Third Sunday after Epiphany
Have you ever felt stuck? Like you were dead on the inside feeling some kind of way? At work, perhaps, or in a toxic relationship, a situation with a family member or an old friend? Just stuck. You might have been present in body, but in mind and spirit you longed for something else.
Perhaps there was a part of yourself that very much felt as if you needed to remain in the situation, that circumstance. It appeared safer than the unknown. It paid the bills or afforded a certain lifestyle.
Or perhaps you have been stuck with a certain mindset, a particular way of thinking and being, and you have been at it for so long that you can no longer imagine any other way. Stuck.
Or maybe there’s been a feeling, an attitude about a person or persons or thing; fixated, wronged, or obsessed on some first impression that went wrong, a particular wound or hurt, disappointment, mistake, or misunderstanding— all legitimate and true.
In the whole scheme of things it might not have been all that big or bad of an ordeal, but in that moment, at that particular time of vulnerability, fear, anxiety, and projection, the pain landed deep; so deep, almost unforgiveable, certainly unforgettable and try as you might, you just can’t seem to shake it lose.
It’s not so uncommon, I think, to get stuck or to be stuck in a certain way in one’s own life, with a certain narrative as if that is the only one. Life teaches us how to self-protect, how to draw in, to put our hands up. It teaches us how to seek out those places and spaces that make us feel safe and as secure as possible, even if they are not truly that. It is an instinct, a reflex as real and as common as breathing air.
But here is what I want to say: we might all get stuck from time to time along the way, but we ought never to remain there. No, we ought not to stay stuck, set, complete. If we are ever going to follow Jesus, to be a true disciple, a true witness, a true son or daughter of God, if we are ever going to be light in dark places, free,—fully free— we cannot live our lives being stuck.
If we are ever going to love people, see them as God sees them, love them in spite of themselves and in spite of our own selves, we have to get unstuck. And here’s something else I know: if we are ever going to feel love, taking it in for all its beauty, preciousness, and rarity, we have to get unstuck because nobody wants to be around a sour, mean, angry person for very long. The strongest of Christians will find a way to love you, yes, but from afar.
Like those early disciples, we are called to be fishers of people, to draw people, to bring them in and bring them closer, and love is the way to do it. Love draws people. We are all starving for it, aren’t we? We are all starving for love, compassion, and forgiveness.
If you want more friends, just try being nice or nicer. Try giving it away, and it will land because we are all looking for it. I know there’s a risk of being taken for granted or taken advantage of, but rest assured that more people will be attracted to you because of your kindness, graciousness, warmth, and ability to forgive, let go, laugh, and have a bit of fun than because of chronic criticism, negativity, anxiety, and “the sky is falling” mindset.
And here is another thing: the biggest loser when we stay stuck is always our own selves. No one loses more than we do. To be consumed by rage and fear, anger, ignorance, disappointment, entitlement, power, prestige, position, wealth, while they might all seem legitimate, can make us prisoners, slaves, shackled, trapped in our own world, and that alone ought to be motivation for finding a way out.
In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus begins his ministry by walking along the Sea of Galilee and he begins to call fishermen.
Matthew tells us that Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and Andrew, casting their net into the sea. Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Notice the emphasis on the word immediately.
As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Can you imagine the look of bewilderment on their fathers’ faces standing there watching their sons go off like that? One minute it was a “normal” ordinary day and they were doing what they ordinarily do earning a living for their families’ livelihood. The next minute, they were walking away following after an itinerant preacher whose message was about as upside down as it could get.
What was Jesus was calling them to? What was he calling them away from when he said “Drop your nets and come follow me”? Sometimes we have to let go before we can truly go. Drop your nets, leave them behind. Recognize this moment for what it is. Get unstuck.
I think Jesus was inviting them to leave behind their preconceived notions about what they thought were the most important things of life. Leave behind their prejudices and insecurities, their fears and sense of self-sufficiency. Leave behind their expectations that their paycheck was all they needed. Leave behind those old familiar ways and habits, those attitudes, that stubborn streak, that insistence in doing their own thing their own way all the time. Leave it behind. Leave your comfort zone, what is familiar, and take a risk. Come, and follow me.
And they heard and recognized the call as good news, as light breaking in on their dark places. They recognized it as the thing they had been missing, as a new opportunity, a possibility, a way forward.
And they dropped their nets, stepped away from what they were accustomed and the way they knew so well, and followed immediately.
They were willing. And I like that. Sometimes, we are just not willing. But they were willing, and we know that old adage that where there is a will, there is a way. How is your will lining up with God’s will?
And it wasn’t as if they never went fishing again. No, in just a little while they went back to work like we have to go back to work.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John went back to their fishing. They cast their nets into the sea again as they had done so many times before. They went back to the water like generations before them. But I’m guessing they were never quite the same.
We go about our business from day to day, but there is a higher calling on us. It’s not about being “perfect”, but sometimes we have to leave things and even people behind if we want to follow Christ. Jesus is calling us to our true work: the work of loving mercy, tender kindness, forgiveness, humility, meekness, and walking humbly with God and others.
Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” My brothers and sisters, all around us people are swimming in deep waters in search of the boat of Shalom. They are in search of the hope of God and the message of God embodied and lived out.
I too am searching for the peace of Christ to wash over me every day. How about you? I’m looking and searching for the love of Christ to fill me; the promise of Christ to sustain me over and over and over again.
What might seem like an ordinary day, at home or work, out in the world doing our ordinary thing invites rich and wonderful opportunities for something new and extraordinary.
Leave your nets. Come and follow Jesus.