January 24, 2018

Repent, believe, follow and fish

The other day someone came up to me and started a conversation that asked the question, “do men ever change?”  Well, that brought up visions of Red Green saying “I’m a man and I can change, if I have to, I guess.”  Which is a stereotypical assumption that men are shamefully inadequate and needing something to fix them.  An old idea, by the way, that Jane Austen even knew, when she started writing her novel, Pride and Prejudice with the opening line “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Poor men!  Everyone knows what’s best for them, better than they do, and that’s hardly fair.  Stereotypes about men being incompetent or women being micromanaging don’t help anyone change and do things differently.  Nagging about someone else’s problem just seems, well, not Christian or loving.  The bible does not say nag your neighbor as you nag yourself.

Let’s face it, it is always easier to see the changes someone else needs to make than it is to see the changes I should make for myself.  Self knowledge is not something we like to have.  Which is why these two scriptures are so surprising.

Jonah is the world’s briefest preacher.  He doesn’t even want to go to Ninevah.  We don’t know if he walked in to the city and mumbled his sermon under his breath, “in forty days, your city will be destroyed” so that no one would hear and his people’s enemies would be toast, or if he went in wildly laughing and cackling, “you’re gonna get it in forty days, you are so going to be sorry”.  Either way, he was effective in turning around a whole culture, or at least so the story goes.

Our gospel lesson seems like a big fish tale too.  Jesus walks over and with another short sermon, “come follow me,” that’s it.  Peter, or Simon as he was known then, his brother Andrew, and their buddies James and John left their families behind.  Peter had a wife, James and John had a father and mother, and they walked away.  I can imagine their families weren’t impressed at all!

What could have motivated them to drop everything like that?  One clue could be in this boat.  [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Galilee_Boat ]Archaeologists found it when the waters of the Galilea sea receded, and it dates back to the time of the disciples.  They discovered 10 different kinds of wood used, not to build it, but to patch it.  27 feet long and 7 feet wide, it was finally sunk into the water when it could no longer serve its purpose.  So it was a beater of a boat, the ‘fix or repair daily’ kind of thing.

You see Simon Peter, Andrew and the rest were in trouble.  The Romans were building cities along the sea of Galilee and fishing it with new technologies that the peasants couldn’t compete with.  The over-fishing and large-scale operations made it harder and harder for fishermen to make a living.  Family traditions were eroding, and meanwhile back in Rome, emperors were amassing so much money that Nero, not long after Jesus was gone, was making a private race course for his parties.  That would be like Darrel Katz making himself a private hockey rink in his back yard so that he could hold a party for his friends, inviting the Oilers to have a rematch with the Vancouver Canucks on a last-minute whim.  The differences between the lives of the fishermen and the Emperor were staggering.

So these rough and tough men, hanging out on the beach and darning their nets, didn’t have a lot of hope in the future.  They didn’t feel important, they weren’t successful businessmen, or well-trained people with PhDs on social change or micro economics. 

They knew that they felt trapped by a system that did not care about people like them.  Yet Jesus saw them for what they were, human beings capable of great things.  And they heard that in his voice when he spoke.  Repent, believe, follow and fish.  They were ready for the challenge, and they did just that.  They also made a difference in the world, just like we are doing right here in this town of ours.  Giving hope to people like the folks we sing with at the Extendicare.  Or the men and women who are doing their best to learn how to not hit each other in violent relationships because of men like our Kelly Johnston and Bruce Jackson getting PRAAC started here.  Or the folks that meet here safely on Thursday nights to talk honestly and openly about the addictions they are learning to overcome.  Or the fellow who knocked on the office door this week, looking for hope in a desperate situation.  People like Vern who was so transformed by your loving healing ways that he named you in his will.  Or Alfred, who has found himself a safe place to rent with meals and supportive professionals to help him plan for the future, and a daily opportunity to smudge but also with the freedom if he needs to leave.  No locked doors, no feeling of shame. 

People change all the time.  Sometimes it’s because of marches in the streets and people brave enough to speak out against those who would shame them into silence.  And it’s always about community.  Jesus didn’t topple the Roman oppression by himself, he did it with a group of men and women who heard his call to a different way of life.  We can help the people around us hear that same call and help them change with love, support, a safe space to be themselves, and with faith in the one who calls us all even today to fish for those awho need our love and our shining example.  Repent, believe, follow and fish.  We’re still doing it, and it still works.  Thanks be to God!

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