12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the 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.”17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
18As 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. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As 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. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23Jesus 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.
Something happened this week, something that has never happened to me before. I had a serious case of writer’s block. I take great pride in my discipline and efficiency in making sure I have a first draft sermon written no later than Thursday afternoon. This week, I did what I always do. I studied scripture, read articles, read the news, read commentaries, all the things I normally do, and yet I could not begin to write –
I cast my net into the sea of language and pulled up no words. – Nothing. Part of the reason is that it’s the end of January and I’ve preached one, too many weeks in a row and we have been working pretty much nonstop since October – but that’s normal, par for the course life in the church. It’s normal to getting to the annual meeting after a month of starting up the calendar year after all of the work of Advent and Christmas, and stewardship campaigns, and fall programming, to feel like your gas tank is running on empty.
There was something more. I kept throwing my net over, asking God to help me, give me a word, and again, nothing. Thank God for the great gift of procrastination. – There is always laundry to run, or a room to pick up, or an email to respond to, or the news to read, and best one of all… Facebook.…. I would find myself distracted in the deep waters of the unknown. There’s always another article to read, or another post to see, or a video to watch. There is always another person writing an offensive thing about another person to make another person feel good, another person feel bad, and then with that one little post, the world becomes more broken than it already is. There is always one article, or editorial saying we are right and they are wrong to be followed by another article saying, no we are right and they are wrong. Which leads me to think there are too many words out there already, and nobody is listening. So what’s the point of writing? I think the only point, the only reason to keep writing, is knowing that our kids are watching – and if they see that it works to be obnoxious and make illogical statements and that being shocking works, and that’s not acceptable. –And so I don’t give up and I think maybe God has a word for us in all of this mess and so I take out my net and I throw it over to catch some words, and again my nets come up empty.
There was something more. And this is probably the biggest, most honest reason of all that no words came to me this week. If you want to be a faithful preacher and write effective sermons you have to do two things well – you have to exegete -that means study scripture and you have to exegete the congregation. – A good preacher knows their congregation and what I know, or deduce is that our mainline congregation is just like most church’s in this country – except for those congregations that are on the extreme left and extreme right and that is that is this:
Some of us really, really hate Donald Trump and some of us really, really hate Barack Obama and some of us really, really hate those who hate the other, and some of us really, really hate those loser liberals and some of us really, really hate those close mind conservatives, and nothing, nothing, nothing will convince us that we are wrong and they are right, and why can’t they just see how clearly wrong they are, and what’s the point?
And the preacher is left thinking, “Good Lord.” ” I can’t say the words ‘live into hope’ or ‘this is going to be huge’ without sounding political.” Everything sounds political.
We are a microcosm of our society and our society is bleeding internally and as a long we blame each other for the bleeding and not all take responsibility for it, the bleeding will not stop. So, I go again, and cast my net into the sea to look for a word that can heal and unite and not sound biased, but rather sound hopeful and I throw it over, to catch some words, and again my nets come up empty.
There is something more. Disciples of Jesus Christ have long gone fishing and found their nets coming up empty. All three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story of the soon to be disciples out on the water, casting their nets into the sea and discovering that they come up lacking. You remember this story – Jesus comes to the seaside looks out and calls to Peter and Andrew and says, “follow me and I will make you fish for people” and then an amazing thing happens, they drop their nets and follow him. They surrender. They stop trying to have control over their lives and their understanding of the world and their way of life, they put down their nets and they follow him- and they follow him with a new thing to catch and that is people.
I think if we are going to heal as a society, that is what we all have to do. We have to drop our nets, let go of our own words and rhetoric, and start catching people- not just the people we like and agree with, but all people – because people are people and Jesus does care one iota who you voted for. Jesus cares, who you catch. If we follow Jesus, we have to put down our nets, meaning our agendas, our power and follow him in order to catch people.
Now Matthew explains what he means by catching people, he says, they went into the communities and cured the sick and proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.
Now, what in the world does that mean in 2017? It means that God is bigger than politics. It means that while presidents come and go, along with elections and inaugurations, God remains: the inauguration of God’s Kingdom irreversibly changed the world. As Matthew introduces the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he quotes Isaiah: “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.” The light of God dawned on all God’s children when God’s Kingdom was inaugurated, back there at the Sea of Galilee.
I was reminded of Samuel Johnson’s couplet: “How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.” Columnist David Brooks makes the comment that, most of the things that make our lives worthwhile and meaningful do not have to do with politics. They have to do with relationships or beliefs or virtues. They have to do with our life stories, our kids, our grandparents, our grandchildren. They have to do with meals around the table, and days at the beach, and books that we read, and stories that we share, and people that we love. They have to do with ways in which we come together as a community after a tornado hits, or an accident happens, or a child gets sick, or our neighbor gets cancer and suddenly who cares about politics, because people are people.
So I put my net down again and ask God to give me a word to say to you today, and after prayer and angst and impressive procrastination and even tears, it is simply this: love people more than politics. Care more about people than politics. That’s it. Love people more than your own opinions. See people before you see party. Put down your nets and follow him. Be brave enough to tell people the Good news – what’s that you ask?
The Good News is this: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The Good News is this: “Jesus said, come to my all who weary and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)
The Good News is this: “My Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
The Good News is this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and God is love. He that loveth not, loveth not God, for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another.” (1 John 4:7-8),
These words have nothing to do with a political party, and they have everything to do putting down your nets and following Him. These are the words that I have caught for you today. What you choose to do with them, is up to you.
May the peace of Christ flow through you today.
May the peace of Christ sustain you tomorrow.
May the peace of Christ carry you always.