Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only Start Doing

Epiphany 3 – Year A

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.
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Lord, you call us to leave our nets and follow you.
May we have the courage and the strength to answer your call. Amen.

So, one of the joys of marriage is getting to know your spouse’s family history and habits. I recently learned that Matt’s mom used the exact same phrase my mom always did when I was a teenager headed out with friends to youth group, or the movies, or beach week: “Stay safe and have fun!” to which apparently Matt would always reply, “Wait…which one?”

I’m guessing this is a pretty common thing for parents of youth and young adults (and even not-so-young adults) to say to their children. I think it is a near-universal feeling for parents to want their children to go and have adventures and enjoy time with friends, and experience life, hence the “Have fun!” But, of course, there is also the universal parental desire for their kids to have these fun life experiences while also making good choices, to avoid hurting themselves or anyone else. Hence the “Stay safe!”

As adolescents grow up and find their own path in life, sometimes the parent’s role is to simply trust that they have instilled the right values in their offspring, and to support the decisions and callings of their sons and daughters, while encouraging them to stay safe and have fun. But sometimes that is hard.

Imagine this scene: You’re mildly annoyed. Even though they’re grown up now, you still have to remind Johnny and Jimmy to check the nets for holes or weak strands. No wonder yesterday’s catch was pathetic.
Still, it is nice to have them here with you, mending the nets and doing inventory of the fishing equipment. To their credit, your boys are great with the boat and they always show up when you ask them to. Particularly James. He’s definitely your stereotypical firstborn. You’re proud of the way you raised them. You taught them to love God and you taught them to fish. What more could a man need?

And you are proud of the way they turned out. You wonder if you tell them that often enough. You start to say it now, but you figure they already know. You notice that your boys seem restless today, distracted.
You chalk it up to boredom. Yes, the life of a fisherman is monotonous. Yes, the smell of fish never really gets out of your hair and clothes. Yes, the labor is strenuous. But the income is steady. And the view of the sun setting over the lake at the end of each day is pure gold. It’s a good life. It’s a safe life.

You’re so lost in your own thoughts that you didn’t even notice the stranger on the beach until you hear him call out toward your vessel, which is not too far from the shore. You squint, trying to see him better,
but the sun is in your eyes. Is this the man you’ve heard folks talking about? You try to remember
what exactly you’ve heard about him, but you don’t pay too much attention to the gossip and idle chatter of the locals. Your boys exchange a quick look, communicating silently as only brothers can. Then James turns to you and says, “Dad, we’ve got to go.” He takes your hand and squeezes it. The gesture is gentle, but rushed. John, your younger, more sensitive boy, says simply “Dad, we love you.” His eyes are brimming. Before you know what is happening, your two sons have jumped out of the boat and they are running together toward the shadowy figure on the beach. Your head is dizzy with confusion,
but you comprehend that what has just happened is important. Somehow, you choke out a few words,
something about being safe and having fun, and then you look down, only to see a half-mended net
on the floor of your now-empty boat. You pick up the net, and continue the work, and you say a silent prayer for your sons.

Did you notice Zebedee when we heard the Lesson from Matthew? He is not at all the focus of the story,
and so he’s easy to miss. But can you imagine how he is feeling when both of his sons abruptly leave him
to answer a call that comes seemingly out of nowhere, with no warning? Transitioning to being an empty-nester is hard enough, but in this story, Zebedee loses both his sons and his fishing business colleagues at once. And the way Matthew tells the story, Zebedee doesn’t even have time for a proper goodbye. It may have been all he could do to whisper a quick “Stay safe and have fun”as James and John climbed out of the boat to follow this peculiar and compelling itinerant preacher.

Can you even imagine what Zebedee must have felt in the days to come? Grief? Definitely. Bewilderment. Certainly. Anger. Probably. Pride? Maybe. Curiosity? Perhaps. Do you remember Randy’s opening day sermon from back in September? Some of you may recall the story he told about the father of a senior
about to graduate from college, who called up the college chaplain , furious that his daughter had decided
to put aside graduate school to go do mission work in Haiti. The father held the chaplain personally responsible for this influence, but the chaplain pointed out that the “blame” for this situation could only be placed on the parents themselves. THEY were the ones who had her baptized, read Bible stories to her,
took her to Sunday school, let her go on the youth mission trip. The chaplain said to the irate father,
“You’re the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me.”

We don’t know whether Zebedee reacted like the father of the young Haiti-bound missionary, terrified and upset because the faithful values he tried to instill in his child actually took root. OR—if Zebedee eventually came to understand and appreciate the role his sons would play in the ministry of this prophetic figure. We don’t know whether Zebedee too became a disciple of Jesus. Was he a face in the crowds that gathered to hear the Sermon on the Mount? Was he one of the 5000 who feasted
on five loaves of bread and two fish? Did he hear Jesus tell the parable of the Sower, and did his heart swell with pride because his sons were clearly good soil?

Oh, Zebedee. Did you begin to understand that your sons were more concerned with being righteous
than being safe? That they’d choose having faith over having fun? Zebedee, did you pray for them?
We do not know the rest of Zebedee’s story. But we know our story. We know that we want safety and fun for those whom we love, and that is a good and joyful and appropriate thing. But we also know the call to true discipleship must be answered, which can be fun, but is rarely safe. It is rarely safe because it involves taking the risks of being vulnerable and open. It means entering into relationships with other people. Remember, the ministry to which the first disciples are called is primarily a relational one.
James, John, Simon Peter, and Andrew were in the Tilapia business. But now they are in the people business, in the business of relationships. When Jesus calls them, he does not ask for their resumes. He does not care about their skill sets or prior experience. He simply says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”

And by that he means that these fishermen will enter into relationship with an entirely new population—
the least, the lost, the sick, the hungry, the sinful, and with Christ himself.

Maybe some of us, like James and John, are called to forsake safety in favor of righteousness and faith.
Maybe we are called to leave the security of our homes and jobs and families to be fishers of people.

And maybe others of us are called to be Zebedees, called to nurture and raise up disciples,
to understand that sometimes the nets must be dropped before the mending is complete and to be supportive of those who pick up and follow Jesus to Haiti or to the East End of Richmond or to the Cross.

Because more than anything else, the call of Jesus is about relationships. So to close, I want to invite you
to call to mind someone with whom you are in relationship. It could be a daughter or son, another family member, a friend or colleague. Once you have that person in mind, take a moment to pray for her or him ,
and their call to discipleship, as we hope Zebedee did for his sons.

Amen.