Christ Centered Resources

Following and Fishing

Rev. Ed Searcy

Matthew 4:12-23
University Hill United Church : Thu, January 21, 1999
"When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee." The tale is so familiar to us that it is easy to miss it … easy to miss the storm clouds brewing on the horizon of this text. An arrest. Mug shot. Jail. And a withdrawal. Jesus hightailing it away from the Jordan. Just how far can he get from Jerusalem? That would be Galilee … yes, Galilee. Imagine such a time. Imagine learning that the president of the seminary has been taken into custody, charged with sedition. Imagine discovering that a certain professor of Old Testament has been incarcerated and all of his writings banned. Knowing that your name and address are listed in the seminary data base … looking at your shelf, lined with books that are to be burned, you, too, might choose to withdraw, to escape the dragnet that must be sure to come. You, too might hightail it away from the centre … and take up residence on the margins. Which means, that you would relocate as far away from here as you possibly could, to the fringes of America. To "Galilee of the Gentiles" … south of the border, perhaps or to the western regions of Canada even. Because, you see, no one will bother to look for you there. And there … there you can continue what John has only just begun. Jesus withdraws to Galilee because the authorities and the purveyors of culture take little notice of what happens there. But there is another reason that he leaves the centre and takes up residence at the edges. Jesus makes his home in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali … an area of odd place names and even odder accents … he moves to a region of pluralities on the border because it is time … time for light to shine in the darkness … time for the fulfillment of God’s ancient promise … time for those who live beyond the Jordan, time for those who do not belong to be welcomed in … to be given citizenship in God’s realm And this is what Jesus says to everyone he meets in this community of outsiders: "Turn around … come in … heaven’s borders are open to you now, God’s homeland is expanding … citizenship is extended to all who seek it." For many … for oh so many … it is good news of great joy. Imagine those who find themselves at the end of that endlessly long line at the border when Jesus says: "From now on we don’t begin with the ‘As’ any longer … but with the ‘Zs’." These new citizens are astounded by the legislation that governs this new community … amazed that it is the law in this strange new world to love enemies, to renounce vengeance and to forgive debts. They have never heard of a kingdom in which the oath of allegiance includes the words: "I pledge that I will not judge the speck in my neighbour’s eye. I promise never to worry about my life." Is this why the fishers drop their nets by the side of the sea and follow him? There seems no other reason. It cannot be because they have spent hours with Jesus learning creeds and confessions. There isn’t any time for such careful preparation. Jesus says "Come on" … and they go "immediately". They do not witness a miraculous haul of fish. Jesus offers no credentials that can prove his claim. There is no rational reason to believe that he is telling the truth. He simply announces that heaven’s borders have been opened wide … so wide that the Kingdom’s map must be redrawn to include the Zebuluns and Naphtalis of the world. Jesus’ preaching is the declaration of independence of a nation in which the meek and the grief stricken discover blessing and where the poor and the persecuted are ranked, not at the bottom, but at the top of the ladder. Peter and Andrew cannot get there fast enough. James and John are hard on their heels. Right behind are women and children, outcasts and strangers, tax-collectors and traitors, the broken and diseased of every sort. They hear ‘follow me’ and aren’t sure whether to describe it as an invitation or as a command. It draws them … it draws us … the way the magnetic pole inexorably draws a compass needle to its self. They are drawn in to this new world, captivated by the One who announces its constitution. When their families cry out "why" … when neighbours ask for reasons, for proof that Jesus can be trusted with their lives and with their deaths they have none to offer … except the testimony of their own days. It is their lives which offer the only proof that is to be found. Their resurrected lives which have been caught up in the nets of the Kingdom … caught up with all manner of fish in the sea: demoniacs and paralytics, the sick and diseased, the bruised and neglected … all hauled into the Kingdom together by the dragnet which Jesus throws again … and again … and again into the world. Ours is a story of being captured … of being captured by the impossibly wondrous and amazing grace of such a God. Ours is a story of falling in love … of falling in love with the One whose emerging kingdom always offends this fallen world of border guards and immigration acts. It is a story that confounds law-makers of every sort and scandalizes ‘right thinking people’ everywhere. Which is what accounts for the arrests and imprisonments … for all attempts to silence the ‘good news’. It is this which accounts for the cross. Jesus is always a threat to a world defined by boundaries. The gospel is anything but good news to those fortunate few who find their identity shaped by the safety of a stable universe in which who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ … who is ‘saved’ and who is ‘lost’ is nailed down by closed borders, locked doors and fenced communities. It is not hard to imagine the reaction of such a world when Jesus says: "Follow me into the homeland of God … where fences are banned, where doors do not lock and where the border is never closed." He confounds our orthodoxies. He did then. He does now. Jesus announces and embodies God’s unorthodox promise which, it would seem, we dare not believe. Until … until we find ourselves on the outside looking in … until we stand at the back of the line or at the bottom of the ladder. We cannot trust in such an impossible way and truth and life … until there is no other way or truth or life that can save us from everlasting despair. When seen through the eyes of a life constructed on closure and certainty the wideness of God’s mercy threatens the very foundation of reality. But when glimpsed through lens of a broken and crucified life, the immense capacity of the resurrecting net of grace catches us up into an entirely new world. And, as he untangles us from his net, the fisher says: "Here, let me show you how to cast this thing … and pull in some more like you". Which pretty much sums up what we are doing here ... we who have been caught in the nets of the Kingdom and captured by grace. We have come to learn to mend and cast the net … to learn to open wide heaven’s doors to a multitude of schools and cultures and peoples. Ours is not a course in fly-tying. Kingdom fishing is not about bait and hooks. Jesus doesn’t catch souls one at a time, baited with the false promise of a meal only to be snagged on the barbs of a hook. Nor does he only fish for the finest of trout or salmon, the seemingly ‘righteous’ ones who were to make it all worthwhile. This is what makes following Jesus such a risky venture. Then and now, there are powerful forces seeking to keep the nets of the kingdom pure … free of those who ‘do not belong’. These forces always and everywhere seek to stop those who would let down the dragnets of the kingdom. They aim to stop Jesus and those whom he has caught up in his nets from extending the borders of God’s turf. They teach our children that Jesus is unreasonable, God’s commonwealth impossible and our story without proof. These forces seduce us with invitations to join the closed circle of ‘the elite’. They threaten us with exclusion from the community of ‘the saved’. And then these powers and principalities twist theology and the church itself to deny the good news of God, to close the opened borders and to amend the kingdom’s constitution … to keep out the very ones Jesus invites in. See what Jesus does in the face of such formidable opposition. He "withdraws" to the margins. He avoids head-on confrontation for now. He begins at the edges of the congregation, in the places where he goes unnoticed by the powers that be. He forms Beloved Communities among those he finds there whose lives are beyond the pale … who are not noticed by those at the centre of things and who will not be missed because they do not belong in the first place. It is the very place where Martin and his colleagues began in Montgomery, Alabama all those years ago ... among the people who had been refused citizenship … among those who had been taught that they did not belong and who had not yet discovered the potency of the kingdom of heaven in a kingdom of fear. It is where communities like the Open Door still begin: fishing for prisoners and prison visitors, catching up homeless and homebodies in the same net of grace. Worshipping there this past Sunday afternoon … ignored by the triumphal procession of car horns celebrating victory on a distant battlefield … one couldn’t help but be reminded of Jesus’ vision of small pockets of resistance … the "salt of the earth and the light of the world" he calls them. He does not say "I am the salt and the light." He says "you … you who have been caught into God’s new world … you whose lives are governed by its ways. You are the yeast in God’s bread of life." Imagine. Imagine casting the net of the kingdom in such a way that the signs of such Beloved Communities begin to emerge on the margins of our neighbourhoods … at the periphery of our congregations … even, yes, even, at the ragged edges of our own lives. Imagine that it is in such locations as these … where the threat to power goes unnoticed at first, that God’s Kingdom first breaks into the world. And notice, notice that the judgement of such an outrageously expansive God falls upon all cultures and peoples and churches that seek to keep others down and out. Then see that when those cultures and peoples and churches who have been judged and found wanting find themselves among those outside looking in to God’s home land … for that matter, see that when those of us whose lives are judged and found wanting find ourselves among those outside looking in upon God’s kingdom come … see that, then, the great resurrecting dragnet of God’s irresistable grace is cast into the sea once more. Imagine the world and us with it caught up in the nets of the kingdom of heaven. Imagine living knowing it to be true. Yes. Imagine that.