Friday, February 4, 2011

3 Epiphany, Year A, 23 January 2011

Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 271, 5-13;1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23
Getting Ready to Go Fishing, preached by Rev. Jason Haddox

Last weekend your Vestry on went on retreat in the Wilderness, down in south Georgia at the Honey Creek Camp and Conference Center.
We went to get know each other better—you have a new priest, I have a new vestry, we have new vestry members and officers, and we wanted to spend some time together.
We also went to acknowledge, and wrestle with the fact, that the world most of us grew up in is not the world we live in now.

Most of us remember the Blue Laws. Sunday was protected by the culture. No movie theaters or stores or unnecessary businesses of any kind were allowed to open on Sunday. No youth sporting event would have been scheduled before 1:00 on Sunday afternoon. Schoolteachers were encouraged not to give homework on Wednesday nights—because that was midweek prayer meeting and youth group night.

We are no longer receiving those kinds of subsidies from the wider culture. The church is one of many options on Sunday morning, and we are working in a time and place that is increasingly disinterested in institutional maintenance for its own sake. The fastest growing religious group in North American culture are those who label themselves: “None of the above.” They have little or no background or exposure to organized religion as such. This does NOT mean that they are “irreligious” or without a potential for deep faith. The fact is, we all worship something or someone. But these folks are suspicious, at best, of institutions.

How do we reach out and touch those folks? How do we speak to them, minister to them? That’s the big question we wrestled with, on our retreat at Honey Creek.

In our gospel this morning, Jesus has just come back from his own retreat, in the wilderness, after his baptism. You remember the baptism. In the Jordan, with John the Baptist, and the Spirit descending like a dove, and the voice from heaven: “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Immediately after which, out he goes into the desert for forty days and forty nights to be tested, to wrestle with the demons. And today he comes back to discover that John the Baptist is in prison, and the world as he knew it is no longer the world in which he lives.

He relocates to Capernum, a village near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, which will be his home base for a while. He’s already getting a reputation, and his message is consistent: The kingdom of God is at hand. It is near, it is here, do you see what is right in front of you? Open your eyes; clean the wax out of your ears; here and now God comes to bring you into his new way of living.

Jesus walks this morning by the Sea of Galilee. This is actually a large freshwater lake, along whose western shore a major highway connects Jerusalem and the south to the northern provinces. Fishing and farming are the major industries there, in Jesus’ time. Fishermen like James and John and Peter and Andrew had their own boats and equipment—they were professionals, businesspeople. They knew how to do things—in particular how to catch fish.

Jesus calls to them, with a strange and even bizarre proposition. Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.

The King James Bible puts it rather more colorfully: I will make you fishers of men. It’s actually a play on words…from “fisher-men” to “fishers-of-men” that we lose in the more contemporary translation.

Fish and fishing images come up throughout the gospels, perhaps most notably in the accounts of Jesus’ feeding miracles. With five little loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus is able to feed thousands of people. The early Christians cherished the story of that miraculous event, and understood it (among other things) as an interpretation of what happens at the Eucharist—a very small amount of “stuff” becomes the sign and vehicle of God’s abundant bounty and goodness.

We’ve all seen THE FISH on people’s car bumpers around town. In early Christian art, the image of a fish was frequently depicted—long before anyone dared to paint or sculpt the Cross, in fact. The Cross itself was still too raw; too contemporary as an active method of political execution. But the fish was an interesting alternative. In Greek, the common word for fish is Ichthus. This word (Iota; chi; theta; upsilon; sigma) can be read as an acronym for the phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” One of the early writers and teachers of the Church, a man named Tertullian, compared all Christians to smaller fish, following Jesus our great Ichthus in a “school..” Fish were often depicted in mosaic work on the floor of baptismal pools, playing on this image of Christ as the one we little ones follow through baptism.

Peter and James and John and Andrew follow him—without a single word, they drop everything and go. We don’t know if they’ve ever even met before—this could be the first time. He must have really been something special, for people to respond like that. But he didn’t beat around the bush either. “Come with me. Come and see.” A simple, direct invitation—and then they had the choice.

They chose to follow. And this morning, in this gospel, they’re getting ready for a big fishing trip that begins in a few verses. We’ll hear about it next Sunday.

I’m not much of a fisherman but I know that getting ready to go fishing takes some preparation. You want to lay out the equipment, gas up the boat motor, make sure there’s enough ice in the cooler for the beer we’re taking and the fish we’re bringing home. Where are we gonna go? Someone knows—they’ve been there before. They’ll navigate us safely there. Out on the water, look out for the right conditions…hopefully someone of the group knows what to look for. Ideally everyone does, but maybe some are still learning.

Getting ready is important. If you don’t have what you need (Bait, nets, mosquito repellent, beer) this will not be a good experience, you will not be able to do what you came to do. If we as St. Augustine’s do not have what we need (prayer, worship, Scripture, service to the community) in order to do the work, we will “miss the boat”—figuratively and perhaps more profoundly than that.

Last weekend the vestry of St. Augustine’s went on a retreat together. “Vestry Lock-In” as someone called it later. We were at a place where none of the vestry had ever been before, down in south Georgia on the marshy area behind the barrier islands. A holy place, a treasure of the diocese of Georgia. A place where fish leap out of the water during the Sunday Eucharist; where wild herons settle in the marshes and sing with the angelic choirs. We went there to get to know each other, and to learn some skills, and to get ready to go fishing.

Come, follow me, Jesus invites Peter and John, Andrew and James. And us, each one and all together. Come and let me show you how it’s done. Healing the sick, and casting out the powers of darkness, and teaching and telling folks “Something amazing is here—come and see. Open your eyes, turn around, heads up!” See what is already before you; welcome what has already arrived.

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