The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r115.htm
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
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
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
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.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazism 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
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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