This is the sermon preached by rev Amanda at the 8.30am and 10am services on Sunday Jan 22nd.
Readings: Isaiah 9.1-4, Matt 4.12-23
Two weeks ago we set off on a community, epiphany adventure together. Last week our adventure brought us to the banks of the Jordan, where Rachel encouraged us to hear those beautiful words God speaks to Christ: ‘you are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased’ and to be encouraged in our call, as John was encouraged in his call to baptise Jesus.
This week our adventure takes us to Galilee, Jesus hearing that John who baptised him has been arrested withdraws to Capernaum fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah. Jesus warns of the coming of the kingdom of heaven, it is near, and Jesus them what action is required for the approaching event. Matthew remember is the Gospel written for a Jewish context I wonder whether that is why Matthew uses kingdom of heaven when the others call it the kingdom of God – not because he is talking about a place called heaven somewhere up in the sky but because it is a Jewish way of avoiding the word God out of reverence and respect. The kingdom of heaven or God meant not a special different place but put simply revolution! The kingdom was at hand and God was going to become King this brought danger as well as hope. If justice and peace are coming then those who have twisted justice and peace may be in trouble. They had better get on with repentance! Repentance is not coming before God thinking we are a pathetic worm or utterly rubbish, feeling bad about ourselves but rather changing direction, stopping the bad stuff that we know we shouldn’t do and turning to God do something different. For Israel Jesus’ message of repentance had nothing to do with private sin but everything to do with as a nation stopping them racing to the edge of a violent revolution and rather turn towards God’s kingdom of light, peace, healing and forgiveness for themselves and the world.
When we see the leaks from the Bishop’s conference this week plastered all over the papers and the Church of England headlines once again talking about massive conflict and splits over human sexuality we can see in this week of Christian unity that the message remains urgent. Are we working to extend God’s kingdom? Or are we standing in its way? Will we demonstrate as a church to the world conflict or repent, unite in God’s love and include all God’s people?
Our adventure moves to the sea of Galilee and to a world of fishing. How many of you have been fishing? What kind of fishing do you think you might like to consider. Some nice serene fishing by a beautiful river or canal bank or some more risky fishing in the middle of the sea, moving into deep, deep waters.
What kind of fish would you like to catch? Perhaps a delicious salmon, trout or sea bass, a beautiful rainbow fish. Shall we stick in the shallows or is anyone willing to see what we might catch in the depths of the much riskier deep waters?
Will we just take a net or will we use different methods, perhaps a rod, to follow the call of Andrew, Peter, James and John to become fishers of people? Jesus is of course speaking in metaphor to fisher people, asking them to catch people rather than fish but how will they do that, how will we do that? Will we look for people who are comfortable and just like us? As we try to attract people will we be willing to accept all God’s people? As we fish for people will we sit alongside those who turn out to be harder work than we envisaged, whose problems don’t just disappear, who are needy or difficult or will we throw them back into the sea, reject them, pray that they might help a different Christian, a different church to grow? I personally can’t remember the parable of the person whose problems went on too long for Jesus but do remember many where Jesus ‘fished’ by sitting alongside, giving voice to people, holding hands, challenging and supporting, seeing, listening and loving them into changing direction and turning to God.
We might need a fishing net and wellies for this adventure but above all we will need real love, not a slushy, sentimental love but a love that looks different, a love that attracts, heals, includes, embraces, challenges, forgives, is worthy of trust and never counts the cost. A love that doesn’t value the things or people that the world values but a love that unites all God’s people with a love that flows in and through us from God and is shared with all God’s people, a love which never silences but always seeks to be patient, and kind. A love that challenges but isn’t fickle. A love that never rejects, that endures and is consistent. Because we all know that the most dangerous type of love is the love that attracts, teases that it cares, pretends to be real and genuine and then fails, lets down, rejects or casts aside when we don’t like what we have caught or someone is vulnerable or shows their true self. As a church setting out to fish for people we must take this seriously if we want to be a place of love rather than a place of rejection.
When Jesus walks beside the sea of Galilee, what is it about him that the fisher people see? He is quite alone, as far as we can see. They do not know the stories of his birth, of how the mysterious travellers were taught a lesson about kingship. As far as Matthew knows they were not present when the heavens opened and God proclaimed his love for his Son at Jordan. They do not know what Jesus has just been through in the wilderness, as he discovers what he must reject. We have just read all of this in the first 4 chapters of Matthew, we know the story well, but Peter, Andrew, James and John come to it afresh, without the benefit of back story and with no idea of the story that we know is yet to come, and yet they drop their nets to follow Jesus. This is astonishing! Lets just take a moment to think about it, how on earth does this work? Jesus doesn’t offer any obvious inducements. There is no mention of fame, fortune, success or excitement. What Jesus offers is a mission, a chance to attract others, as they have been attracted. Their acceptance starts the chain reaction that has never quite fizzled out, despite many wrong turns and shameful misunderstandings such as we have witnessed in the Church this week. We continue to preach the puzzling, spectacular, strange, unearned, extravagant and outrageous love of God, who loves and saves us. I wonder if often we are just as guilty as those who don’t listen to sermons, read the scriptures, know the Magnificat and beatitudes, we have some understanding of the values that God wants us to live by but still of focus on wanting to be clever, successful and above all else right, but maybe, just maybe, if we keep preaching and witnessing to Christ crucified and risen, perhaps one day we will be able to convert even ourselves and to truly align ourselves with God’s values of unity and love. If we do, if we can, perhaps we too will have the ability in and through Christ’s truly unifying love to disagree well and to attract others to join us as we witness in God’s abundant, scandalous, outrageous, inclusive love in our lives overflowing and uniting us with others.
At our recent PCC away day one of our visions was to double the congregation here at St Peters let’s consider the reality of our fishing expedition: how it might change us, who might come – will they look like us, what might they ask of us, might they desire a change, what that might mean for us? Will we journey into the world to fish people for Jesus? Will we love those people who we fish consistently, scandalously and outrageously even when it costs?
So as we consider God’s call for our community to witnesses to the faith, to continue the chain reaction of attraction to our faith, we pray together the prayer for church growth and ask God to embolden us to follow the call of those first disciples to be fishers of people, warning of the coming kingdom and seeking repentance together, attracting people with the inclusive and uniting love of God this Epiphany:
Lets find the prayer that we have been given and pray the words together as we commit to fish for people in this place:
God of Mission Who alone brings growth to your Church, Send your Holy Spirit to give Vision to our planning, Wisdom to our actions, And power to our witness. Help our church to grow in numbers, In spiritual commitment to you, And in service to our local community, Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.