Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sermon for Year B Epiphany 3

Repent, Believe, Follow, Fish

We are in the month of January.
It is a new calendar year.
We all know what that means.
Lots of new year resolutions still fresh on the page.

Pick up any January issue of most magazines and you’ll find things like:
Dr. Oz’s 10 step check list for ultimate wellness.
5 things to do to improve your relationships
4 tips for a more beautiful you
7 Home Improvements even YOUR husband can do!

I pondered what kind of magazine front cover
Jesus and today’s gospel reading
might encourage.

Four ways to share the good news


Jesus calls us to repent and to believe in the good news.
Jesus calls us to follow and be transformed into fishers of people.


The order of those actions is quite fascinating.
This is not necessarily the order we do things in our lives—
or in our churches.

Our tendency is go immediately to work, to start fishing--
long before we have done the work of repenting.
The word repent—metanoia in Greek—means to turn around.
To change. To go a different way.

When Jesus calls us to repent
he is calling us to be transformed into different people.
to let go of our old selves
and to fully embrace our identity as children of God.

Let go so that we might become who we really are created to be.
It may sound frighteningly Baptist—
But we really are all sinners.
Sin means anything that separates us from God.
It can be addiction or self-centeredness or anger or hate or jealousy…
I saw a bumperstick this week that said:
Humankind. Try being both.
That might be a good first step towards repenting.

Jesus is not calling us into doctrine or even discipline.
Jesus calls us to believe in the good news.
To believe that God is good ALL the time.

I had a professor in seminary who taught pastoral care.
He reminded us all semester long to look for God’s goodness
in every situation—in illness, in despair, even in death.
If we open your eyes we will see that God is always present—
in some small gesture, in some random action,
in a person who appears at just the moment you felt that all was lost.
Believe in the good news.


Why do we come to church?
Much of our modern American world doesn’t, you know.
They sleep in. They go to Starbucks for coffee and the NY Times.
Why are we here?
There is no one answer to that question but perhaps the reason
we are here is
because we heard a voice calling us to follow.
Maybe it was the voice of God or angels or maybe it was the voice
of our mother or a neighbor or a friend.
We come together as a community
because that is one of the main lessons in the Bible.
God never encourages lone rangers.
Even Jesus doesn’t set out to do ministry by himself.

IMMEDIATELY Jesus comes and calls others to join him.
Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, John and James.
And over time he will call others
And somewhere along the way he called you
And he called me.

We come to church to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We come to church to listen for how we might follow,
To pay attention to the words and the music and the prayers
And the beauty of this place
And the beauty in each person.
We follow so that we might make the tracks that others will follow.
We follow so that others might find their way as we find ours.


I will make you fishers of people.

I know I have shared this phrase before==and no doubt I will share it again--
because it is one of my favorites.
The definition of evangelism
is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
That’s the way theologian DT Niles puts it.

If we are transformed by God’s love for us.
If we have eyes and ears and hearts that are open to the good news
so that we can believe in the goodness and mercy of God.
If we have been courageous enough to let go of all that binds us
And follow Jesus,
Then we become fishers of people—
So that we too might share the good news --
The good news that there is room in God’s boat for everyone.

We too become fishers of people
because we feel called by God to share the good news.
Because we feel blessed by God
So much and so abundantly
That we stop paying attention
to people’s faults and shortcomings—
(And yes, we all have those)
And we begin to focus our hearts on the amazing grace
That blesses us all.

But we don’t start with fishing.
We don’t even start with following.
We don’t even start with belief.

We start by repenting.
We start by making changes in our own lives.
We start by opening ourselves to God so that God might turn us around,
transform us, save us.

Jesus did not ask Simon and Andrew and James and John
To add one more task to what they are already doing.
Jesus calls them into a whole new way of being.
Jesus calls them to leave behind, to let go of their old way of life
And be made new, completely changed,
Absolutely transformed.

The recent movie Billy Elliot tells the story of a young boy
growing up in a rather rough and rowdy working class neighborhood in the north of England.

Quite unexpectedly, the boy—Billy Elliot—discovers
that he loves classical dance—and that he is a very fine dancer.

Billy knows his family well enough
to know that his gifts as a dancer
are not going to sit well with his father.
His father cannot understand why any boy would want to dance.
Billy is becoming part of a world that is alien to his father—
And nothing frightens a parent more.

Part of what we dream for our children
Is that they will set out on their own seas,
Go their own ways,
Make their own lives.
Sometimes however when that happens
We are shocked and discover that
Deep inside we rather hoped they would stay close by,
Hug the shore along with us.

It could not have been easy for Zebedee
To watch his own sons, James and John,
Leave him behind
As they set out to follow Jesus.

Yet by the end of the film, Billy Elliott’s father travels to London
and watches his son leap and turn and dance with beauty and joy
and the father takes delight and pride in his son,
in his child Billy.

We don’t know what happens to Zebeddee.
Did he become a follower of Jesus?
Or did he shake his head and turn back to mending his nets?

Just like Andrew and Simon, James and John,
Billy Elliott had to start with change.
He had to embrace a new way of life that was as alien to him
as it was to his father.

Billy had to embrace how God was working in his life in new ways.
He had to see the “good news” that his dancing brought.

Billy had to follow a path
that was not the usual path of boys in his neighborhood
or those in his family followed.

And in the end, it is not only Billy that is transformed
but all those around him

That is what fishing for people is all about.
When we ourselves are transformed
so are those around us.

Fishing requires heading out into the deep water.
The deep water is where we take that long honest look at ourselves
And our own lives.
And deep waters can be terrifying.
But if we don’t go into the deep water our nets will remain empty.

Jesus called THEM.
Jesus calls US.
We travel together.
We sail on deep seas together.
We rest safely in God’s arms together.
We realize how wide open and all embracing those arms are
and we call to others to come into the embrace.


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