Fishing? Unity?
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

January 22, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

John has been arrested. The one proclaiming that God is God, not Caesar, not Herod, not Pilate, not anything else, has been thrown in jail. And now Jesus starts his ministry of Good News. And often, the Good News begins in Isaiah.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus reads from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry is described as and linked to Isaiah:

Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea,
across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the
region and shadow of death
light has dawned.

And so Jesus proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew is a good Jewish writer. One does not say the name of God. One does not write it. You substitute the words Ha’Shem, “The Name” for God’s name, and everyone knows who you are talking about. So when Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven has come near, it is not just some heavenly territory. It is God. It is God’s messenger, in John, and now in Jesus. It is God’s ways, found in the healing and the release and the good news and the forgiveness and the recovery.

And the word repent means turn. Turn from what you are doing and practice healing and release and good news and compassion and forgiveness and mercy and justice and recovery. Turn from what is less than heaven and be heavenly towards one another. Turn from what is less than loving and love one another.

But what is up with fishing? Fishing for people?

It may help us is to remember that every allegory, every metaphor, every image and illustration can go only so far and ought not go any further. For example, by fishing for people, does Jesus mean gathering them in, like a fisherman does with his nets? Sounds reasonable. But does he then mean gutting them, packing them in salt and cooking them? No, that is too far.

Like the image of the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus as the Good Shepherd takes care of and defends his people as a shepherd does for her sheep. But if we extend it to fleecing the flock, we take it too far. Sadly some pastors in this world have taken it this far and the people and the church and the Gospel have suffered because of it.

But let us extend the image of Jesus calling fishermen, making them fish for people, and extended it to what we do? Would this stretch the image too far?

What if he came to a cook and said, “Follow me, and I will make you cook on behalf of the hungry who have no money but need food?” Sounds like a community dinner.

What if he came to an accountant and said, “Follow me, and I will make you help those who cannot seem to get their household budgets in order?” Sounds like Housing Services.

What if he came to us, each of us, with our many and various gifts and talents and skills and ways, and said, “Follow me, and I will make ways for you to use these on behalf of your neighbors. For compassion. For community. For lifting people up.

It begins to sound like our baptismal vows:

  • We promise, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciple, to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best we are able.
  • We promise, according to the grace given us, to grow in the Christian faith and to be a faithful member of the church of Jesus Christ, celebrating Christ’s presence and furthering Christ’s mission in all the world.

By the grace and gifts given us, with the help of God, always with the help of God, we use what we know, and maybe learn a bit of what we don’t, and we serve others with compassion and grace.

And when we serve others by loving God, when we love others by serving God, people will gather.

Growing up, I remember a local, large, conservative church that used to broadcast on the public access channel. They were divided. They were undergoing a major upheaval and they were just about to split. Or maybe they were already splitting and it was not publically known yet. And the preacher was preaching on this passage from First Corinthians.

What I remember from that sermon was not good news. What I heard was an attempt to get everyone to agree with the pastor. And if you did not agree with the pastor, you were grieving the Holy Spirit. If you did not agree with the pastor, you were hurting Jesus. And if you did not agree with the pastor, you were probably gonna get named, blamed and publically shamed. What I also remember is that the church still split.

Turns out naming, blaming and publically shaming does not tend to get people to change their minds. But then again, I’m not sure it ever has.

Unity, as Paul writes in this letter, is not about everyone being exactly the same. How boring would that be? It is not about all of us thinking the same, acting the same, believing the same. This is not Stepford Christianity.

Nor is it all about agreeing with the pastor.

Paul’s point of unity for the church is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is not conformity. This is the love of God in Jesus Christ, given beyond any reasonable or worldly measure.

It is a faithfulness to love, though it looks like foolishness to the world, that is faithful even to the cross. A willingness to love beyond all threats of pain or shame, “what foolishness!” the world might say, that loves people into new life, that rescues the lost, that brings home the ones who have wandered.

And it is in the loved poured out for you and me that we are unified. It is in our desire to share that love with one another and our neighbors that we find our community.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Thanks be to God. Amen.