How do You Fish for People?

The story of Jesus calling the first disciples (Luke 5:1-11) as told by Simon….

I’m a fisherman by trade. There’s been a lot of odd things happening lately. My mother-in-law got sick recently. We thought she was going to die but there was a healer wandering the countryside. He came in and healed her up real good. I’m not sure exactly what or how but it was pretty miraculous.

And then there’s the fish. We haven’t been catching much lately. I know they’re out there somewhere but they just weren’t finding their way into our nets. Now this healer I was telling you about? He was still in the neighbourhood last week. There seems to always be a crowd following him around. So the crowd followed him right up to the shore. It was too crowded so he asked to use my boat. We weren’t doing much on account of not catching any fish. So he got in the boat and we rowed him out a ways.

After he taught the people for a bit, he said to my mates and I, row out a bit more. So we did. Then he said to put the nets out. I thought to myself, what a waste of time that will be. But again, nothing to lose so out go the nets. I thought they’d sit empty for the next few hours—just like they did for the last few weeks. But suddenly there were fish everywhere. There were more than our nets could handle. The boat was swamped and I thought we might sink, there were so many fish.

I called to the next boat to come and help and the fish still overwhelmed both boats. I knew there were strange things going on and it seemed to have something to do with the healer they call Jesus. Why would this Jesus person help me out by healing my mother-in-law and then finding this huge catch of fish? Who am I to deserve this? And I told him so…Why waste these gifts on me?

His response was unexpected. He told me not to be afraid and that we would now catch people instead of fish. When we came to shore, we left the fish and the boats and walked away. The evidence of what this man could do was too compelling. I felt strangely drawn to him and to see where the adventure leads.

……

hope-sun

from: Miracles in the Mundane milagomama.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/create-hope/

I grew up being part of a United Church. I’ve always believed—at least intellectually that there is something beyond us—something beyond what I can see and touch and feel. That sense of being grounded in something bigger than myself has always been grounded in Christianity. As a child, I learned the stories of Christianity but the stories were just stories. They didn’t actually speak to me or tell me anything about the world in which I lived except that there was a God out there somewhere who was in control of everything.  But if God is in control, why do bad things happen? Why is there hatred and violence?

 

What has continued to shape my sense of call to Christianity and to ministry is the Hebrew prophets and the way in which Jesus grounded himself in these prophets. They lived in the midst of famine, war and exile. They lived amid great disparity in wealth. And yet they spoke of hope.

I imagine the fishermen waiting for days with no fish in their nets. I imagine Simon’s desperation when he has no money for medicine or healers for his mother-in-law. And then Jesus comes to town. He heals people. He offers a word of hope that things will not always be the way they are.

Just like the prophets…just like Jesus…we live in a time of great upheaval. We need hope which calls us to look beyond everyday life and see the bigger picture. I believe that part of what drew people to Jesus was that he gave them hope…hope that the world could be different…hope that the world could be turned upside down…hope that there could be an abundance where there was none previously. Jesus invites the first disciples to leave everything and come with him on a mission of hope. We see Jesus and his new disciples head off on their mission. They feed people. They challenge injustice. They heal people. They create a community in which hope for the future and hope for a world made new is what holds the community together. At the centre of this hope is a God who is bigger than anything they can imagine. Jesus renews the community’s hope in that God.

We are also called to be bearers of hope in a time of upheaval. The Hebrew prophets and Jesus point the way for us. Their message and the model teaches us to welcoming strangers, including people who are on the outside of the structure and to look after the most vulnerable. These tasks create a culture of hope in a world where there is much despair.

Jesus tells the disciples that they will catch people instead of fish. But what will they use to catch people? You can’t use nets like you would for fish. It is the hope that will catch them. How can you create hope in the life of one person you know? How can you help to create hope for a group of people who are marginalized or threatened?

Advertisements

To Proclaim Good News to the Poor

Jesus begins his ministry!

In Luke 4:14-30, Jesus seems to have gained some popularity: Everyone is praising him. Then there’s a shift. Jesus reads the scroll in the temple and suddenly he is no longer popular. Jesus proclaimed (based on scripture from Isaiah) that God’s love and grace isn’t just for the chosen people. It isn’t limited to those who worship regularly, offer the correct sacrifices or even have the correct pedigree. Like John from last week’s blog, Jesus is declaring that God is for everyone.

Jesus is preaching is his home town. People who had watched him grow up and had known him since he was a child are listening. They’ve all heard the scroll before. It’s like coming to church and hearing a scripture that you heard last year on the same Sunday. There’s nothing new here.

Except that Jesus changed the scripture from Isaiah 61 just slightly. If you had been in the synagogue but weren’t paying attention you might not have noticed. But the changes were significant.

First and foremost in Jesus’ proclamation is the poor. In order for us to understand this passage, we need to understand what Jesus meant by poor. We hear the word poor and think of economic status but that isn’t what Jesus is referring to. In Jesus’ time, the poor were anyone who was socially vulnerable: “religiously, economically, politically, and domestically. People who are maimed, lame, blind, and the like are “poor,” regardless of how much land they might own.” A widow might have land to live on, she might have stashes of gold but she would always be a “poor widow” because she doesn’t have a husband. Jesus begins his mission by proclaiming good news to anyone who is outside the social structures and anyone who is vulnerable. (See Malina, B. J., & Rohrbaugh, R. L. (2003). Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Second Edition, p. 400). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. for more about this).We see throughout Jesus ministry his particular attention to those who are excluded for some reason.

Jesus continues identifying his mission by moving on to proclaiming a release for captives. In Jesus’ time it was not uncommon for people who owed debts to be put in jail in order to extort money from their families. The year of the Lord’s favour, also called the year of the Jubilee, refers to an ancient law found in Leviticus 25. Every 50th year all debts would be cancelled. If land had been sold to pay debts the original owners could return and reclaim their land. This was the ideal. Whether this was actually practiced is up for dispute but Jesus has taken the ancient law to heart.

The idea that debts would be cancelled would literally mean release from prison. This would be good news for those who have debts and who are in jail because of their debts. The debts owed would not be for luxury goods but for basic survival—the taxes that couldn’t be paid because the crop failed or the cow died or the primary earner in the family got sick. Jesus came to bring practical good news to the prisoners and release the people in jail because of debt or other injustice. In 1998 the World Council of Churches picked up on this passage and proclaimed a Jubilee year. During that year, they advocated for cancelling the debts of the poorest countries and changing policies for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund so that there was the possibility these countries could find their way out of debt, sustain their people and create viable economies.

Jesus started his ministry by identifying the people he was sent to by grounding his mission in the theology and law he had been taught since was a child. Perhaps some of the people listening had even taught him. And then he makes a pointed dig at the people who are listening. They are inside the temple. Some of them benefit from the current system. If you were allowed in the temple you were automatically an insider. If you were not an insider, you could not get in the door. Jesus says that he brings, “recovery of sight to the blind.” Blindness may refer to physical blindness but it also means to not understand. Jesus is bringing understanding to those who do not understand—particularly those who do not understand the purpose of his mission. Jesus spent a lot of time teaching and challenging those who upheld the system—the tax collectors, the temple authorities, the wealthy. These are the people inside the temple and the people listening to him speak. They got it. They understand that he’s taking them on in a direct challenge and they are not happy about it.

Then Jesus goes one step further and proclaims that he is the fulfilment of the scripture. He is the one who will bring about this change. Now his listeners are really unhappy. Jesus has overstepped his boundary. He is a local boy and uneducated. Who is he to speak for God and to put himself in so high a position. Then Jesus references two stories from the Hebrew scriptures which would be known by his listeners.

The first is Elijah and the widow. We heard this story before Christmas. In this story, the prophet Elijah is sent to a widow and asks to be fed. The widow responds that she has nothing but a bit of oil and flour and that she and her son are about to starve. Elijah tells her that the food will not run out. This widow was an outsider and yet the prophet was sent to her. Jesus also references the story of Naaman the Syrian who was a commander of enemy forces. The story goes that he suffered with leprosy and that the prophet Elisha cured him. Again, we see a prophet interacting with someone who is outside the community.

Jesus is speaking to the insiders and reminding them of the history in which God’s love, grace and healing goes to the outsiders. It’s an uncomfortable idea that God’s message is for the outsiders. When we take this passage all together Jesus was offering a radical message of good news to people who are on the outside. He offers the good news to people that don’t hear much good news. Jesus offers good news to people who just can’t seem to get a break in life.

If you have always been told by the temple authorities that you are unwelcome or an outsider because of disease, family structure, inability to make correct sacrifices then a message of good news for you would be a surprise. Jesus is turning the world upside down with his message. He is erasing the boundaries of the conventional religious structure and opening God’s grace and love to a broader group of people. He is claiming an authority from God which he is not entitled to under the social structure in which he lives.

Jesus offers an important message to all of us. If we feel like an outsider, like we don’t belong, Jesus tells us that we are welcome and the message of God’s love and grace is for us. If we feel like we are part of the established culture, like we are loved and that we belong, Jesus’ message for us is to broaden the circle a bit more and stretch the boundaries. We are loved. Love is abundant. There is more than enough for everyone.

Jesus was very practical in his ministry. He welcomed people. He fed people. He challenged the structures that kept people outside. He challenged the structures that oppressed and harmed. The good news that Jesus brings doesn’t belong just to the insiders but to those most marginalized and vulnerable in our society.

Scrooge and John the Baptist

We are entering the season of Epiphany. It is a time to celebrate the ways in which we see God’s light shining in the world. Jesus is one of those lights.

In the first chapter of Luke we read the story of John’s birth. John was a cousin of Jesus. At his birth, Zachariah, John’s father gives him a blessing:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

(Luke 1:77-79)

The blessing is also a prophecy that John will be the one who goes into the world to prepare people for the light of God. John’s mission is preparation.

In chapter two of Luke we find a description of Jesus given by a man named Simeon. Simeon was a religious Jew who spent time praying in the temple. He had a sense that he would not die until he had seen the messiah—the chosen one sent by God. On a particular day, he is drawn to the temple. It happens to be the day Jesus is brought for circumcision. Simeon spots Jesus and recognizes him as the messiah with this prayer to God:

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

(Luke 2:29-32)

In Luke’s gospel, right from the beginning we find Jesus’ mission as bringing light into the world. It sets the stage for everything that is to happen next. In Luke’s gospel Jesus grows up in Nazareth. It’s close enough that every year his family travels into Jerusalem for the Passover festival. We hear the story of Jesus wandering off and listening to the scholars and priests in the temple and his parents leaving without him and then having to go back and look for him.

The next time we read about Jesus, he and John are both adults (Luke 3:1-22). John has been living in the wilderness and preaching a message of repentance and forgiveness. The central part of this passage has to do with John’s message. He’s just as radical as Jesus as he prepares people for the message of Jesus. John recognizes that he is only laying the groundwork for Jesus and that the people who come to him need a radical shift in understanding.

John starts with name calling. We all know that if you want someone to hear what you have to say, you shouldn’t start with insults. John needs a bit of work on his communication skills but he is passionate about his message.

It was believed by many in the Jewish faith at the time that because Abraham was the ancestor of faith and the Jewish people were descended from him biologically, nothing more was needed. John asserts that the lineage that matters is not one of biology but of morality.  John’s argument is that it doesn’t matter who you are descended from, if you are not living in a moral manner then your faith cannot save you.

And then John offers some specific examples of what this means. “If you have two coats you must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” To the tax collectors John said, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” For soldiers John offers this advice: “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” The behavior John describes goes against accepted behavior. People grumbled about the wealthy who had too much while others were cold and hungry. People grumbled about the tax collectors but it was normal for them to collect more than they were entitled to. People grumbled about the soldiers but when someone threatens violence how can you resist? Does this sound familiar?

carol1John was calling the people to repent. One of my favorite definitions of the word repent is “being in the same situation behaving differently.” In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens we might identify Scrooge with all the people who have come to hear John preach.  They don’t really think there’s anything wrong with their lives and they are content and comfortable. These are the people who live their lives saying “Bah humbug” when the world doesn’t meet their expectations. Scrooge experiences the ghosts of his past, present and future Christmases. As he examines his life he realizes that he has not lived up to spiritual or moral expectations. He can’t go back and change what has passed but he can change the future. Scrooge needed someone or something to shake him awake so that he could repent.  He is still living in the same city. He still interacts with the same people but his attitudes and behavior towards them have changed.

Like the ghosts speaking to Scrooge, John is asking his listeners to look closely at themselves and to ask themselves whether or not they are the moral descendant of Abraham. John was concerned with whether people were living out the expectations of the prophets. In order to be a spiritual or moral descendant of Abraham, John expected people to look out for each other—especially the most vulnerable. He expected that people would do what was right. He expected that even soldiers would not take advantage and not use more violence than absolutely necessary. Baptism was a sign of adoption into this spiritual or moral family.

What might John expect of us before we are baptized into this spiritual family? We are always invited to share what we have with others in a variety of ways. It’s easy to share with family and friends but harder when we are asked to share with people who talk differently from ourselves, who believe differently from ourselves, who look different from ourselves or who live a different lifestyle from ourselves. The temptation is for us to say, “we will help them so they become like us” or “if they were like us we wouldn’t need to help them.” If we think like this, we’ve missed the point of both Jesus and John’s message.

Those of us who have been around the church for a long time might identify with a sense of entitlement, like John’s listeners who were biologically descended from Abraham. John wouldn’t necessarily have been impressed with those credentials as he prepared people for Jesus and he wouldn’t necessarily have appreciated our credentials as long-time church goers unless we were also following the message of the prophets. If we go back to the beginning of this reading we see John’s frustration coming out in name calling and insults because they haven’t got it. They want the feel good religion or maybe it’s the novelty of being baptized by the exotic desert preacher. I know that sometimes people only want to come to church to feel good or to connect with their friends. Maybe baptism is something we do because our parents were baptized here. But being part of a faith community is about being part of a spiritual family. We don’t get to choose family. We don’t get to choose who sits beside us in the pew. We are expected to care for other family members—remember that God’s family includes everyone.

Jesus’ baptism is almost an afterthought in this story but it is important to the story because it ties Jesus directly to John, to the Jewish prophets and their moral and spiritual faith. Our own baptism is important because it reminds us that we are part of God’s family. It also reminds us that we have a spiritual and moral responsibility in our faith to follow Jesus’ path—not just with words, not just in name but in our life and actions.