the Third Sunday after Epiphany
26 January 2020
Today’s readings are:
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Click here to access these readings.
I remember hearing today’s gospel reading back when I was in Sunday School as a kid. The call of the disciples, and especially the call of Simon Peter. Here they are casting nets into the sea, for they were fisherman. And Jesus calls out to them, “Come with me, and I’ll make you fish for people.” And, for some reason, the activity we did in Sunday School was to cut out Jesus holding a fishing pole, color him in, and then, at the other end of the line, put one of the disciples, his mouth open, waiting for the hook like a fish in water.
Even as a kid I thought this was kinda silly, and, hey, maybe that was the point. But I remember thinking, “wouldn’t that hurt?” Is Jesus going to put a hook in my mouth, or, to follow the text a bit more, throw a net around me and drag me in? It all seemed kinda strange to me. What in the world is Jesus talking about, and do I have to bite on a hook in order to hear it?
Well, one of the things that Jesus is talking about here is discipleship. We use this word pretty often in the Church. We’re disciples of Christ. And this word – disciple – it means a lot more than just follower. It means student, and not just any student, but a good one.
Now, I’ve been a bad student before. I know what that’s like. Now, for some of you this might not be the case, but in school I hated learning math. Doing figures was awful. Adding two numbers up, multiplying them, figuring out which part of the equation to do first, everything, from addition all the way up to calculus, I just hated it. And whenever I could (I’m sorry to have to admit this) I cheated. I looked in the back of the book and just wrote down the numbers, or I put the problems into a calculator. And when I had to show my work, I slogged through it, tired and irritated.
And why? I mean, I was decent at math. I could do it, but it took so much time, and I’d much rather spend that time reading, or playing outside, or doing anything else but adding up numbers. I did the work, but I hated every, single minute of it.
This is not the sort of “student” we’re supposed to be. This is not the sort of “disciple” we’re to be of Jesus Christ. And I don’t mean just that we shouldn’t drag our feet through our prayers or look up the answers in the back of the book (just in case you were wondering, there aren’t answers to the odd questions in the back of the Bible. There are just maps, usually, which are probably better than answers). What I mean is that following Jesus is more like studying your favorite subjects, whether that’s actually math or something like English or history or science. Or, if you’re more of a training person, it’s like training for sports. And here is where that hook comes in.
Christian discipleship can be hard, but it’s quite a lot more than being beaten down until we do what we’re told. There’s a hook to it, and by hook, I don’t mean the fishing hook but like a narrative hook. At the beginning of every good book or good movie, there’s always something called a hook, something that catches your interest and leads you deeper. In a movie like the first Star Wars, it’s the tiny little space ship being blasted by this huge, seemingly endless behemoth. We as an audience (if we’re into science fiction) say, “Oh man, look at that! How are these little guys gonna get away from this massive ship? What are they gonna do? Wow, I want to watch this and find out!”
Or think of my sermon. I didn’t start by saying, “Discipleship comes from Latin and borrowed into Old English, meaning follower.” I told you a story that I thought was funny (Did you notice I do that with all my sermons? I hope you enjoy them). We even start our Sunday services with a hook (in the form of a song and a procession) to pull us in and set the stage for how we’ll be praying that morning).
And most stories and most preachers use hooks like this because we humans need to be jostled about sometimes, woken up, but not like an alarm clock buzzing and ringing and making all sorts of noise until you sleepily throw your hand out and knock it the clock or phone off the dresser and turn over to go back to sleep. No, these hooks pull us into the story with a story, they pull us into the tale with something, some fascinating or interesting or healing or hopeful something that we’ll find somewhere in the tale. For Star Wars it’s the battle against good and evil, and the temptation to leave good for evil, that’s at the heart of the story. For the liturgy, we begin with music not because it’s fun to sing but to lighten our hearts and turn us more fully to God’s presence. The hook pulls us deeper, from a world without to a world within.
And sometimes that hook can really be a wake-up call. There’s an icon on the shelf in the education room back there – it’s the one I got from Sewanee upon graduation. And it shows Jesus grabbing two people (they’re Adam and Eve) and dragging them out of coffins. The point is that sometimes God has to grab us by the wrists and drag us out of our stupor and sin so that we can see the light. Sometimes the hook can hurt, but it always pulls us deeper into the life of Jesus Christ – if we follow it.
Part of the life of discipleship is to look for these hooks. Part of the life of a Christian is to train ourselves to see God, to hear his call to us, and to put down our things and follow him. And we train for this through prayer, through studying God’s word to us in Scripture, through living a life founded in the teachings of Jesus Christ and of the Church, especially the Sacraments, and especially those two most beautiful Sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist.
But we also train as disciples through hearing God in the things we love. I was called to God through the natural world and through literature, and I’ve come to understand that my hearing God’s call in Lord of the Rings and Beowulf was not so surprising after all (these books are inundated with God’s Hope). I’ve heard some of you talk about gardening, football or basketball, running on the beach, or spending time with your family as responding to God’s call to you. For in all these things, God is calling to us to go deeper, to love more fully, and to hope with a more open heart, and you will find God filling you more and more with your light.
God’s call to us, however, is still a hook, and while God can call us through the things we love, sometimes God calls us through things that trouble us or frighten us. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that neighbor include those who keep to themselves and watch the house for us while we’re gone as well as the neighbor who wanders around at night and might just be up to something. That love that we’re called to is to find God’s presence with them and to seek (and often to help our neighbor seek) God in their lives. What that looks like depends on the person and the situation, but the call is always present, always present, to love others as Jesus Christ loved us. And Jesus loved us with hands that healed and with hands that were nailed to the cross. Loving is not always easy, but it’s what we Christians do.
We Christians are living in the Light of God. Through our Baptisms, and through our dedication to the Life that was and is in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit himself, God above all things, we are living in a Light that is healing, and joyful, and hopeful. Spend some time today during our Sabbath in the presence of that Light. And spend some time, as we prepare for the great 40 days of Lent, in considering how you can bring that Light more fully into your life and into the life of others, so that God’s call may be more fully known and more fully heard and more fully lived in this world so dark and lonely.