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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fishing For People

Epiphany 3A, 2011


Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 
‘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.’ 
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Last Sunday, we read the story in John’s gospel about how Andrew had been introduced to Jesus by John the baptizer. Andrew had spent a day talking to Jesus, and then went and found his brother, Simon, and brought him to meet this amazing new friend. I asked you to write on your bulletin the names of people you knew who needed to be introduced to Jesus. They are your Simons, I said, and God is calling you to be their Andrew.

I was asked this week about the difference between the call stories in John and in today’s lesson in Matthew. Sometimes its difficult to reconcile the chronologies of the different gospels – especially the differences between the Gospel of John and the other three. Most scholars believe John was written later, and is trying to give us a different picture of Jesus – one that is less an account of what Jesus did than what Jesus meant. That’s why sometimes, in John, it’s not clear whether it’s Jesus speaking or the author, John, commenting on what Jesus has said.

I like to think that the reason Simon and Andrew left their boats so easily when Jesus came walking by was because they already knew who he was. The brothers had met him back by the Jordan River, as Matthew said. Then they went back north to fish for a while. They talked, as they fished, about what Jesus had said, and who he might be. Maybe they had just said to each other, “You know, if Jesus ever asked me to be one of his disciples, I’d drop everything and do it,” when Jesus came walking by. And maybe they had told their neighbors James and John about Jesus, too.

Follow me, and I will make you fish for people. There must have been something in that invitation that spoke to a passion, a hunger, a dream in Simon and Andrew. Has that ever happened to you? Five and a half years ago, Vicki and I were shopping for a house. We had been with our real estate agent to about a half-dozen houses. A good agent, like ours, listens carefully to what you like and don’t like as you visit different homes. She asked us to look at an internet listing of a house, and I wasn’t particularly impressed. “I really think you need to look at this house,” she insisted. “Fine,” I responded, “I’ve got a meeting, but you can show it to Vicki.” Vicki walked through the door of our home and said the house spoke to her: “Please buy me.” Sometimes it’s not so much that we choose, but that we are chosen.

Maybe you fell in love with another person that way – something in that person called something deep within you. Most of us who have fallen in love (isn’t the term significant – falling?) discovered that the person we loved didn’t fit the description we would have written. Instead, that person was a surprise ever so much better than anything we would have designed for ourselves.

When Jesus called Simon and Andrew to fish for people, there must have been a hunger deep within the two fishermen that responded to the call. There was a hole in their souls that needed filling, and Jesus called them to the banquet.

There’s a hole in the soul of every single person who has ever lived. It’s there because God made us that way. Just as we were made with empty stomachs, there is a hole in the soul that needs filling.

John Caldwell was a merchant seaman in the Australian navy during World War II. At the end of the war he found himself stranded in Panama, with no way to get home to his wife in Sydney. He decided to buy an old sailboat and, even though he had never sailed before, cross the Pacific before typhoon season set in. He didn’t make it, and was caught in a terrible storm east of Fiji. His boat was wrecked, his food was ruined, and he drifted westward for weeks before washing ashore on an island in the Fiji chain. He was so hungry that he was reduced to drinking the burned motor oil from his engine. He was so desperate to have something – anything – in his stomach that he devoured whatever was at hand.

Now, you’ve probably never been so hungry that you’ve drunk motor oil. But how often have you stopped at Fas Mart or McDonalds or wherever to put a mass of high calorie, high fat, highly salted garbage in the hole in your belly? How many of us, this afternoon, watching the playoffs, will be eating broccoli and carrots and celery, and how many of us will be wolfing down the cheese and chili covered nachos? We do it all the time – we are so desperate for something to fill us that we’ll swallow anything.

And so it is with the hole in our souls. We fill that hole with high fat, high calorie, high salt spiritual junk, and are still starving. So, what can fill that hole?

There’s a clue in the current CarMax commercials running on TV. I love CarMax. We’ve bought four cars from them. But the commercial they’re running shows happy people getting in and out of cars in the CarMax parking lot to the tune of the Ingrid Michaelson song, Everybody. The lyrics are:

Everybody, everybody wants to love

Everybody wants to be loved

oh, oh, oh

CarMax is telling us that when you find the car you love, you will be loved. Or the house, or the boat, or the person, or the beer, or the team, or whatever. The purpose of commercial advertising is to convince you to buy something you don’t really need, because that thing will fulfill your life and make you happy forever. But the song under the commercial has it right, even though the full song is about a lost human lover: Everybody, everybody wants to love; everybody, everybody wants to be loved. That’s it, folks. That’s the hole in everybody’s soul. We are made to love, and to be loved.

But all earthly loves, even the love of family and friends, are temporary and imperfect. The love of family and friends is meant to shape us and point us to a perfect love that lasts forever. That’s why no matter how loving our family and friends are, we’re still looking for something else. We’re looking for a perfect love that loves us for the terrible messes only we know we really are.

Simon and Andrew heard something in Jesus’ call that sounded like perfect and forever love. We know from the gospel story that Jesus loved them in all their cluelessness, all their unfaithfulness and betrayal, all their sin and messiness. And he loved them forever, more than life, even after death. Only God can love like that.

So when Jesus called Simon and Andrew to come fish for people, love was the bait. Simon and Andrew and James and John just wanted to love, and wanted to be loved. The wanted to love more than their jobs and their lives and their families, and be loved by more than the same. There was a hole in their souls, a hole just like yours and mine. They were tired of spiritual junk food.

Brothers and sisters, every day you and I live, work, meet, and go to school with people who are so hungry for perfect and eternal love they’re killing themselves drinking motor oil. And, when they look at you and at me, they see the same attempt to fill the holes in our lives with garbage, so there’s not much about our affirmation of faith in Jesus they find very attractive.

Let’s stop living as if our self-important busyness, or the fate of our favorite team, or the size of our bank account, or the newest toy from whatever store is the answer to our eternal hunger. What would happen if we started living as if the love of God in Jesus ChristĎ€ really were what life is all about?

That’s the bait, folks. It’s what you and I are hungry for. Nothing else will do. Let’s start living like that, so other people will see something in us they’re missing. Then, all we have to do is tell our starving friends where we’ve discovered a banquet.

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