Epiphany 3: Let’s go fishing

 

Sometimes the message we have to give isn’t the message people want to hear. Sometimes we have to protect ourselves as the old adage ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ becomes dangerously close to the truth. Sometimes it isn’t the message but the way in which it is given. Sometimes the message still has to be told no matter how dangerous or uncomfortable it is to hear.

John‘s message was a dangerous one: Repent for the kingdom of God is near. The message that John gave and his determination to give it no matter how well it was received landed him in prison. But the message was too important for it be incarcerated with him.

Jesus is just beginning his ministry. He has prepared himself with prayer in the desert. He has fought temptation and overcome it, and now he is ready to take on the world. The first piece of news he hears though, is that John, the one who was to go before him, has been silenced. The message of the kingdom has been stopped. Or has it?

Instead of frightening Jesus into silence and away from his ministry, Jesus hears the news that John has been arrested and he picks up the prophetic baton. Jesus’ time is now.

Jesus transform himself from the carpenter’s son into the fisherman: moving from Nazareth to Capernaum by the Sea and seeks those who will be able to help carry the baton, those who will join him in trawling the ‘seas’ of contemporary Israel for those fish who will recognise the kingdom when it comes.

It seems only natural that Jesus’ first disciples then are fishermen. Not ironic fishermen, not virtual, hobby, fishermen, but the real, smelly, scaly, deal. Simon and Andrew are, at that very moment, casting a net into the sea. They are working together to cover a larger area than one man and his rod might do, and Jesus calls them to follow him, which, unbelievably, they do, leaving their net behind them so that someone else may benefit from the catch of the day. As Jesus moves on, with the two fishermen trailing behind him, he spies two other fishermen – this time they are mending old nets as Jesus calls them to something new: fishing for people. They leave their father sitting in the boat as they follow Jesus.

Perhaps these fishermen were simply looking for a new adventure when Jesus called them? Perhaps James and John had been arguing with their father as they sat in the boat tediously mending nets, again, when Jesus called? And yet we know that these men returned to fishing at various points in their life – they didn’t hate fishing, it’s just that they loved the sense of adventure that Jesus offered.

We are in the season of Epiphany, the season of revelation, of understanding fully, of ‘aha!’ When Jesus approached these four fishermen, these four disciples, he was  revealing something of himself. John the Baptist had always said that he was preparing the way for one greater, and now here came one, in John’s wake, bearing the same message, but delivering it with a sense of….divinity?

What new revelation will we discover about Jesus this year? What ‘aha’ moment will we have as we listen to the words of John the baptist ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near’.Will we take that message on board and allow it to lead us away from the broken tangled old nets we keep trying to mend, and into something new and full of life and hope? Will we keep trawling the same waters expecting something different, or will we abandon those nets and cast our energies elsewhere, in our response to Jesus’ calling of our lives?

Read the gospel story here

Something to watch:

 

Something to think about:

  • Is there anything as mundane as mending old nets in your life?
  • Is there anything  you would like to change?
  • Is there anything you need to change?
  • Jesus carried John’s message – what do you think that message might be for us today, as individuals, as churches, as nations?
  • How can we be transformed into ‘fishers for people’ in our culture?

Something to pray:

Pair up with someone to pray for each other in your ‘work’ places as you seek to go fishing.

Advertisements

Who do you say that I am? (Washing your mouth out with soap and water!)

soapI wonder if you ever suffered the consequences of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and having to eat soap as a punishment? This is still an effective anti-dote to bad language or unkind words, and even easier to administer with liquid soap!

The first of our Bible readings for this Sunday comes from James’ letter to the early Christian church, and in it he warns how dangerous the tongue can be. He likens it to the reins on a horse or a rudder on a ship, because whatever this small part of the body does, can direct and guide in the right or wrong direction.

For this reason, James says, that not many should be teachers (preachers): it is so easy to get things wrong, to lead people astray, and so those given the gift and responsibility of teaching will be judged the most harshly. I am feeling particularly daunted as I prepare for this week’s sermon. However, teachers are not the only ones who need to be careful what they say – we can all use words to encourage each other or to put each other down. We may know that we should be doing the former, but gossiping and griping about others is so easy to do, and can comfort us, entertain us and even make us feel more powerful. However these are not holy things to be doing. James writes with great feeling – how can we use the same tongue to praise God and then curse other people (especially members of our own Christian families)? Remember that the James who wrote this is Jesus’ brother, who, like Jesus, was brought up to be a good Jewish boy, to know and adhere to all the customs and traditions, the laws of the faith. One of the key things for the Jewish people was, and in many cases still is, ritual cleanliness. Strict Jews would not even eat from a bowl that had not been properly cleaned, and there were a huge raft of rules about who was clean and who was unclean and what could turn a person from one to the other. When we speak foul of someone we become unclean, and our mouths are not worthy to praise God.

Even more serious is the thought that when we curse anyone who is made in the image of God we are cursing not only the image, but God also, and that is really serious. James is very strong on this ‘this ought not to be done,’ he writes.

Perhaps as we read this we are aware that we have polluted our mouths, that we need to, spiritually speaking, wash our mouths out with soap and water. Perhaps we need to repent of some of the things we have said either to people or about people. We need to find ways of preventing ourselves from falling into the trap of cursing those whom we may have been hurt by or offended us, or we just don’t like for whatever reason. I have found that praying for someone I struggle with helps  – at first it is really difficult, and my prayer times are like those of the psalmist who first pours out his anguish and bile to God, before being able to remember that God is in charge, and to finally be able to ask God to bless the individual. It also helps me to remember that even though I may struggle with a particular person, God loves them at least as much as he loves me, and that needs to be respected. After all, who am I to argue with God’s judgement?

To avoid gossip, it is easiest to avoid situations where we will be confronted with it. There are a whole raft of magazines which only exist to share ‘celebrity gossip’ – but gossip is gossip and I don’t need to know it. We can choose our reading material to be uplifting or degrading, the choice is ours. We also have the freedom to walk away from conversations in the pub or on the school gate which are unhealthy to our spiritual lives. We may be tempted to listen in – and as Christians there is nothing like the temptation to do so in order to pray for the individual at the centre of the gossip – but gossip is still gossip no matter how we treat it. If we don’t want to speak it, we need to be careful not to hear it.

Our gospel reading colours in this teaching. Jesus asks his disciples ‘who do you say I am?’ Often we understand this passage as who do you think I am – but there can be a difference between thinking something and saying something. At the time Jesus was asking this question, to be known as a ‘Messiah’ or to follow one was dangerous. Within living memory one such messiah had been put to death along with all his followers. They too were crucified, and the crosses lined up would have stretched from Wells (where I was ordained deacon) to Bath (where I was ordained priest). These were dangerous words to speak, and Peter is the only one courageous enough to do so. However, almost immediately, Peter falls to temptation. As Jesus begins to teach about his forthcoming death, Peter echoes the words of Satan when he tried to tempt Jesus out of his mission, when he was preparing in the wilderness. James speaks of the tongue being like a fire that can get out of hand – a fire kindled by the flames of hell. Jesus is quick to quench the fire as he speaks harshly to Peter, and as he warns them not to speak out loud Jesus’ true identity.

Jesus and his disciples have now turned towards Jerusalem and are travelling towards the cross. Jesus teaches his disciples that they too need to pick up their crosses and to deny themselves. What does it mean to deny ourselves? It means to give up on protecting our own rights and seeking to fulfil our responsibilities instead. It means to let go of hurts and grudges even if, especially if we feel we have a right to nurture them. It may even mean to let go of the hopes and plans that we have for the future, for fulfilling our own destiny, and letting God take charge.

As we consider these two passages we need to consider what we need to let go of; what needs to be confessed; what needs to be cleansed. We need to consider whether we are ready to pick up our crosses, and if not, how can we make ourselves ready.

You can read the passage from James’ letter here and the gospel passage here.

Music to listen to:

Some questions to think about:

  • What was the worst childhood punishment your received – was it fair?
  • Who do you say Jesus is? Have you ever been asked this question and what was your response?
  • Do you think Jesus was fair to speak to Peter the way he did?
  • How can we heed James’ words about gossip?
  • How can we train our hearts so that our mouths do not speak ill?
  • Consider what it might mean as individuals and as a culture if when we curse or criticise another human being we are cursing or criticising God.

A prayer:

Redeemer Christ, we come to acknowledge you again as our Lord and Saviour; to declare our faith in you as the one who sets us free, delivering us from all that holds us captive and denies us life.

Yet we come also knowing how easily we turn serving you into serving self, being happy enough to receive but reluctant to give, ready to profess allegiance when it suits us but unwilling to take up our cross should following prove costly.

Equip us, then, through our worship, to honour you not just with protestations of loyalty but above all with lives committed to your kingdom and lived in obedience to your will.

In your name we pray. Amen.

Nick Fawcett

Worshipping Together as a Team: Saying What you Mean and Meaning what you Say.

Jesus speaks of ‘the tradition of the elders’. Earlier he had declared all foods as being ‘clean’ and now he speaks against the rituals of purity which the Jewish elders hold so dear. The traditions of the elders are their own teachings – additions to the Mosaic law which simply confuse the purity of the original teaching, a mass of legal detail which the Pharisees had added to the Torah. These would have been taught by word of mouth from Rabbi to disciple, moving ever further away from God’s truth and purpose. No wonder Jesus was trying to break through them to the heart of God’s intentions.

There are a mass of rules in the opening books of the Bible, rules intended to keep the Israelites clean and safe from harm in a very unsanitised world. But these rules had become divisive separating those who are ‘in’ from those who are ‘out’. Jesus seeks to put an end to this – earlier he declares all foods are ‘clean’ and now he declares that the ritual  hand washing and pot washing are superfluous to a true relationship with God. What God desires, is a heart that is clean, a motive that is pure. Let’s face it, the dirtiest hands often belong to those who work the hardest. I wonder how calloused Mother Theresa’s hands were, how much dirt was ingrained in her finger prints through acts of love.

That is the purity that Jesus is seeking, that is the purity which pleases God.

James, believed to be the brother of Jesus, who despite growing up with him, only fully understood his true identity after his resurrection, speaks quite harshly about those who speak profoundly but are unable to fulfil their own teachings with actions. We could call it hypocrisy.

James speaks about being generous in our giving, about being eager to listen to the other’s perspective and slow to anger. James speaks about being thoughtful in our ‘religion’ and above all to care for the orphans and widows in distress – very apt for our times.

It seems to me as if James was speaking into what it means to become a team of churches rather than individual parishes. If we are to be honest, our team of 7 parishes , 3 separate groupings, has struggled to let go of our own needs and identity and to fully embrace what it means to be one team with a single Team Rector: we have not always been generous to each other and each other’s needs, we have often fought our own corner, instead of the common good. We have struggled to work out who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.

We are currently putting together the paperwork to recruit a third member of clergy to the Team, and I have to tell you that it looks very good on paper – so good I am tempted to apply for it. We have to be careful that we ‘mean what we say and say what we mean’ to quote Alice in Wonderland. Over the past 6 years of the Team’s Conception we have grown closer together, let us continue to do so. Let us continue to be generous and loving towards each other, open in our communication and acting as one, not to fight for our own little corner of England, but for God’s word and truth, the love of Jesus for each and everyone, to be known far and wide.

Read Jesus’ words here and James’ words here

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑