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Dragnets - Sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

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Whether we are called from a sea, from a bay or from where we are, the call to follow Jesus and be fishers of people may be heard within or without.    

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

January 22, 2017 - 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany  

"Registered".  Text is from Matthew 4:12-23

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God. 

This is it, sisters and brothers, the beginning of Jesus' ministry, at least according to the Gospel of Matthew.  For some context, this passage directly follows Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, so withdrawing to Galilee means going back from the point of wilderness and returning to a place with villages and people. 

The prophecy that is described comes directly from our reading from Isaiah, and Zebulon and Naphtali are traditional names for two of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the land that is designated for them is also generally considered to be the west and southwest of the Sea of Galilee. 

The proclamation that Jesus proclaims, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" is mainly a repeat of what John the Baptist was proclaiming, which we find in Matthew 3, but when Jesus says it, it takes on a more literal meaning, because of who he is, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. 

Then we have the amazing first calling of the disciples. First Simon, who becomes Peter, and his brother Andrew, then brothers James and John, all of whom immediately drop everything and follow Jesus by simply heeding his words, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of people." 

Capernaum 015 (1920x1440).jpgAnd they followed him, joining him as he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, learning from him and watching him teach, perform signs and miracles and proclaim good news to all of the region. 

Now, my sisters and brothers, I have just returned only Friday from a two week pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and I have to tell you, the intensity of the schedule, which kind of matches up with the quick procession here in the text, afforded me and Michael and everyone that traveled with us opportunities to see and do things we could not have possibly imagined doing had we simply booked our own trip and gone on our own. Part of what this did for me is it took our scripture, which already holds so much meaning for me and brought it out of the two dimensions of the written word and out of my imagination and it placed every single encounter, text and movement into a place and time that I could. 

And furthermore, seeing this text in the context of the modern living world of Israel and Palestine also gave me a new perspective on both the life and times of Jesus, his disciples and all those people who were simply character accounts and provided me with not only a sense of Jesus the man but also brought everyone else to life in my imagination, like Lazarus coming up from the dead. 

The land of Zebulon and Naphtali contain all those cities and towns such as Capernaum and Nazareth, and we still call the region Galilee today. The Sea of Galilee is the very same body of water that Jesus called disciples from and the body on which he walked. And being on a boat on the Sea, and walking along its shore, I am only saddened that I cannot find the words to describe what the actual experience was like, having read the texts over and over again. 

If any of you have been to Lake Tahoe, there are similarities in appearance to the Sea of Galilee, but they are not the same. Imagine the waters and mountains all around it, but the mountains are not snow covered like Tahoe, and the water is not a placid deep blue. The Sea of Galilee, which really is just a lake, is never too deep...its average depth is only around 80 feet. 

This is where Peter and Andrew and James and John made their livelihood as fishermen. And where they caught the fish which we call today Redbelly tilapia, also known as St. Peter's Fish. Our group had lunch at a restaurant that serves it. The fish is fairly round, and they serve it whole, and fried, as they likely may have in ancient times, or you can have a filet. It is indeed mouth-watering. And the fish would have been plentiful at most times. 

Capernaum, where the fishermen lived, was a village on the rather large size of maybe about 2,000 people during Jesus' time. It would become the center of Jesus ministry as he moved back and forth around Galilee, and make no mistake, even as Peter and Andrew dropped their nets, they did not completely disappear from the lives of their families, which would have been impossible in those days in a village of only 2,000 people. I looked upon the ruins of a site which in all likelihood would have been the home of Peter's mother-in-law where he likely dwelled with his wife. And it likely that Jesus spent time there as well as other parts of the town. 

The site eventually became one of the first gathering places for Christians and eventually a Byzantine church, Capernaum was inhabited until around the 11th century at which point it was abandoned. Today, however, the ruins of the city remain for us, and a lovely church sits above the ruins of home of Peter's mother-in-law and the Byzantine church, with the site below open and able to be viewed. 

We learned about the nets that gathered up the fish and how they were cast. There were several different styles of nets and the brothers likely stood out in the shallow water and dragged the nets in, bringing their catches along with them. The metaphor of making them fishers of people was apt, because the way the church grew in the early days by the power of the Holy Spirit would have been in the kind of numbers that we would see fish on a day of good catch. 

But what does this mean for us, today? The life of Jesus is brought out from two dimensions to three for me and Michael, but yet the question remains, how do we live life with his command? What does it mean to be fishers of people. If you lived, like I did, growing up around the more evangelical sort of Christians, becoming fishers of men felt like it meant haranguing someone until they relented and said that they take the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior. And boom, another fish. Move onto the next one. 

But that doesn't work in our secular society. Most people view that sort of dimestore evangelism with increasing suspicion, relating the people who perform it with judgmental ideologues who reject people for being who they are, and are particularly harsh toward LGBTQ people. They don't want to be harangued and harassed and told that they are not worth anything until they accept Jesus Christ as 

their personal lord and savior, as if declaring those words as a magic spell that releases the bearer of them from any further culpability. 

For me, walking the life that Jesus calls us to do, making us fishers of people means acting like Jesus acted. It means making difference in people's lives so that those who witness the signs and wonders of humans behaving toward other humans with compassion and love will know what it means to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

While Jesus the man had an amazing ability to capture the hearts of these people along the shores of Galilee, many of us long for someone to whom we can give our lives and future to entrust it with. That Jesus does not call us from the shores of a sea, or a Bay, but he does call us to be the stewards of his world with him, showing love and kindness to one another. We need only look within to hear his voice. Jesus exists in our hearts, and when we receive his body and blood we confirm that he is our Lord and master. And his body exists as the whole Church, and with our fellow followers of Christ, those we move through this world with who have also been called to become fishers of men, we can finally understand how that lovingkindness that God empowers us to show helps proclaim the good news of Christ in the world. 

This, my sisters and brothers, is our Galilee. The power of Christ is within us, let us drop the nets that weigh us down and cast God's love into these waters, knowing that it is God's Holy Spirit and not anything that we ourselves do, that draws his holy people to us. 


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on January 22, 2017 5:00 PM.

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Foolishness of the Cross - Homily on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 is the next entry in this blog.

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