Sunday, January 21, 2018

Mending Nets and Getting Out of Boats

Year B Epiphany 3 Mark 1:14-20 (Sermon during the Holy Eucharist celebrated prior to the Annual Meeting at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Sioux City, Iowa)
Today following the service, as you know, is our annual meeting, when we will think about, talk about, and pray about what God is doing here at St. Thomas, and how we are called to respond to what God is doing.

To put our discernment in terms of today’s Gospel, we can think about it this way.  Are we mending the nets? Or are we getting out of the boat? 
James and John were mending the nets with their father Zebedee.  But then Jesus came by, and it was time to get out of the boat.

What does it mean to get out of the boat?  To stop mending the nets and follow Jesus?  
Like a lot of other people these days, I probably spend too much time on social media – meaning Facebook, Twitter, and the like. But once in awhile, God seems to break through all of the noise on social media and hit me on the side of the head, and I was reminded of what following Jesus really means.

On Friday, I got a notice from Twitter that it was my 6 year anniversary of joining that social media site. I started with a personal account,  @RevJayDenne, where I make random observations, usually on spiritual or church matters, and @Virtual_Abbey, which was an already existing account I took over a few years later where I tweet prayers.      
You might have heard of Twitter but don’t know how it works - it is a social networking site kind of like Facebook, except you are much more limited with what you can say - you can only post short messages for others to see, and those short messages are called tweets.  

When you’re on twitter, you have to be brief.  Up until a few months ago, each tweet can be no longer than 140 characters – not words, mind you, but characters, meaning letters, spaces, or symbols.  That limit was recently increased to 280 characters, which still isn’t a whole lot.
So I’m always on the lookout for short, pithy sayings or prayers which can effectively be said in a tweet or two.  That notification of my 6 year anniversary on Twitter led me to look back to my very first tweets were back then, and I found one that I think is a pretty good summary of what it means to stop mending the nets and get out of the boat to follow Jesus.

It was quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor and theologian from Germany I’ve talked about before, who was executed at the end of World War 2 because of his resistance to the Nazis. The quote goes like this:  “When Christ calls us to come and follow, he bids us to come and die.” 
Those words became true for him in a literal sense, but when he wrote those words in his book “The Cost of Discipleship”, he was speaking about our baptismal calling to pick up our cross, and follow Christ.  Our old life dies, metaphorically speaking, and in its place, there is new life with Christ.

The events of today’s Gospel lesson occurred about 1,900 years before the time of Bonhoeffer, and just as he was a Christian during a dark time in Germany, it was a dark time for the people of Israel due to oppression from the Roman Empire and its local puppet regime – the regime of King Herod.  
The Jesus movement, to use the phrase from our Presiding Bishop, was just starting. John the Baptist had just been thrown into prison by King Herod.   

Did that oppression cause Jesus to keep quiet?  No.  Today’s Gospel lets us know that he went around region of Galilee with a message that could be summed up in a single tweet: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” 
In typically brief, Twitter-like fashion, Mark’s Gospel tells us how Jesus called Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, as well as James and his brother John.  Jesus’ call to both sets of brothers was the same- they were fishermen who were casting a net into the sea.  Along came Jesus, who said “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 

 And does the Gospel of Mark tell us that they took awhile to think about this invitation from Jesus, talk it over with their friends and family, and then pack up their belongings? 

No.  Mark uses the same word twice to describe how they reacted – they reacted immediately.  Simon and Andrew had cast their nets but they immediately dropped them.  James and John were mending the nets, but they immediately dropped them.  

The Bible doesn’t tell us what ultimately happened to these for fishermen who became disciples - Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John.  But the tradition of the Church tells us that three of the four of them paid the same price that Bonhoeffer did 1,900 years later. 
Simon Peter was executed in Rome during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Nero about 30 years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  He was crucified upside down because he did not think he was worthy to be executed in the exact same way as Jesus.

Andrew and James met a similar fate.  Andrew was executed in Greece.  James was beheaded during a later persecution by King Herod.  All of the rest of the disciples were also killed for their faith, except the final one were heard about today – John survived the persecutions, although the traditional belief is that he was banished to the remote island of Patmos.
Our circumstances are vastly different than those of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  For one, although in some parts of the world, people are martyred for their faith – think about those Coptic Christians from Egypt on Palm Sunday last year when their church was bombed – we didn’t face any imminent danger just for coming to church this morning.

And, as I alluded to at the beginning of this sermon when I talked about Twitter, the way of proclaiming the good news, and the way of living out our faith, is much, much different these days.  When Jesus said “follow me, and I will make you fish for people” there was no way to spread the Gospel except through word of mouth, or sending letters as Paul did a few years later.  Now, I can hit “enter” on a prayer Tweet, and it can be read instantaneously around the globe, which actually is confusing for some folks when I tweet Morning Prayer, and it is 2 o’clock in the afternoon where they live.
 But the call to us from Jesus is the same.  Follow me.  And, the task given to us by Jesus is the same.  I will make you fish for people.

 To do that, mending the nets won’t do.  We have to get out of the boat.  Come and die with me, Jesus says.  Die to that part of your selves which fights against Christ – that gives in to the motivations of the world around us that promote arrogance, greed, and self-interest. 
We have been given new lives in Christ – lives that are marked by humility and not arrogance; charity instead of greed, and service to others instead of self-interest.  We won’t be perfect, of course.  But as we heard from Psalm 62, God’s love is steadfast.  God alone is our rock, our fortress, our refuge, our salvation.  Our daily deliverance when we fall back into arrogance, greed, and self-interest comes from God – the God who our souls wait for in silence.  In hope.   

Toward the end of my report which you’ll find in your annual meeting packet, you’ll find a list of questions that I wrote for us to think about and pray about.  When you ask those questions in the context of today’s Gospel, that might sound like this:

-         How is God calling us to stop mending our nets and get out the boat so we can build upon our relationship with the other congregations of the Episcopal Presence of Siouxland?
-         How is God leading us to stop mending our nets and get out of the boat with regard to our relationship with other Christians – not just the ELCA, but all other Christians?
-         How is God urging us to stop mending our nets and get out of the boat so we develop deeper relationships with our brothers and sisters of other faiths?   
-         How is God nudging us to stop mending our nets and get out of the boat so we can feed the spiritual hunger of people who are not connected with a faith tradition at this time?
-         How is God asking us to stop mending our nets and get out of the boat so we can we be good stewards of our gifts from God in order to love and serve our neighbors?
-         How is God imploring us to stop mending our nets and get out of the boat so we can we be witnesses to God’s love in this world which seems to be so full of division, hate, and prejudice?

Fortunately for us, its not up to us to come up with the inner strength and fortitude to stop mending our nets and get out of the boat. Christ has already called us out of the boat and God has already made a covenant with you to help you live that new life in Christ - the covenant made at your baptism. The covenant where we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection – we die, as Bonhoeffer said, but we also live.  And that covenant life in our Prayer Book at page 304, so let’s pray the baptismal covenant together:    

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
    creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
    He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
        and born of the Virgin Mary.
    He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
        was crucified, died, and was buried.
    He descended to the dead.
    On the third day he rose again.
    He ascended into heaven,
        and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting.

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the
I will, with God's help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God's help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?
I will, with God's help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God's help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
I will, with God's help.

Thanks be to God – Amen.

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