Fr. Bill Carroll – The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 22, 2023

Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Andrew and Peter leave their nets behind.  James and John leave their boat and their father behind.  Millions of people through the ages have left everything to follow Jesus.  It would take more than a word to get us to drop everything.  But still, he called us, and we answered.  At the cost of his own life, Jesus has hauled us ashore.  

Today, he is renewing our call to follow him.  He wants us to join him and help him fish for people.  He is urging us to befriend those who may be drowning or struggling at sea—and to share the Good News with them.

Some of us have known Jesus since we were small.  We have loved him for as long as we can remember.  He has shared our joys and struggles.  He has led us in all God’s ways.  Our brothers and sisters have helped us too.  They have shown us his love and helped us to follow him.  Others aren’t so lucky.  We didn’t grow up knowing Jesus.  We had to meet him in the middle of life.  Most often, we met him in a crisis, or in a time of grief.  But still, someone brought Good News to us.  Someone, if only by translating the Bible, helped to bring us new life in Jesus.  Still others grew up knowing Jesus, but then we fell away.  We were scandalized by other Christians.  Maybe they were fixated on some list of “don’ts.”  They were too rigid or too controlling, or they defended their so-called turf within the Church.  As if it belonged to them, and not to the Lord. 

It was a big problem in Paul’s day.  The whole letter of First Corinthians is about it, really. Today, we hear Paul tell the Corinthians that “there should be no divisions among them.”  (Clearly, there were.)  And yet, Paul comes to us as an apostle.  He reminds us that he did not come to baptize anyone.  He keeps the main thing the main thing.  Nor did he come (as Apollos apparently did) to develop a personal following.  Paul comes only to the preach the Gospel “and not with eloquent words, lest the cross of Christ be robbed of its power.”  

And so, some people love Jesus, but are wounded by his Church.  And we need to be reminded of our one foundation and purpose. It isn’t always easy.  It doesn’t always make sense to us.  Because the Church is a group of wounded, often sinful, people–who sometimes wound each other.  As Rowan Williams once said, being a Christian  involves us in solidarities not of our choosing.  We don’t get to choose our siblings in Christ, any more than we get to choose our natural families.  But we come into the world hard-wired for community.  God made us that way.  We need flesh-and-blood relationships with other people.  And, without each other, we drown.  Every school shooting, every fist fight at a little league game, every act of political violence reminds us of the danger we are in, when we lose human community.

But Jesus has taught us a new and better way. By his grace, he has brought us together in his Body, the Church.  “One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food, and to one hope she presses with every grace endued.”  Jesus gathers us together at the foot of his Cross.  And so, “the word of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Last week I shared with you from Ruth Burrows’ new book, Extravagant Love.  In it, this Carmelite nun speaks about “poverty of spirit” as the foundation for our life in Christ:

Jesus was utterly poor in spirit (she writes), the perfect Child of his Father—  accepting from the Father’s hand his humanity in its limited, weak, and vulnerable condition.  We have within us ingrained ways of mitigating our poverty and for that reason cannot perceive that to be human is to be poor in the deepest sense.  It means depending for one’s very existence on another in a world we do not control…

Jesus has come into this world, which we do not control.  He depends completely on his Father.  Out of love, he has joined us here–in the valley of the shadow of death.  He has joined us in the human condition.  He has lived and died as a human being.  Indeed, it was his great love that brought him to the Cross.  And, by his death there, he has made us his own.  

We are those who have heard the call of Jesus and said “yes.”  He has brought us into his family.  And he has called us to go out fishing for all the others.  Jesus is always calling us to follow him.  He has joined us in our poverty and our weakness.  And, on the Cross, he has laid aside all privilege.  He has given up on any form of control.  

Let’s be honest:  We all know people who need God, but don’t know how to find God.  

Today, beloved, Jesus is calling us to follow him. He is urging us to join him on his mission.  And so, he calls us to mend the nets, roll up our sleeves, and get to work  We are to go out from this place.  We are to seek him and serve him in our neighbors.  We are to start with those closest to us—in our homes and schools and neighborhoods—in all the places where we live and work and play.  And, of these neighbors, we are to focus on the “least of these”– on people who are poor,  lonely, isolated, or excluded—on anyone who might fall through the cracks.  

For Jesus knows how rough it is out there.  He knows we need God.  He knows we need each other.  Out of his immense love, he came to haul us in, when we were drowning at sea.  

Today, he invites us to go and do likewise.  For the Kingdom of God has come near.