Matthew 4:12-23 1-22-17 Rev. Tony Clark ACCUCC
Now 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.
This week started with me and Jenny and Thomas and Max marching in the El Cerrito Martin Luther King Day parade and then staying for the celebration at the El Cerrito High School. When we first met up, at the start of the parade, a young man handed me a sign printed with the words in the front of your bulletin, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” Jenny commented on how appropriate that was to be given to me, and I felt a chill as the Holy Spirit moved through me and brought tears to my eyes.
Right now I feel like we are taking the first step without seeing the whole staircase. What a week, huh?
Our scripture tells the story of Jesus learning that his mentor and friend, John the Baptist, was in jail, which prompted Jesus to move to Capernaum on the Galilean Sea to take over the preaching that John was doing. The move to Capernaum, says Matthew, was to fulfill yet another scriptural prophecy—Matthew is fond of those; this prophecy one comes from Isaiah, those who live in darkness will see a great light, which Matthew says is Jesus. Last week we put the lamp at the prow of the boat to light our way in rough waters, reminding us that Jesus is our light.
Jesus then preached the words that John did—Repentance, return tow God and realign your wills toward God’s will. Then Jesus called his first disciples—fishermen. Jesus told them to drop their nets and follow him so they can fish for people.
Today we added nets to remind us of following the light, Jesus, as we fish for people.
The net is a great symbol of the good news of God, which is for all who can hear it. Like a large fishnet as it drags across the sea catching all kinds of sea life, the good news that the Kingdom of God is a different kind of kingdom catches all people. The net catches everything in its way—from large to small, from vicious to beautiful. It catches mammals like dolphins, fish with bony skeletons like tuna and salmon, fish with cartilaginous skeleton like sharks and fish with exoskeleton like crabs and clams. There is no differentiation in the catching between sharks and tuna, sardines and crabs and there is no differentiation among whom the gospel might catch. The gospel, like a fishnet, is all-inclusive.
The gospel, like a fishnet, is also like the US Constitution, which sweeps across the nation with a claim that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is a theological statement placed right in our Constitution, which names all of us as equals bearing equal rights.
At the El Cerrito Martin Luther King celebration, I found myself, along with a several hundred others, saying another nationalistic theological statement–the Pledge of Allegiance, reminding us that we are, “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” As I spoke them out loud, I was jarred to remember that MLK Day is not just a day remembering a great theologian and preacher; MLK Day is a National Holiday that celebrates justice for all. It is not just a requirement of our faith, it is also our patriotic duty, to insist on equality and justice. Our nation is entwined with the theological principles of equality and justice for all and the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We have gained much justice in the last half-century. Yet there are those who feel like they have not gained anything but have only lost liberty, justice and freedom. Those who live in the hollers and hills of Southeastern Ohio, in shacks with no electricity, who worked hard horrible back breaking mining jobs to bring electricity to the rest of the country, even as the grid was late in getting to them. As the country has gone to solar and wind power and natural gas, and as we declared strip mining to be damaging our environment, those coal miners have been out of work for years. Their jobs will not come back, and there is no justice in that. Steel workers and rubber workers and glass workers in Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Canton, Akron, Toledo, whose jobs have been outsourced to places with cheaper labor or to robots who don’t need to take breaks for eating and sleeping. Their jobs will not come back, and there is no equality in that. Their ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness was blockaded decades ago when corporations made economic decisions that affected their lives and the entire region. There is not justice in that.
The fishnet of the gospel catches all of them—justice workers, prophets, laid off steel workers, and dried up miners. And the gospel also catches the business people who make decisions based not on justice but on economics of this world.
The fishnet reminds us that the economy of the God’s kingdom is not the economy of the world. Kingdom economy is not based on reducing cost and increasing profit, it is not about who owns what, it’s not about what you want or what you can buy, it is about having equal access to food, housing, and health care even if you cannot afford it. Think for a moment about Jesus. He fed the hungry, offering food to those who had need. He brought outcasts back in to society so they could find home, dependent not on what they could pay, but on their need for community. He healed the sick, offering free health care to all who had need. These were acts of God’s liberty and justice for all.
Now think about Jesus feeding the 5000. People gathered, and they were beginning to get hungry. Jesus asked what food they had. He was given a few loaves of bread and a few fish—the lunch of common fishermen—and Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish to feed the crowd, and in doing that he overturned the economy of the day. The Roman Emperor owned everything as far as the eye could see; even the fish in the sea belonged to the Emperor. It didn’t matter how you caught the fish, by luck, by hard work, or by miracle, the fish belonged to the Emperor. The miracle wasn’t that Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish; the miracle was that Jesus gave the loaves and fish out without getting a government sanctioned license, without going to heavily taxed market, without acknowledging the Emperor. He acknowledged God, and he gave it out as if all people belonged equally not to the kingdom of Rome but to the Kingdom of God. This is the Kingdom economy.
The kingdom economy is subversive because everyone receives what they need –not what they want or can buy—what they need in equal proportions, and they all are equally caught in the Kingdom fishnet.
The week that started remembering the patriotic justice work of Martin Luther King ended with gatherings across our nation and around the world both in celebration and in protest of our new President, and reminders that we must remain vigilant, that justice easily won is also easily stripped away, and that justice work is not merely a call of people of faith, but it is also a patriotic responsibility of us all. We have yet to see if this President will work toward justice for all, or for equality or for the unalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all or just for his billionaire buddies. I’m open to being surprised that he might work for liberty and justice for all, and
However, I am also clear that I am a Christian pastor who is called to preach the gospel good news for all, including our President, if he is willing to listen. The gospel good news is not that kingdom of God is for the wealthy only, but that the Kingdom of God is lived out as we makes sure there is justice for ALL. The good news is not that the Kingdom of God is there waiting for the righteous and holy at their death or at the end of time, but that the kingdom is available for everyone, equally, now as we pursue our unalienable rights of life, liberty, and happiness, The Kingdom of God assures that justice is gained not at the expense of others, but in the full sharing of their lives, liberty and happiness. Moving toward the Kingdom of God will take perseverance to stand up when we merely work toward justice for some. And it will take faith, faith that, in a world where all news is suspect, the gospel is good news, true and factual, and intended for all. The gospel good news is that the Kingdom is at hand; it is nearer than we think. The gospel good news is that the Kingdom of God, which can be right here and right now, offers justice for all. The good news is that the Kingdom offers the unalienable rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not in accordance to what we want, but in accordance to what each of us needs, and this is good news for all who wish to hear.
God, in this weird week of gatherings and marches, a week of unfathomable changes, a week of speeches on justice and speeches on making America First, week when factual news is questioned, we trust in your gospel good news. Today, we take a step out in faith, and we trust that you will guide us on the stairway.
As we follow your Beloved One, may we be given the net to fish for faithful followers. Amen.