Fishers of Men

The Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew by Pietro da Cortona (c.1626-30)

Epiphany 3B 2018
St. Brendan’s Anglican Church
Rev. Doug Floyd

Mark 1: 14-20

These cold temperatures of late make me think of a poem by Rod Jellema on the relationship winter and summer.

Come Winter

Our two most beautiful words
said Henry James
are summer and afternoon,
and today he’s almost right.

Out of the leaves of an oak
that hums like Schubert
a breeze shakes flocks
of sunlight abounding
across the lawn

while little beads
skate their frosty tracks
all over my glass of pilsner,
and now there’s the distant
thwack of a screen door
and a blackbird’s whistle
riding above the muffled shouts
of boys playing baseball
in a vacant lot
three blocks or sixty years away.

But such a day sits still.
Just another summer afternoon
that can’t get past itself,
end of the line,
like the faded red boxcars
long years ago, left on a spur
in hot yellowing grass
in a wash of light
nowhere to go.

I pick up my beer and
turn back inside,
thinking there has to be more,
remembering in winter
lying still dark mornings
before the window drifted into place,

musing how snow rounds off
all edges of roofs and street signs,
how it curves and softens
a world in the same way that images,
dreams, imaginings
made and shaped the creation
as they rose out of holy darkness
that’s on the face of the deep.

So “the dead of winter”
is an old deception, a lie,
undone by swelling twigs
and pregnant bears asleep,
by the oily smell of the
baseball glove in the closet.
Winter is a girl who skips
over patches of dirty slush
with bright barrettes in her hair.

Winter makes (yes!) spirit visible
in the very steam from our mouths.
Call it a certain hope,

it finally raises from the dark
that stranger hope of a second coming
of the One who hung out the stars
at the world’s beginning, coming
not to scourge and burn
and blow up the world
and nail it to our failings
but to embrace and infuse it,
lighting up our recall
of Eden and who we are,
bringing us back to where
we can make the world right,
knowing again that
summer and afternoon
live and endure
only out of the
working depths of
winter and morning.[1]

Jellema highlights how summer can sometimes feel like everything that winter is not. Baseball, birdsong, gentle breeze, light flickering across the lawn. Contrast that with winter. Winter can communicate desolation, loss, emptiness. It’s no accident that CS Lewis uses winter to communicate Narnia under the oppression of the White Witch. 100 years of winter. It was “[a]lways winter but never Christmas.” Some people battle seasonal depression during the long dark months of winter.

Jellema suggests that winter and summer are intertwined. In some ways, winter represents the potentially of spring and summer. It carries the seeds of new life. In his gentle observations of the world around him, Jellema sees glimpses of the creation of all things and also the consummation of all things in Jesus Christ. The simple sounds and sights of the day reveal a deep potential rooted in the heart of the world. Or as he says, “Call it a certain hope.”

Just as we see glimpses of Spirit in the breath from our mouths on a cold winter day, we see glimpses of the glory that is to come in the people we pass every day. During this season after Epiphany, we reflect upon that certain hope unveiled in Jesus Christ. We pause over the outworking of that hope in the world.

In today’s reading, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom and calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him. He promises to transform them from fishermen into fishers of men. Ben Witherington suggests that this might draw upon the images of water from the Old Testament that involve danger, chaos, destruction, and sea monsters such as the feared  Leviathan.[2]

Jesus commands the storm and walks on the water, demonstrating His authority over the waters. He has authority over the chaos of people’s lives. He has authority over the evil powers, seeking to plunge people into the depths of darkness. Fishers of men could be an image of rescuing people from the watery grave of sin and death.

The disciples will eventually demonstrate this same authority. They will become living images of Christ, and the Kingdom of God will be manifest in the way they live, talk, and pour out their lives. This morning I want to pause over their transformation into disciples, into icons of Christ. I keep in mind that line from Jellema’s poem about the middle of winter:

Winter makes (yes!) spirit visible
in the very steam from our mouths.
Call it a certain hope,

Even when it looks like there is not life or there is repeated failure, we watch for a glimpse of this Spirit of God who hovers over this creation with the life of God in Christ. Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15).

He is the king of the kingdom, so in one sense wherever he goes, the kingdom is at hand. He manifests the kingdom rule by calling followers, casting out demons, healing the sick, forgiving sins, teaching the way of the kingdom, calming the storm, raising the dead, multiplying a few loaves and fish to feed thousands of people, and walking on the water. Wherever he goes, he demonstrates his kingly authority over people, over spiritual powers, over creation. All things are being brought under his rule. The Kingdom of God is not simply about a moral code or a religious awakening, it is about the rule of God reshaping the people and their world. Ultimately, it will be realized in his death and resurrection as the power of sin and death is broken.

What does the kingdom rule of Jesus means? God in Christ rescues us from the powers of darkness that would entangle our soul in sin and death. He rescues us just as He rescued the Noah in the ark and the Israelites from Egypt. As Paul proclaims in Colossians 1,  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:13–14).

How should the disciples respond? “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Repent involves the act of turning the whole person toward the Lord and believe is the simple trust in His faithfulness.  Both words grow up into us, reshaping us over time.

In the beginning, each disciple is like a baby who has simple trust in her mother for provision. She turns to the mother for food, comfort, and care. And yet, her life will be a process of learning to trust and turn as well.

The disciples follow Jesus immediately, but they don’t always understand what he is doing. At times, they are fearful, confused, they misunderstand and they even deny and abandon him. They are weak and frail like a growing child. But even in the beginning, we behold a certain hope. Jesus created them with great gifts that would one day flourish in the light of His love. To look at them in their weakness is like looking out at the winter day. All seem dead or asleep, but great grace was already at work leading them into the fire of Spring.

Even as we believe the Good News, we are learning how to believe. Life is made up of moments of returning to this trust, this resting, this faith. At times, we are confused, struggling with fear and anxiety. Life becomes a way of learning to trust in good times and bad.

There are seasons when returning to this trust can be a challenge. In 2008, our church building burned and six months later I lost my job as a writer. Before I had help fund retreats on my own and supported most of our ministry projects. In one year, I lost the retreat ministry and my job. At first, I wrote a meditation about living into grace in the midst of struggle. I could say it, but I struggled to feel it.  Over the next year, I battled depression and a sense of failure at every level of life.

I kept telling myself God is good and trustworthy. But I struggled to feel it. Walking with my wife and friends, I gradually came to a place of peace and that sense of abiding trust returned.

Life is filled with unexpected twists that drive us to pray, to cry out, to seek counsel. In the struggle, our roots of faith in God’s faithfulness grow deeper. In the winter of the soul, we prepare for the springtime of new life.

We are to repent and believe. Repenting is the turning around of the whole person to God in Jesus Christ. It is a turning of the mind, it is the reshaping of my thoughts and dreams and understanding of myself and the world in light of Jesus the Christ. My imagination is occupied by whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Php 4:8).

It is also the turning of the body. My body must submit to the Gospel. In other words, I become an icon of Christ. My words and actions look like my Savior, my King. I become a living image of God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control, the Kingdom of God is at hand (Gal 5:22).

If we look at the disciples in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, it becomes clear that repentance is way, a path, a pattern that we grow up into. Eugene Peterson once wrote about a “long obedience in the same direction.”[3] This is a life of slow growth. A life of turning and returning to Christ in all spheres of life: work, home, play, society, school. It is a grace-filled discipline.

Think again of a child. Inwardly she shares her parents DNA and outwardly, she carries certain physical resemblances to her parents. She is also shaped by the relationships in her family. The process of her becoming an adult is a long, slow struggle. Learning and relearning. Discipline. Social skills of speaking and acting and thinking passed on through an extensive series of ritual encounters like family meals, family vacations, waking and sleeping, playing, studying, exploring, discovering. At the same time, she must learn to live within limitations, to submit to outside discipline, and to live into responsibilities.

After many years of training, she is ready to face the world. She still has a support network of family and new friends, but she goes forth into the world to create and discover. The training continues in more education or learning new skills in the workplace. Then one day she passes on what she has learned and continues to learn to her children as well as to her coworkers or friends. She becomes one who is helping shape other humans who will build a more generous and loving world. This is the pattern of how God created us and how the Kingdom of God grows.

In this sense, repent and believe is a life process that involves a variety of disciplines. Some are imposed by others, and some we impose on ourselves. I want to close today by briefly reviewing some of the disciplines we see in the disciples.

  1. Learning – Every day they are hearing Jesus teach, they are discussing his talks, asking questions and responding. Eventually, this becomes hearing God’s Word in the gathered community. Attending to God’s Word through prayer, meditation, journaling, and Bible studies.
  2. Friendships – They spent time together. Spiritual disciplines are often presented as individual disciplines. The pattern in the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles are little groups of friends eating together, spending time together, praying together, sometimes arguing together, but always growing together in Christ. Eventually, this takes shape in small house churches, in prayer circles, in cultivating friendships over a lifetime, and even in spiritual direction.
  3. Withdrawal – There are times in the life of Christ and in the Apostle Paul’s life when they withdraw from the constant action. These can be daily times as well as extended retreats of quiet, prayer, worship, and communion with the Father.
  4. Outpouring – In the Gospels, the disciples are following Jesus pattern and learning to pour out their lives for others. This involves praying for others, feeding the five thousand, following simple commands like helping to set up the Passover meal. These disciplines sound like Romans 12. We offer our lives as living sacrifices by pouring out our gifts to one another in hospitality, prayer, teaching, service, and more.

These are just some of the ways we might think about a life of repenting and believing. Even as He has rescued us by His wondrous grace, we are learning and relearning to trust and to submit to our Savior and King. He has created us to reveal a certain hope of His glory, hidden behind the veil of this life and waiting to be fully unveiling when every eye shall behold Him.

[1] Rod Jellema, “Come Winter” in A Slender Grace, Eerdmans, 2004 (pp. 17-19).
[2] 
Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001), 85-86. “What Jesus seems to be asking these disciples to do is rescue some in the face of the coming eschatological judgment, lest all be lost, or rescue some out of the clutches of the powers of darkness. Various texts suggest that water was seen as a symbol of evil or loss, indeed of chaos (see, e.g., Ps. 74:13). From such waters one needed to be rescued. “In the background of Jesus’ picture of ‘fishers of men’ it is therefore necessary to see that the waters … are the underworld, the place of sin and death. To fish out a [person] means to rescue him from the kingdom of darkness, out of the sphere which is hostile to God and remote from God.”
[3] 
Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. IVP Books, 2000.

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