Third Sunday After the Epiphany
January 22, 2017
“Immediately, they left their nets.” Those words for today’s Gospel have always fascinated me and profoundly disturbed me at the same time. I am fascinated by the incredible trust of those simple fishermen who leave their way of life – all that gives them security, their friends and families, boat and business, relatives and
responsibilities. One has to wonder what questions people asked when hearing that these men had left town to follow some wandering prophet from a nearby village.
What was it in this Jesus person that compelled them to leave their nets, immediately, to drop it all and go learn to fish for people? This is repentance of the highest order, i.e., leaving all behind to walk in an entirely new direction. When Jesus told them the Kingdom of God had come near, what did they see that was so urgent that leaving their nets and following him was the only thing they could do? What does it mean for you, as a part of this worshiping community, as you pause and take stock as to who you want to be as a Gospel community? So I remain fascinated and full of questions.
Then there is that part of me that is deeply disturbed. All the tapes of my upbringing get played here about being responsible. Isn’t personal responsibility one of the major values we who are parents try to instill in our children, taught to me as a child and which I tried to teach my own children? This act of the disciples seems totally irresponsible, even reckless, especially when it seems like the riskiest thing I did this week was drive here from Charleston. Am I disturbed because I fear they knew something I don’t know? Are they more faithful than I? Am I too attached to all the things around me that bring comfort and security? Do I like the status quo a bit too much? Am I afraid that perhaps I would not have followed?
When I look at the Bible, I see over and over again people like Peter and Andrew, James and John, Abraham, Isaiah and Paul, all who left their comfort zones to go in a single-hearted way to live the life of God as they heard the Spirit calling them. That fascinates me – that kind of complete and utter trust in God to provide, to lead, to guide, but I am disturbed. I’m all for trusting God – but I like the Arabic proverb that says: “Trust in God, but tie up your camel.”
But there’s no tying up of camels in this Gospel and I realize that the thing that disturbs me is not the call, but God. God disturbs me! It was Jesus who changed those disciples’ lives and it is God as we see him in Jesus who wants to change and challenge and redirect and transform my life and your life. That includes our attitudes, our relationships, the way we inhabit this earth. That’s what fascinates me and disturbs me all at the same time – GOD.
Give me a God who loves me, who embraces me, who nurtures me, who tells me I am beloved, all true; but don’t give me a God who disturbs me. Yet I know from the history of our tradition that the God who calls us into discipleship is the God who also disturbs us.
This time of transition in our present reality as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and our unique 21st century mission context, is a time of disturbing, of shaking things up a bit, of challenge. It has a measure of anxiety in it, yes? Perfectly normal. Many people, although I hope you are the exception, are hoping for certain decisions so that everything can go back to “normal,” whatever that is. I don’t think I have ever read a profile of a parish that said, “In addition to a faithful pastor and lover of souls, we want a priest who will disturb us.” Yet that may be one of the most faithful things a pastor can do – to call people as Jesus did to repent – to walk a new way, see new possibilities, to leave our nets, and move in the direction of learning our only true security is God. Your main job, as always, is to fish for people and to be a light of God to the nations. If you do that, what you are to be and become as a faith community will unfold before you. Your job is to pay attention.
The essence of today's Gospel calls forth our commitment and re-centering on who we want to be as God’s very own. You all here, right in Cheraw, have felt compelled to leave your nets in various ways in order to follow Jesus as you understand your call. How might we continue to get on our feet and live in this time of transition? Let me tell you a story. Rabbi Aaron once came to a city. The father of a young boy named Mordecai lived there. He brought him to Rabbi Aaron to complain that his boy did not persevere in his studies. “Leave the boy with me for a while,” Rabbi Aaron said. When alone, he sat down and took the child to his heart. Silently he held him close until Mordecai’s father returned. “I gave him a good talking to,” he said. “From now on he will not be lacking in perseverance.” Years later Mordecai said that was when he learned how to convert and be converted.
We must listen to one another’s hearts. God seeks to take us to deeper places, to more radically faithful places. For the sake of one another and for the sake of the world, we are in this together. We are light, and our prayer must be, can be, if we dare it, “O God, disturb us. Help us to leave our nets, whatever they might be, and leave behind all that would draw us from you and one another. May we find our longing in your heart and in one another’s hearts, so that we might catch a glimpse of the Kingdom you prepare for us all. Disturb us. Immediately.”
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.