Next week I hope to blog more. Until then, old sermons is all I have to offer ...
Mark 1: 14-20
Epiphany 3, Year B
January 25, 2009 (Preached at All Saints, ESC)
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.’ *1As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
It’s hard to exaggerate how little I know about the art of fishing – which is sad, because I really admire good fishermen. And what I have a really hard time understanding is when people fish with the purpose of not taking home the fish – when they catch a fish and then just let the fish go. I’m talking about “catch and release.” In my limited understanding, “catch and release” is when you take some bait, deceive a fish, catch that fish, rip a few holes in that fishes lips, hold the fish, measure the fish, nearly suffocate the fish, so that you can admire the fish, only to hurl the fish back into the water to be humiliated in front of its family and friends. Now people don’t always plan to throw a fish back. Sometimes the decision release a fish is made on the spot. Strong fish are kept. But the weak, the small, the wrong class of fish, and any fish with a defect – they’re all thrown back. Now, I will admit that I’ve seen Finding Nemo a bit more often than your average twenty-seven year old male, but I can’t help but think that being caught and released is a pretty traumatic experience. I mean, don’t there have to be a few lakes out the fish suffer from low self-esteem and bad attitudes? Imagine the mental torture of being thrown back over and over again. Is it me? Am I not a keeper? Does no one want me? Because they took one look at me and they let me go again.
But in all seriousness, I am intrigued when people just let a fish go so freely. In fact, I’m intrigued when people can let anything go. Because as little as I know about the art of fishing, I know a whole lot less about the art of letting go. And yet if today’s Gospel tells us anything, it’s that the art of letting go is exactly what Jesus aims to teach us.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus approaches Simon and Andrew, James and John, and proclaims that the Kingdom of God has come near. In other words, Jesus announces the “good news” that God’s reign of peace and prosperity, justice and mercy, is right around the corner and that this is their chance to “believe in the good news” and to get in on the action. But to do so required letting go of their nets. And if one starts to imagine the sort of life that Simon and Andrew and James and John had grown accustomed to, and the totally unknown future that Jesus was inviting them into, one quickly sees how earth shattering today’s Gospel was and is. “Let go of the familiar things you’ve come to rely on to feel secure,” Jesus tells them. “Let go of your nets. Let go of your profession. Let go of your family. And follow me.”
Now, “letting go” wasn’t any easier for Jesus’ contemporaries than it is for us. In fact, the religious people in Jesus’ day relied on all sorts of things in order to feel secure: their ancestry, their land, their Temple, their laws, and even their status as God’s chosen people. And in part the reason Jesus was such a revolutionary rabbi is because he invited God’s people to let go of these things in light of the Kingdom of God now available through him. And when Jesus cast his net wide, he didn’t just bring in the strong. He also gathered the weak, the small, people from the wrong class, and people with defects. No one who’s come to Jesus has ever been thrown back. Anyone could get in on the action. But to do so, they had to follow Jesus. But following Jesus meant letting go of some of the familiar things they had come to rely on to feel secure. And it still does for you and for me.
And so the question I want to ask today is, what do we need to let go of? What safety nets are we clinging to? In other words, what familiar things have we come to rely on that make us feel secure? It can be anything – our whit, our intelligence, our collar, our sense of humor. Maybe it’s our money, our career, a certain relationship, or our pride. What keeps us from having a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ? What makes us feel secure? What is our net? Because the words Jesus spoke to four fisherman two thousand years ago he still speaks to you and to me: let go of your nets. And come, follow me.
And so what do we do? Well, to quote today’s Gospel we “repent and believe the good news of God.” And when I say repent, I’m not suggesting that we beat our breast and weep for our sins. Lent will come soon enough. But in the original Greek, the word repent means to change one’s mind. And so to repent and believe the good news of God is to change our minds about our need to cling to false props and to trust the Good news that our God is big enough, and good enough, and wise enough, and loving enough, and competent enough to take care of us.
Because if you think about it, the best fisherman in today’s Gospel lesson isn’t Simon or Andrew. It’s not James or John. It’s not Zebedee or the hired hands in the boat. It’s Jesus - passing along the Sea of Galilee and casting God’s net wide to catch all sorts of people for His Kingdom. Jesus is a great fisherman. But it’s not enough that we admire Jesus. Because the invitation Jesus extended to four fisherman two thousand years ago is extended to you and to me: let go of your nets. And come, follow me.
After all, “the time is fulfilled” and the kingdom of God is very near. And Jesus, the master fisherman, has already caught us in his net. And Jesus isn’t a catch and release fisherman. Because when he catches you, he wants to make you a child of God. When he catches you, he wants to make you a disciple. When he catches you, he wants you to let go of anything and everything that keeps you from experiencing the fullness of His Kingdom.
Because Jesus isn’t a catch and release fisherman. To paraphrase his words in the Gospel of John, “I cannot lose a single disciple whom the Father has given me” (Jn 18:9). He cannot let us go. Jesus will not let us go. And because of that, we can let go. We can let go of the false props we rely on that make us feel secure. We can let go of the shame and the pride and the hatred and the fear that far too often infect our hearts and guide our decisions. We can let go of anything and everything that keeps us from stepping into the unknown future that Jesus is inviting us into.
And so repent and believe the good news that our God is big enough, and good enough, and wise enough, and loving enough, and competent enough to take care of us. Let that be your security. Let that be your safety net. Jesus cannot let us go. And because of that we’re free. We are free to let go.