Charles Graves IV
Sermon, January 21 2018
“Fishers of Women - Pescadores de Mujeres”
Almost 2.5 years ago, I was standing on a boat with some friends. It was a good-sized wooden schooner, fitting about thirty of us on board, rocking gently on the soft wind-blown waters on a clear spring day. That boat was perched peacefully upon the Sea of Galilee, with Israeli soil a few miles behind us, Jordan to our right and the edge of Syria straight ahead, just 10 miles in the distance. Looking out across the water to the seashore, I stood astounded at the mountains that seemed to jut out almost directly from the waters with very little lowland in between.
|Taken by Rev. Charles at the Sea of Galilee, May 2015|
With a 360 degree view to the waters’ edge on every side, I could almost see Jesus standing there at the shoreline, his voice ringing out clearly on a nearly windless day. Some local fishermen taught us how to throw out a large fishing net, quite like the type that would have been used in Jesus’ time. It was enormous and heavy and unwieldy, requiring several strong people and lots of practice to accomplish correctly. I gave a hand at it myself, trying my best to cast it out far and wide without getting tangled in between! Long story short, the net went about 2 feet outside the boat, fell against the side and nearly caught up my ankle along the way! Needless to say, I would have been a TERRIBLE fisherman if I had been around two thousand years ago! We certainly did NOT catch any fish that day.
Fortunately Simon (who would later be called Peter), along with Andrew, James and John were by all accounts much better fishermen than I am! It wasn’t an easy profession, nor incredibly lucrative, but it was their life, and as we can tell here in this story it was a family profession, carried from generation to generation.
What strikes me every time I read this passage is how abrupt Jesus’ call to these soon-to-be disciples seems to be. He doesn’t walk up to them saying “Hi, my name is Jesus, you probably haven’t met me before... can I take you guys out for a cup of coffee...” or any of that. Maybe they had heard of him and the big scene at his baptism a little while earlier, or heard his preaching which we hear about at the beginning of this gospel, but we don’t know that. He doesn’t even say his name, much less anything at all about what he’s doing or why they should follow him at all. All we get is that odd but memorable phrase “And I will make you fish for people” or in the older translations “fishers of men”. What does that even mean? What about leaving their families, their professions, everything they knew and everything they had in the blink of an eye?
|Rev. Charles at the edge of the Sea of Galilee|
Think about it: these men knew nothing at all of what would lie ahead. It was dangerous, following this man they’d never met, and they couldn’t possibly have imagined where it would lead or what they would encounter along the way. They couldn’t have anticipated the dangers it would expose them to or the violence they would risk along the way. Nor could they have known the blessings, the incredible sights, visions and miracles they would not only see but perform, or this thing called the Church that would still call their names 2,000 years down the line!
They didn’t even know where they would sleep that night, or what they would eat, or who they would stay with, or where they were going, or how they would get there. For those of you who are like me & like to have a plan or a schedule in life, it’s enough to give you the willies!
Many of you know that one of my great privileges in ministry is to serve a wonderful community of Latino & Latina immigrants and their children here in Cincinnati. Over the last 16 months I have learned a great deal from them, not least of which about their backgrounds, their former lives, and the journeys that brought them and us together.
Young mothers, years younger than myself tell me that in their home village in Guatemala, girls usually don’t get past 6th grade because they don’t have pencils, and if you can’t afford pencils you can’t go to school. They come from some of the poorest and most war torn places on earth, and some have been threatened by the cartels that if they don’t pay the ‘impuestos’ - the “taxes” drug lords charge for “protection”, they and their families are dead. These young women, living through the kind of fear I cannot even imagine, have no greater dream than to scratch out a life so that their children will not have to endure these same horrors.
So many of them set out on a journey - an extremely dangerous and expensive one that could easily cost them their lives, and especially for women carries added risks of sexual violence and all manner of other potential disasters. They, like these four fishermen called by Jesus at the sea shore, have no idea where this journey will take them or if they will even survive it. But they have to go.
Whether by walking across great distances, or in the modern world by jumping on top of the treacherous northbound train through Mexico called “la bestia” - the beast - for the number of people who’ve lost their lives on it, to being smuggled in cars or trucks by “coyotes” - coyotes, the drug lords who take every cent they have and abandon them at any sight of trouble, this journey is a treacherous one. Jesus’ disciples would risk martyrdom at the hands of angry mobs, gory deaths at the hands of lions in the arena, crucifixion itself or all manner of bloody demise for the road they would walk with Jesus.
The good news for us, and for these four fishermen whom we would come to call disciples, and to these young mothers from Guatemala is that Jesus Himself is the one who tells all of us “Follow Me”. And that same Jesus is the one who walks with us, who guides us, teaches us and even carries us every step of the way. Jesus who himself was a refugee in the arms of his mother fleeing to Egypt from the murderous desires of King Herod, that same Jesus walks ahead of us, and beside us, so we never have to journey alone.
How might Christ be calling you to get up and “follow me”? What does your “follow me” journey look like? What is our “follow me” journey together as a Christian and Episcopalian community in Walnut Hills? How might we be called to support those who journey with us, or whose journeys may be very different than our own? What new directions could Christ be calling us into, and what do we need to leave in order to get there?
If you’re seeing some connections to the Exodus, and that long journey story from captivity to freedom, then you’re right. Think about that this week, as we prepare for the annual meeting next week, as we consider together where God may be calling us to go in 2018 and beyond.
May it be so.