A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Texts: Matthew 4:12-25 (The Message)
Generally speaking, on any given Tuesday, say around 2 PM, where would you be? What would you be doing? At work? Home? School? Play? Volunteering? Practicing? Napping? Generally speaking, it’s not a particularly glamorous time of the week. Not a lot happens on Tuesday at 2. Maybe that’s the time when, a little bored, you’ve “gone fishin’.”
I think of my cousin, Herman, a retired Navy pilot who flew missions during the Vietnam War. He and his wife, Linda live in Florida with their pick up and boat. They spend a lot of time fishing. When Herman was active on Facebook, he regularly posted pictures and accounts of their fishing expeditions in the lakes and rivers of northern Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico. After an active life of service and raising a family, there’s something sort of idyllic about adopting as your motto and way of life, “Gone Fishin’.”
Now mind you, that is not the way I would choose to retire. Truth be told, I was a disaster as a fisherman. I couldn’t even stand to bait the hook, let alone deal with any fish I might have caught. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy eating fish. I just prefer that someone else catch them and clean them and cook them. (I am not a fan of raw fish!) But like our grandparents before, Herman and Linda could probably be found on any given Tuesday around 2 “gone fishin’.”
OK, I can hear you thinking, get to the point, pastor. I don’t know if it was Tuesday at 2 when Jesus came strolling along the lake shore, but, whenever it was, he found Peter and Andrew and James and John caught up in their fishing enterprise. “Hey, boys! How’s it going? You know…the time is here. Come along now, follow me.” And, the text says, they immediately left what they were doing and followed.
Put yourselves in their boat for minute. It’s Tuesday around 2 and some guy comes strolling by, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, and says, “Come. Follow me.” What do you think your reaction would be? How do you imagine you might respond? So, why, then, do you imagine, Peter, Andrew, James, and John responded the way they did?
My guess is that Jesus was no stranger to these Galilean fishermen. They had at least heard of him, so the invitation was not out of the blue. We know next to nothing of Jesus’ life between ages 12 and 30. The gospel accounts mostly cover the last three years of his life as his ministry grew and flourished. So, in the same way his invitation to the fishermen did not come out of the blue, I don’t think his ministry did either. He’d been thinking about it, praying over it, working on it, talking it over with his friends and neighbors for some time before he decided to act. Most of us don’t make major life decisions without considerable thought and discussion with people whose opinions we value and trust. I have this picture of Jesus and Peter, Andrew, James, and John fishing in the late afternoon; then sitting around a cook fire on the beach afterward, eating their catch and talking into the wee hours of the morning, sharing their hopes and dreams for their lives, for themselves, their families, their country. Haven’t you found yourself in just such a situation at some time or other in your life? Sharing with those close to you your hopes and dreams, talking over what you wanted to do with your “one wild and precious life”?
Peter, Andrew, James, and John had been excited, inspired, thrilled, frightened to hear Jesus talk about his hopes and dreams, his vision of the future, his growing understanding of God’s Beloved Community, his own call from God. They’d spent more than one night together, talking this all through. So, when Jesus came strolling down the beach that Tuesday afternoon, or whenever it was, they weren’t surprised. They were ready. Oh, they had no clear idea of what they were getting into, of what lay ahead, but they were young and passionate and wanting something new and different in their lives. It only took his announcement that the time had come for them to leave what they were doing and go with him.
You might say they hung signs on their boats, “Gone Fishin’.” Anyone wandering by would have wondered at the mystery of fishermen who had left their boats and the lake they had fished all their lives to go fishing. They wouldn’t get the irony of fishermen gone fishin’, not for fish but for the hearts and souls of women and men everywhere. The time for dreaming is over; the great work begins.
Of course, if you think my version is too speculative, robbing the tale of its high drama and the capacity of Jesus to command attention, you might consider that there was something in Jesus’ voice, his eyes, his presence, that compelled perfect strangers, working fishermen, to leave their livelihood and all that was familiar to follow an itinerant preacher, wandering the countryside, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Change your life. God’s Beloved Community is here.” Tell the tale as you will, something happened that Tuesday afternoon, or whenever it was, that changed the lives of those four fishermen forever. In fact, the world was changed in that crucial encounter.
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Peter and Andrew, James and John, they answered “yes” that fateful afternoon. They didn’t really know what they were getting into. They couldn’t see where the journey would take them. They didn’t understand the full cost of discipleship. They only knew the Spirit was moving deep inside them and they could not stay away. How about you and me? Can you hear the call? Can you feel the Presence? Can you see the Beloved Community coming near? What will our answer be?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
The invitation is not an easy one and it may seem especially difficult right now. For some in this country today the Beloved Community seems farther away than ever. I know my cousin, Herman, the fisherman, decided he needed to give up Facebook because of all the ill will and trash talk he received as someone who having caught a glimpse of God’s Beloved Community of peace and justice, of equity and compassion, of concern for the well-being of creation and is not afraid or ashamed to speak up for what he sees and believes. I miss his strong and committed voice in that venue but I know it has not been stilled.
At the Multifaith Service of Concern and Commitment, held Thursday night at the Unitarian Church on the eve of the inauguration, people expressed genuine fear and anger, dismay and disgust, grief and anxiety at the prospects of life in our land in the days that lie ahead. At the same time, those same people held hope and expressed a willingness to engage in whatever actions were necessary to protect the social fabric and enhance the general welfare of all who call this country home. They pledged to work for peace and justice and equity and kindness and civility and compassion the whole world over. For myself, I made a commitment to hold safe space for those in need of it.
Now you know I’m not equating the United States and the Beloved Community any more than Jesus intended to reserve that status for the Israel of his time. Still, as people of faith, as people who have said we will follow, or who believe we want to follow, that vision of God’s great desire for creation ought to inform and shape the ways in which we respond to political reality and social welfare. As Annanda Barclay reminded us Thursday night, in the black church prayers need more than wings to rise to heaven; they need feet to bring about those things for which we pray.
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Last Sunday I asked you to write down what you were looking for in this country in the next four years. As people of faith you responded in the words included in the litany enclosed in your Order of Worship today. Let’s read them aloud as a means of sharing and affirming our own hopes and dreams, in the same way Jesus and Peter, Andrew, James and John did so long ago.
What I am Looking for in the United States in the Next Four Years:
- Peace of mind, for my country and for me.
- Happiness for all of us and myself.
- World peace.
- Wisdom and fairness and dignity for the new administration.
- Good health.
- Love, and peace, and justice.
- Everybody has access to healthcare and the medicines they need!!
- Leadership that is a good role model for peace and love in our world.
- To learn that one does not have to earn or deserve care or sustenance—those are human rights.
- Respect and generosity.
- I’m looking for reconciliation; that we listen to one another and respect one another; that we move in directions that benefit us all, not just a few on top.
- Country: love and forgiveness, work for the middle class.
- No fear for immigrants!
- Justice; higher value system; money does not talk all the time.
- Peace, tranquility, fairness for all.
- Fairness for all; leave no one behind.
- Keep the value of diversity.
- Love, peace, and unity.
- Peace, Justice, Security, Decency, Dignity.
- Economic justice and peace throughout the US and the world.
- Greater economic equity.
- Compassion; Living peacefully together; Respect for each other and other countries; Show leadership for human rights in other parts of the world.
- Prudence, Temperance, and Open Hearts.
- Universal Love and Respect of all persons and the Earth.
Now let us put our feet to these prayers even as they rise heavenward, committing ourselves to following the One who calls us always to the realization of God’s Beloved Community, and to the action that requires.
Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Will you hang out your own “Gone Fishin’” sign as we join together to “fish” for the hearts and souls of people everywhere and for the well-being of all creation? In the words of that old spiritual the choir sang earlier,
All you people now come along, hear Jesus calling and join His song.
He will show us the way to go, so come and follow and don’t be slow.