Epiphany 3 Sermon

Sermon text: Matthew 4: 12-23

I cannot believe it!  In one moment, in one morning, all of my good fortunes crumbled.  Everything that I have worked for in this life, my family, my business, my security, is awash in a sea of disarray.  And it’s all because of this Jesus of Nazareth character.  Under the influence of that man, my two sons, James and John, acted like fools and threw away everything I had worked for.  What’s worse, they have made me, their father Zebedee, look like a fool.  I had given those boys everything, food, clothing, an education, my love, and a job, and this is how they repay me.

It all happened three days ago.  The three of us woke up early in the morning and we were in our boat before dawn.  When the sun broke the horizon we had already cast our nets into the Sea of Galilee.  I remember that we had a sizeable catch that morning, and it took a great effort to row the boat back into the shore.  We hauled in our catch, delivered our quota to the merchants, and by noon we were back in the shallows, mending the nets and catching up on all of the local gossip.

Now for all you landlubbers out there, mending the nets is a vital part fishing.  It is a craft that I hold dear to my heart.  You see, I made my own net.  She’s a trusty partner that I created with my own two hands from flax.  She’s reliable and efficient.  Without her, I couldn’t afford to put food on the table for my own family.  Sure, requires constant attention, but that’s part of the job.  And she’s aging, but then again, so am I.

After each outing we repair any damage done to her.  We wash and dry the net, and then we fold her and put her away.  Sure, net work can be boring and it is mighty tough on the hands, but I cherish the hours spent mending that net because it’s a social time.  Each day my sons and I would talk about the world we lived in.  We discussed everything; food, politics, religion, weather, their marriage prospects… 

That morning, I remember we were talking about that John the Baptist fellow.  He had made a name for himself, coming out of the wilderness of Judea, wearing Camel’s hair, and eating honey and bugs.  That’s crazy enough to get you noticed in these parts.  But surprisingly his actions and words were more noteworthy than his appearance.  He was baptizing people in the Jordan River and telling them to confess their sins and repent.  He also had the nerve to tell the elite that they were a “brood of vipers” and that if they didn’t repent they would be cast into a fire.  That part made me chuckle, but I guess they didn’t like that, because we heard that he was arrested by Herod, bound, and thrown into prison.

So we sat there, rocking in the boat, mending the nets, talking to one another, enjoying the feel of the breeze in our hair and the warmth of the sun on our skin.  Off in the distance we saw three men walking down the coastline.  As they drew closer we recognized two of them.  One was Simon, who prefers to be called Peter, and the other his brother Andrew.  They’re fellow fishermen, but they don’t own a boat like some of us.  Instead, they cast their nets from the shore, which, as you would expect, is not so the easiest way to make a living.  They were walking with a third man, who we did not recognize. 

As I tried to figure out who the stranger was it dawned on me that something was wrong…yes, something was definitely wrong because Peter and Andrew were not carrying their beloved net.  Nor did they have their catch for the day.

While I was making this observation the third man called out to us.  He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  HA!  The quacks these days.  This guy was wackier than John the Baptist.  I started to laugh.  But not James and John.  Oh, no!  They slowly looked at each other, and I could see that stupid grin on their faces.  Without looking at me, without even saying a word, they jumped into the water and swam to shore. 

In horror I watched my two poor, misguided, foolish sons walk off with some nut.  I was stunned.  Every time I tried to wrap my brain around the facts my mind was seized by the shock of it all.  Then I remembered, Salome, my wife; what in the world was I going to tell her about our boys? 

For two days I tried to comprehend why James and John left me in that boat.  They enjoyed fishing.  They liked the water.  They were content with fishing and they were supposed to do it for the rest of their lives, just like their father.  Yes, it’s a hard life of labor.  Yes, we’re practically at the bottom of society and are relatively poor.  Yes, the industry is manipulated by the royals and the elite, who leave us little profit.  Yes, we must pay a 40% tax on our catch, simply for the right to fish.  But at least it is a living that I can pass on.  It is a trade to be proud of.  My wife and I were counting on our boys to be our social security in old age.  We were set for life, and now I will have to hire workers because of my wayward sons, or at least until they see the error of their ways and return to me. 

Last evening, my sons came home.  I asked James and John if they had returned to their senses, and they said that they were only visiting for the night, to get some food, and to ask their mother to do some laundry.  They wanted to return to the man the next day.

I asked them, “Who is this man that stole you from my boat?”

They told me his name is Jesus of Nazareth.  All they knew is that he is a wise teacher, a great healer, and a preacher of truth who has enlightened their world.

I asked, “Has Jesus promised to give you anything?  What profession does he have to teach?  How will you make a living with him?”

They said, “We’re following him and he is teaching us a way of life.  He is not teaching us to make a living.  We’re not following him with the intention that he will give us anything.  Instead, he has called us to a task.”

“Well does this task pay well?  Does it have benefits, a 401K, or dental?”

“No father.” 

“Then what in the world are you doing?” I asked. 

They told me, “Father, our task is to be fishers of people, and to tell them that the kingdom of heaven is near.  This is Jesus’ message of good news and hope. And he’s showing us this kingdom through his preaching and his miracles.”

As we continued talking, I could see that my boys were enamored by Jesus.  Their faith in this man and in the kingdom of heaven was almost contagious.  I had never seen them so excited, not even during some of our biggest hauls out on the Sea of Galilee.  So we talked into the night, discussing their new favorite topics of Jesus and the kingdom of heaven.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense that my sons were called by this holy man to be “fishers of people.”  I don’t think my sons will ever become brilliant scholars of the law, but I know that they can fish for people.  I know that they can use their gifts to build relationships and tell others what God is doing in this world.

My sons are now disciples of Jesus.  They are ordinary people who were called to serve in the middle of their ordinary lives to be in relationship with the ordinary people that are all around them.  But if this holy man Jesus is really who they say, then he will help them do extraordinary things.

And according to my sons we all can be fishers of people.  We all can use our relationships and build connection in our daily lives to share and invite others to see God’s presence in our lives.  James and John said everyone is capable of this, even an old, salty man like me.  AMEN

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