Epiphany 3 2017 St C
1 Cor 1. 10-18
Matt 4; 12-23
Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Jesus.
It’s an ordinary morning somewhere near Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In a small fishing village a father and his 2 just grown-up sons are mending their nets after a nights fishing. Everything is just as it always had been and just as it always will be. Zebedee, the father, was brought up as a fisherman by his father and knows that one day he will pass the business on to his sons – the sons he has been teaching about fishing since they could walk. He’s passed on everything he knows about this lake, it’s weather, it’s deep and shallow places, strange bony fish that some of its main inhabitants… As he looks at his son’s, 2 of them, strong and healthy, a bit fiery and unpredictable sometimes – but they’ll settle down once they have children of their own – he knows that God has been good to him. His old age is secure and meanwhile he has more to teach and enjoy with his sons here in the place where they all belong.
He looks up from the net his mending, stretches, and sees in the distance a small group coming towards him. Two of the young men are slightly familiar – friends of James and John, Andrew and Simon, also fisherman. There’s a man he doesn’t know: clearly the leader of the group, he’s talking animatedly as they approach, and everyone is listening to, barely looking where they’re going. The group arrives at the place where the Zebedee family boats are pulled up on the bank and the stranger speaks to James and John. Zebedee carries on with his work, not paying attention, not noticing the passion in the man’s voice or the way that his sons are suddenly paying attention to him and dropping their nets.
And that’s it. Suddenly his world is completely changed. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Jesus. I’m not going to try to imagine the conversation that must have passed between Zebedee and his sons as it dawned on him what they were about to do. We know that the sons were quick to anger – perhaps Zebedee was too. Perhaps things were said that would be hard to forget. We don’t know…
Usually when we focus on these stories of the calling of the first disciples we applaud their willingness to follow Jesus: we celebrate the power of his personality and his words to draw the people he needed to be his disciples. We may notice the cost to them of giving up everything they knew to follow an itinerant rabbi, but we don’t necessarily ask ourselves how it would have been for those left behind. Zebedee and his family were deprived at a stroke of at least a part of their livelihood and the secure future they counted on. We have no idea what happened in that village, in that family, whether they understood why James and John had to go, how they adapted, but we do know that both those young men would play a key part in the extraordinary events of the next few years and in the foundation of the church that we inherit today. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, Mary’s new son and protector, evangelist and traveller: James, one of the earliest martyrs, put to the sword by Herod to please the Jews and as an example to followers of Jesus.
But before all that, and not necessarily as they would have wished, their family had to deal with unexpected, unwelcome change.
The changes that face us as a parish are less dramatic and life changing, but one thing that doesn’t change is human nature and we are all so much more comfortable with the known and the expected. But God works in mysterious ways. Something wonderful may have come out of the need for that family business to rethink itself: new relationships may have been built and new dependencies established – generosity and mutual support from unexpected quarters. Zebedee and his family were Jewish through and through, part of a community of faith with the tradition of supporting one another through wilderness years and in prosperity. We are part of the body of Christ, united in his love, charged with building his kingdom wherever we go, and not always given the choice to do this the way we would like the best. I am certain – and I don’t say this lightly – that wonderful things will come out of our new service pattern. I do believe that God is calling us to greater unity in the parish, that joining the people of St Bart’s and St Christopher’s together in worship every week will give us more energy, more focus, more sense of how God is at work amongst us and our strengths and weaknesses as his body here in Haslemere. In this new way of doing things, some of us may be excitedly inspired like James and John, and some of us may struggle as Zebedee must have done. We have no idea what the future holds and our only choice is to trust God – to trust God through all the changing scenes of life, and boy, are they changing fast!
The introduction to the Lord’s prayer for this Epiphany season is “believing the promises of God, let us pray with confidence…” God promise promises us his love, his peace and his grace to do what we are called to do and to be the people we are created to be.
The people we were created to be – the people of God, made, known and loved by him. It’s good to remember, in this week of prayer for Christian Unity, that being God’s children is our primary identity, whatever our nationality, class, colour, church, denomination, parish, or community, however we came to faith, whatever our churchmanship, however much we may disagree about the way our faith is expressed… That’s why today’s epistle is set, to encourage us in unity. I have to say that when Chuks and I saw it we had a good laugh and agreed that God’s sense of humour far outstrips ours.
The words of Paul to the church in Corinth ring down the centuries
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose.. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’
And so today: I belong to the Roman Catholic Church: I’m a Methodist: I belong to the Church of England – to reform, to forward in faith, to the open evangelical tradition, to the prayer book Society…. I only like to worship in my parish, in my church… Fill in the gaps yourselves……..
We, here in this parish, whether we worship at St Christopher’s, or St Bart’s, or wander between the 2, we share with all Christians the mission to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, and to show to the world what that lordship means by living lives of love, service and – yes – unity. Whether that means comfort and familiarity to the end of our days or sudden disruption and new ways of doing things, as Zebedee and many others in the NT discovered – remember the rich young man – we are called to trust the promises of God, to follow Jesus, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. So finally, back to Zebedee. I have no idea what he did or said or thought after his sons went off with Jesus, but wouldn’t it be great if he went back and said to his wife: “dear, you’re going to think this is all very odd but James and John have gone off to follow a new rabbi who is telling us at the kingdom of God is very near. I don’t know how long they’ll be gone what will happen and it’s going to be difficult for us, but this rabbi, Jesus, is really worth following. I’m sure our sons have done the right thing and now it’s our turn to find ways to do our bit for the kingdom he is proclaiming, however hard that may be. God will help us: he is our refuge and strength in times of joy and in times of difficulty.”
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God.