeshed in your daily routines and habits and schedules. Leave others to do it. It’s an appealing thought, perhaps especially in this covid time, when we are all stuck right here. Leave your nets – leave your networks, as someone in the lectionary group suggested. Instead, come away to an adventure in faith.
The escape idea is enticing, but the second half of the promise is a bit more daunting. I will make you fish for people. Fishers of men, as we all happily sang through the non-feminist years. Seems like a great image for evangelism at first, hauling them in by the boatload. But catching doesn’t seem quite the right metaphor – there’s a lot of trickery and duplicity involved in fishing. Luring and hooking and capturing doesn’t sound entirely Christian if you think of it.
Beyond that, for many of us the prospect of actively encouraging people into the Christian fold – or of all things, into church – is just not something we feel comfortable doing. To some extent this is a weakness – it’s shyness, or fear of embarrassment in a secular world, or lack of vocabulary to share a deeply private experience. You may feel that your faith doesn’t lend itself to proselytizing, at least not in any kind of rah-rah way.
But I think this reluctance is also the very accurate intuition that growing the church for its own sake is not a worthy goal. It isn’t what Jesus was doing or asking us to do.
He’s not asking us to haul them in but to go out and look for them, to be with them, to love them as he did. Of course, they’re not really fish, they’re not even lambs, one of his other favourite metaphors. The ones Jesus focused on, wants us to pay attention to, are simply people, with hopes, and sorrows, and needs both practical and spiritual. Every act of kindness, every opening to a heartfelt conversation, every effort to undo the cruel knots of racism or exclusion is an act of evangelism. We share our faith by sharing our lives, and our questions, and our faltering steps toward justice in a difficult world.
What Jesus invites his followers to do is to turn outward – to be sustained from within by the love which breaks our ties to convention and fear, and to share that net-breaking love with others. In the words of the poet Amanda Gorman at the inauguration this week, our call is to be brave enough to see the light, and even, as she said, ‘brave enough to be it’.
The invitation that Jesus offers is absolutely personal to each one of us. There is no one who is not ‘on the hook’, so to speak. Each of us is called by name, as he called those four fishermen.
But it is also more than personal. As our congregation comes closer to the launch of the redevelopment project, it’s easy to get stuck in the nets of our own processes and preparations. Over the next few years, there will be much more going on than the building of a beautiful sanctuary, though it will be that. Much more than creating a facility that the community can use for gatherings and choir rehearsals and twelve step meetings, though it will be that too. For we know the church isn’t the building, even when it’s a glorious building. As it always has been, the heartbeat of Bloor Street United will be the congregation, not just as it gathers, but as it reaches into the community to be with people wherever they connect their lives to the deeper reality of a loving, blessing God. When Jesus invites us to fish for souls, he says, see all the beautiful fish there are. He says, Leave your nets and follow me. And for this we give God thanks. Amen.
Image Credit: Quidi Vidi, NFLD – S. Jennings