Sunday February 10, 2019
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Moretz
I Corinthians 15:1-11
The Lure of the Apostles
At the foundation, Jesus built His church by calling disciples, disciples who would then become apostles of the Good News of Christ. Perhaps, more than half of our apostolic heritage is built upon the lives of fishermen. We know that the two sets of brothers called as Jesus’ disciples, Peter and Andrew, as well as James and John, the sons of Thunder, were from families who for generations had caught and traded fish from the Sea of Gennesaret. The friends, Nathanael and Philip, were likely fishermen. And some speculate that our patron, Thomas, was among this profession.
Now Jesus was no fisherman, he was born inland. He grew up in the home of an artisan, the woodworker, Joseph. But once Jesus’ ministry began, his small village of Nazareth was deeply disturbed. It was after a controversial sermon that Jesus had to escape that mountainous hamlet with his life. Where did he go? To the fishing village of Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Gennesaret. This community of fifteen hundred was claimed by the ever present odor of fish, but also the ever present reverberations of Jewish prayer. The synagogue in that village was strong, and, in fact, was founded by an unlikely benefactor: a Roman centurion. This place would become the center of Jesus’ Galilean ministry.
Capernaum, like the other fishermen’s outposts, was perched on the boundary between land and sea. The fishermen’s job was to venture out upon the surface of the murky deep, a world that was not made for them. They had to become familiar with the waves and the storms. The sea was a place of chaos and danger for them. And in crafts of their own creation, they navigated deadly risk in every voyage. And then there was the risk to their livelihoods. For it was no small task to catch enough fish. They had to fathom the currents of fish as they reckoned with the currents of water. Planning where to place their boat, and when. Timing when to drop their nets, and how deep. Their fishing was like playing three-dimensional chess with the abyss! And sometimes it wouldn’t work out. Some days would turn into some nights, as they sought to grasp enough of the sea’s slippery treasures to make it worth their while. And not only would they need to be familiar with the sea below, but also the stars above, looking to heaven to find their way home.
Jesus could see in these tradesmen a potential that no one else would have. Fishermen were not among the learned. They were certainly not among the religious elite. Let’s just say they wouldn’t have smelled like incense! Their legs were made for balancing on the deck and handling nets, not walking from village to village handling the sick and healing them. Their world was out there on the water, nowhere, not on an indomitable path, with Jesus, which would take them to the center of world, to the Temple of Jerusalem, with a holy reckoning deeper than any sea. Jesus had eyes to see that most people were wrong. And he called them to a higher life, or perhaps, it is more apt to say, called to a life that pulls others higher, out of the deep?
For he said to Simon Peter, “Fear not, fisherman; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Be fearless, for people will now be caught in the works of your hands. And just as you used to pull that heavy load to the surface, you will lift the burdens of multitudes beyond the surface to the light of heaven. It really is a beautiful and true image that Jesus paints in our minds. Just like he said that we are sheep that need a shepherd, we are fish that need to be caught. If left to our own devices, just like the fish, we would never go beyond the surface to a more heavenly plane of existence, why would we wish to leave our comfort zone? There is something in us that needs to be lured into heaven. Something that needs to be lured, then caught, and then drug up quickly to the surface before we can wriggle free. But when this happens, this is not like the Galilean fish who are taken above their plane of existence to be served on a platter with a little lemon. When this happens, we are transmitted from an old life to a new one. One could talk about it as a kind of death, yes. When Jesus called the disciples from their nets (ironically, nets that were overflowing thanks to Him), when he called them, “they left everything and followed him.” Their careers died, their lives ended. But the skills of their careers, their lives, were reborn to become one that would not only feed their families, but one that would feed and renew spirits on a global scale, beyond family, tribe, and nation.
When Jesus called Saul, part of him died, too. He had been a persecutor of the early Christians, coordinating stonings of the faithful. Jesus called Saul, knocked him off his horse, blinding him with the insight that in tormenting his enemies, the Christians, he was tormenting the Lord of Life. In being called, Saul the death-dealer died and he was reborn as Paul the tent-maker. He called it being “untimely born”. And this so-called “last of the Apostles” would be the most successful fishers of people among them, founding and nourishing a network of churches that secured the Church in civilization, even through punishing storms of systematic persecution.
The new, fearless life to which Jesus called the apostles, it continues to this day. In eternity with God, they are still charting their courses above, fishing for people in our time, with nets that circle the globe. And those nets have drawn so much of our world into higher realms of repentance and conversion to the way of Christ. You could think of this beautiful place as one their lures, a lure of a spiritual sort, suspended from the spirits of our fishermen apostles, dangling on a string from the highest heaven, just waiting for the right moment to hook your hearts and reel them up to heaven. Even here and even now, their fishing goes on, with nets trawling, drawing ever more of us beyond the surface, to that full light of grace and the open air of peace. Some of you are just starting to sense this, and for others this has already happened. Some of you have heard the call, and said yes, and your life has never been the same. Perhaps some part of you died, and something even more alive took its place. For your heart of stone was plucked from your chest, taken up from you, and what was given in return, was a melted heart, made for the love of Christ, made for the mercy of Christ. God and his friends above are those who yearn to catch us. And we are the singular fish of Creation that yearn to be caught, to be called from these murky, swirling depths and drawn up to a life that is beyond life, even as we live it. For we are the peculiar sort of fish who, when caught by God, keep on swimming.