A Sermon for January 21, 2018

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Jonah 3:1-5,10; Mark 1:14-20 – Epiphany 2.

 

These last few weeks, we have re-entered the ordinary.

I love this season – the season after Epiphany – not because it is a small season of Ordinary Time in our church’s calendar – but because it is an ordinary that isn’t ordinary.

It is the ordinal-ed time, the numbered season where we count the weeks from Epiphany – that wonderful feast where we see Jesus made manifest as the Saviour for all – to Lent – where we travel with Jesus towards his death and then his glorious resurrection at Easter.

We visibly show it through changing our church colours to a life-giving green … but that green might be best thought of as a translucent green mixed with white: ordinary time mixed with holy days.

I think that is a good summary of what this season is all about: watching for the holy, for Jesus made manifest in the midst of our daily life.

But what is ordinary?

Some of my psychologist friends would suggest that ordinary, like normal, is really only found as a cycle on the washing machine…

And that is very likely true. Ordinary is only ordinary in a context – my ordinary is certainly different from yours which is certainly different from that of the four men named in today’s gospel reading.

For Simon, Andrew, James, and John, an ordinary day seems to include fishing. For they are fishermen.

They live along the Sea of Galilee – a large freshwater lake about 7miles across and 13 miles long – large enough that it really can feel like the Sea…

The shoreline of the Sea of Galilee is dotted with villages that exist mainly because of the fishing industry. This fishing industry is one of the primary sources of income in the area and it is largely operated through family-run cooperatives that have somehow been able to obtain a fishing licence from the authorities.

From the overseeing Roman Empire that has decided that they can make more money if they take every last fish caught by these fisherfolk and salt and dry them or turn them into fish sauce and export it all for a huge profit to drive the wheel of the ever-expanding empire and provide immense wealth for those at the top.

For these poor, colonized fishing families, having a fish leftover to eat for dinner is a rarity and their once staple is now gone to feed the belly of an Empire.

It sounds a lot like their ordinary is a struggle.

Against institution. Against an oppressive system. A disheartening existence. One day at a time.

Struggling to make a go of it. And probably also afraid to dream that there might be something different, something better.

Which is both like and unlike our ordinary, I suspect.

It is like our ordinary because I am sure that every single one of us has felt disheartened or alone or like things are a constant struggle – at some point or another. Or have wondered where God is or why the things that are happening are happening.

And are some of us struggling against different institutions that seek to oppress us? Absolutely. Though at the same time, most of us have at least some degree of privilege that makes it hard for us to fully locate ourselves in the sandals of the colonized fishermen of the gospel reading.

And while we often find ourselves caught up in the story from their perspective, as those who are struggling or disheartened and longing for God to call us into something else – and rightly so, we also would do well to remind ourselves that those of us here who are white, educated, North Americans might more readily align with the Roman citizens than with the Jewish fishermen in this story.

But that is the neat thing about the gospels. Today we have the story of call of four Jewish fishermen.

Later on, we’ll read the call of a man who is known to us a tax collector, a man who is overtly complicit with the colonizers oppressing these fishermen, and yet he will coexist and be a valued part of Jesus’ followers in the same way Simon, Andrew, James, John are.

Because it doesn’t matter what your ordinary is… Jesus is there. Not only is Jesus there, but Jesus breaks into and transforms ordinary.

I think that is one of the reasons we have this season of Epiphany – yes, I know we need to somehow fill the space between Christmas and Lent —

But we go from that magnificent celebration of Christmas where we rejoice at God entering into Creation, becoming incarnate and dwelling amongst us …

and then we get this season of Epiphany where we can be reminded that God also comes to us in little ways. In more subtle ways. In ways that don’t always get heralded by angels or celebrated by distant kings bearing gifts.

This season of ordinary time where God breaks in and makes the ordinary holy

For Simon, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus breaks into their ordinary day fishing and offers a different way: A way that subverts the political structures and offers them a new way of being

A way that creates instability in the empire by declaring that the oppressive status quo is not okay while simultaneously creating some stability in their lives – someone, something to hold onto

No, it is not without risk. But they go with Jesus anyway

We heard the same thing in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning in the story of Jonah. In the brief section of the story we read today, Jonah finally answers God’s call to go to Nineveh and bring God’s message. I love that this passage opens with us hearing that Jonah hears from God a couple of times before he responds because I believe that it is important to hear that it is okay to struggle with following God.

Both Jonah and the four fisherfolk have something in common: They all have to give something up to answer the call and they have to get prepared to experience the unexpected – the small epiphanies, or in-breakings of the power of God into their lives

Jonah has to leave behind his prejudice – as Alastair talked about last week when talking about an “us and them” mentality of the calling of Nathaniel – Jonah is also being called to understand that all are God’s children and none is left out because of where they are from or because we think we might be better than they are.

Jonah has to leave behind that prejudice and in doing so, is surprised to find that God is actually there, at work in Nineveh.

Simon, Andrew, James, and John are called to leave behind the secure insecurity of their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Ultimately, they are leaving the things they are doing that prop up empire to follow Jesus into unknown territory…

Holding these two stories together, I think that we can safely say that there are times where we will see it immediately like, Simon, Andrew, James, and John – even if we don’t understand it immediately – and there are times where we’ll need to see it a few times to get it, like Jonah.

And that both are okay.

Both will involve these moments of God breaking into our lives in unexpected ways and bringing holy moments into the ordinary.

But all the time, seen or unseen, God is here. God is at work. And God is proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is among us.

My prayer for each of us this week is that we may catch glimpses of that kingdom of God – catch sight of God breaking into our lives in unexpected ways. Showing holiness in the ordinary. Amen.

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