Sermon – 23 Jan 05

I was away for part of this week in Perth at the diocesan clergy conference. I?d like to be able to fill the sermon this week with the wisdom that I was able to soak up there. However, things don?t always work out that way. I must be honest ? whatever wisdom was o­n offer did not really seem into me this time. Instead, just o­ne thing stuck in my mind. And it was something which I found quite hard when I heard it. In fact the more the week has gone o­n, the more troubled I feel that it should have been said.

Someone was trying to drum up enthusiasm for a diocesan project ? we all have our own little spheres of interest. In this case it was the Diocesan Rural Focus Group. The idea is that we need a group to focus o­n the needs of rural communities at a time when things are supposed to be particularly hard and difficult in the country. (An analysis which I find dubious, for reasons I will not go into here).

The thing which made me cross though was the assertion that the countryside is the place of spirituality, the place of God. (That was actually said). The countryside is the place of spirituality.

The reason I found it hard to hear is a profound conviction that the kind of God whom we know is a God who is fundamentally where people are at. The idea of a God who can only be known in pastoral scenes where the grass is green and the sky is blue is of no use to me.

Indeed, that kind of God is of little use to human beings when things turn difficult in life.

Sure enough, sometimes we need to go to wide-open spaces in order to recharge our batteries. (Though the idea of the countryside being refreshing is a relatively modern one ? it used to be thought of as savage and wild). However, that just gives us the space and perspective to return and to get stuck in. Stuck in to be God?s people wherever we find ourselves.

God is where the people are.

Romantic images of how we find and know God are rose-tinted lenses which we should be wary of looking through. How do you keep faith in God when a Tsunami strikes unless you have thought about suffering? Spiritual maturity demands honesty. And honesty demands the acceptance at some level that suffering is a part of life, and a part of the world in which we live. And suffering is a part of a world in which God is interested.

The romantic lenses can be very tempting when looking at the gospel passage this morning.

Jesus meets two fishermen brothers ? Simon-Peter and Andrew. And he tells them to follow him for he will make them fish for people.

What are fishermen like? Jesus is telling us something about the mission of his band of followers. Come with me and I will make you fish for people. He is telling them how the gospel will spread.

How easy it is to conjure up an image of fishermen going out in a little boat on a Scottish loch to catch trout for breakfast. Rod and line. Mountains and water. Peace and quiet. Watching and waiting for the fish to bite. Hoping that there will be a catch, but enjoying being there so much that it does not really matter if the big ones all get away.

So many churches treat their missionary activity like that. Peacefully. Quietly. Watching and waiting and hoping for the fish to bite. Enjoying being in lovely places so much that it does not really matter if the good catches all go uncaught.

Is that the kind of mission that we are being encouraged to believe Jesus wanted us to live out?

Not a bit of it.

There is a movement in our church at the moment to think of the way church congregations are run as fundamental to the mission of the church. If only our congregations would run in efficient ways ? lay people doing this, clergy doing that, things would all be OK. Look how many declining congregations one priest can look after! It seems to me when I go to clergy conferences that everything can be called mission these days.

I don?t think that Jesus was talking about procedures for running church congregations when he said to Simon-Peter and to Andrew ? follow me for I will make you fish for people.

So what did he mean?

Well, perhaps we need to be a bit more realistic about the kind of fisher-folk that Simon-Peter and Andrew were. We need to stop seeing this as a pastoral scene. God is in this scene because people are there, not because there is a lake and the reflection of mountains in the water. Our God is a God who goes where people are working and worrying. Our God is a God who interrupts people and asks awkward questions. Our God is a God who called people to follow him in the place they were at, not in the synagogues where he went teaching.

Simon-Peter and Andrew were working fishermen. They would have not been unaccustomed to being out all night. They would not have been unaccustomed to the blood and guts that catching a lot of fish is all about. They would not have been unaccustomed to being out in stormy weather. They worked hard at the fishing. They probably worked stripped naked. And they worked because their lives depended on it.

And if we want to know something about the kind of mission that God wants of his people, perhaps we can find it in the call of Jesus to those two, rather unlikely lads at the shore.

For the mission of the church is not fundamentally carried out in synagogues, temples, or even pretty churches in towns like this one. The mission of God is going on when Jesus, in us, gets stuck into the world. The mission of God is when the call is issued to people to come and the join in a great work. A work which takes some effort. It means being committed to being with God through dark night-times of faith as well as during the daytime. It means being one of God?s people during the storms of life when all around us seems to be blowing away. Sometimes it means being stripped of things which would encumber us. (And churches are often the last to realise that they don?t need a lot of the things that they take for granted).

And an effective mission, as Jesus seems to have believed means working as though our lives and the faith of others depends on it.



  1. Anonymous says

    Re: Sermon – 23 Jan 05
    Many thanks to a member of the congregation who sent me this poem today…

    But at the end of all, He did not say
    “Come to a solitary place apart”
    [Such as we’d chose, for silence and to pray]
    He thrust us back into life’s busy heart,
    Into the stress and strain, the rush and roar;
    Into the market place; the busy shop;
    Into the haste of commerce, stink of war;
    Into the wail of sirens; blare of ‘pop’;
    Back into the drop-out’s pad; the addict’s den;
    Back to the shanty-town; the B & B.
    He did not say, “I will equip you then
    To overcome all evil” rather He
    Said, “I am with you till the world shall end
    And everywhere you go, men shall find Me.”

    Sister Madeline

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