Sunday, January 26, 2020

Year A 3rd Epiphany 2020 Cast Down Your Nets

Year A 3rd Sunday of Epiphany, 26 January 2020
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Cast Down Your Nets”

Collect: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 4:12-23
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

The words of the prophet, Isaiah:
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” 
We heard this on Christmas Eve, and we hear it this morning sitting in the sunlight. We hear again the hope that is there. We hear the hope of a backwater region in a minor edge territory of small kingdom in the mighty Empire of Rome.

Last week we heard from the Gospel of John how Andrew and another of John the Baptizer’s apostles were invited to “Come and See” by this one who their master pointed out to be the Anointed.

This week we see the hope beginning, we see the settling of Jesus in this area, neighboring his hometown of Nazareth, and how it fulfilled the ancient prophecy of Isaiah. And we hear his invitation to those along the shore to come and follow him.
There is a lot implied in his invitation. Recognition of his authority. Hope for something better than what they have.
...for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.
Death, to a Dawn. This is so much more than a simple, “Hey, y’all come on.” This is a radical life shift, an invitation to leave the old behind and embrace the new.

You see, we have a phrase. “Timing is everything.” A horrible joke, at the right moment, will bring down the house. A kind word, strategically placed, can redirect a life. An open door, when there seems to be no hope, can change the world even if it is just for one person.

St. Paul had a phrase for it, “the fullness of time” which you hear often in our Eucharistic prayers. From Galatians 4 Paul speaks to this long awaited moment:
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son…
We have even Jesus awaiting the exact moment, John’s ministry as the Preparer of the Way was done. Imprisoned for crying out against corrupt and immoral politicians, Jesus knew that his moment, THE moment had arrived.

He left his hometown, his family, his “known” and departed for the course that would direct the rest of his life. Making Capernaum his homebase, this teacher begins to proclaim a message based around a single metaphor.
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

And for him to get his message out, he needs a team to make it possible. He needs people who can not only say the words, but try to live them out in their own lives. As they take on these disciplines, they take on a new role, that of disciples to a teacher or master. They attempt to model this life change he offers them to do.

Saying that they were following Jesus, and expecting to not do anything differently would be just like saying you belong to a gym and never going. You may pay the fees, but is it doing anything for you? Saying you belong, and following a discipline ARE NOT, CANNOT be equal.

Remember his message that he proclaimed, “Repent.” Turn around, about face, do a 180. However you want to say it, redirect for God’s Kingdom has come near. Is at hand, within your reach, waiting in the curtains.

So you know the context of today’s reading, it is after the baptism in the Jordan and Jesus’ temptations in the desert. While he was fasting in the desert, John is imprisoned. After today’s reading, Jesus’ reputation grows as he preaches and heals, which leads to Chapters 5 through 7 and what we call the Sermon on the Mount.

We are not talking about making things nice. We are not about taking what is and stepping it up a notch. Matthew says that he was teaching, preaching, and healing. Luke gives us a few more details. When Jesus went to the synagogue in his home town he read another prophecy from Isaiah. [From Luke 4]
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
What did Jesus’ coming and ministry mean? It was an open and direct threat to the Powers that Be. It was a fulfillment of “God’s Preferential Option for the Poor” that is throughout Scripture. [This phrase comes from the Jesuits (1968), but is woven through all of Scripture.]

When Jesus was calling his new followers, it was signing for them a likely death warrant, and according to church tradition it did. “Take up your cross and follow me.” Words mean things. They were not out for a Sunday stroll.

Jesus called them to start where they were and then he guided them to change themselves, change their lives, and in so doing, change the world.

As we read we think that the change was immediate and comprehensive. The words are there, “Immediately they left their nets and followed him..” But all of us know that this is not how most changes take place. Peter, we know, rebukes Jesus when he speaks about his upcoming crucifixion. And he gets called Satan for it. “Get behind me, Satan.” [Just after the transfiguration and Peter’s confession.] And even more, we know that Peter denied Jesus three times on what we call Maundy Thursday.

Andrew and James both disappear at the Crucifixion, nowhere to be seen. And if John is the Gospel of John’s “disciple that Jesus loved” then only John stood by him on that most holy day. There are lots of other examples, but they may have dropped their nets for a day, but a lifetime of muscle memory is hard to shake.

While the disciples immediately cast down their nets, nets are designed to keep you ensnared. Some are knotted so that the more you struggle, the tighter they become. As the disciples easily dropped their nets, they had a hard time letting them go. When Jesus died, the disciples, in the Gospel of John, headed back to their nets and went fishing again. It is so easy to head back to our old ways and habits.

Nets are designed to take hold and not let go. And we all have nets. Nets we use, the tools we have to make our way in the world. And we all are ensnared in nets. Things that cling to closely, and will not let us go. What are your nets? When we hear Jesus’ invitation, do we drop them? Immediately? Or do we miss the feel of them in our hand, calluses worn into our flesh of years of lift, cast, draw, repeat? Friends, Jesus came so that we can walk away, truly walk away. And when we head back to the familiar, the comfortable, the safe and secure, he lovingly invites us to his way, the new way, the “high” way of his call on our lives.

Last Sunday I closed with these sentences: “We hold the same conversation. We get the same invitation. Thanks be to God.” I said it and I mean it. And it is as applicable today as last week’s Gospel.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near.” “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” That world is still being made. It is being made by you with the choices you make, and lives you lead. That world is within our grasp, and it has been for 2,000 years. We hear echoes of it in the prayers we pray, like “On earth as it is in heaven” or “Forgive us as we forgive others.” Are they as apparent in our actions? We have caught glimpses of it when the Church in the name of Christ has set up orphanages, leper colonies, and hospitals, fought for living wages and access to healthcare. It comes true when we welcome the foreigner and the stranger in our midst. It has been made real when we have done anything for those in need, the Least of These, for when we did it to them we did it for, and more importantly TO Jesus.

Friends, there is still a Kingdom of the World, and there is a Kingdom of God. There is Empire and there is Jesus. Jesus says, “Follow me.”

What net are you holding? What net did you think you dropped that still has a hold of you? What path will you choose? Who’s voice will you follow?

When you choose Jesus’ way, then you proclaim with your life Good News! Not "myeh" news, not okay news, you preach Good News, life-giving, transformative, exuberant, world-shaking Good News with what you say, and more importantly, in what you do.

Lord, help me to let go of my nets, for good, and come follow you. Amen

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Blessings, Rock