Called to FollowIsaiah 9:1-4
The scene in Matthew opens with news of the arrest of John the Baptist. I always found it odd that Jesus calls strangers and they just leave everything and follow him. Iâ€™ve come to suspect that Jesus had already met all these guys who answer so quickly the call to follow out in the desert with John in the group asking questions around the future of the society, and the meaning of their own lives. Maybe they had spent late nights over a bottle of wine challenging one another, struggling with what living in Godâ€™s way meant for them in their context. But it was dangerous. John was already being watched. There were elderly parents like Zebedee to look after. There were mouths to feed. It was a neat idea BUTâ€”always the butâ€™s that we all use to avoid and to deny spiritual calling.
And so they had headed home. Meanwhile Jesus goes into the wilderness alone, on an intense retreat, where he struggles with conflicting voices about direction. We meet him today when he comes out of the wilderness. The first thing he hears is about Johnâ€™s arrest. “Jesus withdrew to Galilee of the Gentiles.” Interesting to note that the Greek word used here is the same word used to describe Mary and Josephâ€™s flight to Egypt with Jesus. It implies a flight from danger. Interesting also that Jesus’ ministry begins in a tactical retreat away from Judea.
The crisis of Johnâ€™s death seems to be the catalyst that got the whole Jesus operation going. Coming to Capurnaum, he finds people he has already met living as fishermen. This time he calls with greater urgency.
John is under arrest. The stakes are higherâ€”you canâ€™t just stay fishing under these kind of circumstances. You canâ€™t just continue business as usual. God needs us to show that there is a different way!…This time, they follow.
Galilee the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali l ocated on the northern tip of Israel were the first territories invaded by the historical oppressors of Israelâ€”Assyria during Isaiahâ€™s time and Rome in Jesusâ€™ day. Now Jesus chooses these territories to be the first to receive the good news of Godâ€™s reign come near. No wonder people steeped in Hebrew scripture heard Zebulun and Naphtali and made the association with Isaiahâ€™s promise of light that came in the darkness. The light of salvation has dawned on the people who need it most; on those who lived in darkness and longed for light to come. One could wonder who that would be in our own day? Where are we longing for light to come into our darkness? I can think of a few places and no doubt you can too.
Recent archaeology has uncovered some fascinating insights about what was happening in 1st century Galilee. In one generation Roman imperialism had come to dominate Galilee. In the generation before Jesus Herod the Great constructed a huge Roman style all weather port at Caesarea Maritima. Under his son Herod Antipas within 20 years and 20 miles of each other two Roman commercial cities were built: Sepphoris and Tiberias right on the Galilean Lake in the generation of Jesus. Taxation of the land was already heavy. Now the fishing industry on the Sea of Galilee, which had mostly been left alone in the past, was being taxed. It is no accident that Jesusâ€™ followers were fishermen.
Naturally resistance in Galilee rose up. There were three outright rebellions in and around Jesus time. In Jesus time there were two popular resistance movements, both of whose leaders were executed… the Baptism movement of John and the kingdom movement of Jesus. Both began in the 20s in the territory of Antipas of Galilee.
Jesus came out preaching, Repent!â€”turn your life around! The kingdom is close at hand! The Kingdom of Jesus is rooted in the tradition of biblical leaders who protested systemic injustice of the kingdoms that dominated their lives. They did so in the name of God and on behalf of the victimsâ€”slaves in Egypt, exiles in Babylon, exploited peasants in the time of the monarchy, and again in the time of Jesus, and the most vulnerable in all times -widows, orphans, the poor the marginalized. The kingdom asks â€œwhat would the world be like if our God were in charge of the world instead of Caesar? You might imagine this would draw attention.
So this call of disciples is not simply a cartoon story. It is an invitation to follow Jesus in a choosing to live in Godâ€™s way. And doing that in a culture dominated by the Roman Empire.
So that was then. What about now?
What might being called to follow mean now? What might fishing for people mean in our context? Does it still involve an invitation to choose to live in Godâ€™s way? Yeah I think it does. Does it still involve an invitation to live in ways that are counter to the values and powers of the prevailing culture? Again Yes I think it does.
When this congregation supported founding Dix Mille Villages as part of its mission, it chose to support FAIR trade. Trade concerned with making sure that producers were paid fair wages for their work and had sustaining economic relationships of dignity and respect. Trade that operated on a not for profit model. That flies in the face of western capitalism whose goal is to get the lowest labour costs, the cheapest cost of goods and sell at the highest profit. Thatâ€™s what globalization is about and why Canadian jobs are going to places where taxes, and labour and environmental laws are lax or non-existent. Those who work at Dix Mille Villages could tell you many stories of how the most marginalized around the world have been given a new lease on life, food for families, an opportunity to educate children, healthy communities because of sustainable income and fair trade.
As Isaiah said to a desperate people centuries ago: â€œThe people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, light has dawned upon them dwellers in a land as dark as death.â€ That light in Isaiahâ€™s time was about shattering the yoke that burdened, the slavery that kept them oppressed. Dix Mille Villages is one very concrete way we are part of shattering the yoke of injustice so that light can shine and create more justice and compassion in their communities. I believe this is faithful discipleship; faithful following in the Christ way.
Women from this congregation have banded together to support grandmothers in Africa burdened with raising their own grandchildren and often other peopleâ€™s grandchildren because the parents of these children have died from AIDS. It seems to me that when we do this, we are part of bringing small glimmers of light into dark and desolate placesâ€¦.surely in the spirit and tradition of Jesus who calls us to follow.
And of course our Kids Can Free the Children group has done astounding work in building schools and clean safe water supplies in Africa. Most of these kids are connected with our congregation. They are following in the spirit and tradition of Jesus making a difference with their lives.
Locally we support housing for the mentally ill through our Care Apartment programme, and missions in the inner city that work with refugees, and empower people on the edges to fullness of life. We have a healing programme in our church through Healing Pathways and many offer pastoral care and support.
Each one of you here today, if you think about your life, and choices you make about where you spend your time, your energy, your passion, how you make wise choices for the planet, and reach out and care for others I imagine you could identify many places where you are making the choice to follow Jesus. It probably isnâ€™t the way youâ€™ve normally thought about it, or even the language you might feel comfortable using. You might just talk about doing the right thing, or following your heart, or doing your bit. But cumulatively, my guess is they add up to a life of a choice to follow one who wants to bring light into darkness, justice into injustice, healing into pain and suffering, hope into despair, love into loneliness, trust and faith into fear, spiritual energy into places where Spirit is denied.
Interesting that Jesus did not try to do this all on his own. He knew he needed a community to support and sustain his ministry and mission. This community had an interconnection of relationships which had other interconnecting relationships that became like a net to gather people searching for God, longing for light and deeper meaning. And we are still given the mission both of choosing to live in Godâ€™s way, but also of reaching out to invite others into this vision and this ministry.
How do we do that? I found some insights from Michael Frost and Darren Rowse part of a team planning an experimental church in Australia, called the Living Room. It gives some insight for what Jesusâ€™ invitation to be a fisher of people might mean in our day,
Michael explains â€œI have a strong and growing relationship with fellow Living Room member Rob. We meet each week to hear each other’s stories, pray for each other, learn together, have fun together, and build our friendship. Our relationship is like one of the strands of a net.
Both Rob and I also have growing friendships with Clare and Jane and others who are a core part of Living Room. We are intentional about nurturing friendships that are deep and growing. When we symbolize these relationships with lines they form quite a “net.”
I also have another friend, Sam. Sam is not a member of our community and doesn’t call himself a follower of Jesusâ€”but I still pray for him, I call him up and see how itâ€™s “going,” I share life with him, and am building a relationship. Not because I want to “convert” him, but just because he’s a good friend.
If I allow my worlds to collide and I introduce Sam to my Living Room buddies and they are intentional about getting to know Sam then there is potential for Sam to become caught up in and even to become a part of the Net. Sam will see the way Rob and I operate in our friendship. He will hear the conversations we have about faith. He will hear about and even be invited to join in our gatherings.
The choice remains his as to whether he will move towards Jesus through this processâ€” that is his business and there is no forcing him. But rather it’s about creating an environment for building genuine connections, sharing life, and building community.
Interesting image interconnecting relationships as the net for inviting people. It means our relationships need to be carefully tended and nourished. Called to follow; a way that honours God, a way that heals, and nurtures and works for justice and compassion, a way that respects creation and values relationships A way that invites us to turn our lives around. Following in Godâ€™s way is a journey that calls for choice and brings change.