The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s115g12  Sunday 3   22/1/2012  St Chad’s Linwood

‘fish for people’   Mark 1.17

It is interesting that we have the calling of the first disciples coupled with the reading from the prophet Jonah.   Jonah is the archetypical orthodox person who, despite knowing that God is gracious and compassionate, and despite hearing God's call to mission to others, goes in precisely the opposite direction because he doesn't want God’s message of grace and compassion extended to these others.  

And this is coupled with the call of the disciples; that they would fish for people.   Their task was NOT to become devout, models of moral and ethical living, or religious teachers telling others what to do and what not to do, or when and with whom others might be intimate, or threaten others with immanent or eternal damnation.   They were to fish for people.   They were to include others.

Instead of being agents for continuing marginalization, alienation and condemnation, the disciples of Jesus were to be like their master: agents for acceptance, identification and inclusion.

And the time is fulfilled, we are to do this in the here and now; not wait for some mythical time in the future.

And there are lots of ways of surreptitiously marginalising, alienating and condemning others.   One way is to suggest that people who do not believe the literal words of the bible being historical events are less than Christian.   So people who question whether Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale and regurgitated onto a beach are regarded as heretics.  

I was interested to read a blog recently where a priest in the diocese of Sydney comments that 'much of (his) own diocesan leadership .. considers the diocese of Christchurch to be deeply mistaken ("subChristian" is the word most often used) on account of +Christchurch being a woman.'

I have been thinking that a lot of what passes for religion is, in reality, sanctified selfishness.   Every effort to marginalise others is to magnify the person marginalising.  And it is not hard to find some words Jesus uses against this.

In Matthew chapter 6 he says: ‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven… .. ‘whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.   Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. ..   ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.   Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.’   We are told that those who do things in the sight of others have received their reward – they have made the gap between them and others greater.   But there are rewards also offered those who do things privately – which makes me ask: are we being encouraged to act only out of eternal self interest?   But, no, the eternal reward is that the gap between those who act privately and others is diminished.   Their reward, and ours, is to fish successfully, to be incarnated and to include.

And speaking about rewards, earlier Jesus says: ‘if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?   Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?   And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?   Do not even the Gentiles do the same?’   The reward of loving only those who love you is that relationships are determined by those who love you, this is, others, and this is really a curse.   The reward of loving those who do not love us is that our relationships are determined by us and we are freed to love rather than constrained by others.   If we say things like: 'What that other person has done has made me so angry' - this means that we are putting our emotional wellbeing in the hands of someone who we don't really like or trust.   Far better to be in charge of our own emotions.

Jesus goes on to say: ‘The eye is the lamp of the body.   So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.   If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (22,23)   For me the unhealthy eye is the one that marginalises others.   The healthy eye is the one that accepts others.   Or, as Jesus perhaps says: ‘Is your eye evil because I am good?’ at the end of the story of the labourers who were paid equally despite some working much less than others (a variant of Matthew 20.15).

I have commented before that Jesus called the most unlikely of people.   They were people who had little or no training in things religious.   At the first Pentecost the onlookers were astonished.  ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?’ – they were not noted for their learning.   I can’t imagine any of the disciples understanding the Nicene Creed, the atonement or the relationship between the persons of the Holy Trinity.   And I wonder why the Church sets so much store in these!   And our church is based on communion not with saints, sages, royalty or intelligentsia, but with these blue-collar workers of times past, and on the blue collar workers around us now.   It is not that social standing has no relevance in the kingdom – social standing can be a positive hindrance if it is a cause of marginalization, discrimination and condemnation.   We are to fish for people, to be agents of acceptance, identification and inclusion.

It is not that Simon Peter, whose call we read of today, has the keys of the kingdom and he, hopefully not arbitrarily, admits some and excludes others.   It is actually our relationship with the common man and woman, here and now, which determines our health and happiness in this life which hopefully flows over to others and to society in general.   Sanctified selfishness will only breed and multiply, like weeds in a garden or cancer in the body.

And I want to say this is not just driven by numbers, bums on pews.   Hate can be a powerful motivator too.   One has only to recall the Hitler rallies, where Jews, homosexuals, Romani, blacks, the physically and mentally disabled and Jehovah's Witnesses were considered sub-human.    This word isn’t much different from ‘sub-christian’ which, as I commented before, some influential Anglicans consider us.

Jesus’ call is to acceptance, identification and inclusion, it is about empathy.   If our religion has caused us to marginalise, alienate and condemn others, then Jesus' call is to us too: to repent, to rejoice that we are called to believe that empathy rather than law is what God wills and with what God rules.   This is surely good news, for us, for others and for all of society, not just a sanctified selfish subset of humanity, full of their own importance.

I began by commenting that Jonah is the archetypical orthodox person who, despite knowing that God is gracious and compassionate, and despite hearing God's call to mission to others, goes in precisely the opposite direction because he doesn't want God’s message of grace and compassion extended to these others.   It is precisely this same dynamic that drove the devout and orthodox to have Jesus killed, because they didn’t want to hear that God is about acceptance, identification and inclusion of others besides themselves.

Which leads me to say that the church’s constant theme of forgiveness for sin is the way many ‘christians’ go in precisely the opposite direction to acceptance, identification and inclusion of others besides ourselves.   I note that Jesus did not ask any of the first disciples to confess their sins.

We too are called to fish for people: to be agents of acceptance, identification and inclusion of others besides ourselves, to live lives of empathy for others and to put aside anything which is a distraction to this.
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