Scriptures: Matthew 4:12-5:12
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Fisher King, Light of the World, Amen.
Jill Duffield, editor of Presbyterian Outlook, wrote:
It is easy to gloss over the call stories of those first disciples. We have heard these stories before. We are not fishermen, and our lives are radically different than those of Simon, Andrew, James and John. What would it even mean for us to leave our nets and be fishers of people? … Something about Jesus caused them to jump up and go – and that’s commendable. But what, really, does this narrative have to do with us? 
Come and Follow. That seems to be the main issue and direction Jesus gives the earliest disciples. So too, by proxy, Jesus ask this of us. What does it mean for us in our context today to “Come and Follow?” Perhaps a few other questions might help us put it in perspective.
How is the kingdom of God at hand, here and now? … Does Jesus’ call cause us to radically reorient our lives and subsequently the world all around us?
I would submit to you that the heart of the question – and the journey of following Christ, is transformation. The fishermen in today’s call story dropped everything. Following Jesus, their lives were transformed. But Jesus also sets out to transform the faith that raised him. Judaism needed transformation. Unfortunately, what happened instead was a split in their faith. It is not too hard to see Christianity has had the same struggle ever since.
I imagine today we find it perhaps much harder to drop everything and follow Jesus. Some of us have extremely complex lives, others of us have the relative bliss of retirement. Some of us may be in the throws of raising family and trying to make a living, and others of us may have “done our duty,” as it were. Still others are or may have been on a different path altogether. But every one of us can ask, no matter what path we have been on, have we followed Jesus? Have our lives been transformed by following Christ? Have our lives proclaimed Christ to our children and grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, or in some cases even our parent in such a way that they begin to own a vibrant faith of their own, moving them, in turn, along the road of their own transformation? Transformation is growth. Growth is the process of maturity. Maturity in Christ is Paul’s goal for all Gentiles to whom he preached, and I would submit, Christ’s goal for all of us.
Transformation begins with turning and looking in the mirror. Have I been growing and maturing in Christ? Am I being transformed in my faith to be more and more Christlike? I struggle with this question and my own answer to it. Did I change careers early on and pursue an alternate schooling to prepare my life to hopefully be a more useful tool for Christ in the world? Yes. Has it prepared me for real life and parenthood? No. Has it offered me incredible opportunity for continued learning and spiritual journeying? Yes. Has it helped me figure out how to live in the world? I’m not sure. Am I making a difference in the lives of others, providing a positive and energetic outlook in an age of stark contrasts, dichotomous dithering, moral shadows and gray areas? I hope so, at least in some contexts. Perhaps some of you can relate when I confess closer to home, I doubt myself and my abilities to be Christlike, especially in my immediate family. That is part of being human.
Transformation is not immediate, it is slow. It is a costly yet worthy challenge to take on the personhood of Christ, adopting his teachings for our current time and place. What can we glean from today’s scripture lesson to help us on our way? Jesus begins his teaching by spring-boarding off John’s proclamation: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” (Mt. 3:2, 4:17).
Immediately after this inaugural statement of his public ministry, Jesus calls disciples. If, for a moment, we were to transport ourselves out of a Western Christian context inspired by and informed by the early Roman Christian missional influence and place ourselves in the Celtic Christian perspective, we might find a different foundational beginning for our faith in Jesus than what many of us have been conditioned to accept.
Instead of the claim that Jesus “died for our sins,” which implies we are inherently sinful and broken people, we instead take the view favored by Pelagius and the Celtic tradition that we are made in God’s image and thus inherently good, then what we term “sin” is only a tarnish on the surface. Giving ourselves over to becoming more Christlike, Jesus can transform us to be the vessels God made us and meant us to be…and the basic message of Christ at the beginning of his ministry seems to support and reflect this. The first thing he says is “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” I’d like to break that down.
First, “Repent,” or more accurately, metanoeite in Greek: “you all repent.” This means, literally, turn around. Turn from what you are doing and come back to what you were made and meant to be. This is plural. Jesus is addressing the whole of Israel as a community in exile.
Second, “The Kingdom of Heaven”, or more literally in Greek and again in plural, “the heavens’ kingdom.” This refers to all things of the Divine, all that God is.
Third, “…has come near.” This does not mean we draw near to God, this means God is drawing near to us. In fact, God is pursuing us. Ultimately, in God’s eyes, we are not far off from what we are meant to do and be in God.
That is a different beginning than some of us might perhaps be used to. What does Jesus do next? He calls others to come with him, to witness the reality of this teaching in action. Then he travels, teaches, and heals in local and regional synagogues of Galilee, no doubt trailing these fishermen and others whom the Spirit prompted to follow him. His followers become a crowd. He sees the crowd, then goes up on the mountain and sits down, the classic place and position of aesthetic eastern teachers. His disciples come to him. Then he begins to teach them. The Sermon on the Mount, as this early teaching is called, begins with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled….”
In light of current events in our world today, I will end there for now. Yet how can we know the truth that Heavens’ kingdom has come near? I will refer again to the writings of Pelagius:
Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the fish in the river and sea: God’s spirit dwells within them. There is no creature on earth in whom God is absent….When God pronounced [the] creation…good, it was not only that [God’s] hand had fashioned every creature; it was that [God’s] breath had brought every creature to life. Look too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the grass in the fields; look even at your crops. God’s spirit is present within all plants as well. The presence of God’s spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God’s eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.
Let me close this reflection with a short quote from St. Isaac the Syrian, an Eastern Christian mystic from the 7th century. Let us pray: O Lord our God, help us to,
Be at peace with your own soul;
Then heaven and earth will be at peace with you;
Eagerly enter into the treasure house that is within you;
And so will you see the things that are in heaven.
For there is one single door to enter both…
The ladder that leads to the kingdom
is hidden within your soul.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again, even One who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Jill Duffield, “Looking into the Lectionary –Third Sunday After Epiphany,” accessed January 23, 2020, http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1102135377571&ca=9b099827-ecc9-447f-91a1-f10a53e13938.
 The Letters of Pelagius, 71 as quoted in J. Philip Newell, Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), 10-11.
 Quoted from Blogpost: https://holybreadcrumbs.org/2020/01/23/is-this-the-future/.