For There is always light
If only we are brave enough to see it
If only we are brave enough to be it.
So ended Poet Amanda Gorman’s amazing piece of poetry on inauguration day. I missed it live because we were in a council meeting but thanks to many wise friends I have on Facebook immediately quoting it, I found a video and watched it. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. She quotes from Micah’s vision of chapter 4 everyone under their vine and under their fig tree, a vision of peace and prosperity, no one will make them afraid.
It was a compelling performance, and while not specifically naming Jesus, I think quite resonant with Jesus’ call to us as disciples, especially for this week’s gospel.
He called to some fishermen, and immediately they followed him.
We’ve often understood this call to the fishermen to become fishers of people in one specific way: we are supposed to go catch people, whatever means necessary, for God. Meaning, instructing them in some way to become saved, to cross over from the bad side to the good, assuming if you aren’t in our club you must be on the wrong side of it all. to make people convert, whatever that means.
I’ve got good and bad news- I think we’ve got the whole message wrong. That’s both the good and the bad news.
Debie Thomas again helped me this week in her online commentary, journeywithjesus.com pointing out that in more than one place in the first testament, fishing is a metaphor that prophets employ for what God does to exploiters, those taking advantage of others, those so greedy it keeps them from doing what’s right and fair.
One example, from Amos 4:1-2 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, bring us some drinks! The sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness: the time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.
Fishing in this reference is not positive at all. It’s about God’s judgment.
She also pointed me to Ched Myers’ good work in the history of the time and place of Jesus, that John and James and Simon and Andrew were not fishing for their own livelihood, able to eat those fish and sell them to be able to provide for their families. The Roman empire was in charge of the fishing industry. So they got most of every catch. To fish for yourself was against those Roman laws. They were caught themselves in the web or net of being exploited, working so hard to barely survive. Not sitting under their own plants metaphorically but having to work for others’ wellbeing at their own cost.
So for Jesus, in the time of Roman occupied Israel and Palestine, to go up to his fellow Israelites who would know these images the prophets had used, and tell them to leave behind this kind of fishing, and fish another way, was to say, you know this isn’t working. You’re working long hours but you aren’t benefitting- you’re benefitting the exploiters, the occupiers. You know it’s not working. Follow me to try another way, another way in which God’s reign is near.
Or in other words- throw off this weight of the system of domination, find the bravery to go against it, follow me in the way – of where God is the one in charge, that kingdom or empire of God, trust in the good news, and let’s build something different. Which we know from reading the whole story, is what Jesus taught and lived- a way of healing not hurting, sharing not taking, forgiving not exacting payment, but yes living in justice and fairness. The fishing for people, is the opposite of trying to manipulate people into something inauthentic- it’s exposing the greed, the harm, so a new way can be built. That was in Jesus’ invitation to James and John, Peter and Andrew.
But first they needed to find that bravery, to leave the drudgery of what they knew, even leave their father in the case of James and John, and follow a wandering preacher around the countryside. But they did it. They found that courage.
I was reminded of a favorite movie of my family when I was growing up, the Blues Brothers. There’s a lot of profanity if you haven’t ever seen it and think it is wholesome because I’m mentioning it in a sermon, don’t misunderstand me. This is not a Disney film. But it has good music and it’s funny so we watched it a lot when I was a kid. And there is a scene, when Jake and Elwood are getting the band back together and they go find several of their former bandmates who have a gig in a hotel lobby where they play a toned down Bossa nova sound for the background enjoyment of a handful of people, wearing pink and mauve matching leisure suits. They are doing a version of what they know how to do, but under conditions they find a little insulting. But it’s paying the bills, right? And Jake convinces them with promises of being what they were, what they know they can be, the living, breathing backbone, the nerve center of a great rhythm and blues band. You can make that live, breathe, and jump again, he says. Follow me, he’s saying. Elwood adds in, we’re on a mission from God.
So they take that risk, from the known gig they have, where yes they are surviving but not really living, to the promise of something more alive, more real, more authentic to who they are, and yes with God’s mission mixed in. It turns out that Jake wasn’t totally telling the truth so the metaphor doesn’t go that far, but what I’m getting at is that step of faith. From go along to get along, to going all in.
So that’s the bad news, I think we’ve totally missed the interpretation of this passage, and it’s the good news. Because it turns out Jesus does not demand that you rudely insist to strangers that they convert to your religion. That is not what it means to make fishers of people. Breathe your sigh of relief- but is what Jesus really asks, any easier?
Jesus instead calls all of us to repent from lives lived according to the ways of greed and taking advantage of others and turn towards God’s ways that are about healing, sharing and lifting up.
In this alternative translation I use it says, trust the good news, instead of believe the good news. It made me wonder, what would it be like to really trust in God’s ways? This reign of God being in charge, all that we know that means?
Because I think a lot of Christians in this country try to have it both ways. Have some God in their lives and also make sure they have enough in the bank account to pay the bills and save for retirement, and then do a little bit of giving. Have peace in their heart but not have it make a difference in how they treat others. Say they believe in Jesus but not really care about how many are suffering across the world or down the street, at least not enough to do anything about it. I have to include myself here. I find myself overwhelmed and becoming numb to the stories of how this pandemic and the economic situation is affecting people. It’s just so much. What can we really do? What does it mean for us to go all in? to really trust God’s good news?
I know what we can’t do, close our eyes and put our hands over our hears to tune it out – that makes us like those cows of Bashan from Amos, who were trampling the needy. They put themselves first and everybody else last. So it turns out this conversion, which there is conversion here, the repentance Jesus calls people to, the turning around, changing of our hearts and lives: this conversion is not over the first time you meet Jesus. It is still going on. This day, 2000 years after Jesus walked on that lakeshore, however many years since you were born, baptized, or first met Jesus- this day is a day to hear Jesus’ call anew, the time has come. The reign of God is at hand, implement some real change in your life and trust in God’s message! Go all in.
Here are some questions for us to reflect on today:
How is Jesus calling me forward as a disciple today?
What is something I am called to leave behind in order to follow?
What is one thing I might do or start to do this week to answer Jesus’ call?
I am so honored and pleased to be working with our excellent administrative council, which met last week as I mentioned and many brought dreams for our church for 2021. Dreams to better serve our neighbors and live out these kingdom values, we will be narrowing down some choices and making some concrete plans later but I am just overjoyed that we are able, even in this pandemic and so much still going on, to be able to dream those kinds of dreams.
And so Ms. Gorman’s words speak so beautifully to this moment- things can seem really bad, covered in shade, where is the light?- it’s there if you’re brave enough to see it, it’s there if you’re brave enough to be it.
Be a Light, like being a healer, be a light like sharing with a neighbor, be a light like forgiving an old hurt. may we be brave like she invites us, and like those first disciples, choosing to follow Jesus, may we too bravely go all in, Amen.