Third Sunday in Epiphany A 2012
The Rev. Leonard Oakes
In the name of God, the God of the 49ers and the God of New York Giants. Amen.
I thank you all for coming to Chuch today not only to pray for your favorite football team but to thank God that you are still given the chance to watch such a game. There’s a feeling of excitement in each and everyone of us.
The spy fiction thriller Bourne Legacy that stars Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton and directed by Tony Gilroy, is currently in the making in the fish port of Navotas in Central Philippines. In some of the clips showed on live TV, the one that caught my attention is the setting of the movie. The port of Navotas is not strange to my formation as a seminarian and indeed to what I am now as a priest.
Part of our seminary formation at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City Philippines, is to leave our books and seminary walls and be immersed into the real life of the people outside seminary boundaries. I was assigned to live in a fisherman’s house near Novotas Fish port through the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. Some of these houses around the port of Navotas that time were built on bamboo stem about 10 feet above the black and filthy salty water of the bay. These houses were linked together with 3 feet alley of bamboo shoots just enough for two people to pass through. Animals also live in these houses and you can just imagine how it is under the open floor, yet I witnessed kids being allowed to swim in that bay. I was assigned to a fisherman with a wife and 3 little kids. We shared dinner with rice, a fish and mussels. This was the time when the red tide phenomenon was prevalent in Asia. But this family knows how to survive. It is cold at night as the cold bay wind blows through the space on the walls. At 11 o’clock before midnight, manong Rod, as he wanted to be called, would hop in to his boat and we headed to the heart of manila bay where fishing nets were set and regularly checked for catch at night time. Danger is very imminent in the lives of fishermen whenever they set in the middle of unpredictable weather as fishing is one of the world most perilous jobs. Luckily, we came home safe with our catch and some harvest of mussels. That experience converted my whole being and in how I perceived life of those in the margin.
During my review for the NCLEX board Examination in 2003, I found Pacifica bay to be the best place to read and internalize what I am reviewing. The presence of fishers passing by with a couple of 30 inches Stripe Bass enticed me to buy my fishing license, a rod and a line. I thought it was a good idea that while I am reading my reviewer book, I would plant my rod in the sand and wait for the line to move. Now, as the water comes and goes, you can never predict when it rises to a level. I saw the line moving and the rod moving as well, moving towards the water, it must be a big catch. As I dropped my book to run for my rod, a big wave was waiting and ready to tackle me like the 49’ers football defensive line. The next thing I saw was my rod being dragged into the deep. I have chosen to live than to save my rod.
In some other times, Jesus called his disciples to come out of their comfort zones and told them to pull away from the shore where they feel safe and to go out to the deep. To the deep where the waves might swamp the boat, to the deep, not to take a nap in the sunlight, but to let down their nets yet again.
In today’s Gospel however, Jesus changed his approach to his disciples. After learning how to catch real fish and became comfortable with that life, he drew them out of the water to find another way of fishing, this time for people. These fishermen were about to be converted into a higher level of fishing, a life away from their comfort zone yet once again. There is urgency in the calling of Jesus of his disciples as if to say, “Come, right now and leave your nets, your family and your homes. Let us not waste our time for the kingdom of God is imminent.”
The Gospel of Mark, distinct in many ways from the other synoptic gospels, has the message of urgency by using the words, “Immediately and at once” many times. The main focus of the gospel of Mark in Verse 15 is on the ministry of Jesus. For Mark, Jesus is the Gospel. First, Jesus calls the brothers Simon and Andrew; and soon thereafter, he called James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Ordinarily one would not expect commercial fishermen to leave their boats and their livelihood. Nor would the sons of Zebedee leave their father in the care of hired servants unless they were convinced that the person who called them had valid claim on their total lives. Jesus’ call to Andrew and Simon was, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”. They were to turn their attention from fish to people- to round up a human catch in a metaphorical net. They were being asked to risk, dramatically and suddenly, everything, and turn their efforts to a completely new profession. Their call was to be fishers of souls- to pluck others out of their familiar lives and challenge them to the same life of faith and service they themselves led.
It was very interesting how Jesus would call disciples to follow him. It never says in the Gospels that Jesus’ disciples were chosen because of a special talent or insight, for any charismatic gift, for high moral fiber, or for exceptional I.Q. From the world’s point of view, according to the principles of astute planning, they have no administrative prowess to lend themselves to turning the world upside down. In fact, the Twelve are never portrayed as directors of communities, and the language of declining to wait on tables indicates a refusal to be involved in the local administration of a Christian group. Neither as a group, nor as individuals, are these Twelve portrayed as “running” a local church. What they all seem to share, however, is a willingness to rise to their feet when Jesus says, “Follow me.” At least when it comes to Simon and Andrew, James and John- Mark says that they abandon their nets and follow Jesus on the way. They apparently know nothing about Jesus. They have no idea where they will be going-or when, if ever, they will return. They just do it. They take on the disciplines of Jesus’ way and seem not to look back. But hard work and an ever-deepening understanding must lie behind their day to day dedication. The disciples’ willingness is only the first step. No one ever said that dedicated Christian ministry was easy, only essential. The call of the twelve by Jesus is not a generalized request for recruits to be answered like a “help wanted” ad from the classifieds. It is a particular summons that Jesus issues to specific individuals. They are asked to share intimately in his life, to carry on his work, and to represent the twelve tribes of the renewed Israel.
It is in this same pattern that we elect our members of our Bishop committees and the appointment of the different committees. It evolved through our willingness to rise on our feet when Jesus says, “Follow me”. There are greater tasks waiting ahead of us in spreading the Gospel of Christ. There is the feeling of excitement in the urgency of the call. One must be willing enough to sacrifice their time and talents without reservations or doubts of the calling we are asked to do. Each one of us must have our own conversion experience from what we normally do to a especial ministry our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to do. The old ways has to be transformed into a new life in Christ. We all come from a different aspects of life, each of us has our own simple ways to serve God. Let us all gather them up together and we will be surprised how great it would be to serve God when all are put together as one.
It is our common goal that the year 2012 is Holy Child and St. Martin’s year of Service and spiritual conversion. Our health and wellness ministry is our calling to “Come and follow Jesus” by sharing the gifts of compassion and love to those who need us, the poor, the uninsured, the less fortunate and the unloved. Let us be followers of Christ first before we tell others to follow.
In our excitement to watch the 49ers championship game, may we always bear in heart and mind the more exciting call we have in Jesus.
Let me end by singing you John Denver’s “Follow me”
Follow me where I go, what I do and who I know. Make it part you to be a part of me. Follow me up and down, all the way, all around. Take my hand and say you follow me.”