SERMON ~ 01/22/2023 ~ “Fishing”

01/22/2023 ~ Third Sunday after the Epiphany ~ Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23 VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/792693196

Fishing

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’” — Matthew 4:19.

Whatever teams are involved in the Super Bowl— which teams play will be determined by the games played this week and next— whichever teams are involved it is likely most of the country will be watching the Super Bowl on February 12. In the hope most of the country is watching this year advertisers will pay 14 million dollars for a just thirty second commercial in the course of the game.

I assure you if only a few people watched the game the price for air time would not be that exorbitant. So, why do we watch?

The phenomena of our ability to be entertained by sports is what sociologists and academics have started to label as “whooshing up.” Whooshing— that’s w-h-o-o-s-h-i-g— whooshing up.

Whooshing up is defined as the sensation we enjoy at a sporting event when the crowd rises to its feet as one to register a communal sense of awe and/or admiration. This whooshing up is communal. It is public. It is shared. (Slight pause.)

Let me offer a quote often attributed to G. K. Chesterton: ‘When a person stops believing in God it doesn’t then mean believing in nothing. It means that person believes in everything.’ [1] Theologian Martin Marty used that saying in an article to illustrate the modern world may have come full circle and is now just like the ancient world.

Marty maintained that just like the ancients we seek excitement and because of that we do not, any longer, believe in one God. We believe in many gods: polytheism.

He said we create these gods to satisfy our need for a whoosh and then listed some of those numerous gods we have created. God #1 for our race today probably remains Mars, a god of conflict, still much beloved in society and sometimes even in churches.

God #2 is Venus, a god of desire, one who clearly rules much of culture but also does maintain a subtle presence within our houses of worship. God #3 is Mammon, the god of consumerism, a god found in the gospel of prosperity so often heard these days. Then there is god #4, Hermes, the God of athletic contests.

These are ancient gods. These are not modern gods, even though they still seem to be with us. There are more, but naming those four will suffice to establish the idea that polytheism lives.

Marty also says ‘there is probably not much point trying to deny the human hunger for a good whoosh and then he offered Biblical examples. He said when the memories of crossing the Sea of Reeds faded, the Israelites worried about losing their direction. They sought a quick fix, some kind of artificial whoosh. So they pressed Aaron into fashioning a golden calf.’

In fact, says Marty, ‘scripture, in part because of our inadequacy in describing how God acts, records some of the greatest whooshes of history. There is the creation— the big whoosh instead of the big bang.

‘There is flood, fire, brimstone, plagues and bread from heaven. We get a boy who conquers a giant, angels conquer invaders, and a prophet who rises to the sky in a chariot of fire.’ And we are still in pursuit ‘whooshes today.’ [2] But should we in that pursuit? (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the Gospel we commonly call Matthew: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’” (Slight pause.)

This reading, the story telling here, as action filled as it is, is crammed with whooshes. And so I think this was true in ancient times and still is true today. We like whooshes, seek out whooshes, create whooshes even when they are not there.

After all, why else would a stadium full of people start a wave at a football game when the score is forty-eight to nothing. Well, there’s nothing interesting or whoosh worthy happening on that field. Let’s create a whoosh of our own.

Indeed, this passage from Matthew may seem like whoosh after whoosh after whoosh. But is it? Are the whooshes the intent of the passage or do we simply read our own sensibilities, our desire for whoosh into this series of events?

What is the intent of Scripture? Is the intent of the writing an effort to create a series of whooshes or is there something else going on? (Slight pause.)

As stated earlier, there is an immediate rush, a shot of adrenaline, a sense excitement with a whoosh. But we need to remember whoosh is also a very short term experience. (Slight pause.) Is that what life with God is about— the short term? (Slight pause.)

I want to suggest there are two key phrases in this passage. The first one is (quote): “…the dominion of heaven has come near.” This is, in fact, one of the central messages Jesus offers.

Indeed, the very advent of the Christ, the presence of the Messiah, the reason we celebrate the Season of Epiphany is the reality of Jesus, the immanence of Jesus. The existence of Jesus is a sign to us that God is with us not just in the moment, but now and forever. In short, we believe the Spirit of God lives among us. God walks with us.

The second key phrase is (quote): “…I will make you fish for people.” So, what is fishing for people? Surely it’s not anything like a game. Surely it’s not what you do in order to get an adrenaline rush, a whoosh. (Slight pause.)

Fishing for people is long term. Fishing for people means getting to know someone well enough that you can share your innermost thoughts.

Fishing for people is getting to know someone well enough that you feel safe when you tell them not what you think but how you feel. Fishing for people means that among the things you might share is your love for God.

Why? A relationship with God, you see, is not about what you think, what you believe. A relationship with God is about how you love— how you love God and how you love your neighbor. A relationship with God is about how you feel. (Slight pause.)

Author, pastor and theologian Andrea La Sonde Anastos has said (quote): “I suspect most of us wake up with a self-referenced agenda, a list of tasks that may further our personal desires but that has almost nothing to do with spending our life on behalf of God. When I look at my own date book I am startled by how few hours are given to work on behalf of the dominion of God and how many are spent spinning my wheels,” said this theologian.

She continues, “Do I live wildly and abundantly as if I am truly ‘enriched in Christ,’ or as if I am simply marking time until my death? How do I hold myself accountable to a deeper discipleship? How do I help the community …[of which I am a member] develop ways to reflect on ‘deep living’ and engage in accountability to God?” [3] (Slight pause.)

Fishing for people is not a game, though some clearly treat it that way. Fishing for people means striving to live one’s life in the community of the people of God to its fullest potential. Fishing for people is not something that’s flash in the pan, here and gone.

Fishing for people means a life-long commitment to walk side by side with one’s brothers and sisters in Christ, recognizing that we are all flawed, recognizing that life is not a game, recognizing that life is a journey. Is that hard? Yes.

Will you get an adrenaline rush by embarking on this journey? (Slight pause.) Well, maybe once in a while— each time you hold the hand of a friend or neighbor when they are in need and a comforting word is a necessary, each time you engage a child who needs help, each time you offer support and love simply with silent presence. Any of these might offer just a little bit of adrenaline rush.

But that kind of work, my friends, takes not moments filled with whooshes. That kind of work takes a lifetime filled with caring. And perhaps that… that is what is meant by fishing for people— caring. Amen.

01/22/2023
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “I hope I did not give you an inaccurate impression: there is nothing wrong with a whoosh. It is simply not central. Indeed, in the article I mentioned Martin Marty expresses concern that too many churches concentrate on offering whooshes in a service of worship rather than a place for our relationship with God to be expressed and deepened. Whooshes are sometimes or at least can be at least a small part of a service, but a small part.”

BENEDICTION: Through God’s grace, by being attentive to God’s will, our deeds and our words will change our world for we will discover ways to proclaim release from the bondage of narrowness. Let us seek the God of Joy whose wisdom is our God. Let us go in peace to love and serve God. Amen.

[1] This is attributed to Chesterton, but it is unlikely to really be his. The source is unclear.

[2] The Christian Century; Thinking Critically. Living Faithfully; On the Shelf; Still whooshing; 01/20/2011; by Martin E. Marty;

http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2011-01/still-whooshing

Marty was, in turn, picking up on this article: NY Times ~ 12/30/2010 ~ The Arena Culture ~ by David Brooks
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/31/opinion/31brooks.html?ref=davidbrooks

And this one:
The Wall Street Journal – Books & Ideas – The Gods Return; A solution to the ‘lostness’ of the modern world— and a guide to reading literature; By ERIC ORMSBY; 12/31/2010

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704278404576038040647824156.html?KEYWORDS=ERIC+ORMSBY

[3] Andrea La Sonde Anastos, Awaken: The Art of Imaginative Preaching, ACE 2010-2011, January 16, 2001 (Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota: Logos Productions, Inc.) 2010, p. 38.

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