Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mathew 4:12-23 Fishermen

In today’s Reading we hear how Jesus called his First disciples. Simon who is called Peter and James They immediately dropped their nets and followed him. Imagine how lucky they must have felt to have an opportunity to stop fishing and follow Jesus instead. But not so fast, what does this really mean, what did it mean to be a fisherman at the time of Jesus.
The Sea of Galilee has been renowned for its fish from ancient times. There are 18 different species that are indigenous to the lake. They are classified locally into three main groups: sardines, biny and musht.
Sardines are endemic to the lake. Today at the height of the fishing season tens of tons of sardines are caught every night. Biny fish consist of three species of the carp family. Because they are “well fleshed” they are very popular at feasts and for Sabbath. Musht means “comb.” These are large fish, some of which are 16 inches long and weigh 2 pounds.
Fishing in Galilee was/ and is a thriving industry. Fish was the main source of protein, and the market for fish was extensive. The population of Palestine at the time of Jesus was about 500,000. The ordinary masses depended on fish along with bread as a staple food. Satisfying the epicurean appetites of the upper classes at home and abroad with dried fish was a profitable business.
The fishermen oversaw all aspects of the business. They furnished the boats and equipment for the actual fishing. They paid their help and paid the quota to the tax collector. They attended to the business of sale, were accountable for the preserving of the fish and shipment, and did their own bargaining.
The fishermen hired sailors and fishers (maybe day laborers) to do the work, care for the boats, mend the nets, sift and count the fish. These fishermen operated in legal partnership with others. They belonged to guilds (much like trade unions).
Zebedee, the father of James and John, owned his boats and hired day laborers. This leads to the presumption that he and his sons had a sizeable business, which would have required travel. Peter and Andrew were partners with them.
James and John, according to the gospels, traveled frequently to Jerusalem where fish was required for the pilgrim feasts. It has been suggested that they supplied fish for the high priestly family (the gospel says that John was known to the High Priest, Caiaphas). Was it on these trips that Jesus went to Jerusalem? In John’s Gospel we find him there for many of the feasts, which would have been the times when fishermen went with their fish.
Jesus Chose Fishermen
Jesus entrusted fishermen from Bethsaida with the spreading of his message. They were the ones he commissioned to be fishers of people and to teach all nations. He may have done this for practical reasons. These were savvy businessmen. They were multilingual. Their native tongue was Aramaic. They would also have known Hebrew. Knowledge of Greek would have been essential for people like Peter and his co-workers who were involved in the fishing business. The gospels themselves suggest that they were able to carry on conversations with Greek speakers the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7:26), people in the Decapolis where the curing of the deaf man took place (Mk 7:31), and the incident of Philip and Andrew conversing with the Greeks (Jn 12:20-23). They may also have had a smattering of Latin. Peter converses with the Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10:25).
Fishermen had to develop attributes that others did not have. They had to be skilled at their trade, knowing the when, where and why of fishing, but they also had to be patient, not easily discouraged, strong, hard-working and community- oriented.
As businessmen they had to be judges of character, savvy about the market, conscientious about their civic and religious responsibility. They had to have respect for the law and learn to operate within its limitations. All of this was required in their new enterprise. And in bringing the skills of their trade to Jesus, these fishermen changed the world.
Knowing all this of the trade of fishing and their skill sets and most likely their income and lifestyle Imagine what it means to drop their nets and follow Jesus. Jesus called and they answered without even thinking about it. God placed something on their hearts and when Jesus called they knew this was the time to answer.
There are other stories in the Gospels where people are feeling called for example the young well to do man in Mathew 19 who says to Jesus what must I do to enter heaven and Jesus explains to him to keep the commandments and the young man states I do all that then Jesus says “well if you want to be perfect sell all you have and give the money to the poor” to which the writer tells us the young man “went away grieving for he had many possessions.”
Here was a young man who too felt he had a calling that God had placed something upon his heart and yet when he decided to explore what that meant he wasn’t prepared to answer the call. Then there is the instance of the person who Jesus says follow me and his response is “allow me to bury my father first” and of course Jesus’ reply is “let the dead bury their dead”. Often we feel this response is harsh yet this is nature of Devine calling in Scripture. The characteristics are all the same; they require instant obedience, the caller is not aware of exactly what they are being called to; and the response is through faith alone.
In today’s time here and now we are constantly being called by God. We are not called once, to become people of faith, but many times. All through our lives Christ is calling us. God called us first into life at the moment of our creation. Christ calls us into relationship with God and the spirit. Whether we listen for that voice or not it is there calling us to come ever closer. If we somehow feel we are less than or we hold ourselves accountable for something we have done or haven’t done, we are called into forgiveness; If we are struggling to fulfill our calling, Christ calls us on from grace to grace, and from holiness to holiness. Calling is constantly inviting us to go further and deeper with God.
It is sad but all too often we think of Christ’s call as something that happened in the day of the Apostles along the Sea of Galilee or only for those entering the religious life and Yet Christ is among us calling us this very day often we do not believe it ,we do not hear it or feel it, we do not look for it in our own lives.
These sacred callings come to us suddenly and have obscure consequences just as in any account of calling. The accidents and events of life are one special way in which callings occur and they are, by definition, sudden and unexpected. You may be going about your daily routine and you come across a letter, or a note, or a person, and now you find yourself faced with something, which, if met prayerfully and whole-ly ( that is spelled Wholely) that is with full conciseness and intentionality there may be an opportunity to deepen your relationship with God.
Perhaps it may be the loss of someone dear to us which shows us the impermanence of things in this life and how unimportant the collecting of “things” are and calls us to turn and become more focused on God.
The little things which we do, or we respond to, that come to us as suddenly as a summer squall, may be just the answer to open us up to new possibilities and greater understanding of God callings here and now. It may open up our hearts and minds into a truer view of life and choices that we have not seen before.
Another way that the call may come and we answer is through daily devotion, perhaps you read scripture everyday and suddenly see something in a new way in which we never have before. A new light may seem to shine in Jesus and his Apostles and the way they lived their lives and responded to the world around them that suddenly you see you can now respond to life in a way that you have never responded before.
The Calling of Christ and God is constant, often referred to as the lure. God is ever luring us into a deeper relationship of prayer and awareness. Yet to answer the calls of God requires a prayerfull relationship.
There is an old story about a man sitting at a bar getting drunk in Alaska. He’s telling the bartender about how he recently lost his faith in God after his twin engine plane crashed in the tundra. "Yeah," he says bitterly, I lay there in the wreckage praying with all of my might and crying out to God to save me, and he didn’t raise a finger to help me. I'm through believing in a God who doesn’t care about what happens to me."
"But you’re here talking to me," says the bartender, "You were saved."
"Yeah, that's right," says the man, "because finally some Eskimo came along. . ."
God appears to us through many different people and speaks to us in many different ways. If we have a preconceived notion of what God looks like, or sounds like, we just might miss her when she calls! The voice of God does not always sound like Charleton Heston in Cecil B. Demille’s, "Ten Commandments." Even Samuel, from the Old Testament, confused the voice of God with the voice of his mentor, Eli. God calls each one of us, but we may not recognize God's voice.
When I say that God calls each one of us, I simply mean that the Holy Spirit has a desire to lead us and guide us throughout our lives. I don’t mean that God is like a great puppet-master sitting up in heaven pulling the strings and making us dance around. But the one who created us all gave us different gifts and desires, and we were given those gifts and desires for a reason. When we dedicate our lives to following Christ, we are choosing to live as God would want us to live, and to use our gifts for the greater good. God calls us to be who we are and to live as authentically as we can. When we follow God's direction for our lives, we are being who we were created to be.
The word vocation is derived from the Latin word Vocare, which means, "to call." A vocation is a calling, which sets it apart from being merely a job. My professor Frank Rogers always taught us that; “Vocation is the place in the road where your deepest gladness and the worlds deepest needs meet." God can and does call us at different stages in our lives. For some people, the call is very clear and there is no question about following it. Simon, Andrew, James and John did not hesitate to drop their nets and follow Jesus, leaving the lives and the work that they knew well. For most of us, however, God's call is not so clear and it takes a while to discern just what we are being called to do.
Parker Palmer writes in “Let your Life Speak” of when he was a young man, he was trying to figure out his own calling. He was trying "to find a vocation that seemed real and right." At the time, he was living in a Quaker community outside of Philadelphia. It seems that whenever he tried to talk to any of his Quaker friends they told him, "Have faith, and the way will be made know to you." He was getting very discouraged, because he had been praying and listening and nothing seemed clear to him. One day, he went to visit an older member of the community whom he admired. "Ruth," he said, "I've tried many different kinds of work, but nothing seemed right for me. My friends keep telling me that the way will open if I have faith, yet I've been praying and the way is not being made clear to me. Way may open for other people but it sure isn’t opening for me."
After a moment Ruth responded, "I've been a birthright Quaker for sixty-plus years, and way has never opened for me,” she responded. She paused and Palmers heart sank. Could it be that the Quaker concept of God's guidance was all a lie?
Then Ruth spoke again, "But a lot of way has closed behind me and that has the same guiding effect."
Together they laughed aloud and in that moment Palmer realized a simple truth that re-framed his spiritual life. He writes: “There is as much guidance from God in what does not happen and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does happen, maybe more."
One way that we can determine call is if we are sensing a way opening before us, or a way being cut off behind us. This is referred to as looking for signs and blocks. When trying to determine if God was calling her into the ministry, a friend went to a wise woman for spiritual direction. She told her that if she wasn’t sure, she should try doing something else for a while. If God were calling her into the ministry, she wouldn’t be able to avoid it. When God calls us to be our authentic selves, nothing else will bring a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment.
I had gone into the seminary to become a Pastor in MCC. All my studies of Pastoral care and Chaplaincy were to make me a better pastor. Yet when the time came for ordination I had met Bob. We were married and I went into chaplaincy. I was good at it but it was not where I was called to be. I even considered commuting to Santa Ana and back to serve there.
Then I was asked to apply for the position here and not by bob I may add. Bob was sure it was a good fit but I was concerned. I had to pray and pray hard. I had to consider what was best for the people here whom I love, and had already come to know as fellow congregants. The answer was difficult and yet simple. I am called to this Church!
If we want to recognize the Divine call in our lives, we must first pay attention. We must look for God in the ordinary, in the every day, and recognize that all moments are holy and that life itself is grace. We must be open to the possibility of the Holy in our lives. We must be open to the possibility of the Holy in our lives! Peter, Andrew, James, John and their father Zebedee were tuned in to the Spirit. They recognized the spirit in Jesus and up and followed him and Zebedee, recognizing the call, let them go.
The first key to recognizing God's call is to pay attention to pay attention to whatever is going on around us on the outside, and to listen to that still small voice within. When our lives are not fulfilling, or we dread going into our jobs, or even when we get fired, there may be something better lying ahead, and the boredom, or the dread, or the fear and anxiety may be just what we need to push us in a new direction.
A second key to recognizing God's call, and one that is closely linked to the first, is to listen to other people. Samuel of the Old Testament, didn’t recognize God's voice, he thought it was his master’s Eli’s voice, but Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Eli gave Samuel instructions about what to do the next time that he heard the voice. Often other people have more clarity about what is going on in our lives than we do, because they can step back and look at the situation more objectively. At times in our lives, especially those times requiring discernment, it’s important to seek out wise counsel. This is why I encourage people to have a spiritual director. If you do not have a person who is companioning with you in your spiritual journey then Friends, family members and even strangers can be messengers for the Divine, often without realizing it! Listen to other people.
Thirdly, when attempting to discern whether God is calling you to act, pray about it. Before even entering the seminary I prayed constantly for guidance. I was comfortable living on my disability in palm springs had rent I could afford it seemed crazy to give it all up but there was this constant ache, pulling me, calling me to serve. I prayed and prayed hard, If you’re at a loss for words this will suffice: "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." If you don’t feel comfortable asking for something, just sit quietly and listen for the word of God. After praying for clarity, go back to step one and pay attention. Look and listen for the answer. Be open to Holy possibility. Notice your thoughts and feelings. Be aware of signs and blocks. Look for Way to open before you, and notice when Way closes behind you. Know that all moments are Holy moments.
Finally, know also that sometimes God calls us out of our comfort zone. Quoting Micah 6:8, South African United Methodist Bishop George Irvine has said, "If it’s loving, if it’s just, if it promotes right relationships, and if it scares the hell out of you, it just might be a call from God." I really didn’t want to do what god was calling me to do. It meant giving up the life I knew, it meant going into debt, and it meant having the openness to say I am ready to go wherever you lead me. When we follow God's call, we can be assured that God will guide us every step of the way. God often calls us to step into the unknown and do things that require courage and faith on our part. When we are open to the leading of the Spirit, and allow ourselves to, as Frederick Buechner, says in Listening to Your Life;
"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

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